– Jeremiah 29:10-14, John 15:1-9
– God has a special vision and a purpose for Hillcrest. The vision begins when we connect with God and connect with one another. This is the fellowship that anchors us into the true vine, Christ, so we can all be of one plant together. For true relationships are only possible when we abide in God and God abides in us.
Today is not only rally day where we kick off our fall programs… Today is also the day I am beginning a new Sermon Series! As you may know, the session and I have been working hard over the last couple years to pray and ask God to give us a ministry vision for Hillcrest. Vision is a broad term so more specifically, we are trying to discover how God wants us to become and make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is THE mission of the church that Jesus commanded us to carry out, as we read in Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So we can see that, as a church, we are in the disciple making business.
Currently, I am leading a book study that meets on Wednesday nights and we are discussing the book Simple Church. This book is all about how to return to a simple model of making disciples of Jesus. Kind of like a back to basics course for Hillcrest. If you have not been able to make it out to the study yet, I invite you to buy a book and come out on Wednesday evening to join the discussion. This week we will be discussing chapter 2.
At the same time as this study is going on, starting today, I am preaching three sermons in a series. My goal in these sermons is to get you, the congregation, involved in the process of discovering what a simple model of making disciples might look like within Hillcrest.
When I have asked people in our congregation the question, “How does Hillcrest make disciples?” I have received many different answers. That doesn’t mean that Hillcrest is not making disciples. It only means that whatever our process is it is not yet intentionally simple enough so that most people in the congregation know what it is and how it works.
And so I am proposing three simple steps that Hillcrest might use to be intentionally focused on a simple process of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This simple process could be described with three words. Connect, Grow, Serve. Again that is Connect, Grow, Serve. As you may have guessed from the sermon title, today I’m going to focus on the first step. Connect.
Our scripture passage from the gospel of John this morning tells us all about connecting. It tells us many things about connecting in a way that makes disciples of Jesus. It is very good stuff. You see, this passage that we read is part of a large section of John’s Gospel where Jesus is giving his final instructions and teachings to His disciples before he gives up his life on the cross.
These words of Jesus are equally valuable to us today, as we are disciples of Jesus. We are hoping to grow fully into our role as disciples and we are told to go disciple others just like Jesus’s original disciples.
Jesus gives instructions to us using a simple metaphor. Jesus says that He, himself is the true vine. Jesus says that we, each of us, are like a branch coming off of the true vine. If we are connected to the true vine, we will grow and bear fruit. If we are not connected to the true vine… that is if we get separated from the true vine for any reason, we will wither and die. The important lesson is that if we are not connected directly to Jesus, our efforts will wither and die. We draw all of our spiritual lifeblood from our connection to Jesus. Without this spiritual blood, we cannot accomplish the mission that God created us for.
God gave us the mission to go make disciples as we read a minute ago. God created the branch to go bear fruits. The branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine. We cannot make disciples if we are not connected to Jesus.
So the first step in how Hillcrest can make disciples is to connect with Jesus. That is why the first image you see on the screen is a cross. If we are not connected to Jesus Christ, we will not be able to carry out the mission God has given us. This goes for each of us individually. Our congregation is made up of many different individuals. For the congregation to make disciples, the people in it must be connected to Jesus.
Notice that I am talking about connecting with Jesus as the first thing. We cannot help others connect with Jesus until we have a life sustaining connection with Jesus. This is the same logic that you hear when you take a trip on an airplane. The stewards and stewardesses always say something like, “In the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, place the oxygen mask over your own face before you help others put on their masks.” You may have heard something like this. The simple fact is that if your brain is starved from oxygen, you might not be able to help someone else put on their mask. Then you both might suffer. First, ensure you have a supply of oxygen, then help others get theirs. We must first connect with Jesus before trying to connect others with Jesus.
Are you still with me? Ok here is the advanced part. Connection is not a one-time thing. I am not talking about plugging into Jesus like you plug in the electric range and then it stays plugged in on its own. It is easy to think that just because you decided a long time ago to be a believer in Jesus, and you are a regular attender of worship service that you are done. Connection is also not the same as being baptized, confirmed, or becoming a member. Jesus makes this clear in our passage when he says,
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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.” So connection is not a one time, getting saved kind of event. Jesus says to remain in Him.” That means that it is something that requires ongoing efforts.
It means simply daily saying “yes” to God’s invitation to have relationship with us. Jesus is offering us this gift freely! All we have to do is accept.
God did something amazing for us in Jesus Christ. God not only forgave our sins so we can be with God forever, that alone would have been enough. But Jesus goes a step further to include us in God’s plan to fix all broken relationships in the world! In John 10:10 Jesus says he came so that we might have life to the full! That is the gift freely offered to us because God loves us.
Connecting is changing our mind and making connecting with Jesus a daily choice. The more each of us connect to Jesus, the more connected to Jesus Hillcrest will become.
Another way to think of connecting is simply showing up. And I mean more than just showing up to church services fairly regularly and a church function now and again. I am talking about making bible study a priority. I am talking about making prayer a priority. I am talking about making communion a priority. For these are all ways that we connect with Jesus in a deep and meaningful way.
Did you know that we have a prayer service every Thursday evening at 6:00 pm at the church? We do. And we have 3 or 4 faithful attenders who come together to pray for the world. Did you know that we have an informal bible study every Wednesday morning at 10:00 am here at the church? We do. And we have 5 or 6 faithful attenders who are actively engaged right now in studying the book of Job. I know some of you work. I also know that many of you do not. I already mentioned the book study that we are currently having on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm. We have a good crew of around 15 people who come to attempt to discern how Hillcrest can more intentionally make disciples. We also have two adult Sunday School classes and a brand new Children’s church program designed to connect people with Jesus. I am mentioning numbers because we have around 60 to 80 regular attenders in our congregation.
The first step in how we make disciples is connecting to Jesus. But that also means connecting people to each other. Individual actions are good, but God promises in Matthew 18:20 that where two or three are gathered in Jesus name that he is there with us. The writer of Hebrews writes in 10:19-25, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” God wants us to meet together so that we can encourage one another and learn from one another. This is part of how we connect to Jesus.
On a base level, we connect to Jesus when we regularly gather together to seek out Jesus in prayer, study, and worship – all with fellowship. That is definitely in the vision plan somewhere. We must make this a priority. We must make the choice to seek Jesus together over choosing relaxation and entertainment. There will always be an excuse to choose ourselves over connecting to Jesus. If the times of events are not good, let us know and we will change them. If the subjects or activities are too boring for you, let us know… we have many options. If you are waiting for connection to fit into your schedule you might be waiting a long time. Meanwhile, your branch might wither.
Remember, that Jesus wants us to bear much fruit. God wants us to accomplish the great commission he has given to us. This was true for Jesus’s original disciples and it is true for us as well. And in John 15 verse 11 Jesus explains why he wants the disciples to continue to connect with him. He says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Remember, that God loves us so much that God wants to give us the very best. God has great plans for us and, God knows better than us. God loves us too much to let us settle for simple happiness. God knows that if we choose to connect to God as a way of life, we will have great joy! This is the joy that comes from making connecting to Jesus a priority in our congregational life. And we can’t do that on our own, we have to make time to seek God together. We have to show up.
Now I know that showing up alone isn’t enough for us to be a church that makes disciples the way God wants us to. There are things that go along with showing up. If we all just stood around and smiled, that probably would not be enough. We will talk about that next time when we continue to talk about a simple way that Hillcrest could make disciples. Do you remember the three words that describe the process? Connect, Grow, Serve. That is what God wants us to do. Amen.