Held in God's Love

 


1 John 4:7-21 & John 15:1-11 


“Abide in me as I abide in you.” Jesus says. And at first, what I hear is, “the dude abides.” In the Big Lebowski, Jeff, “the dude” Lebowski, ‘a Los Angeles slacker and avid bowler,’ played by Jeff Bridges, abides. He says so himself 160 time in the movie. What he means is, ‘the dude lives in his unperturbable state of dudeness.’ He simply is. He abides.
 
At my own baptism, when I was 13, this passage was read to me. My job, I was told, was to abide in Christ. I heard it as to hang on tightly to Jesus and work hard to not let go.  But there is no striving in abiding; nobody says, “I was abiding so hard.”  It’s a relaxing into, dwelling alongside, hanging out and lingering kind of word. So abiding in Christ is not about hanging on tightly and mustering doubtless faith, conjuring spiritual feelings, or displaying religious or moral tenacity. It’s kind of the opposite. It’s just being. Like the dude.  
 
I went on a retreat this week at a Catholic retreat center I had not been to before. They sent a welcome video orienting me to my hermitage and one of the things they said was how people often ask what they should do. You’re not there to do anything – you are just there to be. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat. If you want to walk, walk. If you want to sit in the chair and rock and watch nature out the window, do that. You aren’t here to accomplish anything, they told me, you’re here to abide in the love of God.  

But the video went on to say something interesting. Once we finally settle into accepting we don’t need to do anything, we turn that doing energy onto God. I’ll just be, God, but you need to do something for me. Give me an answer, some insight, a mystical experience, a message.  But that’s not what this time is for either, they said. You are here just to be with God, who is being with you.
 
Abide. Linger. Be. Be connected. Be alive. Be here with God because God is here with you. 
 
In scripture, this word “abide” is actually not used for humans nearly as often as it is used for God.  God abides.  This is God’s word first: God loiters with us. God hangs out with us in and through it all.  We abide in Christ because God abides with us. 
 
And in this abiding relationship, there is something fierce and lovely about the message that anything dead will be taken off and burned, that we will be pruned, and that the pruning will be done by the vinegrower, and not the branches themselves.  It’s both a threat and a promise: God will take care of what needs to be released and let go, in us, between us. God will do the pruning that makes us healthier, more whole and filled with life. Sometimes it will feel like death to let go of what we thought we needed but was really holding us back from flourishing. 
 
 There is a particular concept in Christian practice that the mystics talk a lot about: holy indifference.  Whatever happens to me, I am ok. Because in life or in death, I belong to God. The most terrible thing will not destroy me. The most wonderful thing will not save me. I am held in God’s love. I abide. I can take in joy, and go through suffering, and they are both real and impact me, of course, but they do not define me, they do not sway me from my grounding in love. 
 
When session (our church board) works together to discern where God is leading the church, we seek this place of holy indifference before we begin.  Can we let go of our agendas and trust that God will reveal, through the process and each other, what is best for our congregation? I may think I know what is best, but I have biases and desires that I may not even be aware of, and so does everyone else.  So we seek to reach holy indifference, to face the question in front of us with humility and trust that God may have something better for us than what any one of us had in mind. Because ultimately we really do desire “God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” And God may prune us, or even fertilize us (!) —things may go differently than we had planned. But we are learning that if we can surrender into trust that we are held in God no matter what, it makes us brave to risk, and speak up, and reach out, and let in.  Holy indifference is this deep trust, illustrated by this little sentence tucked into the middle of our passage today, “…as he is, so we are in the world.”  As Christ is—inextricably connected to God and everyone else, held in love—so are we.  We can trust that. We can abide in that state of - if not unperturbable dudeness - then holy indifference.
 
But abiding is not a solo gig.  If these passages say anything to us today, it is that it is impossible to abide in Christ alone.  “God is love,” our scripture says, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Abiding in God means love. Loving, being loved, love.  And that requires other people.
There is no individual discipleship, no personal, isolated relationship with God. I do not experience Christ somehow apart from my life lived alongside, with and for others, because Christ IS God-with-us. That’s not to say that solitude isn’t essential, or that we can’t get away, like I did on retreat, to hang out with God.  But any connection I had to God there is inextricably woven into the connections I have with other people here. I am not me without them. I brought the joy and pain of those I love, and the sorrow of our nation and world, with me. And I returned from alone to together, to with and for, to alongside and in it – with my family, friends, and community, to the whole world of which I am a part. 
 
It is in and alongside each other that we find Christ. St. Theresa of Avila said, “Every face is an icon of Christ discovered by a prayerful person.”  When we abide in Christ, we will find ourselves living in love, loving others, receiving others, lingering in the joy and the pain with others, standing by others and finding others doing that for us as well.  God’s love is embodied in us, between us; God uses our voices, and our arms and our eyes and our hearts to love. 
 
And despite what we most often believe and how we most often relate, there is no fear in love. None at all. Perfect love casts out fear.  Love is the energy of life – love fuels life, deepens life, builds life, grows life.  But fear is the energy of death, fear pushes us to shut others down, close them out.  Love connects and strengthens us; fear breaks down relationships and dismantles trust.  In love we open up and grow outward, but in fear we shrink down and shrivel up, isolated, falsely “protected” from hurt, insulated in self-absorption or blame.  Love is a blazing fire that lights up the world. But where fear is stoked, it sucks up all the oxygen and stifles love.
 
The opposite of love is not really hate.  We don’t really hate one another, at least not most of the time. We fear one another. We fear what the other can take from us, require of us, do to us, stop us from doing. “Hating” is letting fear decide how we see each other. 
But there is no fear in love.  Perfect love casts out fear; love is stronger than fear.  It is through love that God’s Spirit does the work in us of healing and freeing, beginning and redeeming, mending and forgiving.  
 
How do we feel God’s love? In the love of others. 
How do we feel God’s love? When we love each other.  
It’s not an abstract, spiritual and distant thing.  It is a concrete, real, tangible thing. If you want to see God’s love, then love somebody.  Say something, do something, for somebody else. See them. Hear them. Join them.  Love someone. Do it and you will find yourself held by it.  Live like it’s true and its truth will live in you.  
 
But lest we think we need to make ourselves into loving people, producers of love – we go back to the abiding, the holy indifference of trust, the being loved already and completely by God. Christ is the vine. We are the branches. It’s not even our love, after all. We’re recipients and conduits – we are just sharing it, breathing it and passing it around; we are just abiding in the love of God that sustains us all. 
 
So beloved ones, abide. Linger here. Be. Be connected. Be alive. 
God is hanging out here with us.  Our job is to hang out here with God.  And that looks like love. 
 
Amen.
 

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