May 8, 2022 Rev. David Collins
The first thing I want to say today is Happy Mother’s Day. To all the moms, step moms, grand moms, great grand moms, moms-to-be, I hope you all have a happy day.
The second thing I want to say has to do with the news coming from the Supreme Court this week. Presbyterians have a long history of carefully considering complex issues like abortion. As with any divisive issue, there are Bible verses cited on both sides of the conversation. So we’re going to have a Bible study this Tuesday, May 10 at 7pm to learn about them. It’s called “What does the Bible Really Say about Abortion?” And everyone is welcome. (It's tonight in the sanctuary, if you're reading this email on Tuesday, when it was sent. We will also record it.)
It won’t be a one-sided discussion. In fact, we’re going to talk about this in the way that we are meant to talk about anything and everything. With mutual respect and love. Isn’t that a crazy idea?!
In fact, that’s what we’re going to be focused on for the rest of this month.
We are Reimagining Home. And you know what? We need to. It’s always good to take a minute to stop, question our assumptions, see how we’re actually living out our values, and make changes if we need to. Sometimes it’s hard to see something close to us as it really is, but when we actually do that, when we see it as it is and not as we wish it was, then we can imagine what it could become.
Let’s start with this:
Whether it’s a church or a family home…
Home should be the place where people can’t wait to come back.
It’s not the place you aren’t allowed to leave. It’s the place where you can’t wait to come back. You should feel blessed when you leave your home, and excited to come back.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot with my own kids, since we’re now coasting down the hill to an empty nest. But even when they were little, and maybe this makes me weird, I was aware that we’ll all be adults together for much longer than we were ever grown ups and little people.
So our goals with our kids have been two-fold: 1. We want them to leave. 2. We want them to want to come back.
This is true for our church home, too. Not that we WANT anyone to leave, but we do know that people do leave. Whether it’s because of jobs, or changes in life, or even just because church is not yet a priority for them yet…people leave. That’s just a fact of life that we can’t control. But what we can control is what our church home is like to come back to. Is it a place where people come back worried or guilty, or is it a place where people can’t wait to come back?
That’s all determined by how people feel before they leave, when they’re at home.
Today, we’re going to hear what Jesus has to say in 8 verses in John 15 to see how you can make home a place others want to come back to. It’s a passage that you’ve probably studied before, but there are a few key details in there I had never known before, and I think you’ll want to know them, too.
We’re looking at one of Jesus’ longest speeches in the Bible. It’s from what he said to his disciples before he went to the cross, and the part we are going to study today is from the part where he speaks about his relationship with his Father, of his home with the Father, and how his home includes us, and invites us in. We’ll pick up in verse 4, where Jesus says,
4 Abide in me as I abide in you.
This word “abide” is not something we say very often, so the meaning kind of gets lost. A related word that we use more often is “abode” which we still don’t use very often, but it means home. So Jesus here is inviting us to,
Abide: Make your home with me.
But not just in the way that people sometimes invite you to come over but it’s not a real invite, “Yeah, come on over! Any time!” How about next week? “I’m out of town, but come over any time!”
Jesus says, Make your home with me, AS I have already made my home with you. Jesus doesn’t make us come and knock on his door and hope that he opens it. He says,
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.
There is no question of whether or not you are welcomed home. You don’t have to earn it. That’s home.
4 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. 5 I 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.
Making your home with Jesus isn’t just a one way relationship though. There is no option to just move into Jesus’ basement and scream for him to bring you more chicken nuggets while refusing to bathe.
But neither is it a quid pro quo relationship. To make your home with Jesus is to be connected to him as a branch is to the trunk and root of a tree. A branch isn’t consciously trying to be connected to the vine. It just is.
I wonder how many of our problems at home, here or there, come from forgetting that. We think that our value comes from our performance. Even worse, we tell our family members, in one way or another, that theirs does, too.
Or we go the complete other direction and act like unconditional love means the complete and total acceptance of everyone’s worst behaviors.
Where is the balance in the middle? It’s right here in this verse. It’s in the fruit.
In Dale Bruner’s commentary on John, which I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of…he makes one little comment about what bearing fruit really means. He says that to
Bear Fruit is to Be Real
That little comment stopped me in my tracks. Because I always associated bearing fruit with trying really hard and making something amazing happen for God. But the more I think about it, the more I think he’s right.
Bearing fruit isn’t about doing something great or important. It’s about doing what feels real to you when you’re also making your home with Jesus. Bearing fruit is being real.
It’s not about the numbers, or doing something that makes people take notice. Bearing fruit is about doing what feels real to you.
There’s nothing that God needs you to do. But there is someone who God needs you to be. You.
That doesn’t mean that Jesus wants us all to just do whatever we want whenever we want it. No, because a lot of the things we feel compelled to do aren’t what we actually want to do. We just do them so we can ignore our feelings of fear and sadness. We just do them to quiet down bad memories rather than face them.
But when we abide in Christ as he abides in us, what’s real for us is what is really real. We are actually at home in our own skin. We are actually at peace with who we are, and that allows us to be at peace others when they are being real, and talk to them about it when they aren’t.
This all relates back to our own homes, and to us here, in our church home.
Picture the dinner table you grew up at. Was that a place where you could be yourself? If it was, I’ll bet that you can’t wait to go home.
What were the rules at that table? Especially when it came to sharing your beliefs? I’ll bet quite a few of you grew up with the rule, spoken or not, “Don’t disagree with Dad. Or don’t upset your mother.”
Picture the church you grew up in, or the one you picture when you hear the word…If you asked an honest question, did you get an honest answer? What expectations were there on you, or on your family? Did you fit in by being yourself, or did you fit in by pretending to be someone else?
The next verse drives this idea home for me.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
This verse only makes sense if you know from experience that it’s not usually the case. I think all of us have prayed for things and learned that the hard way. So what does Jesus mean here?
I think he is showing us what truly making our home with him, and he with us, would be like. At home, we learn to be thoughtful with the requests we make of our loved ones, because we know ahead of time that they will do anything for us. So we only ask when we have to. I think its the same with Jesus. If we are connected like this, our wishes come out of that connection. They aren’t the reason for it.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
You see it’s not just for us. All of this making our home in, abiding, as a branch abides in a vine, as a beloved child feels at home at their mother’s table, it’s not just for our own peace and comfort, but so we can be transformed.
Home isn’t a retreat. It’s headquarters.
Home is a training ground. A lot of you follow that model. Discipline, disciple…it’s pretty close linguistically. But look at God’s method of instruction:
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
Disciples are made through love. Love is not the prize they get if they successfully complete the discipleship program. Love is first.
Jesus’ love for us isn’t an innovation. It’s not a break he made with the past. It’s something that he learned at home. He wasn’t taught to love. He was loved. He is loved.
He is being real when he loves.
But then this next verse makes it sound conditional…
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
This sounded so voluntary until now, and here we get an if/then statement? But look at how he finishes the thought:
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
Instructions made in love are just love written down. Jesus didn’t keep the commandments in order to earn love. He kept them because he loves his Father. Why would he doubt someone he loves?
11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
There it is. That’s what we want, isn’t it? Full joy? We don’t get to full joy by being coddled and told that everything we think and do is gold. And we sure don’t get there by feeling like we have to earn everything we get, especially at home.
We don’t get to full joy by having everything done for us, or by having everything done on our behalf. Complete joy is that feeling we get when we are tapped in to who we really are, in a place where we can share that with others who love us.
Jean Vanier, who wrote another book on John that I just refuse to put down, puts it like this:
"The fruit is the life we are all called to give to others
But it is not just we who give life, nor is it just Jesus
It is we and Jesus,
Jesus in us and us in Jesus.
We cannot distinguish what is of God and what is of us.
It is the life of the Spirit flowing through each one of us
colored by our own particular gifts,
by who we are and our particular mission.
The magnificence of God is giving life in and through us.
God does not want to act only directly on the hearts of individual people.
God uses each of us as mediators and instruments for grace,
through our words, gestures, presence and prayer.
In this way we take part in the creativity of God giving life.
We give the life of God to each other
And we receive this life from one another."
(Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, p 268)
That’s what our homes should be like.
That’s what our church home should be.
It might take a little reimagining, but we can get there. If we do, it will only be because we get there together.