Remain

Graduation sermon for Shoreland Lutheran High School

John 15:4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Pamela is very much like most of you in the graduating class. She came to our church when she was a little girl. She and her parents didn’t have much religious background before entering the doors of our church. Pamela ate up the Bible stories in Sunday School. She enjoyed learning the memory work in her Christ Light lessons in our Lutheran elementary school. She asked great questions in our confirmation classes together.
She had a great and vibrant in her Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pamela relished coming to Shoreland. She appreciated the Christian friendships of her classmates. She savored God’s Word being applied in every subject. She cherished praising God in the chapel services.
But then time and the devil and her sinful nature got a hold of Pamela. She just slowly gave away her faith. Perhaps it was depression or conflict at home or just a general unhappiness or simply boredom with Christianity.
Pamela began to pull away from God and His Word. She went to church less and less. She didn’t mind missing the Lord’s Supper often. She became more confrontational in her debates about religion in class. She became more self-centered.
This especially became more obvious when she entered college. She stopped going to church altogether. She moved in with her boyfriend … and then later a different boyfriend. She went to one bar on Friday nights with one group of friends and a different bar on Saturday nights with a different group of friends. Each night having the time of her life, but not being able to remember it the next morning. She became all about herself, her future, her feelings, her wants, her desires … and nothing about God anymore.
Over time, she had completely cut herself off from God. She wanted nothing to do with Him anymore. She had gladly given up her faith to pursue her own self-interests.
And you know what? I commend her. At least Pamela was being honest. She had no use for God anymore and she wasn’t going to pretend like she was remaining a Christian when she really wasn’t. She remained committed only to herself.
Graduates, I am asking you today to be honest. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your parents and teachers. And especially be honest with your God.
If you want to go the way of Pamela, then do it. If you are going to remain in your sin, then remain in your sin. Don’t be half-hearted and apathetic in your faith. Sin and sin boldly. Give up your faith. Go all out. Move in together. Sleep around. Get drunk every weekend. Be belligerent to your parents and rude to your siblings. Don’t make your pastor chase you down. Tell him right now you aren’t interested in all that church stuff anymore.
Follow the old saying: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Live for yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do or what to believe or how to act. Be your own person. If your sinful nature wants something, indulge it. Don’t hold back. Let yourself go. And if you are going to go … then go all the way. 
Don’t pretend to be a Christian while secretly living the life of an unbeliever. If you want to forsake everything you’ve learned in church and at Shoreland and from your parents … then do it. Don’t hold back. Go the way of the Old Testament Israelites. Cut yourself off from Christ. Be honest and prune yourself now. If you want to bear rotten fruit, then attach yourself wholly to the devil.
Jesus warns Christians about being lukewarm in their faith. He says that He will spit those kinds of Christians out of His mouth. Well, tell Jesus to His face that you would rather be cold. Save Him the trouble of coughing up a big piece of phlegm.
Don’t be a part-time Christian when Jesus is not a part-time Savior!
But … but if you serious about your graduation verse, then do the exact opposite.
There must have been a reason that together you chose this verse out of the 31,000 verses in the Bible. Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
But why remain in Jesus? Because He is the vine. He provides life and vitality for you His precious branches.
He took everything you are, everything you will become and put it all on Himself. He became the adulterer, the alcoholic, the divorcee, the coward, the lukewarm Christian.
He stood up to the devil for every time you will cower under the pressure of your high school and college friends. He drank the bitter cup of His Father’s wrath in order to save you from the hell you deserve and you so often try to return to. He laid down His life as your Good Shepherd for you lambs and sheep who love to wander. He was forsaken by His heavenly Father for all the times you forsake Him in order to sleep in, work overtime or just plain don’t care about Him anymore.
For all the times you have fallen asleep in class, He stayed awake teaching and healing into the wee hours of the morning. For all the times you have laughed at and ignored His Scripture, He endured the laughing and mockery of those who despised His Scripture. For all the times you want nothing to do with Him, He always and only wants everything to do with you. The crown of thorns on His head, the lashes on His back, the nail marks in His hands and feet, the pierced side, and the open tomb prove that.
Jesus never once pretended to be anything other than what He came to be – your Savior. There is nothing false or fake about who He is or what He accomplished for you. He slammed shut the gates of hell and threw open the gates of heaven for you. He has forgiven all of your sins and wiped them from His Father’s memory. He has removed your guilt and replaced it with peace and joy.
Stay connected to Jesus. That is the theme of this entire school year and your graduation verse. Connected to Christ, your sins are forgiven. Hearing His Word, your soul is encouraged. Remembering your baptism, your life is a part of this family of believers. Receiving the Lord’s Supper, your faith is strengthened.
As you enter college and the workforce, remain connected to Christ. He is your strength and life. As long as you are connected to Him, faith and life flows from Him into you, His precious branches. Rather than being conformed to the ways of the world, you will be conformed to the ways of the Lord – only if you remain connected to Christ.
Go to communion with your parents. Find a WELS campus ministry at your college. Minister to the hurting people at work. Kneel beside your bed at night to confess a whole day’s worth of sins. Join with your fellow believers on Sunday morning to hear the sweet words of forgiveness announced by your pastor in the words of absolution. Hear your loving Savior speak to you in your daily Bible devotions. Speak to the God of the universe in your daily prayers.
Then you will bear fruit. For a vine exists to bear fruit. You will bear the fruits of faith as you resist the temptations to sleep around; as you witness to your classmates who are struggling with depression; as you confront your siblings who are straying from Christ’s path; as you raise your own family in God’s Word and His Church.
You glorify God as you live a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness for Him. You are branches. Branches do not get to choose what they do – they exist to bear fruit. Fruit that will last.
Your purpose is not to get strong on your own and become independent. Rather, your purpose is to admit your weakness and remain dependent upon Christ. Draw your life from Him.
Without your connection to the Vine, you may become successful, make lots of money, and raise a nice family. But all of that will be worthless when you burn in hell as an unbeliever.
However, with your connection to the Vine, it doesn’t matter whether you are a flop in the business world or have to file for bankruptcy or struggle in your marriage. For when you are weak, Christ will give you strength. When you are doubting, He will grant you faith. When you need help, He is right there by your side. And all of that is priceless as you look forward to enjoying the glories of heaven as a Christian.
The world teaches you to live independent apart from Christ. The Gospel calls for you to live for Christ who lived and died and lives again for you. The world tells you that living for yourself is the way to make sure you get what you want. The call of the Gospel is to glory in your service, giving up your life for the Lord and your neighbor. As you go out into the real world, away from the shelter of the Barn, don’t become more independent. Rather, become ever more dependent upon Christ.
Christ is strong and tenacious. He has fought Satan and crushed His serpentine head. He has defeated death with His glorious resurrection from the Easter grave. He has conquered sin by becoming sin for you. He will not give up on you. Don’t give up on Him.
To be honest with you, Pamela isn’t a real person. On the other hand, she is a very real person. She is a combination of every young person I have met and ministered to. She is a combination of every one of you … every one of us. Someone who strays, who is apathetic, who is a coward, who has big sins and lots of little sins.
By the grace of God, most of the Pamelas I have ministered to have reconnected with their Savior. Sadly, there are still a few who now belong to Satan. I pray for their souls. Just like I pray for yours.
Graduates, remain in Jesus. Stop living like an unbeliever and live for Christ. Stop pretending. Don’t fake it. Quit holding back. Be bold for your Lord. Be proud of your faith. Stand up for Jesus. Let others know who you are … what you are – a baptized, confirmed, blood-bought child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, a graduate of Shoreland Lutheran High School. Nothing – not sin, not the devil, not even death will be able to separate you from Christ … because Christ remains in you.

Today you graduate. But I pray that today is not the last day we see your smiling faces. I pray that this graduation is only the foretaste of the final graduation on the Day of Judgment. Where all of us are gathered together around the throne of Jesus Christ. If you remain. Amen. 

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