Scripture:  John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 MESSAGE       “Connection”    Rev. James R. Renfrew

Imagine that you are connected by an invisible string to every person in this room.  And whatever anyone else does makes that string move and vibrate and stretch and shake.  If one of us begins to walk or talk, sit or stand, everyone else can feel the string move.

I’d like to demonstrate this with a volunteer.  The invisible string is attached to Jordan.  Please raise your hand and move it around.  Now his hand is attached to the invisible string, as he moves his hand, don’t you feel it too, a gentle tug in his direction, letting you know that he’s alive and active and moving and growing.

Do you believe in the invisible string?  The string is invisible, but many of you have described it to me.  When the baby wakes from a nap a mother knows it’s time to go upstairs and take a look, without having heard a single sound from the baby.

You’re thinking about a friend, and just as you do the phone rings and there she is; she’s been thinking about you.

The invisible string can be as short as the distance to the person you’re sitting next to this morning, and it can be as long as it takes to reach the other side of the world.

The invisible string connects us to our family and friends, it also connects us to strangers in distant places.  As hurricanes strike a distant coast, as bullets fly in a school hallway, as bombs fall, as refugees desperately seek safety, our hearts go out to people we don’t even know.

The string connects us to people in jail even though they are locked in.  The string connects us to people in the hospital, even though someone may be unconscious or in a coma.

The invisible string is even more amazing than this.  An old friend of mine before she died pointed to a star in the sky one night and told me that it was her husband waiting for her in heaven.  Feeling a connection with him, gave her all the hope she needed for the future.

The invisible string even involves animals.  When a dog walks up to a group of people, the dog always finds my son Roberto before anyone else.  How does that dog know that Roberto has the most love to offer?  I don’t know, but the dog sure does!  There must be an invisible string!

There’s no way that you can prove the existence of the invisible string.  You can’t take a photograph of it, you can’t measure it with a yard stick, you can’t test its strength with special equipment.  It’s invisible, but if you feel love and care for people around you, you know it’s real.

Yesterday, on Neighborhood Mission Day, we had yet another experience of the invisible string.  We gathered with strangers from other Genesee County Presbyterian congregations, went to the YWCA and turned the building upside down, cleaning and decluttering everything.  Millie Tomidy Pepper became the new director of the YWCA a short time ago and in her first days on the job she realized that the YW was facing a terrible financial crisis, enough to threaten its existence, so when 30 volunteers appeared yesterday she was in tears, that invisible string becoming for her a thick rope of promise and hope.  May the invisible string you’re holding onto be that sign and hope you need!

Now imagine that the invisible string connects you with God.  It’s not just when you move, that God feels it; it’s when you have strong feelings, it’s when you’re deep in thought, it’s when you hope and worry.  God feels it, because God is directly connected to you and me in ways that can take a lifetime to understand.

The invisible string that connects your life with God works both ways.  God is connected to you, but you are connected to God.  Many people don’t realize this, or they want to believe it, but can’t, or deny that it’s possible because of the mistakes they’ve made in life.

Everything I know about God tells me that God has a direct connection with us, even if we don’t yet believe it.  Even in our ignorance, defiance or shame, God is faithful to us, and risks everything to reach us in Jesus.  In Jesus, God is pulling on our string, trying to get our attention, trying to get us to take notice, trying to pull us to safety and trying to lead us to eternity.

This is what Jesus was talking about that day when he said “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  We are connected to each other, and to Jesus, in the same way that a vine is connected to its branches.  If you’ve ever looked at a vine, you see how it spreads out along the ground, how it stretches up to the sky, how it climbs around and through the things in its way.  It’s a way of saying that wherever we find ourselves, low to the ground, or way up high, all the way down the fence line, or climbing the neighbor’s tree, God is diligently searching for us, trying to help us feel connected.

Our connection to God, our connection to Jesus Christ is shown by our spreading branches, branches that reach in many directions, branches may attach themselves to almost anything, to people who are sick or lonely, to people seeking answers, to people who are hungry and desperate, to people longing for the love of God.

The words of Jesus “I am the vine and you are the branches”.  I’ve always understood this to mean that we can have a powerful relationship with Jesus Christ as we come together for worship, mission, prayer and singing.  That every leaf and every branch on the vine, from top to bottom, is a part of him, and he a part of each one of us.

“I am the vine and you are the branches” also means that we can have powerful relationships with each other as people seeking after God.  Certainly when we come together for worship, prayer and singing, but whenever we need one another’s encouragement.  As a church we are the proof of God’s love in Jesus Christ, as we visit one another in the hospital, as we pray for one another in time of need, as we hug children and grand-parents, as we send encouraging cards and letters to one another, as we become friends.

Sometimes we feel far from God, separated from God’s love and care.  But Jesus’ words assure us that God has already taken the initiative to be with us.  Even as we strive … doubt … fear … worry, Christ has already sought us out and found us!  “I am the vine and you are the branches”.