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Abide In My Love (w/audio)

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John 15:9-17

 Sermon:

The story behind these words that we just heard (about being called to abide in the love of Jesus and called by him to love one another) is difficulty that I imagine gave way to discouragement for the community who first heard the words of the gospel of John. The Christians who made up the community who first received the gospel of John was living in a hostile world. Persecution was evidently a way of life. The verse right after the last one I just read to you has Jesus saying to his followers, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”

Then there are all those verses in the gospel of John that refer to the “Jews,” which make it seem positively anti-Semitic. But scholars have observed that reflected in these seemingly derogatory statements about the “Jews” were conflicts that John’s Christian community was having with the Jewish synagogues toward the end or turn of the first century.

So it was a pretty hostile world in which the followers of Jesus who first heard the words of the gospel of John found themselves. It was a tough world. And a tough world has a way of making a tough people—a people embittered, discouraged, and not very pleasant to be around.

Every week we hear about or experience things—bad things—things that can bring us down. Not enough money to do what we have felt called to do as a church or as individuals, people struggling with difficult physical realities like cancer or dementia, folks (maybe loved ones or friends) in the grips of a mental illness that is leading them down a road that is painful for those who care about them to witness, stuff that happens—stuff—that wears us down and makes it hard for us to be the persons we once felt called to be. Maybe even seemingly minor things happen that bring us down—like too frequent rain that seems to darken our days, like pollen that leaves us sneezing and coughing through the spring, like illnesses that have us sitting long periods of time in the doctor’s office and making us feel like we are living our days in a fog.

So what does Jesus say to this? Here is what the gospel of John tells us: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Abide in my love. That is what Jesus says to us.

Abide. It’s an agricultural term, bringing to mind a branch abiding in a vine. And that branch is able to bear fruit—even much fruit—because it abides in a vine.

But, when I think of abiding, a couple of things come to mind. The first is that I like to walk, and I used to like to walk with my wife. But recently I decided to give up walking with her. As I told her, she is too easily distracted. She wants to stop and take pictures of the ducks at the pond. She gets excited about seeing a hawk perched on a branch and wants to stop to enjoy the sight. And I just want to get on with it. I tell myself that I can enjoy the scenery without stopping. Besides that, I usually have something on my mind—like Sunday’s sermon or something else I need to do or to think about—and I don’t like to stop for a picture or stop to wait for Linda to catch up after pondering over a duck egg on the edge of the pond where we walk.

A second thing that comes to mind is the premier of a musical I saw last Sunday night at a nearby church. It was written and directed by my cousin Fran Addicott, and tells the story of the sisters Mary and Martha and Jesus’ visit to their home, related in the gospel of Luke (10:38-40). Many of you remember the story. Martha is busy, busy, trying to make everything just right for Jesus’ visit—cooking, cleaning, doing the things that a good host should do. And she is annoyed that her sister Mary just sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. But she doesn’t lift a hand to help Martha with all the things that need to be done. So she complains to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” To which Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

When I think of Jesus saying to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” I think of this story of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening. I think of Linda pausing to take in the wonder of a duck or goose, or maybe even a swan or heron, paddling across the pond. To abide is to be able to stop. It is to be able to ponder. Amidst all the demands of life that seem to say, “Get on with it! Get to work. Do something!” Abiding has to do with the ability to stop, to ponder, to take in the wonder of life in relationship with God.

It’s what we are seeking to do now—abiding. And, if you pause during the week, just to be open to the presence of God, just to pray for the concerns set before us each week as a church, that is what you are doing—abiding. But if you can never stop, if you have too much to do, if you are too busy trying to get work done, if you are too preoccupied by the things that seem to be going wrong that you or someone needs to fix, if (like Martha) you are trying to make things just right, if (like me) you don’t like to be distracted from what you have determined to be the places you need to go and the thoughts you need to have, then you will find it very hard to abide in the love that Jesus reveals.“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

So the first persons who heard the gospel of John were struggling—they were struggling with rejection and persecution. Jesus’ words no doubt caused them to nod their heads: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). They were struggling with people of a rival religion who gathered in nearby synagogues. Maybe they were feeling discouraged and worn down. Maybe they felt like giving up.

And what Jesus said to them, according to the gospel of John, was to abide in his love. Just stop worrying and stewing and trying to figure out what to do, and abide in his love. Do that, Jesus says in John’s gospel, and you’ll stop worrying. You’ll stop fretting. And you will have joy. Love and joy go hand in hand. And, if there is joy in your life overflowing in the way you act and talk and laugh and live, that is a sign that you are abiding in Jesus and his love. But, if there is no joy, no spirit that soars, no laughter, that may be a good sign that, like Martha, you are too busy and too preoccupied to abide; or like I am, you don’t want to stop and be distracted from where you feel like you need to go.

And something else Jesus says in John’s gospel: abide in his love and you will come to know him intimately—as a friend, as a partner. So it won’t just be Jesus high and exalted. It won’t just be Jesus Lord and Savior. It won’t just be Jesus the Word made flesh and a bunch of other theological abstractions picked up in church circles. It will be Jesus friend. It will be Jesus confidant. It will be Jesus who lets you in on the inside of what God is seeking to do in you and through you because you are abiding in his love.

And one more thing that Jesus says in the gospel of John: abide in his love and you will know what every person who is brought or comes to this baptismal font knows and you will know what every person who comes here Sunday after Sunday and see the font and maybe place their hands in the water knows: you have been chosen. You have been called and set aside. It is not so much that we choose Jesus. Jesus chooses us. We are his. We belong to him.

And why? In order that we may love others as we have been loved. In order that we may love one another. In John’s gospel this is Jesus’ command, his one and only command to his followers, to love one another as God loves Jesus and Jesus loves us.

So in a troubling world where there is so much rejection for those who seek to live in the way of Jesus, in a troubling world where so much seems to go wrong, Jesus says the cure is to abide in him, to abide in his love. Jesus says the cure is to find ourselves with Mary sitting at his feet—dwelling with him, letting his Spirit capture our spirits. Jesus says the cure is to be open to the reality proclaimed in our baptisms—that he has chosen us and we are his. We are the friends of Jesus, who are both called and empowered to love one another as Jesus loves us, as a friend who will lay down his life for us.

A lot was going on in that community that first heard the gospel of John. A lot is going on in our community of faith as well. And what does Jesus tell them? The same thing he tells us: “Abide in my love.”

—William E. Warren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, May 6, 2018

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