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Service at Home – Sunday 25h April 2021

Service at Home on 25th April 2021

for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church

YouTube playlist: Service at Home 25-04-2021

As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you may want to use these sheets if you prefer to read the words.

Welcome and introduction

Watch: Welcome and introduction

Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home. This week, we look at what Jesus tells us about him being the vine and us being the branches. In particular, we look at how we can be fruitful, and why this may need to involve some pruning.

We’ll start with some words of praise, from Psalm 22 verses 25 to 28:

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfil my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

Watch: Come people of the Risen King

Watch: As the deer pants for the water

Opening prayers

Watch: Opening prayers

A prayer written by Mechthild of Magdeburg, a 13th century Christian mystic

Bind our souls to your own, O Christ, so that we may never be separated from you.  Only in you are we fully alive, only in your light can we truly see and only in your strength can we safely pursue our way.  To you we come, O wisdom without end.  In you we rest, O mercy without limit.  Amen.

Loving Father God, help us to draw close to you now.  Help us to rest secure in the knowledge of your faithful love.

Open our hearts and minds to hear what you are saying to us.  Refresh and renew us through your Holy Spirit so that we will be able to do what you call us to do.  Help us to support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and to be channels of your light and love in our communities.  We ask this in the name of Christ.  Amen.

A prayer of confession

Lord, forgive us for being selfish in prayer;

for thinking only of our own concerns;

for failing to thank you before we ask for more;

for asking the wrong things, in the wrong way, so many times.

We confess our unworthiness to receive any answer,

and yet we know that you will hear us.

Take a moment of quiet to say sorry to God for anything that is on your heart.

God is perfect love, and through Jesus our wrongdoing is forgiven and washed away.  Amen.

And now say the prayer that Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name;

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Watch: Cornerstone

Prayers of intercession by Kathy

Watch: Prayers of intercession

A Prayer for Rohingya Refugees written by Revd Dr Barbara Glasson.

Jesus, who was a refugee in Egypt, and alone in the wilderness,

You had nowhere to lay your head.

Have mercy on all those who fear flood, and fire, and famine,

Who are displaced and unwanted.

Today we especially call to mind the thousands of Rohingya refugees

Whose makeshift homes have been destroyed by fire.

Women, children, and men who have already fled violence

And who live stranded between Bangladesh and Myanmar

And who are scarred by the trauma of war.

We pray for all those who try to help them

The aid agencies, and the friends.

We pray for strength and courage for those that bring relief.

Do not forgive us our territorial warfare,

Our forgetfulness,

Our compassion fatigue,

Until there is a safe place for all your children to call home. Amen.

Our prayers of intercession

Father God, we continue in prayer for our world.   As we pray, we offer ourselves to you to bring your healing and hope to the world in whatever way you call us.

We pray for all followers of your son, Jesus, who are being persecuted for their faith.  Keep them strong, Lord, and grant them your help and protection.  We ask you to help and protect church leaders in Columbia.  We thank you for their faithfulness in sharing the Gospel and for their bravery in speaking out against corruption and violence.  We ask you to protect them from the criminal groups who often target them.  We pray that you will keep them safe from harm and courageous in their faith.

We thank you for our NHS and we ask your blessing, guidance and strength for all those who work within it.  We thank you for the vaccines against Covid-19 and we pray for equal access to vaccines for all communities in the world.  Give us the courage and determination to work against inequality and injustice wherever it is found.

We pray for our churches and for our sister churches in our neighbourhood and in the circuit.  You want us to be known by our love for one another and for you.  We pray that this will be so.  Held secure in your love, help us to be bold in serving you, putting aside our own desires to do your will.

We lift before you those we know who are unwell or suffering in any way.  We pray for ---

Finally we take a moment of quiet to bring to God anything that is on our heart this morning.

Lord we thank you that you are here with us, that you have heard our prayers and will answer them in whatever way is right.

We ask all our prayers in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Watch: Raise a Hallelujah

Reading and Sermon

Watch: Reading and Sermon

Bible reading: John 15:1-8 (“The vine and the branches”)

Sermon

In that passage that we heard from John’s gospel, Jesus speaks about being fruitful and bearing much fruit. I’m sure that’s what we all really want for ourselves and for our church isn’t it? I’m sure that we all want to be fruitful and to bear a lot of fruit.

When we look at churches around the world, we see many that are clearly very fruitful: they’re making lots of new disciples and growing rapidly, they’re showing God’s love to lots of people in need, and they’re fighting injustice. But we also see a lot of churches that are not bearing much fruit, churches that are not making new disciples or showing God’s love to others, which are just facing inwards and plodding along towards inevitable decline.

What about your church? Is your church bearing a lot of fruit or, if you’re honest with yourself, could it be doing better? I suspect the answer is the latter. I often hear churches complaining that they’re not doing very well because they don’t have the resources they need. They point at churches such as Audacious in Manchester and moan that if they had a team of pastors, an amazing worship group and 100 foot high screens then they’d be just as fruitful. But they’re wrong. They need to remember that Audacious started as a small group of people meeting in a scruffy warehouse just 14 years ago. And Saddleback church, one of the largest in the world, started as a bible study in Rick Warren’s home. And we also need to remember that many of the most fruitful churches are in countries where churches are oppressed. These churches don’t have buildings and have to meet in secret in people’s homes, and the church leaders often face arrest and imprisonment. Yet many of these churches are making huge numbers of new disciples. And also look at the early churches that we hear about in the book of Acts. They had no resources to speak of and were in many places oppressed, yet grew incredibly quickly.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is this: how does a church become fruitful? Let’s look at the passage from John’s gospel chapter 15 to find the answer. Jesus uses the illustration of a vine, which was a plant that Jesus’ listeners were familiar with. How many people have seen a vine? You don’t see many vines around here – it’s a bit too cold - but you may have seen them in the south of England. Or perhaps you’ve seen them down near the Mediterranean, in a vineyard or growing over a restaurant terrace, in the good old days when we had holidays abroad. They’re unusual plants because their branches grow very long, with huge bunches of grapes hanging from them. You can get a lot of fruit from just one vine. But a vine’s branches are quite thin and can be easily broken. And when a vine branch is broken, fruit will obviously never grow on that broken branch. The branch withers and dies because it’s no longer attached, and it’s removed and thrown on to a bonfire. Jesus used the illustration of the vine to show that we can only produce fruit, as individuals and as churches, when we remain connected to him.

I wonder what Jesus would have used as an analogy here, today, where not many people are familiar with growing grapes? Well Jesus might have used another plant, like an apple tree, to show that if a branch breaks off the tree, then that branch wouldn’t produce any apples. Or Jesus might have used an analogy of plugging an electrical appliance into a power socket, telling us that if we’re not plugged into him then we become completely useless like an appliance that’s not plugged in.

Jesus said that our father in Heaven is the gardener and that if we wither because we don’t stay connected to Jesus, then we’ll be thrown on to the fire with all the other broken branches. That really doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it? It’s clearly something that we should avoid happening to us.

Just now we asked the question: how does a church become more fruitful? From what we’ve just heard, it’s clear that the answer is to stay connected to Jesus. But this then leaves us with the question: how do we stay connected to Jesus? Actually, Jesus doesn’t use the word connected, or joined on, or attached. Jesus says “if you remain in me”, and in fact Jesus uses the expression “remain in me” four times in just those eight verses. So it’s important to understand what Jesus meant by “remain in me”. A clue is that Jesus also said the branch must “remain in the vine”. This reminds us that the branch isn’t just attached to the vine in a physical way, the branch is a living part of the whole plant. I mean, if a branch broke off an apple tree, you wouldn’t be able to just tie it back on with a bit of string and expect it to produce apples. The branch might be attached to the tree by the bit of string but it would be dead as it was no longer part of the living tree.

Even more of a clue is what Jesus had been telling the disciples just before he told them about the vine. Just a few verses before, in John 14 verse 20, Jesus tells us:

“On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”.

And in verse 21:

“The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

And in verse 23:

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them”.

And in verse 26:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you“.

This all then makes it clear what Jesus means by “remain in me”. We remain in Jesus by loving him and obeying his commands, so that he comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit. When Jesus is living in us then we become part of the single living trinity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re not just attached or connected to Jesus. It’s much more than that, it’s almost as if we’re the same person. This is of course why the Church is called the body of Christ. God lives in us and through us, and we live in Him, with no dividing line between us. Just as the branch of the vine is part of the single living plant.

So in this case what’s the answer to the question, how do we become fruitful? We become fruitful by loving Jesus and obeying his commands, and by welcoming the Holy Spirit to come and live in us. This makes so much sense because with the Holy Spirit living in us, we’ll be able to hear God speaking to us much more clearly. With the Holy Spirit living in us, God can guide us every single step of the way, so of course we’ll be more fruitful. We won’t wander around helplessly in the dark as God will shine His light on the path that will bear much fruit. And with the Holy Spirit living in us, we’ll be empowered to do whatever God calls us to do. God will give us exactly the right gifts that we need to be fruitful. Even if you feel a bit useless and think that you could never be fruitful, be reassured that God will make you fruitful if you trust Him and are obedient, and if you let the Spirit guide you one step at a time. Always remember that without the power of God living in us, every single one of us is useless. Without the power of God living in us, we’ll never bear fruit. If you don’t remain in Jesus, then you’ll wither spiritually, never do anything useful and have no place in God’s Kingdom.

Before we finish, let’s quickly look at the analogy of pruning that Jesus uses in that passage from John chapter 15. As everyone who’s a gardener will know, sometimes you have to prune a plant, such as a rose bush or currant, by cutting off bits of the plant. It seems an odd thing to do as you’d think it best for the plant to grow as big as possible, but we know from experience that it makes the plant grow stronger so that it produces more flowers or fruit. Jesus tells us that God needs to prune us to make us stronger and more fruitful. And we’re not talking about the broken branches here, we’re talking about parts of the plant that seem healthy.

We need to be pruned because we have limited resources, such as money, time and space. Pruning results in the channelling of these limited resources into things that will be more fruitful, just like pruning the vine makes it bear more fruit. The alternative is to continue wasting our limited resources until we end up bearing no fruit at all. Being pruned sounds painful doesn’t it? And it can be! It won’t be physically painful of course, there’s no actual cutting involved, but it can be emotionally painful as it might mean stopping things we enjoy and have perhaps done for years; or things that we’re proud of.

We need to be pruned both as individuals and as a church. For churches, now is a great time to do some pruning, as we emerge from Lockdown. This is because we could prune church activities that were not fruitful by simply not restarting them when restrictions are lifted. These might be activities that had been very fruitful in the past but had become less so. Or they might be activities that were enjoyed by church members, but which didn’t produce much fruit for the Kingdom of God. They might even be things that are part of our tradition, which we do without asking ourselves why we do it.

Jesus says that it’s God, the Father, who prunes us, but we must remember that God never forces us to do anything. Therefore, God prunes us by showing us the things that are wasting our time, money and effort, so that we can prune ourselves. God shows us what to cut out through His Spirit living in us and guiding us, which is what we were looking at before. Or in other words, God can only prune us when we remain in Jesus.

I’m now going to finish by looking at John 15 verse 8, which says:

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

This reminds us that if we consider ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus, then being fruitful isn’t optional! God calls each one of us to bear much fruit, to glorify Him. This means that you must love Jesus and be obedient to him so that you remain in him through God’s spirit living in you. And it means that you must allow God to prune you and your church so that you can become ever more fruitful.

A final prayer

Dear Lord, I really do want to become more fruitful and for my church to become more fruitful. So, Lord, help me to remain in you. Help me to love you and obey you so that you make your home in me, through your Spirit.

Lord, I do love you and I promise to do my best to obey you. So fill me afresh now with your Spirit, to guide me and empower me…………

Lord, I know that you need to prune us to make us more fruitful. Help me to hear you prompting me to give up things that are a distraction or not the best use of my resources. Help me to be obedient and not resist, even when they’re things that I enjoy or have been fruitful in the past, or are part of our tradition that we’re proud of. Lord, speak to me now in a short time of quiet, show me what I should stop doing or not restart……

Help me to trust you, Lord, in all things and allow you guide me, one step at a time, along the path that bears much fruit.

Lord, bless me and protect me over the coming weeks, as you guide me down the path that bears much fruit for you. Amen.

Watch: You are the vine

Watch: Lord I come to You