ABIDING IN GOD
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
You may recognize the two passages we just read.
I HOPE you recognize them, because they were last week’s lessons, which Nettie preached from- I reached from them too, in Wrangell. In fact, I told somebody that there was a LOT in those passages, and I could preach from them several weeks. I think I will.
Last week, I talked about the ways that abiding teaches us to love- and I will share those ways with you, a few Sundays from now. But this week, I want to hone in on two phrases
In the first letter from John, I want to look at “abiding in him, and he in us”, and then in the Gospel, “Abide in me as I in you.”
You may not recognize that word, however: abide.
Our pew bibles uses two different words to convey the meaning- and the words are good choices: LIVE, in first John, and REMAIN, in the Gospel.
Let me read each verse as our pew bible translates it, followed by a different translation, from the NRSV
“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
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.”
In 1 John, the author really is talking about LIVING IN when he talks about the Holy Spirit living in us.
And in the Gospel, John really is talking about REMAINING when he talks about vines staying attached to the branches.
But ABIDE has both of those connotations, and many more. Listen:
To remain, to continue, to stay
To dwell, to reside
To continue in a particular attitude, condition, or relationship
To endure or sustain without yielding
To wait for
To accept without opposition
To pay the penalty for, or to suffer for
Now, on this particular Sunday, I am thinking about my Mother- and how she abided me. How she remained my mother in multiple ways, all of her life. How she suffered for me and endured the times I left very sharp sheep shearing blades on the car seat, and tolerated my very dirty clothes, and accepted some crazy career choices I made, and waited for me to choose, finally, becoming a pastor.
LIVE and REMAIN are good choices, but abide is a richer choice, and I want us to think about its connotation as we talk about abiding in God, and God abiding in us.
As we begin, let us first acknowledge that many who dwell together do not dwell together peacefully
Many who dwell together may be perceived even as accidental roommates.
Many who dwell together may struggle, valiantly and viciously, to actually REMAIN together.
Yet many will indeed live happily ever after, or nearly so, or even good enough.
It’s that very same plethora of relationships between God and human beings.
You see, I could tell you about Jack, who died the last year I was in Kansas. Jack was a very faithful- perhaps the MOST faithful- member of my congregation, and eh was easy to like and eh was dedicated.
But Jack had a hard time believing the bible. I first started e-mailing my sermons because of Jack, so Jack could print them out ahead of time, and bring them to worship, and read along, and make notes, and ask questions.
Jack wanted to believe- I never asked him WHY, but I know he did. But Jack believed in what we were doing there and in who we wanted to BE as a congregation, and he loved listening to my words.
Then there are folk, I don’t really know their life story or the background, at least as far as God is concerned. But I have bene able to tell, when I talk to them, that they get at least one thing: that faith in God is supposed to do something to you, something that makes you more compassionate and more hopeful and more eager.
But what they don’t get is what one friend called “mumbo jumbo.”
They just don’t get it, especially when they see so many of us who are largely unchanged- because maybe we haven’t bene doing a good job of abiding.
Rachel Held Evans summarizes her own experience quite succinctly, and she believes it is quite typical of the faith story that many of her generation (she is 33) have experienced: “I can talk about growing up evangelical, about doubting everything I believed about God, about loving, leaving and longing for church, about searching for it and finding it in unexpected places.”
There are people of every generation who have loved God, and had that loved tested and stretched and broken and maybe repaired, or maybe not, when something horribly tragic happened, or simply when nothing great happened.
There are people out there looking for SOMETHING, who tried church and found it, simply, uninspiring, or just confusing, or simply not a place where they could belong- where they could abide. So they’re still looking.
And there are people who do all the things that church people are supposed to do, perhaps even joyfully, without thinking about why.
What all those folk did, in different ways, was abide.
They continued waiting, continued searching, continued challenging, continued hoping,
Until the Holy Spirit came to abide in them
In a way that blessed them and completed them
In a way that blesses their neighbors
In way that reconciles, that makes peace, that lifts up justice.
Yesterday was a BEAUTIFUL day- can I get an “Amen!” for that?
It was a great day for a race, and I ran in the Totem-to-Totem half-marathon. I’ve been training for it for three months, though the last couple of weeks got, well, cut-off because of an attack of hay-fever I’ve been suffering.
But last weekend, in Wrangell, I vowed to catch up. There’s a nice walking path that goes from Nettie’s house all the way to town, a distance of five miles. My plan was to run it out and back.
But I tired out. I cut the run short, and walked most of the way back.
But curiously, another event was happening at that same time. Girls on the Run.
We’ve talked about them here. It’s a running program for grade school girls, a program that teaches them confidence.
It involves positive affirmations- they have to encourage each other and themselves, while they run.
So along the path there in Wrangell, there were little signs. And written on the path, in chalk, were words of encouragement.
Words like, AWESOME!
My favorite was a chalk slogan that said G-R-A-T-E JOB
But there was one little sign that jumped out and bit me, as I was walking back to Nettie’s house.
It said, “I CHOOSE TO KEEP GOING!”
So let me tell you a story, told by author SM Hulse, in her novel Black River.
The story is about a man, Wes, struggling with faith.
Struggling his whole LIFE with faith.
Wes is a man who has known, and continues to know tragedy. Yet like Job, he refuses to give up on God. His wife- who dies of cancer early in the story- notes that sometimes, when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she can hear him praying. In those prayers, Wes “is confrontational with God.”
Wes is by all accounts a good man. He believes in duty, and does it willingly. He never swears, though nearly everybody else in the book does. Burt he does have a hard time forgiving a man who held him hostage, and tortured him during the ordeal.
Wes attends church regularly and faithfully, though he argues silently with many of the sermons. A former prison guard, he is disciplined and controlled, but not afraid to use violence. He apologizes tersely, when apology is the correct thing to do. He is generous and diligent and thoughtful.
But anguished. And conflicted.
About the same time as his wife dies, Wes gets a notice from the parole board that the man who held him hostage is up for parole. So he returns home, to the place he and his wife used to live, and stays with his estranged step-son.
His step son tells him to forget the torture, to let it go.
His former colleague, a church going man himself, tells him the same thing.
But when Wes learns that the inmate had become a born-again Christian, he becomes angry. He tells the pastor- “A man like that doesn’t deserve to believe, when I spent my whole life trying and still can’t do it.”
It’s not GOD that Wes doesn’t believe in, it’s meaning. He wants desperately to believe that it all means something.
But in the end, the inmate gets released, on parole. Wes, with a handgun in his jacket pocket, tracks him down at the bus depot.
The man tells Wes that it was the “gorgeous prayer” Wes said while he was being held hostage that eventually led to his captor’s conversion, to which Wes called BS.
It was a prayer forced out of him by his captor, at the point of a shiv.
Because Wes believed then, and still believed, that the prayer wasn’t faith. It was terror and desperation and yearning.
Then Wes told the man, ”It’s been bothering me something fierce, wondering whether finding Jesus was possible for you, of all people…so I thought if I came today and talked to you…then I’d know for sure one way or another whether you really were a changed man.”
But he didn’t know. He couldn’t tell. And he still held the gun in his pocket.
“So what are you going to do,” asked the man.
“I’m going to believe you,” answered Wes.
He chose to abide, to keep hoping, to wait,
To keep going,
To hold onto God
Until God took hold of him.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.