"Beyond Mere Connection"
Scripture – John 15:1-8
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thanks to technology, we are more connected than ever. Smart phones allow us to call, text or email family and friends, and with twitter feeds, we can connect with a wide range of people. Carrying a cell phone with us in the car can enhance our security if our car breaks down. We can stay connected with our teenager when she is out on a Friday night. She can send a text, "Come pick me up NOW."

Our phones can become our eyes. Camilla was shopping and I had asked her to pick up a particular solution for my contact lenses. When she reached the shelf, the brand I had mentioned had three choices. She texted a photo and asked, "Which one?" I texted back "The blue one." She pulled it off the shelf and headed down the aisle.

Technology helps grandparents stay in touch. The other day I received a 20 second video of my grandson playing baseball while I was in my office. Our daughter stood next to the fence, a few feet from the batter's box, and took a video with her phone. Within seconds, I saw him get a hit and run to first base and hear her cheering him despite the fact that they are 250 miles away.

Today's technology can connect us to each other as never before. And yet, it also has the capacity to distance us from each other as never before. Parents read emails and send text messages during breakfast and the five year-old has to knock over his orange juice to get their attention.

How many of you have witnessed a couple having dinner in a restaurant and rather than peering into each other's eyes, each of them is fixated on the screen of their phone? Not long ago, I was gazing at Matisse's paper cut-outs when someone walked straight through the art exhibit without even glancing up and seeing this amazing art, because he was busy texting.

What does it mean to be connected? Does it mean you have a large following on Twitter? Does it mean you are LinkedIn to hundreds? Does it mean you have lost count of how many friends you have on Facebook? Does it mean that you are spending the days of your life on a device?

MIT professor, Sherry Turkle, is excited about the ways technology provides new possibilities. "Over the past 15 years, she has studied mobile communication and has interviewed hundreds of people, young and old, about their plugged in lives. What she has found is that these small devices we carry in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they not only change what we do, they change who we are... People talk to her about the important new skill of making eye contact with people, while they are texting someone else."

People can be physically together in the same place without really being present to each other. She has studied people who text during funerals. They lose themselves in their phones to avoid dealing with their grief. She says, "We are getting accustomed to a new way of being alone together...We can hide from each other even as we are all constantly connected...A young man said to her, 'Someday, but not right now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."1

Someone asked Professor Turkle, "Don't all of those tweets and little sips of online communication add up to one big gulp of real conversation?" She replied, "No. Connecting in sips may work for gathering discreet bits of information. It may work for 'I'm thinking about you.' But it doesn't work for learning about each other, for really getting to know and understand each other."2

In today's passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus gives vital instructions to his disciples in the final hours before being snatched from their midst. He talks about connections – their connection to him and their connection to others. Jesus uses a simple metaphor to illustrate the crucial importance of maintaining a deep bond with him. He says, "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me." (John 15:4)

The word "abide" is not a routine word in most of our lexicons. It sounds like a word from a bygone era. It is an obscure word with different meanings. In Paul's famous sermonette on love, he ends with "Now faith, hope and love abide, these three." He uses the word "abide" in the sense of "remain." "Faith, hope and love remain." But abide can also mean something very different. "I cannot abide his foul mouth." Abide means "tolerate." "I cannot tolerate his gutter language."

In our passage, when Jesus says "abide in me" he means "to dwell or reside." A smoother translation might be "Dwell in me as I dwell in you." In contrast to the superficial connections that many have today, Jesus urges deep bonds and life-giving relationships.

Have you ever said something and, as soon as the words spill out of your mouth, you realize it sounds exactly like one of your parents? We offer a friend a bit of advice and suddenly it hits us: "I sound just like my mother!" The relationship we had with our parents was so permeating that they became a part of us.

The same thing often happens with couples who are together for a long time and are intimately involved in one another's lives. They begin to think alike and act alike – some of you have been together so long that you are beginning to look alike! Because in some deep way, you abide in each other.

In a similar way, Christ is in you. Jesus says, "I am the vine and you are the branches." That is important imagery to hold in your mind because it represents the deep truth that we are connected to Christ. As long as we are loving – not only performing acts of love, but possessing a spirit of love within us – we strengthen our bond with him. When we fall out of the spirit of love, as each of us does from time to time, we live as if we are no longer connected. We become a dead branch that might as well be used for kindling because we no longer generate anything life-nourishing.

God is always in us and around us. God does not pull back or desert us, but there are times when we choose to live as if we are separate from God. Every spiritual action we take – prayer, worshiping as a community, reflecting on Scripture, giving generously, taking the Lord's Supper, performing acts of compassion, working for justice, peacemaking – every spiritual action tightens our bond with Christ.

Why is it important to forge a closer bond with Christ? Is it to experience a personal spiritual high? Jesus answers our question in the final verse of the passage. He says, "My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

We glorify God when we bear fruit, and bearing fruit means living and loving as Jesus did. It is not merely skimming the surface with others through text messages. And it is definitely not using our technology to keep others at arm's length. We bear fruit when we touch others – family, friends and even strangers – with heartfelt love. And we do not love in order to gain something in return, we love, simply because God loves us.

Eric Cramb, a pastor in Scotland, was preparing to conduct a funeral for a man who had died at 65. The last two years he had struggled against cancer, and during that time his wife nursed him at home. The pastor spent time with the new widow, listening as she talked about the 47 years of married life they had shared.

They had a teenage romance and were married when he was only 19, an apprentice in the ship yards. She told how their married life began in a room in her in-laws home; how they lost a son as a little child; how their other son had thrived and prospered and made them grandparents. How her husband had loved his work, how he had enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. She said, "Though he was not a saint, none of us are, he was a good man and a good father. They told me I was daft getting married so young, but we had a wonderful marriage."

His funeral took place on a Saturday morning and after the service, the widow asked the pastor if he was taking his son to the big game that afternoon. "No, not today," he said. "I have a wedding at three o'clock."

"A wedding," the widow sighed. "That's nice." Then, she added, "Tell the bride I wish her all the best. And tell her if she's half as lucky as I have been, she will be just fine."

Before the marriage service, the pastor told the young bride of the old widow and her wishes for her. The bride shed tears, and after wiping her cheeks, she said she could not imagine a nicer greeting on her wedding day. Then, she asked the pastor if, after the wedding, he would take her bouquet to the widow. When he did, it was the widow's turn to shed a tear of joy.

The widow and the bride were linked by love. Even though they never met each other, they made each other's day.3

Dwell in Christ as he dwells in you and you will go beyond mere connection to others. You will form loving bonds that are thoughtful and caring and true.


  1. Sherry Turkle TED talk, April 3, 2012.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Neil Paynter (ed.), This is the Day, (Glasgow, Scotland: Wild Goose Publications, 2002), Month 3, Day 31.