Sunday, April 29, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Abide. It’s a word we don’t hear or use very often. But in the gospel of John it is used over 40 times, and almost as many in 1 John. It’s a word that’s hard to explain. It can mean to remain or stay, but what John is trying to convey is even deeper than that. It’s more than just remaining at a particular place. When Jesus says, “Abide in me, as I abide in you,” he is inviting us to a deep and intimate connection with him. Jesus wants us to be as close to him as he is to God. And if we think about that it almost seems impossible. How can we be that close to God? Jesus and God are in fact one. And that’s the relationship Jesus wants with us. Jesus wants us to be so immersed in him that we can’t live without him. What is it you can’t live without? What is it that gives you so much joy, and comfort, and peace that you don’t ever want to be parted from it or that you get so caught up in it that you lose track of all time? Where do you want to abide?
For some, it might be gardening, reading, cooking, or doing some other kind of creative project. For some it’s being involved in a sport like running or bicycling or swimming where you just can’t imagine a day without engaging in it. Maybe it’s a day spent fishing or hiking where you lose track of time. Or it could be a day spent with a person or persons you love that makes time stand still. Those are times of abiding, moments or hours where you’re so wholly immersed in the moment that nothing else matters. It’s those times of abiding that we treasure the most in our lives.
That’s the kind of abiding that Jesus is talking about. He wants us to be so connected to him, so immersed in his presence that nothing else matters. Jesus wants us to abide in him, just as he abides in God. And since Jesus is the revelation of God, then when we are that caught up in Jesus we are also caught up in God. How amazing is that! Jesus wants us to find our place of joy and peace in God, and not only does he desire that, but through Jesus it’s possible. We don’t have to try and imagine what God is like. God has been revealed in the person of Jesus. In his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection, we have experienced God.
But what about those times when it feels like God is not with us? We’ve all been through those times. Sitting and waiting in a hospital room for a loved one to get out of surgery, waiting for test results from a doctor, waiting for news from a loved one who you haven’t been able to reach, suffering physically or emotionally ourselves, these are all times when it feels like God is not with us. It’s at times like these that we feel like God has actually abandoned us, and God is most certainly not abiding in or with us. Those times are heartbreaking. They leave us feeling isolated, and lost. We feel like branches that have been cut off from a tree and are withering. The life feels drained right out from us. Jesus felt that way too. He cried from the cross before he died, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Could there be any more desperate words than those?
That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers.” He didn’t speak those words as a threat; he spoke them as a fact. God is the source of life, and when we are disconnected from that source, we begin to wither and die. Jesus may have felt he was abandoned by God, yet, before he breathed his last, he said, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit.” He may have felt that he was disconnected from God, but because he abided in God and God in him, Jesus was never truly abandoned. It was their love that kept them connected. They abided in that life-giving love together with the Holy Spirit.
How do we abide in that holy relationship? How can we love like that? Jesus says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Love is the key to our connection to God. And it’s not simply enough to say we love God; we have to show our love through our actions. Jesus gave us a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved us all the way. He loved us to the point of suffering and dying in order to save us. And he expects no less from us as his disciples. We cannot profess to love God if we do not love one another. If we are to be fully alive we need to abide –to totally immerse ourselves – in the love that flows from God. This means that all our actions must flow from the love of God. And this is possible by staying connected to Jesus who is the true Vine. All those other things and situations we think can satisfy us and nourish us only leave us lacking. Jesus who is the true Vine and is connected to God, feeds us with his love so that we can nourish others as well. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus has shown us how to love; we now need to do the same.
Choosing to abide in love isn’t always easy, especially when people hurt us. But Jesus was crucified, and he still chose to love. He is the image of what love is. He is the image of God who is love. As disciples, we are commanded to love with that same kind of love. We can’t do that on our own, but if we abide in him, his Holy Spirit will move in us to put his love in action. Mother Teresa was an example of a person who abided in Jesus, and lived that kind of love. It wasn’t always easy for her, but she chose to abide in God’s love. I’d like to end with her words.
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
This is how we abide in God’s love. This is how we as the church bear much fruit. Amen.