Apart from me, you can do nothing (John 15: 5)

My grandfather used to regale us with stories that emphasized his own importance

and his favourite response to our lack of enthusiasm for these stories was quite often this;

”if it wasn’t for me, none of you would be here!”

We might have heard the same thing – with thanksgiving and a gentle spirit –

from our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and foster mothers

and any others who have made it possible for us to grow and thrive

(sometimes against all odds…)

This is one of the days in the year

that we acknowledge how important one person can be,

    to our sense of self-worth – for our joy and delight

    and so we honour mothers in May and fathers in June

and that, as they say, is that…

but in the midst of our celebrating, Jesus comes,

preparing his disciples for life after his inevitable departure – and Jesus puts it quite plainly:

Apart from me, he says, you can do nothing!

Nothing! – Imagine!

It boggles the mind – such a statement – for we know plenty of people who seem to be able to do all manner of things apart from Christ,

so as the people of God, as disciples of the living word,

we need to take a closer look at Jesus statement.

Apart from me you can do nothing…

and yet, Jesus shall soon leave them.

The spectacle was already in motion, the damage has been done.

Jesus arrest and execution is a forgone conclusion.

So it is not his physical presence Jesus refers to; there is more to this than meets the eye.

Jesus is suggesting that there is a relationship that goes beyond the here and now;

beyond sight and speech, beyond that which we too easily take for granted,

that is the goal of all who seek the favour of God.

We celebrate that relationship every week.

We acknowledge that relationship in every communion service,

at every baptism, and each and every time people gather to worship

We call it a mystery, and struggle to understand how it works

but it is undeniable that there is something that binds us together,

gives us strength and determination to pursue the things of God,

and that something is a relationship with God through the risen Christ.

What difference does it make, you might wonder?

What difference a relationship that exists in mystery, with someone we cannot see or touch…?

Scripture, tradition and our own history suggests it makes a great deal of difference.

It is in our activity that we discover the difference

between something significant, something meaningful,

and the ominous “nothing” of which Jesus warns us.

Yes, our activity continues whether or not we pursue this relationship

but where there is reverence for God and an honouring of Christ

our activities take on a certain purpose;

there is confession, compassion, and cooperation

and a spirit of encouragement that often makes the impossible a reality.

The reality is that apart from Jesus, we can do plenty:

apart from that goodness of God that connects us in ways that we do not understand

we can (and do) embark on some pretty destructive behaviours:

apart from Jesus we can be selfish, neglectful and rude.

We exercise our greed and seek to hold power over one another.

We start wars and influence people to accept our version of history and our vision for the future.

The ‘nothing’ Jesus warns us of certainly becomes something when the costs are counted,

but these activities do nothing to further the vision and the kingdom of God as Jesus describes it.

Apart from me, you can do nothing…

What some might see as an ultimatum –

to my ears sounds like a plea

to see reason, to seek mercy, love justice

and walk humbly with our God.

It is Christ as our common denominator

Jesus as our communal focus

that causes our work as God’s people to prosper.

It is Christ that enables us to see one another

as something other than strangers or competitors

that lets us enter into relationship with one another,

and share the grace, mercy and peace of God with our communities.

For it is only with Christ;

with the guidance of the Spirit and the strength of God’s eternal promises

that we can make anything of our efforts together.

With Christ;

in that excellent and mysterious relationship –

that see us seeking good in one another

because that is God’s own example to us in Jesus –

we are bold to welcome the stranger as family,

and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us

and in this way, offer the citizens of the world a better way to organize themselves;

a way that encourages confession, compassion, and cooperation.

Apart from me you can do nothing, Jesus says

and we rejoice in the discovery that with him, all things are possible.

Better things – good things – remarkable things.

All meant for the glory of God, who offers us, in Christ,

this life-giving, life-changing path to freedom.

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