April 29, 2018

Comfortable or Too Comfortable?

5th Sunday of Easter
First Lesson:  Acts 16:11-15

Second Lesson:  1 John 3:18-24

Gospel Lesson:  John 15:1-6 & 8

Sermon Text:  John 15:1-6 & 8

Getting comfortable is a good thing.  Getting too comfortable can quickly become a bad thing.  Let’s say you had a brutal day at work, with the kids, or some unexpected issues that caused many headaches popped up.  To be able to kick off your shoes at the end of the day, lie on the couch, and binge watch something on Netflix - that is comfortable and can be a blessing.  You get a chance to relax, to forget about the stresses of the day, and rest up for the next one.

Too comfortable, though, can be a problem. Maybe you got too comfortable around a boss and made an inappropriate joke.  Maybe you got too comfortable in a class and slid through mid-terms. A big fat D woke you up. Maybe you got too comfortable in a relationship. You stopped focusing on what made the relationship special and coasted until things broke down or the other person grew cold. Rarely does being too comfortable end with positive results.

So, which does Jesus want in our relationship with him? Certainly he wants us to be comfortable. He knows we struggle with temptation. He knows the issues we face daily. He doesn’t want us to see him as some unfeeling deity we have to be afraid of or hide from. He wants us to feel comfortable coming to him, be it to confess a sin weighing on our hearts or open up about some issue we can’t talk to anyone else about. In the Bible he refers to himself as our brother.  As siblings should feel comfortable and confident talking to one another, so our Savior wants us to feel comfortable coming to him.

What would being too comfortable look like? It’d mean taking him for granted. Or being so used to receiving things from him we just expect them, with little or no appreciation. Or failing to take his encouragements seriously and his warnings to heart.  Instead of treating Jesus as a loving brother who only wants what is best for us, being too comfortable means thinking he is a buddy with whom we golf or bowl who has no authority over us and is fine with just about anything we do.

I say that because one verse in our text stuck out to me. This is the “vine and branches” section in which Jesus talks about remaining in him as a branch is connected to a vine. The 1st two verses almost sound like a careful threat.  Branches that don’t bear fruit will be cut off.  Then in vs. 3 he says this: “You’re already clean because of the word I’ve spoken to you.”  What does that mean?  It means we, by God’s grace, and due to Jesus’ work, are part of God’s family. We are connected to the vine.  And just as the branch connected to the vine is alive and fruitful, so we who are connected to Jesus are the same.

And that last line probably summarizes just about every sermon you have heard in this place.  That is the Gospel.  It is all about what Jesus did for us and what it means. That is something that makes us comfortable, right? Yes. We know that each day, we don’t always show the best fruit.  Anger, lies, lust, greed, etc. pop in our brains, and all too often we act on those desires.  We know on our own we should be branches which are lopped off.  But because of what Jesus did and the faith he worked in us, we need not be afraid.  We can be comfortable coming to him with our fears, concerns, thanks, etc.

But is there a chance verse 3 could cause us to get too comfortable?  You’re playing Monopoly. One roll you pick up a “get out of jail free” card. In a later turn, you pick another card. Are you really worried about getting the card that says, “Go directly to jail – do not pass go – do not collect $200”? No.  You know you are safe.  If you get that card, just pull out the “get out free” card and on you go.  You aren’t worried picking a card because you know in the end everything will be OK.

Do we ever take that approach in our faith lives?  Do we ever treat Jesus’ work for us as a “get out of jail free” card?  A few examples… You have a huge test coming up.  A friend tells you all the answers for the test are online. You know it is wrong. But in your mind, a voice says, “Don’t worry about it. You’re short on time. You need a good grade. It’s wrong, but you can ask for forgiveness later. You know you’ll get it.”  Isn’t that getting too comfortable instead of striving to bear good fruit?

Or let’s say you’re at a store and you use your debit card to pay. You also withdraw $100, but the checker gives you $200. But the receipt clearly says you should only get $100. You know this is a violation of the 7th Comm. In it God calls us to protect our possessions and other’s. You know you should say something, but there is that voice again. “Their mistake.  You weren’t trying to steal. The only one who suffers is a big bank. Take it. And if you’re really bothered, you know what to do.  Go to… him.” Isn’t that too comfortable, not being bothered by what we know is wrong instead of striving to do what is right?

One more.  A couple has had marital issues for years because both got too comfortable.  He stopped telling her on a daily basis he loved her.  She focused on little things and made a huge deal of them. Each day things got colder. Finally, they go talk to their pastor, and he says what they expected.  The couple should keep working at it, find strength in God, recommit, etc.  And he tells them pursuing a divorce would be sinful. But after 6 weeks of no real change, both call it quits. They agree to give it a few months before talking to the pastor, and when they do so they’ll hang their heads and hope things are cool.  Isn’t that getting too comfortable with God, following the “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” line of thought?

You know I could go on. Just in my own life, I could spend all day with stories about how I used God’s grace as cover to do this, saw forgiveness as a way to do that, and wasn’t nearly as bothered as I should’ve been about a situation because my mind would say, “Don’t worry – Jesus has got this.”  I know the same is true for you.  And doesn’t that answer the question?  Yes, we all too often are too comfortable.  You sin but downplay it.  We go against God and fail to remember passages that forbid what we did or reword others to soothe our consciences.  I do my thing – I want to do, sinful or not – then wait for God to do his thing – forgive me as he has 10,000 times before. Isn’t that getting too comfortable, treating God as a genie who makes everything work out in the end but failing to see/respect him as our Lord and Master to whom we owe allegiance?

So am I saying Jesus is threatening us here – “Shape up and bear fruit or else!”? No. But too often we want to accept him on our terms.  We turn Jesus into what we want him to be instead of what he really is.  He is the janitor who cleans up our messes.  And that might be the best way to summarize this.  A janitor works hard to keep everything clean.  He knows no matter how hard kids in a school try, there will be messes made. He accepts it is his job to clean them up.  But wouldn’t he get frustrated if each day he saw students littering all over, saying to each other, “Don’t worry – the janitor will get it”?  God knows we’ll mess up, struggle with sin, and fail each day. And for those times, he gladly forgives us through his Son.  But doesn’t it hurt his heart to see us rely on this grace (not in a good way) to bail us out so we can do whatever we want?

To use the words of our text, does that sound like remaining in Jesus?  Does that sound like a healthy relationship, a proper understanding of who we are and who he is?  Does that sound like appreciation on our end? It shouldn’t because it doesn’t.  And had it not been for our Savior, we know what that answer to those questions means.  It should mean us being cut off.  It should mean the divine gardener doing some clipping.  It should mean God saying, “If you are going to take me and my grace for granted, then fine.  See how far you can get without me.”  Can any of us deny that?  Not at all.

But here is where we, who are all too often too comfortable, need to go back to comfortable. Jesus knows we will struggle with.  He knows our sinful heart wants to abuse every gift he’s given, even forgiveness. He knows that sinful heart is more focused on our will than God’s. He knows at the end of each day, the scorecard outlining our spiritual wins/losses is a mess.

That’s is why he does reassure us we’re clean. And he regularly tells us why. He cleansed us. The Bible uses a lot of word pictures for forgiveness and grace, and one of the most common ones involves washing.  The dirty dish goes into the soapy water, crud is removed, and it comes out clean.  The dirty shirt goes into the washer, the washer does its thing, and the shirt comes out clean.  We, be it the washing away of sin at our baptism, or the daily washing we receive as we come to him for forgiveness, come to him nasty, gross, disgusting sinners, and emerge clean, forgiven, loved, children of God. That’s what his Word says over and over.  And the Spirit builds us up in faith to believe this, to find in all the comfort out Savior intended.

I know you know all that, but all that leads up to a big question: What now?  Chances are those of you with small kids got them a nice Easter outfit - new, clean, and crisp. What did you tell them?  “Don’t play outside in this.  Don’t spill food on this.  This is your nice dress/suit/pants/whatever.  You want to keep it nice, don’t you?  Be careful and treat your clothes rightly.”

Easter means we have the fanciest, shiniest, most wonderful set of clothes ever, clothes of a forgiven, redeemed child of God.  We are as clean as clean gets.  Jesus made us that way.  So again, what now?  We could get too comfortable and run back to the mud we’ve messed around in all too often/long. Or we, knowing what we’ve been given, can rely on our Lord for strength to find the proper comfort level.  We can find in him the encouragement to not act out of fear or to get something as a reward, but to glorify him for all he’s done. We can find in him the reason to avoid the messes and stay clean narrow.

And when we do that, know what he does? Hear it again. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that bears fruit he prunes so that it will be more fruitful. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Not only does Jesus tell us what to do. He helps us do it. As a vine nourishes a branch, he, in Word and Supper, nourishes us.  He keeps our eyes of faith open so we see the danger of any/all sin. He keeps us from getting to comfortable by reminding us what the situation is without him.  And he does those things because he loves us.  He only wants what is best for us, in regard to our souls or lives.  And the best part is that because he is so loving, he doesn’t say, “Do this to such and such a level, or you have no part with me.”  This is our Savior calling us, weak, weary sinners to find out comfort/rest in him, and find our strength and motivation as well.  This is his promise to help, a promise he will most certainly follow through on.

So once more, what now?  I know what the sinner in you is saying. It is the same thing the sinner in me is saying.  “Do your thing and let Jesus do his.”  But I also know what the believer in you is saying, words maybe best summarized by a hymn. “I want to walk as a child of the light.  I want to follow Jesus.”  May God build each of us up that we shun the 1st voice and grab hold of the 2nd. May God help us find godly comfort in the Word and work of Jesus. May God keep us connected to our life-giving vine.  And may God help us bring forth fruits of love, peace, joy, and hope in our lives.  We are clean.  Thank God for that.  May God help us to draw strength from our vine that our appreciation of this washing shows in all we do.  Amen.