– Colossians 3:12-17, 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. The next step is to grow to full maturity in faith. This happens when we join a community to which we are accountable so that we can learn and be instructed and held accountable to all that Jesus has taught us. (A.K.A. small groups)
Welcome to part two of a sermon series on what it means for a congregation to have a simple vision for making disciples of Jesus. 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.
We talk about making disciples as the goal of a congregation. As we talked about last week, this goal comes from the directive that Jesus gave to His disciples before he ascended into heaven. This directive is recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 where 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.”
And this directive applies to us, because the age has not yet ended as Jesus has not yet returned to end it.
Last week, we talked about a simple, three step process for making disciples that Hillcrest might adopt. I suggested the word “CONNECT” to describe the first step. To re-cap what that means, it means that we make disciples by connecting to Jesus, and then helping others to connect to Jesus. This is not only a simple prayer for salvation. Connect means that we daily choose to seek Jesus together with the community of believers. We talked about how individual work is not enough because God asks us to pursue God together in a community of believers in Christ. In other words, we have to show up.
Today’s sermon is about what we do after we show up. The second step in the process that Hillcrest uses to make disciples might be described by the word “GROW.” You can see up on the screens, that after we connect to Jesus, like a vine, we grow in our faith in Christ, our love for God, and love for one another. That is why the second part of the graphic on the screen is a vine.
But, I am not the first person to use a vine as an image of how we live as disciples of Christ. In our passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus uses a vine as an image for how we live a life of discipleship. Just like a branch on the grape plant must be attached to the main vine to bear fruit, we can see that in order to be a fruit bearing branch, we must stay connected to Jesus who is the true vine. We also read that we will be pruned to encourage vigorous growth and more fruit production. But this metaphor leaves out some important detail work.
How many times have you heard sermons about Jesus saving us from sin, only to not receive a single practical step for how to lead a godly life after we are saved? Except maybe something vague like love others. I used to get very upset listening to gospel message, after gospel message about making a choice for Jesus. Because I wanted to know what to do after I made the choice! I wanted to know how to grow the spark of the Holy Spirit that God put in my heart. I already chose to believe, but then what? I had so many unanswered questions after I chose to believe in Jesus. For example, how do we grow in Christ? Jesus gives us a good metaphor for life in Christ with the image of a vine and branches. The vine provides nutrients to the branch. But this metaphor is more about staying connected to Jesus and bearing fruit than the work of growing.
Last week we talked about making a daily choice to connect with Jesus by showing up to worship services and church functions. Now, how do we at Hillcrest specifically encourage spiritual growth after we show up? That is where our first scripture reading today comes in to play.
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians tells us about how we are to grow. You see what Paul is describing in his instructions to the Colossian church is how we can participate in our own process of growth and maturity as we seek to become the kind of people that God made us to be. These words are instructions for how we are to live our lives as people who are truly made alive by Christ.
Paul uses a metaphor in this teaching of “putting to death” the old life and “putting on the new life in Christ like a jacket. As we read in verse 12, Paul tells us, “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” These are things that we must practice. This is how we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. This is how we become mature believers in Christ.
In the commentaries I stumbled upon a great picture to help us understand this strange abstract concept of growing in Christ. It is the image of our heart as the instrument that warms our blood. When we believe in Jesus, a flame is started in our heart. You could call this flame the love of God. It warms us and gives us life in a cold, cruel world that does not know much about love. In the same way, our deep organs like our hearts, produce body heat to warm us when the temperature outside of our bodies is too cold.
When I was a boy, I used to get cold at home during the winter. I would complain to my mother and she would tell me to go put on a sweater. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Putting on a jacket or a sweater helps us conserve the heat being produced inside our bodies to keep us at the right temperatures. So the way to warm the body with our own heat energy is to put on clothes.
In the same way, when we “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” As Paul says, we contain the peace of God that is in our hearts and it warms us throughout our body. The growth energy comes from the Holy Spirit inside our heart, but we conserve that heat by clothing ourselves.
And we can clothe ourselves only by practicing these attributes together in a group. You see, we cannot truly practice being compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient in isolation. By their very definition, these actions require at least one other person. God wants us to share our lives with other believers.
I want to focus on verses 15 and 16 in particular. These verses read, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
What Paul is describing here is a method of living that promotes the peace and gratitude that flows from our hearts. What Paul is talking about is us living out the Christian life together in small groups. When we gather together to teach one another, admonish one another, through psalms, hymns, songs. This is how we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
You see, a worship service or church event is not the place for us to grow ourselves in Christ. In a worship service, we are all facing forward and engaged in the service. At a church function, we often have an objective that demands our attention.
In a small group, the objective that demands our attention is one another. What Paul is describing is a place where believers in Christ share our life together and practice the kind of living God designed us for. A small group is the perfect place to grow like this. A place where we have accountability and encouragement from other believers.
But not any small group of people is good enough. We read in the scriptures that we are to, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Not every small group fits the bill because not every small group is a place where the message of Jesus is dwelling among us.
I have been in many, many small groups in my short life time. But only a few were places designed to have the message of Christ dwelling in them. Some of the small groups I have been in include music groups, outdoors groups, sports teams, professional groups, and cub scouts. All these groups were good, but they were not the kind of small groups that helped me to grow in Christ.
Based on our scripture, for a small group to be a group that promotes our growth in Christ, it needs to include among other things, the message of Christ, teaching, admonishing, wisdom sharing, and worship through songs. Basically the scripture is describing a miniature worship experience.
You see, one of the wonderful things about our Presbyterian tradition is that we see everything that we do in Christ’s name as an act of worship of God. And small groups are no exception. To be a Christian Small group that promotes growth in Christ, it must include some kind of vocal worship of God. Usually through some kind of song or hymn.
To be a Christian small group that promotes growth in Christ, a small group must create an environment where people have some accountability to each other. That is the only way that wisdom transfer and teaching can occur. The group needs to be close enough that people can be real with one another. That can only happen if people make an investment in one another.
Last, but most important, the primary reason the group is together must be for growth in Jesus Christ. This is very important. There are many, many reasons to get together. But the only thing that is really important is our relationship to Christ and through Christ, our relationships with one another. We talked about that last week.
That is part of being in the true vine… all the branches are connected together. But without being plugged into Christ, the true vine, all the branches in a small group will wither. That is why having a group of friends that occasionally prays and discusses spiritual matters is not the kind of small group that can create an environment for us to grow in Christ.
Connecting to Jesus is the first step in the process of making disciples of Christ. At Hillcrest, we can accomplish this best by being present in a worship service. Every week if possible. We can also connect to Jesus by attending church events and functions. That is because in order to make disciples, we have to become disciples ourselves first. We must learn all the things that Jesus taught us.
The second step in making disciples of Christ is growing. We have to be in a Christ centered small group in order to practice clothing ourselves with the behaviors and attitudes that grow the love of God in us, that mature us so that we might bear fruit.
And bearing fruit is the goal of each branch on the vine. Next week we will talk about the third step that I believe Hillcrest can use to make disciples of Jesus Christ. But for now, the first step is Connect, and the Second step is Grow. To sum it up in ways that are practical, connect means connect to Jesus and is the focus of the weekly worship service and Church events. Grow means grow in faith and character to be the kind of person that God wants us to be. We can best grow in Christ centered small groups. And stay tuned next time to explore the last step I am recommending in this simple three step process that Hillcrest might use to make disciples of Jesus. Amen.