(Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, 1 John 4:7-21)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/7ynhE_fjbys)
Jesus said, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
To abide…what does it mean to abide? In our gospel reading for this week, we are told to abide in Jesus as Jesus abides in us so what does it mean to abide? A dictionary defines the verb, “to abide” as “to stay or remain.” Jesus asserts that he stays or remains with us; therefore we are to stay or remain with him. What a bold assertion to make! Didn’t Jesus leave us when he died on the cross?! How can he claim that he stays with us?! Well, because he chose to come back to us. And he didn’t leave us for very long. 3 days isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things! We leave each other for longer stretches of time than 3 days. Days and weeks can pass between our gathering times. Besides, Jesus left us for our sakes. Jesus didn’t leave us to shrug off his responsibility for us. Jesus left us when he did on the cross because of his deep and profound love for us. Jesus left us so that we might better know his love for us. Like a parent leaves his/her child to go into the world to provide for the helpless child, Jesus left us to provide for us and better our lives. Jesus left us to come back to us as the resurrected Christ, in a form that enables him to stay with us for all time. Jesus is abiding with us and will continue to abide with us as the resurrected Christ. Jesus didn’t shirk his responsibility for us. Jesus fully acknowledged his responsibility and died so that we might live. Jesus will always abide with us!
So why is it so difficult for us to abide in him? We make the claim that Jesus left us when he died on the cross as a means of justifying our leaving him. We ignore the fact that he left us so we might live better lives that are in right relationship with God. We tell ourselves that he was irresponsible so we can be irresponsible. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth but we like to find ways to justify our sinful natures. But abiding in Jesus means to let go of that inclination to justify our sinful nature. Abiding in Jesus means accepting the responsibility to love our neighbor. Abiding in Jesus means to stay in love.
In our reading from Acts, we hear of two instances of abiding. First, the Ethiopian eunuch was trying to stay in the words of Scripture. He wasn’t doing too well with understanding what he was reading but he was sticking with it. He had enough sense to realize God’s power in what he was reading. Along came Philip, a man with full understanding of what was being read, who helped the eunuch to gain a better understanding. Philip, in his own way, was also abiding in Jesus. By reaching out and helping the eunuch, Philip was fulfilling his responsibility to love his neighbor. He was staying in love by helping and serving.
God’s love isn’t meant to be hoarded. God’s love is meant to be shared. Imagine if Jesus, the Son of God, never shared the love of God. He simply kept God’s love all to himself, basking in it…drowning in it. Jesus would have lived and died and rose again the world would have never known. The world would have been no better because of one man, God’s Son, who hoarded God’s love to himself. Not to mention that God’s Son would be completely unlike the Father. God the Father is all-generous and all-loving. God the Father wants only the best for His children. It would be completely illogical that such a father would beget a child who wasn’t as generous or loving. No, the Son is like the Father—all-generous and all-loving. Have no doubt about it, Jesus came to us to love us and share God’s love with us.
God wants to be in loving relationship with us. We are His beloved children. God is proud of us. God is happy with us. God wants us to succeed. God enjoys us. In short, God loves us. And God wants us share His love with each other. God designed love to be shared. In a sense, love is activated when it is shared like that glowing jewelry that is activated when you snap them and a chemical reaction emits a neon glow. When we abide in Jesus and God’s love, we, too, are activated and emit a glow about ourselves as the children’s message illustrated.
How is God’s love being activated in our lives? Have we been abiding in Jesus and God’s love as we’ve been commanded? Do we accept our responsibility to share God’s love with each other? Abiding in love isn’t easy. Sin is constantly telling us that there’s no personal gain in loving each other. “Don’t think about others, just think about yourself!” or “Nobody’s going to look after your needs but you. Accept THAT responsibility!” Sin is lying to us. Sin feeds on itself, preys on itself, and tries to perpetuate itself. Don’t listen to sin…listen to Jesus! Abide in his love and we will know everlasting joy and happiness. Abide in his love and we will know God’s love for us.
We can go round and around about the importance of obeying Jesus’ command to abide in his love but I find it most helpful to simply abide in it. All week long I’ve been prayerfully trying to abide in Jesus and God’s love. I’ve read a number of stories of God’s love and grace at work in peoples’ lives but I want to lift up Joe’s story. Perhaps Joe’s story resonates best with our small community. It begins with Joe driving home one evening on a two-lane country road. Work in his small Midwestern community was almost as slow as his beat-up Pontiac. But he never quit looking. Ever since the factory closed, he’d been unemployed, and with winter raging on, the chill had finally hit home. It was a lonely road. Not very many people had a reason to be on it unless they were leaving. Most of his friends had already left. They had families to feed and dreams to fulfill. But he stayed on. After all, this was where he buried his mother and father. He was born here, he knew the country. He could go down this road blind, and tell you what was on either side, and with his headlights not working, that came in handy.
It was starting to get dark and light snow flurries were coming down. He’d better get a move on. You know, he almost did not see the old lady, stranded on the side of the road. But even in the dim light of day, he could see she needed help. So he pulled up in front of her Mercedes and got out. His Pontiac was still sputtering when he approached her. Even with the smile on his face, she was worried. No one had stopped to help for the last hour or so. Was he going to hurt her? He didn’t look safe, he looked poor and hungry. He could see that she was frightened, standing out there in the cold. He knew how she felt. It was that chill that only fear can put in you. He said, “I am here to help you ma’am. Why don’t you wait in the car where it’s warm? By the way, my name is Joe.”
Well, all she had was a flat tire, but for an old lady that was bad enough.Joe crawled under the car looking for a place to put the jack, skinning his knuckles a time or two. Soon he was able to change the tire. But he had to get dirty and his hands hurt. As he was tightening up the lug nuts, she rolled down her window and began to talk to him. She told him that she was from St. Louis and was only passing through. She could not thank him enough for coming to her aid. Joe just smiled as he closed her
trunk. She asked him how much she owed him. Any amount would have been all right with her. She had already imagined all the awful things that could have happened had he not stopped. Joe never thought twice about the money. This was not a job to him. This was helping someone in need, and God knows there were plenty who had given him a hand in the past. He had lived his whole life that way, and it never occurred to him to act any other way. He told her that if she really wanted to pay him back, the next time she saw someone who needed help, she could give that person the assistance
they needed, and Joe added, “And think of me.”
He waited until she started her car and drove off. It had been a cold and depressing day, but he felt good as he headed for home, disappearing into the twilight. A few miles down the road the lady saw a small cafe. She went in to grab a bite to eat, and take the chill off before she made the last leg of her trip home. It was a dingy looking restaurant. Outside were two old gas pumps. The whole scene was unfamiliar to her. The cash register was like the telephone of an out of work actor-it did not ring much.
Her waitress came over and brought a clean towel to wipe her wet hair. She had a sweet smile, one that even being on her feet for the whole day could not erase. The lady noticed the waitress was nearly eight months pregnant, but she never let the strain and aches change her attitude. The old lady wondered how someone like her who had so little could be so giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Joe. After the lady finished her meal, and the waitress went to get her change from a hundred-dollar bill, the lady stepped right out the door.
She was gone by the time the waitress came back. She wondered where the lady could be, then she noticed something written on a napkin. There were tears in her eyes, when she read what the lady wrote. It said, “You don’t owe me a thing. I have been there too. Someone once helped me out, the way
I am helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here’s what you do. Do not let the chain of love end with you.”
Well, there were tables to clear, sugar bowls to fill and people to serve, but the waitress made it through another day. That night when she got home from work and climbed into bed, she was thinking about the money and what the lady had written. How could she have known how much she and her husband needed it? With the baby due next month, it was going to be hard. She knew how worried her husband was, and as he lay sleeping next to her, she gave him a soft kiss and whispered low, “Everything’s going to be alright. I love you, Joe.”
Jesus wants us to abide in him as he abides in us. When we abide in him, we come to better know God. We must die to ourselves and our sinful natures in order to abide in him. But when we remain in him, we know a joy and peace that is unlike anything else in this world. Why wouldn’t we want to stay with him forever, hearing his ever-gentle whisper, “Everything’s going to be alright?” Let us go forth and abide…abide to reside.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.