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Imagine a remote village of primitive people who lived miles away from any city or modern amenity. Now, a traveler has given each villager a new smart phone and a charger. Also, each phone is completely dead and thus are not capable of being turned on. Furthermore, there is no signal where the phone could connect even if it had battery power. Nonetheless, the villagers were quite fond of and valued their possession. There was nothing like it anywhere they lived. What would you say about these people, if they took these phones with them everywhere and treasured them?
Knowing what we know about a smartphone’s capability, it’s fair to say these people have no real understanding about what they hold in their hands. They possess something they intrinsically know is valuable, but have not concept of its power nor how it works.
My parable here exposes how ignorance is masked over by a proud misuse of life changing technology. What would happen if a traveler came with a generator, and a wifi signal which allowed each villager to access the power within their hands? How would connecting to this source of power and information change the village forever? The same question must be asked of all people who claim to know something of God.
This metaphor gives us access to the message of Jesus to his disciples which we we consider today.
Instead of a cell phone metaphor, Jesus uses an agricultural one to remind his disciples that even though he is going to be taken and killed, that it is possible to remain connected via this spiritual relationship with the Father into which he has included others. Jesus’ statement to them is that he is the “ämpelos hé álethieñ” or “vine the true one” or “true vine.” The solid, authentic, real, true connection. It’s important to note that “TRUE” in this verse is an adjective, and not a noun as we saw in chapter fourteen. Many Bible interpreters put unnecessary stress on the text by missing this little observation. As an adjective, this definition points us back into the arena of ontology because Jesus is saying: I am the “genuine, true, authentic, or real.” Using the phone metaphor, it is like having ten wifi signals on your phone but only one is unlocked and able to connect you… that is the true one.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
This gardening metaphor is not a threat, it is the secret to living an empowered life. What good is a smartphone if it has no wifi and is not connected to the source of power or source of information? In gardening, the nutrients, water, and flow of life all go between the fruit and the roots. Jesus spells out that this dynamic relationship is one where we have not just a part, but an equally essential part, just as the Christ has a part, and the Father has a part. Like a charged phone having a part, the wifi infrastructure is a part, and all available content on the network is a part. Each is interdependent, but different. The alchemy is in the net effect of the convergence between them all. The relationship of each is the alchemy. Being conscious of and actively participating in this spiritual relationship between humanity and our Creator is an honored place to be, and living this powered life is not only rewarding for each of us, but it is designed to transform to the entire world.
Back to Jesus’ agricultural metaphor, much can and has been said about the pruning process. All that we think we need is lopped off. Only what we truly need is kept, so that it can be stronger and more effective. The Father is the wisdom that deletes all the apps on our phone which are data hogs or which provide no real (TRUE/ authentic) benefit of revealing our true self and purpose. The distractions are wiped off. We don’t often think of a loving Father as brining the discomfort of pruning, but that is exactly what love does. Even with our own children, love is not the parent who gives a child whatever he or she wants, love is the parent who is willing to let their child face the discomfort of being denied one thing for the sake of something better. If a child’s life is being ruined by TV or video games, it is the loving parent who intervenes to cut them off from the child. Some apps are deleterious to life.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (v.4)
To abide is to live, dwell, keep on, or remain. Jesus is admonishing his disciples that we must remain in him and that he will remain in us. That alone is worth ten sermons. We all understand this when it comes to our tech. We know that each must remain powered or all is lost. This must have seen a bit odd for the disciples since Jesus has just told them that he would be taken and killed. Thus, the ability to remain in Christ is moving to the “non-physical” or spiritual arena. Kind of like seeing the first cordless phone.
While this connection seems like it is “imaginary” or “not scientifically verified” or even illogical, this connection (this vine) is actually more (true) real, more authentic, more reliable, more LASTING than any connection taking place on the physical dimension of reality. If we stay, or remain consciously aware of this “other” non-physical plane of reality, then to the same extent, our life is transformed and empowered. Apart from this spiritual connection, a person will never know their true self, nor their true purpose. If life is a constant struggle, the first thing to check is the connection to THE POWER source and THE NETWORK.
“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (v.6)
I think it’s important say a few words about this verse which has been used as a threat or to ratify the narrative that if you don’t believe in Jesus, or if you lose your faith, then you will be thrown into Hell and be destroyed. I have come to see something much more profound now that I have become free of my own institutionalized interpretation.
James Finley said: “If a man sets out on a journey to search for the tip of his nose, the first step betrays his total blindness as to what he seeks.” Religion exists because it has successfully convinced half of the people that holds the answers to their questions so long as they just conform, obey, and be named by their tribe. At it’s deeper levels, religion can help us to pause long enough to capture a glimpse of the ends of our nose, but most of it is a journey of delusion and distraction. Imagine the church goers surprise, imagine the disciples surprise, to learn that the Father is pruning religion from our lives, so we can experience divine flow, a relationship of immediate power and proximity to God.
When we lose “the end of our nose” or an awareness of God’s presence, our minds drift off into the illusion that we are something or someone else. This is to separate from the vine or lose Christ consciousness. This is called “monkey mind” by those who have tried to meditate. This separation causes a spiritual dryness as our capacities begin to desiccate into our pseudonym. Jesus is saying that if we don’t charge our phone or stay connected to wifi, the amazing power of our smartphone is useless, because it cannot function in relation to the other parts. How many of us would carry around a dead phone that has no ability to be charged? The point of the Father pruning, is not the threat of discarding what has died like a dead branch. The point is to prevent the branch from ever dying. If we recognize our need to keep our tech powered, then we must take to heart the message of even greater importance, namely, that we must remain connected to God, lest our life be drained of power.
An unplugged life, devoid of the empowerment of the Spirit, is the norm these days. Our world doesn’t understand what a life looks like which bears much fruit, and that is in part because the most religious among us do not demonstrate the power of the relationship. Where is all the fruit that is promised? We can change that. This return to the Source must begin with the faithful so the world can see the power and its effect in everything.
If our faith is still a fetus, then we can begin by simply testing this principle. Ask God to reveal this Spirit and to awaken us to His power. Let’s remain open minded, and see where this leads us. It will be next to impossible not to import some ritual, prayer, behavior, or appeasement into this void which will open up. Like the talker who can’t sit in an awkward silence, we will not recognize the next normal moment as this moment of connection. There must more more to finding the end of our nose.
For those who have some measure of faith, perhaps its time to finally fall deeply into the experience of life, the kind which is connected to the Source of power and Truth, which will bear much fruit. Most fruit, we simply cannot perceive from our disconnected status, just like the villager not perceiving there is anything more to their dead smartphone. By powering up, we may discover a beginning to works far greater than we ever imagined. We must stop looking out there, over there, or believing that some act, some ritual, some form of obedience brings any of this into view. All that is True, lasting, authentic, genuine is all right here, right now, and we must recapture what that means so that this redemptive power can be experienced by the world and believed again.
Life is too short to live as a dead branch or as a smartphone devoid of our potential. If we find and connect to the True Source, the world will change immediately and permanently. Does anyone dare to believe this?