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s108g12    Fifth Sunday of Easter   6/5/2012

'Abide in me as I abide in you.'  John 15.4

Jesus asks us to abide in him, as he already abides in us.   So Jesus invites us to do something in response to his presence in us.   We cannot just allow Jesus to abide in us, we have some movement to do too.    So we cannot just rely on our baptism, there is some active response required of us.

I suppose if I thought about it, the response implied by that which is enjoined on us by the Church has traditionally been (to quote the 'Rule of Life' on my confirmation certificate  22/6/1962): 'To be present at Divine Worship every Lord's Day, and to pray daily.  To receive Holy Communion regularly and frequently.  To make humble repentance and confession of sin.  To make devout and regular use of the Bible. (and) To support the Church and Ministry by gifts and service.'    All of these infer somehow us still doing things to get Jesus to abide in us.   So somehow the statement of faith - that we recognise Jesus abiding in us - has been turned into a life of unbelief, that we must continue (eternally?) do things to make this happen, or (eternally?) to keep it from 'slipping though our fingers'.   Are either of these scenarios "good news'?

In the light of my recent reflections, the most obvious response to the question of what is being looked for, would be to 'do unto others as we would have done unto us'.

So I feel moved to say that we are invited to reflect a little more than superficially the fact that Jesus affirms that he abides in us.   We are invited to recognise that we look for the divine, not in the heavens, scripture, tradition, sacrament or in spirituality, but in ourselves.   We are invited to affirm the incarnation, the incarnation not in the blessed virgin Mary, the saints, the clerical hierarchy, or the sacraments, but in ourselves.

So there is a truth in the evangelical proclamation: 'Jesus blood never failed me yet'.     And so there is a truth in the assertion that the first realisation of salvation is indeed personal.   But if it remains just personal, then the charge of sanctified selfishness, arrogance and inertia remains a distinct possibility.  

There is something about the realisation that Jesus abiding in me implies that because I am not thereby special, Jesus abides in others too.   Jesus doesn't abide in me to make me special and different from others.   Jesus abides in me precisely because I am the same as others - a flawed, confused and skeptical individual - precisely to invite me to recognize the presence of the Christ in others, equally as flawed, confused and skeptical.

Jesus abides in me, for all my hesitancy, doubt, feelings of sinfulness and inadequacy.   Recently in our lessons for the morning office we have been reading the call of Moses and he was called for all his hesitancies, doubt, feelings of sinfulness and inadequacy.   And more than this, so soon after God gave Moses the 10 commandments (Exodus 20), including 'thou shalt not kill' and 'thou shalt not make any graven image' Moses commanded a mass slaughter of the revellers (Exodus 32:25-29) and made an image of a serpent to put on a pole (Numbers 21:4-9).   It makes me think how absolute we make God out to be, and yet how we use this supposed absoluteness to justify our actions.   Do we use the Old Testament, as well as the New, as something to imitate or something from which to learn?   If we make Moses into someone special, does this lead us to think that we are somewhat less than special?   Did the divine abide in Moses in any way more than he abides in you or I?   We are subject to the same hesitancies and inadequacies as he?   Should the abiding Jesus, a priori, mean that we won't ever make a mistake or continue to learn?   The status of Moses didn't make him infallible either, or perhaps we condone him breaking the very commandments he delivered to the tribes.   We are not infallible and nor is anyone else.

And if this is true on the personal level for Moses and the Israelites, is it true on the corporate level as they took possession of the promised land?    Was God's word for them justification for corporate selfishness?

And if this is true on a personal level for us, it is surely the same on the corporate level for the church.   So there is no church that contains the whole truth, there is no faith that contains the whole truth.   So we need to go into the world with our eyes open, open to the truths that others can teach us, open to the truths that others' faiths can inform our own faith, open to the truths of atheism and agnosticism, that God is no less hidden to us as God is to them.

And this is dangerous, for it opens us to what seems the antithesis of faith - questioning, doubts, and equality with others rather than superiority over others.   Our 'faith' is relativized rather than absolute.   You see, Jesus calls us not to be right, but to be loving.

Jesus invites us to 'Abide in me as I abide in you.' and this is in the present, in the here and now.   Jesus doesn't abide in us in some mythological ideal construct.  I am reminded of Walt Disney and Tinkerbell the fairy, beginning each program winging her way to Fantasyland and inviting us to follow.   I remember wondering each episode whether it would be a story from Fantasyland or one of the other lands available.   In the words of the wikipedia author: "Fantasyland is dedicated to the young at heart and to those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.    No, Jesus is not wishful thinking where the church encourages us to remain infantile, accepting and trusting - seen and not heard.    'Abide in me as I abide in you' invites us into ourselves and into reality as it really is.   'Abide in me as I abide in you' implies an acceptance of who we are, who others are, and the world as it is.   It is precisely those who offer 'heaven' - a fantasyland - that is somewhere else who lead us astray.

It is interesting.   As I've grown up the injunction: (Exodus 20.7) 'You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name' has always been explained to me as an injunction against 'cursing' using the divine name, such as the unchurched are wont to do.   Yet I wonder how much the church herself makes 'wrongful use of the name of the Lord' as it looks down on others, the unchurched, the uneducated, those who express their intimate affections with people of whom we don't approve?   When the church uses the name of the Lord to keep people infantile, accepting and trusting - seen and not heard - compliant, submissive, servile?   Is not this a far more toxic and global curse than a simple expletive by the uneducated?  

If this is what the world believes the church is about, then they are right to despise the church.

Jesus does not invite us to anywhere other than where we are at the moment, amongst those whom God has put around us today, including, most importantly ourselves.   'Abide in me as I abide in you' invites us to incarnation into reality.  

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