“Abide in me.” Jesus says that’s what we are supposed to do. “Abide 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” (Jn. 15:4).
What does it mean to abide? I think it has something to do with staying, lingering, remaining, dwelling, waiting. And those are all things I’m not very good at doing—and I doubt you are either. Nobody stays anymore. We don’t stay in the towns where we were born. Nor do we stay at the same job for very long. I read in the Economist that on average people in the United States stay at a job for no more than four years.
I don’t think any of this is bad. It’s just interesting—and maybe it’s indicative of a cultural sensibility that runs deep into our minds, into our psychology, and into our spirituality. We are never at home, and that means we are never happy. There’s always a better place to live—a better city, a better neighborhood, a better house. And there’s always the perfect job, which is usually the one we don’t have.
They call it Western restlessness. Sigmund Freud seemed to get it right when he said that our civilization is discontent; we live in a culture of uneasiness (“Das Unbehagen in der Kultur”). We are never happy—there’s always more to consume, more to see, more to try, more to experiment with. It seems like the key to our happiness is always over there, just out of reach, around another corner.
The last thing we would expect is that we can be happy right where we are, with what we have—not just content, but happy, fulfilled even. But it’s hard to get there because it’s hard to be where you are. It’s hard to abide where you find yourself—it’s hard to wait, to dwell.
Now, I don’t want to disparage mobility too much. It’s good to be able to move in order to find work, or to follow some friends, or to reunite with family, or to simply leave a bad place. And it’s good to get out of a bad job and find a better one. All that seems just fine. Mobility isn’t always bad.
But I worry because I don’t think we also know how to abide—to dwell, to remain, to wait. We know how to leave, but do we know how to stay? And, to get back to our Scripture, does our mobility affect our capacity to abide in Christ? We just don’t know how to abide anywhere anymore, so why on earth would we abide in Christ?
Let me read that verse again: “Abide 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.” Jesus is saying that when you abide in him, when you are happy to be a branch on his vine, then you will start producing fruit. And this fruit is simply God’s nourishing life for the world; the fruit is how God’s sustains the world with his love. We bear this fruit; people enjoy God, they receive the nourishment of God’s love from our life. We offer this fruit of God’s love with our lives.
But the fruit comes when we abide. So, what does it mean to abide in Jesus? It’s a tough question. I wrestled with it all week. And I can’t say that I found a good answer to share with you. So, maybe you can tell me what you think it means to abide in Jesus. You can share what you think with the rest of us during our sharing time.
But for now, I have to say something. So here goes. To abide in Christ is to turn your life into a prayer, an unceasing prayer, a constant communion with God. Now I don’t think this means we all have to become nuns or monks. Turning your life into a prayer doesn’t mean you need to set aside more hours in your day for praying. That’s not it. (But who am I to discourage you from that kind of praying?)
To turn your life into a prayer, to become a prayer, is something more profound than spending more time on your knees. To turn your whole life into prayer is about dwelling—learning how to wait and watch and listen. This kind of prayer affects your whole life. It is a way of digging into every moment, being completely available to how God wants to produce fruit through you everywhere and anywhere.
Prayer is fundamentally about opening yourself to God—to what God is doing in your life, to what God is doing in the life of the people you work with, to what God is doing through the people you live with, to what God is doing in the people who you don’t care about and who don’t care about you, to what God is doing in the people who you are afraid of.
This kind of prayer is a lifestyle, a way of going about your business, a way of being you. And it requires a totally new perspective—a way of experiencing your world differently. A new way of looking at what you have and what you are and what you do. It’s a chance to crack open the mundane routine of life, and receive every moment as infinitely interesting. Because every moment, every life, every friend, every stranger, every annoying or scary person, offers a chance to dig further into the new life God is creating.
That has to be part of what is going on in that strange passage from Acts 8, about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. God tells Philip to go for a walk down a wilderness road. So he goes and runs into some strange guy from Ethiopia. Philip tells the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus and the man wants to be baptized. It all just happened. Philip simply made himself available to what God was up to. His walk down the road became a prayer, an opening in the world for God’s love to happen.
We tend to think that all the important stuff happens somewhere else—whether it’s New York City or London, Washington D.C. or Paris. But when we let our lives be open spaces for God to bear fruit in our world, we discover that God thinks all of it is important, all of life is significant, each one of us is at the center of what God is doing in the world. For God, there is no such thing as insignificance.
And to abide in Jesus means that we become openings for God’s work wherever we are. Our life becomes a prayer, the site of God’s movement. This is how we abide in Christ. God’s grace happens everywhere, whether we like it or not, whether we expect it or not, whether we want it or not. That’s just the definition of grace—that God comes to us anyway and anywhere. Christ is always already there—at our fingertips, with every step, down every wilderness road.
Jesus is a vine that grows everywhere. That’s the thing about vines. They send out branches in every direction—up and down, left and right. Vines wander this way and that. But, if you notice, they latch on for support wherever they go. Sure, they are mobile, but they also hold onto a trellis. And if they get torn away from the trellis and cut off from the roots, they die.
And that’s us. That’s our church. We are a small vine that sends shoots everywhere. In a few moments we will pray for Nick and Jay who are leaving us this week, headed elsewhere to bear the fruit of God’s life. Our branches wander this way and that. It’s really messy, actually. Vines are messy. They don’t grow like you want them to. The branches seem to have a mind of their own. Just like all of you. And that’s just fine—good, in fact.
The important thing is that we learn how to be at home wherever we go. The important thing is that we don’t leave out of desperation, that we don’t go mobile because we are escapists—always looking for something better than what God has already given us. Instead, the important thing is that we learn how God makes his home everywhere, that God dwells all over the place. And that means you have to learn how to dwell with God, how to dig into the place where you find yourself and find God’s life-giving grace.
Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Christ is already abiding with you. You are already receiving life from God. God is always already there, and here. I’ve seen the fruit. Now you must learn how to abide, to wait for God’s grace to happen, to dwell in a place even while wandering, to dig into where you are and find God already there. Jesus is always just there. God is already here.
We abide in Jesus when we rest in God’s love. And we find ourselves at rest when we dwell with the people God has put in our lives. Belief in God is simply this trust that God is bringing you into his love wherever you go.
At least that’s what I John says, and so I’ll close by reading a few of those verses again:
“if we love one another, God lives in us… By this we know that we abide in him and he in us… God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
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