“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
John 15:14-17 NLT
These words spoken by Jesus on the night he was turned over to the authorities, falsely accused and convicted are intended to bring us comfort and instruction. This text and others led the leaders of Asbury to craft the following vision statement that was adopted by our faith community in 2010:
We envision a community in love with God, one another and our neighbor, evidenced by the transformation of ourselves and our neighborhood.
Our vision statement is alive because Jesus lives in us and gave us this vision that we might see His glory unfold. However, we are not bystanders in this transformation promised by our vision statement. We are the workers in the vineyard that we call the Asbury neighborhood.
On the night that He was betrayed Jesus knew that His followers would face feelings of abandonment and fear. Jesus knew that they would face moments of feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what their friend and Teacher had asked of them. Jesus wanted to leave His followers with words of assurance and promise. These words spoken by Jesus to those who followed Him during His ministry in Palestine in the 1st century are spoken to His followers today in Flint, Michigan. Jesus is alive and His words are true. His promise is assured. But so are His instructions.
Jesus wants us to know that the way to abundant life is to remain in Him by living obediently. We are able to do this by surrendering our will to the will of God so that the friend that He promised would come to us in His name, the Advocate, will comfort and guide us even when we are feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. Jesus’ words of comfort came with a warning label. In the same way that the world rejected Him so the ways of the world will reject His followers until which time He returns and divine judgment brings an end to all rejection and suffering. Jesus used the illustration of a grapevine to explain what it means to be one with Him and thus one with God.
We are like the branches of a grapevine but not branches that just grow without producing fruit. Those parts of us that do not produce fruit are pruned away through our obedience, leaving only productive branches that produce fruit that nourishes all who experience the fruit that comes out of our obedience to Christ. Fruit that fills us with peace and joy. Fruit that others come to want to produce as well through our testimony and their surrendering to the Holy Spirit. If we stay connected with the living Christ we will be transformed into a holy people who in turn invite others to join our community.
The basis for our holiness is love. A love that begins with our total devotion to the God who created us. Our love shows in our worship. Our love shows in our prayer life. Our love shows in our love for God’s Word. Our love shows in our love for one another and for our neighbor. Jesus said that as we become one with Him we are no longer servants for we know the family business. We know what it means to obediently serve. Jesus declares that we are His friends, His family, His people. And we are transformed.
But our transformation does not end with ourselves or our gathered community. It cannot end there because Jesus sends us out just as He sent out the 72, and He empowers us, He gives us agency – the ability to bring life to that which has died, just as he empowered the 120 on the day of Pentecost who in turn went out into the streets where 3,000 more joined their faith community. These in turn were empowered and sent out to be agents of transformation for their blocks, neighborhoods, cities and the world. The Kingdom of God has come near and prophecy has been fulfilled in our hearing that the Son of God lives among us so that through Him we can experience life abundant.
In Leading Causes of Life our authors write that “Agency is a generative force that inevitably leads to the matter of call. It gives traction to three questions: ‘What am I to do with my life?’ ‘What have I been called to do?’ and ‘Am I doing it?'” ( p. 105). “Agency is an action, but it is also a gift when aligned with purpose or call” (p. 106). “It is agency that turns abstract nouns into verbs. Agency turns connection into connect, build, reach, touch, embrace, and heal. It transforms the aura of hope into leadership fearless enough to find light at the end of discouraging labyrinths” (p. 108).*
Agency is the part of life that I most enjoy. From planting a tree to repairing a leaky faucet, agency is about doing and doing is more fun than sitting in a meeting for me. But agency is not mine to hold onto. Rather, agency is a gift that I can give when I invite those who will benefit from the tree or the repaired faucet to be a part of the action. Will you join me? Will you work with me to transform our neighborhood and in the process be transformed into the child of God you were created to be? Find your place in God’s kingdom by letting the power of God’s love transform you giving you joy, peace and life abundant.
* Leading Causes of Life by Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray.