Remaining there always

“I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in my love.” This passage from John 15 has always been meaningful to me because it was read to me at my baptism.  I stood in a white robe, in a fiberglass pool built into the front of the sanctuary, waist deep in warm water - a short, nervous 13 year old - and said into the mic that I loved Jesus and wanted to be baptized.   And my mother stood in the congregation, holding open the bible and read to me these verses as a charge: “Your life comes from Jesus, hang onto Jesus, abide in him and his joy will be in you.”  I can still hear her voice saying those words.  Hang onto Jesus.

I recently heard a table full of Lutheran pastors debating whether faith was more monkey or cat, which is to say, do we cling to God, like a baby monkey, while God moves and leads, trying hard not to fall off, or do we get carried like a limp kitten in his mother’s mouth, trusting we wont get dropped? Who does the hanging on? was the debate. What is our role in our faith with God? 
And if you think this kind of discussion can’t get heated, think again.

But the word abide is not a desperate clinging, being carried along, afraid to fall off, and it’s not a passive ride either, trusting God not to drop you but not really participating in where you are going.

In fact, abiding isn’t really about hanging on at all, or being hung onto, for that matter.  Abiding is an active trust; it’s relaxing your grip, opening up, dwelling, hanging out, staying there, not fleeing and not flexing, but moving along nonetheless.  It’s a with-and-alongside, and within-and- around kind of thing, like being buoyed in a river while you swim, or surrounded by sunlight as you walk.  It’s less baby monkey or kitten and more child playing in the yard with Mommy in a time-suspended kind of where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence? way of being.  She’s right there, she’s not going away, she is delighting in you and you are safe with her.  Abide there. Remain. Receive, participate. Be. In my love; surrounding you like a force field.  
You are pulled into the inner dynamic of God, which is love.  Abiding in Jesus’ love is letting the life of God that is in you, that claims you, live through you. It is trusting that your life comes from the Source of Life.

Tonight we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the church, the moment the Spirit came down.  The Acts Pentecost passage with the tongues of fire and the other languages, is one telling of how it all got going, and it’s the one that gets all the press. But the Great Commission in Matthew is another, and our text tonight from John is yet another way of telling how the church began and the Spirit came and drew the disciples and all who followed Jesus into deep friendship and shared mission with the Creator, in the love between the Father and the Son.

In our passage tonight, like shivers down the spine, the breath of the breath of life, breathes on them.  Receive the Spirit, take in the life of the lifegiver. Let it stir you alive as it did the earth creature, Adamah, as it did the waters it hovered over when there was nothing but emptiness, moving the nascent world into vibrant, joyful being.  And then, he says, Receive my peace.  Peace is what I give you. Take in my peace, dwell in my peace.  Be filled with peace.

And then that amazing charge  - not “preach the gospel” or “go to all the world” or “make disciples” or any of the rest of how it is said in the other places. No, here he says it this way – if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
You are now in this with me - this peace, this abiding in love and inviting others to abide there too, this trusting God for life kind of living. You are drawn into the very relationship of God – the force that binds God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the inner substance of the Holy.  And in this love you have power - if you want to hang onto the things that divide and destroy, hold them and they will be held.  But if you let them go, release them, they are gone. 
This is your calling in the world.  To live from this love. To be grudge-releasers and mercy-sharers and trusters of love and dwellers in peace and spreaders of forgiveness and hope.  To live in the same connection to God and each other as I do. To let God’s life flow through you: Love each other.  Abide in my love.

Several years ago, I heard Dr. Fred Luskin speak, a world expert on forgiveness.  He said he was frustrated some time ago because most faith traditions speak extensively about the need to forgive and how good it is to do, but they don’t tell us how to forgive. They don’t often help us to do it. They just tell us to do it. And people get so stuck in unforgiveness. So very stuck.  So he has dedicated 25 years of research and work to teaching people how to forgive, and to measuring scientifically the effect it has on people’s bodies and minds and relationships.  And do you know what his team has found is at the very root of all forgiveness?

Abiding in God’s love. 
Of course, they wouldn’t say it quite that way in the laboratory. Instead they would talk about finding that place of peace within, about living from that place; but the way you get there?  Love.  He walked us through an example.  Think of someone you adore, he said. Get a good picture of them in your head.  Remember what it feels like to be so loved by them, so known and valued. How they delight in you!  Let your heart even get warm right now as you think of this person. Hold that feeling within you.  Now open your eyes, he said. Five minutes of this every day is more effective than psychotherapy in helping people to forgive. 

Love unclenches our heart, it drives out fear, and frees us – ever so much more - to forgive and to live even more out of the love that holds us, because all forgiveness, all love and mercy and with-each-other-ness come from God’s own love, God’s own being.
Abiding in God’s love not an abstract, spiritual and distant thing.  It is a concrete, real, tangible thing; it is loving each other and letting ourselves be loved; it looks like forgiveness, and it tastes like peace.  

Tonight we are baptizing little Eleanor.  And she is not going to remember this night, but I am her godmother and I will tell her about it.  And I love that the message she will get to hear is this:
You are already claimed by love – Eleanor, you belong to love. That is your home. It’s what gets to tell you who you are; it’s what gets to show you what others really look like and teach you what this world around you is really for. Love does. 

And it’s your job, as you grow, to remain there. To let yourself be loved. To let love guide you as you live with other people and meet them and fight with them and forgive them and fall for them and feel your way through all the complicated and messy things it is to be human alongside them. You get to stay in love’s forcefield through all of it.  A walking abider in love; that is what you are.

And what you forgive will be forgiven – you have power, my dear!
And you will forget sometimes.
 It’s going to be tempting sometimes to cling to hurt and anger, to shut out others and punish other’s wrongs, and to take into yourself all the judgment and failure and No of the world and others and yourself when you’re afraid or angry or jealous or afraid, and to believe that No, as though it is true, as though it gets to tell you who you are or what is real.  And you might even believe this No so much that you go out looking for what you already have, trying to be what you already are.

But God has said Yes to you, Eleanor, I will tell her.  We all saw it, I felt it drip off my fingers and soak your soft little head, and that Yes will never, ever end. Your life is now hidden with God in Christ.  And you get to remain in that Yes, abide in it, swim in it, let it fill you up and spill out onto others.
 You get to be a messenger of God’s Yes in the world. You are part of love – already and always a part of love. Love is what gets to tell you what is true and trustworthy and right. Only love! Not being right or being strong or being good or being fearless. Love.

And on this Pentecost weekend, it’s such a blessing to remember alongside Eleanor that this is what it is to be the Church – the people who belong to love – who live that alongside others, who bear this great and astonishing power to be about forgiveness in the world, about release and freedom, to let people be defined not by rules or anger or fear or judgment, but by love. 

Hey church, what if that is what is required of all of us, with these kids we baptize? 
To live around them and alongside them as though we really believe we are loved by God? To live our lives, every day, as though we really trust that our life comes from the Source of Life, as God really is with us everything, and the peace Jesus speaks of really is ours? 

To not be afraid to be honest about the times we forget it, to seek forgiveness from each other, and from God together, from the things that hold us captive –to actively confess and say, please, help me be free again? 
To walk around this life with a hidden awareness of God’s utter delight in us, and the inability to walk by another person without seeing them the exact same way? 

It is our calling to live in that much peace, that much freedom, and trust, and abiding in the love of God that claims us, that we just keep forgiving, keep pushing past the barriers we’ve erected and the fears that capture us, and keep on saying no to no, for ourselves, and others, and the world, believing instead, that we are part of God’s Yes.

Trusting that love is what claims us, so we are free not to retain our sins or the sins of others, free not to live guarded by calcified pain, but instead to face and feel pain and even let that pain carve room within us for joy, let it open up new spaces in us to be filled up with love.

We are the Body of Christ, the ones who abide, as Jesus abides, that is, in Jesus Christ we actively live in God’s Yes for the world, actively remain in the love of God. That is who we are.  And the world needs us to be to be this.

You did not choose me, but I chose you, Jesus says, to us, to the Church, to Eleanor. I chose you to remain open and ready to meet God, who is with and for us all, and to love as you are loved. 

So, let’s bring up Eleanor and pour this truth over her and welcome her into it, and say to her on behalf of all those who will get to live out this promise in her life day by day: Eleanor, your life comes from Jesus. That means you belong to love. Abide in this reality, little one. May you be filled with joy and peace in trusting.  And throughout your life, as you continue to find your voice and discover your place in this world, may you let the life of God that is in you, that claims you, live through you.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives. 
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  
(John 14:27)

Popular posts from this blog

Not in the "Easter Mood"

A pastor suggesting how you should vote

What Makes God Angry