s108g09 Fifth Sunday of Easter 10/5/09

'abide in me' John 15.4

I began the preparation for this sermon after Easter and the words about seeing the risen Jesus in Galilee. And the importance of this struck me that the risen Jesus was never found in the Temple. At his 'trial' Jesus made it quite plain: 'I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.' John 18.20. No longer. It was in the Temple where the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus for adjudication. (John 8.1f) Those lovely words that Jesus spoke on the Cross: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' are not an absolution for the religious clique who had him killed, they were directed to the Roman soldiers who were simply doing their job and who indeed knew not what they were doing. The risen Jesus had nothing to do with the Temple. Judgment on exclusivist religion of all sorts ­ even those labeled 'christian' was and is pronounced for all time. Jesus has nothing whatsoever to do with that sort of faith. It has lost it's way, a delusion and a deception for humanity.

The risen Jesus was and always will be associated with the lives of 'ordinary' people ­ that is those whose faith does not separate them from others. So when Jesus says to us 'abide in me' it is actually an invitation to be ourselves ­ rather than trying to be someone else, someone 'religious'.

So it is in the light of this that these words about pruning become clear. While we are trying to be someone or something we aren't ­ even if this purports to be religious ­ and indeed especially if this is in the religious sphere - we cannot do anything. How often do we struggle to answer some question, knowing that we should know the answer ­ but the answer eludes us until we stop trying. Then, unbidden, the answer comes.

We are to be pruned to make sure that that which is fundamental to us as unique individuals is enabled to grow fully without being cramped by the extraneous add-ons that distract us and others. And religion can as easily be an extraneous add-on that needs to be pruned so that our personal spirituality can flourish.

It is the same as being purified in the fire. That which is precious ­ the gold that is indestructible ­ remains, while the impurities, the frustrations and distractions are done away with. That which is precious, you and I, remain.

If we make a religious profession of being something we aren't - then we won't produce anything worthwhile, because others will have to become something they aren't able to keep up with. No one will be encouraged and all will be diminished by the effort.

This explains those words: 'pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.' And Jesus immediately takes away the status of his very own mother and brothers! (Luke 8.18) We who have come to begin to appreciate the risen Jesus in our own lives, will indeed begin to see that more and more and in others more and more. Those who rely on their religiosity have nothing, and that nothing is taken away. How often is the kingdom described as a thief coming when we least expect it?

So it is we ourselves who bear the fruit, it is not an add-on extra. In the words of Bishop John Spong, we are to become all that we can possibly be. Our worth is not inherent in the money we put in the plate, but in the unique contribution we make to society because we are unique and we are placed in a unique situation. It is as we come to this appreciation of our uniqueness ­ along with an acceptance and appreciation of the uniqueness of everyone else ­ that real and abiding fruit will grow.

The risen Jesus abiding in us as we are, lifts and empowers us to be fully the person we were made to be from the beginning, and through us, lifts and empowers all others to be the persons they were made from the beginning.

So often I hear the 'church' saying things like it exists to be a model of behaviour for the world. The introduction to the latest version of the Anglican Covenant has echoes of this perception: 'We humbly recognize that this calling and gift of communion entails responsibilities for our common life before God as we seek, through grace, to be faithful in our service of God's purposes for the world. Joined in one universal Church, which is Christ's Body, spread throughout the earth, we serve his gospel even as we are enabled to be made one across the dividing walls of human sin and estrangement (Eph 2.12-22). The forms of this life in the Church, caught up in the mystery of divine communion, reveal to the hostile and divisive power of the world the "manifold wisdom of God" (Eph 3:9-10).' The world is seen as fragmented, having lost its direction. But the perception of the church being apart from the world exposes us as an agent of the very fragmentation of which we accuse others. One can certainly look at the Anglican Church and see a very fragmented organization. Indeed of course the very existence of the Covenant is an attempt to keep the Communion together. One could come to the conclusion that it has lost its way, because each and every part is going in its own direction. The reality is that we have nothing to offer the world outside the 'church' ­ except our presence and our blessing ­ like Jesus did. We are called to be incarnated into the world not an example for the world to follow.

Hans Küng speaks about the Church also as separate from society. He has wonderful ideals for the church ­ 'liberty, equality and fraternity' (p484) ­ the same as the French (secular) revolution - but I would simply want to say that this should be something for the whole world, with the church leading the way by her readiness to be a part of the world. In some ways the world is a bit further along the track than the church in this.

For me it is Richard P McBrien ('Catholicism' p1173) who more nearly expresses what I am trying to say when he writes: 'Catholicism is characterized by a radical openness to all truth and to every value. It is comprehensive and **all-embracing** ..

So the words of Jesus: 'abide in me' have nothing to do with going to church each week, supporting the activities of the congregation throughout the week, tithing and giving to the charities that ask of us. All these things are good, but if we come away thinking that we are better than others by these activities, then we are not abiding in Jesus. We are separating ourselves from others when we should be embracing others.

And of course this is the message of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, those who worked all through the heat of the day received no more than those who worked but the one hour. They wanted to be recognised as better than the others.

Indeed of course, the love of money and prestige and all things that separate us off from others is the root of all evil. When we abide in Jesus, we abide in Jesus with everyone else for whom Jesus died, and whatever we ask for will always be for the mutual benefit of everyone.

And the fruit of the vine is transubstantiated into wine. It seems less important that the bread and wine of the sacrament is transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus instantaneously at the words of institution by the priest, than that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into Jesus' body and blood in us, as we do indeed 'take and eat' and let that incarnation be effective in us and into the world. By our communion we transubstantiate Jesus into our own existence and by our incarnation into the world there becomes the possibility of the transformation of our society, not possible in any other way.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"