Saturday, May 9, 2015

Abiding with Jesus

John 15:9–17 

 When I took a course in New Testament in seminary, my professor spent significant time with this passage, focusing on the English word “abide”. It’s not a commonly used English word. We occasionally call our home “our humble abode”, a related word.  Sometimes, we hear the thought, “I can’t abide that (whatever)!” meaning we dislike it intensely.
One other way in which we use the word is in the familiar hymn Abide with me. In this hymn we sing of our need for God’s presence, especially in the evening as darkness increases the shadows around us and within us. We pray for the strength and hope found when we know God is with us, even in our darkest hours.
This is the sense of the word abide as Jesus uses it in the text. The passage we have today is the second half of last week’s text in which Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” I skipped this text last week because I wanted to talk about the amazing story of Philip and the eunuch.
But, today, we need to make the connection to it. Grapevines were everywhere in Israel; everyone knew about them. People knew that with the right amount of sun and soil and water, they produced abundantly. They knew that the vines needed to be pruned at just the right time in order to be the most productive.
Even if we don’t grow grapes, most gardeners know that flowers should be dead-headed – the old blooms removed so the plant can bloom again. In the same way, grapevines need to be pruned so they can bear more fruit. Jesus picks up on these details to help his disciples understand how they can abide in him and produce abundant fruit. When we abide in Jesus’ love we stay connected to him and produce the fruit of more love.
… When I was in Estonia in 1987, the Soviet Union still existed, as it would for two more years until the Iron Curtain fell all over Eastern Europe. It was hard in those days for Christians to be Christians but they persisted. We visited a couple of churches and met a pastor and some lay leaders. They told us that there were many Lutheran churches in Estonia, but few pastors to serve them. They were working to train new pastors without an official seminary. In those days, pastors did lots of funerals and few baptisms. Today, baptisms are beginning to outnumber funerals. The church in Estonia is growing in numbers and in spirit.
Remembering my visit to Estonia, it was exciting to read an article in a recent Lutheran magazine about a summer camp in Talinn, Estonia. The camp brought together about 50 children, whose parents were former prisoners and drug users. Some of the children have been homeless. The camp program worked to bring healing and wholeness to the children and their families. The children learned that Jesus loves them for who they are, not for what their parents have done or where they live.
The congregation’s philosophy is to restore the whole person, beginning with children in the neighborhood. They are well connected to the vine, and sharing Jesus’ love with more and more people all the time.
… Many years ago in Illinois, the Women of the ELCA participants developed a program to help keep women in prison connected with their children. They bought tape recorders and children’s books. Today, I am sure they use iPods or some new technology.
Volunteers took the books and the recorders to the mothers, who read the book for their children. The cassette and the book were then taken to the children, so they could hear their mother’s voice reading to them any time they wanted to. It made the separation easier for both mothers and children. It was a program that clearly demonstrated the volunteers’ connection to the vine of Jesus’ love.
… Some people are not connected to the vine. In fact, they don’t even know the vine exists. Here’s an adaptation of a true story I heard this week.
There were three women who worked together, ate lunch together often. They were all Christian, and talked frequently about the happenings at their various churches. One was Baptist, one was Methodist, and one was Lutheran.
When another woman joined the firm, she was invited to join them for lunch. They had a great time getting to know one another. The new woman startled the other three by telling them something she had just heard. “This woman just told me she believes that a man named Jesus lived a long time ago. He died. Then he was alive again. She really believes it. Isn’t that preposterous!?” The other three women looked at each other, then at the new woman in the group. “We believe that, too.”
Over the next several months, the three Christian women told the new woman about Jesus and why they believe in the amazing story of his resurrection. They told her what it feels like to be loved by God, forgiven, and connected to each other through their belief in Jesus.
Eventually, the new woman began to visit the friends’ churches and found a worship style and preaching content she liked. She was baptized and became an active member of the church she chose. And, she began to bear fruit, abiding in Jesus’ love so much that she began to tell others about him, too. She tells her own story of discovering Jesus.
We like to believe that everyone in America knows about Jesus and that they have made the choice to ignore him. But that is not true. Many people simply have never heard about Jesus. Many others have never heard about the love Jesus offers, believing instead in a vengeful and punishing God.
People such as this woman are far from the vine, far from abiding in Jesus’ love. And it’s our calling to help them find their way to the vine by sharing Jesus’ love with them. When we share Jesus’ love, we bear Jesus’ fruit and we abide in him.
We stay connected to the vine, abiding in Jesus’ love when we worship frequently, pray regularly, study the Bible, serve others in some way, and share Jesus’ love with others.
This week, pay attention to how you connect to Jesus the Vine. Do you connect just for yourself? Or do you help others know about Jesus so they, too, can get connected?

Please pray with me: Jesus our vine, lead us to cling to you and share your love with others. Amen