John 15:1-17 (Two)
At the heart of God, at the heart of God’s dealings with people, and at the heart of people; there is relationship. God is, in himself, relational. The Trinity is an ‘open and dynamic structure’, a ‘loving community’, the ‘ultimate in community, mutuality and sharing’. ‘Given the fact that Father and Son are persons and that the Spirit is spoken of in personal terms in the Scriptures, it is appropriate to speak of God as a community of persons rather than as modes of being.’ Since God is community, the people he created are intended to be community too, and not merely a collection of individuals.
What is true of God himself as community is also, I believe, true of people. We were not made for individualism, but for community. And Jesus speaks of the simple fact that, if we want to achieve anything worthwhile, we will do so only in communion with him; and yet, ‘obsession with oneself (narcissism) is a deadly virus in our mainly affluent western society.’ Surely, then, Christians are the very people who can best demonstrate real relationships, beginning with a real relationship with God and looking outward to relationships with everyone else.
Without Jesus, we can do nothing. It really is as simple as that. How complicated we have made Christianity! Yet relationships are, at heart, simple. Hard work, but simple. If I am to come close to God and spend any time at all with him, it will change me; that much is certain. But so much of Christianity today demands that we change before we meet with God, as if we had the power to change ourselves. Or we seek to have the ‘quiet time’ in order that we might know him better, and that is surely a commendable attitude. But is that what we really do? Or do we seek to have the ‘quiet time’ so that we can feel ourselves to be spiritual, so that we can feel that we deserve God’s attention, so that he will be duty bound to meet with us?
Jesus’ Father in heaven is the gardener who cleans (prunes). This is profound. No-one else cleans. If we do not spend time with God, we will not change; indeed, we cannot change. Only communion with the gardener can change us. If I am not changing, it is because I am not communing with the gardener. Those who lives are being transformed by the cleaning, pruning hand of God are those who draw near to him. God’s cleaning produces a changed character. (There must be a sermon in there somewhere!) This is somewhat ironic, in that the God who never changes is the one who changes me.
He cuts the dead wood from me and cleans that in me which is alive and growing and bearing fruit. How much this will mean to those who love to work in their gardens, but that is not me! (I am both a reluctant and a future gardener. I am reluctant to do any gardening unless I can do it tomorrow! Always tomorrow!) But I do know this: Gardeners get their hands dirty. My Father gets his hands dirty for me. He gets his hands dirty as he cleans me. That is a divine exchange that is worth thinking about some more.
Jesus told his disciples that they were ‘already clean’ because of the word that he had spoken to them. No cleaning outside relationship. I will modify that statement. No cleaning except through the expressed reality of a relationship. It is not enough to be my Father’s son, it is enough that I am with my Father and hear his voice. That is why I am clean. And the clean bears fruit. Fruit that will last.
God gets his hands dirty as he cleans me. Actually, it is even more shocking than that. God not only got his own Son dirty for me, but his own Son actually became sin for me. If I can begin to see even a fraction of what that meant for Jesus, then I can begin to see that the cleaning he won for me is complete, absolute and pure. No half measures. Jesus did such a thorough, God-pleasing work for me that he was able to say that without him – outside him, separated from him – I can do nothing. Indeed, without him I am nothing.