This is Rev Deborah’s sermon from Sunday 2 May 2021.
The word abide is not a common word nowadays and yet it is used yet it is used eight times in this short passage. It is also mentioned in our second reading – ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.’
The Greek word for ‘abide’ is difficult to translate into English in a way that adequately conveys all its various shades of meaning. Translations include ‘remain in me’, ‘dwell with me’, ‘remain united to me’. More modern definitions include ‘stay with me’, ‘remain with me’.
In old-fashioned English, the place you lived was called ‘your abode’, the place where you ‘abide’. To ‘abide’ in Jesus is to live in Jesus or dwell in him, to see Jesus as in some sense your home. But also, in old English the word carries the meaning of ‘staying put’, so that if someone says, ‘bide here for a while until I come back’, they mean ‘stay here’, ‘remain in me’. The Message version of the Bible says ‘Live in me. Make your home in me just as I make my home in you.’
What is the difference between a house and a home? Let me tell you the story of two houses. One is straight off the cover of ‘Architectural design’. It’s floors gleam with fresh wax. It’s curtains, its paint and its furnishings are all colour-coordinated, with not one clashing item. Tasteful accents are here and there, pretending to be random but actually carefully placed. The climate control system balances temperature, humidity, particle count, and the ozone level. The windows are specially treated with an electron layer that repels dust and haze both inside and out. The lighting is on sensors, so that as the day darkens, selected lights come up, slowly and gradually, keeping a soft glow in the room no matter what is happening outside. Not a thing is put of place.
The other house is straight off the cover of Antiques Road Show, shabby chic. Its floors, so far as we can see them, could use attention, particularly where the dog’s scratched them. Its walls have some small grimy handprints on them, about so high, and its furnishings are an eclectic mix. Its curtains sag a little, its paint is cracked here and there, and where the magazines have been piling up, there is a coffee cup, half empty, and a pizza box, half full.
On the other side of this room there are some people talking. It seems very animated. It’s loud; in fact, it’s an argument. They are raising their voices and waving their hands. One of them has her hands on her hips and is giving it the old foot-stomping effect. And another is shaking his head. It seems stressful and tense.
Which of these houses is a home? Truly a home? I am not going to ask you which one is yours!
A home is not museum-like perfection. A home may not be perfect, but it is where you feel at ease, where you can be yourself. It is where you can take your shoes off and snuggle on the sofa with a good book. Home is where the stresses of life can be brought and dealt with. Home is where somebody loves. A house is just a shell, a showplace, a façade. A home, as the poet Robert Frost said, ‘is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. The poet James Whitcomb Riley, ‘It takes a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home.’
Home, to use a well-known expression, is where the heart is. Jesus is asking us to abide with him, to dwell with him, to make our home with him, to have our hearts in him. He wants to give us a home, to give us what we need to make our houses homes. That is what God did when he chose to come in Christ Jesus and make his home among us. God wants more for us than a house. God wants to give us a home.
In our gospel reading, John uses the image of a vine to illustrate our inter-connectedness with Jesus. It was an image that the Israelites were familiar with. The cultivation of vineyards was important to the life and economy of Israel and they would have understood what Jesus meant.
Jesus has gathered his disciples around him and wants to prepare them. He foresees the hardships and death that he is about to face. As he meets with his followers one last time, he yearns to console them. He knows the trials that they will face in the days ahead. But at the same time Jesus invites his disciples to enter into a more profound relationship by urging them to ‘abide in him’. Rather than sounding a note of despair, Jesus speaks a word of hope and trust for their souls. Reassurance comes from remaining close to Jesus, weathering whatever storms may come.
When someone is having a difficult time, we casually say ‘hang in there’ which isn’t very helpful to those who are desperately wondering how to do just that. Jesus offers more than just ‘hanging in’. Hard times will invariably come, but living, abiding and finding our home in Jesus the vine and God the grower sustains us, promoting in greater well-being and brings a sense of peace to the turmoil that can characterise our life.
Bearing fruit when it counts grows from union with Jesus. Finding a home in him and letting his word find a home in us bring that closeness, that abiding.
But abiding isn’t becoming stagnant. Abiding is active. Abiding is dynamic.
I wasn’t a particularly rebellious child, but I had my moments! One day, after an argument with my mum I ran away from home. (NB not to be advised). I can’t remember what exactly had happened but I do remember saying to my mum,
‘I am running away’.
‘Where are you going’, asked my mum.
‘I’m running away to my aunty Susie’s’, I replied. (Aunty Susie lived just up the road).
‘OK’, said my mum.
‘And I am taking all the chocolate orange biscuits with me so that I don’t starve!’ I continued.
‘OK’ my mum said.
Biscuits weren’t a big thing for us as my mum worked for the CWS biscuit works.
Of I went, accompanied with biscuits, to my Aunty Susie’s. What I didn’t know until much later, was that mum had phoned my aunt, explained what had happened and said that I was on my way to her house.
We talked about lots of things including what had happened, whilst eating the biscuits. I realised that it was my fault, went back home, said sorry and shared the remaining biscuits with her.
Abiding and pruning, like nature, hold together. Left alone, vines, attach themselves to other things, will grow uncontrollably and end up being one tangled mess with a lot of superfluous growth. The vines need to focus on their energy on producing good quality grapes rather than second rate ones. The vine grower or vine dresser is needed to keep the vines in order. The paradox is that the vine grower must cut away lifeless, unproductive branches and prune those branches that are productive. At some point, all the branches need to be cut. Young vines are not allowed to produce fruit for the first few years, which means that drastic pruning is needed each season so that plant can develop to its fullest. Vineyards are long term investments and labour intensive. Pruning and cleansing are the work of God and he determines which branches are cut of and which are pruned – branches that do not produce fruit, branches that fail to live in love. Unlike the pruning that I can do, which usually involves decimating a bush, Jesus knows exactly what he is doing and by abiding in him as our home, we have vine dressers constant care, steadfastness and reliability. The pruning becomes redemptive rather than arbitrary.
However, the image of the vine is not just about us and God. It is also an image of community characterised by interdependence, mutual respect and the on-going presence of Christ. As we abide in Christ, we also abide in each other. Our home is with Christ and with each other. As well as us abiding in Christ as individuals, we also abide together. The questions that we have to ask ourselves as a church family at St. Margaret’s and St. George’s are:
- How are we, as a community, connected or disconnected to the vine?
- Is our community fruitful or not?
- In what ways are we as a community abiding in Christ?
- What fruit does our community produce?
- What needs to happen for us to produce a bountiful harvest?
There is a piece of music by John Bell and Graham Maule which sums this up in one of its verses and the chorus.
For on your own, what can you do?
Left to yourself, no sap you share,
Branches that serve their own desire
Find themselves broken as fuel for the fire.
I am the Vine you are the branches,
Pruned and prepared for all to see.
Chose to bear the fruit of heaven
If you remain and trust in me.’
We are chosen to bear the fruit of heaven. Jesus is the one who has made that possible. This is the real hope ‘for hanging in there’, abiding in the vine of life.