Rev. Stacy Swain
John 15: 9-17
Will you pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you our creator, redeemer and life sustainer, Amen.
The reading from the Gospel of John continues that which Alex read for us last week. These passages are referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse for Jesus death is imminent. This is Jesus’ last flesh and blood opportunity with the disciples to look them in the eye and review with them what is most important. What they must not forget. Jesus knew that the end was near, so very near and that he very little time. Each moment he had left with the disciples mattered a lot. Each word he spoke was important and hung in the air like a jewel.
Now Jesus could have filled those last hours with a lecture on church doctrine and polity — on what we are to believe and how we are to be. We probably could have benefited if he had spent some more time on those
really difficult doctrinal issues about which volumes have been written and that nonetheless leave many of us scratching our heads. Doctrines like the incarnation – how can God become flesh? Or like atonement – how is it exactly that Jesus died for our sins? And it actually would have been extremely helpful and would have saved a lot of heart ache if he had spelled out specifically God’s views on same sex marriage and on whether gay, lesbian and transgendered people are fit for ministry.
But he doesn’t. He didn’t. All of that was not on his mind that day close to the end. All of those doctrines and issues of polity may be important, but they were not what was most important to Jesus, it seems.
So what was? What was most important to Jesus? What was it that mattered so much that Jesus wanted to be absolutely sure those that follow him never forget? What was the substance of Jesus’ farewell discourse?
We heard Jesus say it last week and again we heard it today. He says it says it quite clearly and quite emphatically, he says it over and over. He says “Abide with me.”
In this 15th chapter of the Gospel of John, in this farewell discourse Jesus says “Abide with Me” not just once but seven times between verse 4 and verse 11. We know that repetition is a highly effective way of making sure particularly in the spoken word that those listening remember and retain a key point.
But what does “abide” mean. What does abiding in Jesus look like? The original Greek word that is translated as abide is Menw, and while I personally like the word abide it does not carry the force or muscle that is in the original Greek. Menw means to remain, to stay, to take up one’s place and not be moved from it. Menw is what Jesus says to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, when he tells them to stay with him, remain with him while he goes off to pray. What Jesus is asking, I think, is that we see that we are a part of God’s life and that God is a part of our life. We belong to each other. That we keep God in our minds and on our hearts.
For me that means trying in how I walk through my days to open up space in my conversations with others, in how I see the world around me, in my quiet musings for God. It is about realizing that I am in a committed relationship with the sacred, and that I am to be mindful and dwell in that relationship as I walk through my days.
Abiding is the affirmation of belonging from which all of the rest of Jesus’ teaching in this discourse flows. When we abide in Jesus as the branches abide in the vine, the life force that flows through the vine also flows in and through us. We share in the love that is God. And when that happens, Jesus tell us, when the love that is God flows in us as well, then our joy is complete and we give forth lasting fruit – we become a transforming, healing, life generation presence in the world. The starting place of all of this, is not believing the right way, or being the right way. The starting place of all of this is simply opening ourselves to the gift that we belong. We belong to each other and we belong to God. That’s the whole of it.
Now one of the things that I love best about this church, that I love best about each and every one of you is that you know the importance of belonging. This church in the fabric of our being is about belonging. It is about welcoming people into this gathered community not because they believe in a certain way or live in a certain way but because each and every one of us before we believe a thing or do a thing we already belong. We welcome all into our life together because God has already welcomes all into life with God. “You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “but I chose you.” If God has already chosen all then how can we not do the same?
This is what is at the heart of Peter’s revelation in the reading from the book of Acts today. This is the Peter who was Jesus disciple who tries so hard to get things right. Now after Jesus death and resurrection, Peter and the other leaders are trying to figure out who exactly should be included in this new community of followers of Jesus. Who should be in and who should be out and where is that line that defines.
Just before the passage read for us today, Peter had received a vision and has been told to go to the house of a Cornelius who was a Greek, and a leader in the Roman army. So Peter goes to Cornelius’ house which was pretty radical in and of itself and then once he is there, Peter begins to teach those gathered in Cornelius’ house about Jesus as he was instructed to do in the vision. What happens next is shocking and something Peter could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. The Gentiles, those Romans, who are listening to him begin speaking in tongues which was a clear sign to everyone that the Holy Spirit was upon them. Just like the Holy Spirit was upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And so he says “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing there people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” As if to say, can any human being decide to exclude another from the community of God if God has already welcomed them into it?
I do not think that there is a more needed message in this divisive time when so much of our public discourse is about who is in and who is out. Who deserves and who does not.
But it is also needed I believe, because of as Sherry Turkle in her book Alone Together writes that we are a deeply lonely society. Never before in the history of humankind have we been immersed in a such an extensive web of connection than we are now in this digital age. We can visit just about any corner of the earth in a few clicks. Our news feeds are full of the status changes of our facebook friends, but for so many people, there is no one out there there when what one really needs is a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold. We may be connected, but connection alone does not assure that our deep need for belonging and intimacy is met. Or as Robert Putnam puts it we may still go bowling but we these days we are Bowling Alone.
I believe that what the world needs so very much right now is to know what it is to abide in love. To come home to a deep sense of belonging to God and to each other. To come home to a deep knowing that the beginning of all we do or believe or are is our connection to the sacred source of Love. The love that birthed the universe is the love that stirs our hearts when we offer a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold. We are connected to God and each other in a web not of anonymity but one of life giving, wound healing, world changing love.
So let us love with abandon. Let us welcome all with an ever widening embrace, and let us abide with God in whom we all belong. Thanks be to Love. Thanks be to God. Amen