Abiding with Jesus
Based on Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8
Memories are a big part of who we are and how we learn to live our lives. One aspect of this is do we learn from the memories of our mistakes, or do we continue to make the same (or similar) mistakes in the future? Memories of who we are and where we came from – family storytelling, is a big part of connecting families across space and time. For example, when and how folks met and decided to marry and settle down here in Madison County. Important stories that shape how the family mores and values are understood and followed; stories of tough life lessons learned are shared so that future generations might not repeat the error. Abiding memories are those that stick with families without fading or being lost. Epic sagas of mythology have been told in this way across the millennia – so much so that we still can tell them today. Stories like Jason and the Golden Fleece, Beowulf and Grendel, Gilgamesh, Hercules, David and Goliath, Hansel and Gretel, and Jesus. Stories that informed communities and generations of people about the dangers of the world and the heroes that once lived. These tales live on as long as there is someone to tell them.
The Bible itself was once upon a time a series of oral tales told by firelight. Before written language was practiced, the only way to convey stories of significance was to have them told by one who had been schooled in the art of storytelling. Some of these great tales were put to music and sung by bards. Most were memorized and adapted to cultural context and situation. Storytelling was an art form that was passed within families for generations. Thus, these stories of our religious heroes abided – they lived on and were not forgotten. Let us go to God now in thanksgiving that the stories of Jesus were not lost in antiquity, but continue to abide with God’s people – informing and energizing us for our faith journeys.
Our scriptures today are focused on the word “abide”. It is a word that we do not use much anymore, but it is quite useful. It can mean that you can either accept something (e.g., “I can abide with that decision”) or not (e.g., “I can’t abide her living with him”). It can also signify a feeling or a memory that does not fade or become lost with the passage of time. This is the definition that is closest to our readings for today – let’s take a deeper dive into them.
The reading from Acts is a familiar one with Philip and the highly placed Ethiopian eunuch. Interestingly, this Ethiopian official was already a believer in God and was schooled in reading Hebrew as Philip found him reading one of the scrolls of Isaiah. During their time together, Philip takes the official from a God believer to a baptized believer in the way of Jesus. It is often speculated that the origins of the ancient Ethiopian Christian faith dates back to this individual. The faith and love of Jesus and the stories that Philip told, through the power of the Holy Spirit, converted this man and possibly led him to become the disciple who spread the gospel to Ethiopia. The word made flesh did indeed abide if that were the case.
In John’s Gospel, we find Jesus nearing the end of his earthly ministry and wanting to pass along some really important information. Israel had long been characterized metaphorically as a vine and God as the vintner. Over time, Israel had neglected God’s love and had not abided with God. Thus, God became incarnate so that the people could once again believe. Yet, Jesus was about to leave them in a most horrible way, and the Disciples needed to know that the fight was coming to them. They would need the love of God and the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to continue the work that Jesus had left them.
They also needed to start over again with the “true vine” of Jesus as root stock because the other vine (Judaism) had gone wild and produced inferior fruit to this new movement. It is instructive to pass a working vineyard many times each week as I do coming to and from Rose Park. The Early Mountain vineyard has pruned its vines and the non-productive branches are stacked up ready for pick up and disposal. The piles are very large and is seems to me that they have left not enough of the plant to produce the grapes for this year’s vintage. However, the pruners are trained and they know that in order to produce vines that yield the highest quality fruit, one must cut away a lot of foliage that is suboptimal leaving only the strong and abiding branches to become fruitful.
This is what Jesus is getting to in the passage from John (and what 1 John is emphasizing). The abiding love of God – that agape love which is unconditional and constant, is the gracious presence of God making God’s home within us. When that love is made complete in us, that is when we are sanctified, then the divine life expresses itself in actual deeds motivated by love for the good of others. This is the practical demonstration of eternal life – and abundant life as lived out and commanded by Christ Jesus.
How many people lived before Jesus was born? From the first Homo Sapien to the time of Jesus…how many do you think, possibly 100 million? How many do we remember? Similarly, how many have lived in the last 2000 years and how many do we remember of them? Certainly more of a percentage in the last 2000 years are remembered due to the invention of written history, but truly we remember or abide only the smallest fraction of all the people who have ever lived. The incarnation made Jesus one of us – he was as fully human as he was divine. Because of this he knew our frailties as intimately as he knew our strengths. He knew that we have short attention spans and that people – even people who are widely hailed as profound influencers of their time, often become forgotten; their stories do not abide.
God in Jesus couldn’t allow that to happen and so God not only incarnated God’s-self, but also died to atone for our sins against God. These agape acts were so radically different than the status quo for humanids that it was documented and stories were told and written down. The tenets of this new religious movement, The Way, were based on unconditional love for all people – even those who enslaved, oppressed and otherwise made life miserable. God’s love through the witness of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit have lived on over the last 2 millennia in a world changing manner that has no equal – nothing human made even compares. Jesus made sure to send the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit after him to fill the Disciples and empower their witness. Thus the primary work of the Holy Spirit among humans was to create the apostolic testimony to Jesus, teaching the apostles the meaning of what they had seen, and enabling them to testify as to the human/divine nature of Jesus, that He is the Son of the Creator God, and that He is the Savior of the world from sin and from death. Also from the fear that otherwise makes us a bit crazy with anxiety. As it is written true love drives out all fear – when we love completely there is no room or reason to fear the other because all are known as children of God.
True love abides – it is not forgotten and it doesn’t fade away. This is why we still abide in Jesus today. The apostolic witness for the last 2000 years has been transmitted from one generation to the next. Through wars and political maneuvering, through false doctrines and heretical prophets and church leaders, through the sinfulness of each and every believer from Jesus’ day to ours – and long after we all are gone…one thing abides. The unconditional agape love of our Creator God for all of us that have been created. Let us love completely and fully and without fear as our heavenly parent loves us…faith, hope and love abide, these three – but the greatest and longest remembered is God’s great love for us. Amen.