The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r108.htm
s108g12 Fifth Sunday of Easter
'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
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasyland 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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