John 15 9-17
If any of you have ever been on holiday to Scotland you may have come across souvenirs or postcards with the phrase “Bide a wee” on them. The meaning of the phrase, which I am sure you will already have worked out, is to stay a while. Seaside resorts north of the border were keen to encourage visitors to bide there and indeed it is also a popular name for guest houses.
Over the last fifteen months or so we have all done quite a lot of biding, staying home rather than in holiday resorts of course.
As lockdown eases we are beginning to venture out again and I am sure many of us are glad to be able to see friends and family albeit outside and in small groups, but nevertheless it has been good to leave the confines of our homes if that has been possible.
Staying not just for a while but for a considerable period of time has brought its own challenges of course, especially where tensions may run high due to overcrowding and equally for those living alone and experiencing intense isolation.
To stay, to bide in any particular place can bring both joys and challenges, dependant on our individual contexts and indeed dispositions.
For some people stillness and rest is a gift, for others a curse.
To cultivate the ability to rest peacefully and with gratitude is a skill that as Christians we are encouraged to develop because it is in the stillness that we are often closest to God and most likely to hear His call.
In our Gospel reading this morning we hear of the comfort that can arise not from abiding in a particular place but rather if we abide in the love of our Father God.
Jesus promises us that if we abide in His love we can be assured of our place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“As my Father has loved me so I have loved you, abide in my love”
Jesus is making us an offer that surely no-one could refuse. He is telling us how much he loves us and he is inviting us to accept and remain in that love for all time. Why would we not wish to do that?
Yet for many people this is a promise that they have never been made aware of and for others it is one they reject
We are invited to rest in the greatest love of all but somehow we are so self absorbed that although we may hear the invitation, it doesn’t penetrate our hearts and cause us to consider how transformational accepting the invitation could be.
There are of course some terms and conditions attached to the invitation – but they are actually very simple and boil down to one thing. Love. That’s it nothing more complicated than that. And the capacity to love is limitless, it is not confined to any one group of people. It is not dependant on gender, ethnicity, ability, sexuality or lifestyle.
The love of God is freely available to all who accept the sovereignty of God and the divinity of His Son.
In today’s passage from Acts we read that the circumcised believers were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirt had been poured out even on the Gentiles! Having mistakenly thought that they were the sole recipients they find that the Holy Spirit is not the exclusive preserve of any one group of people but rather is a gift to all those who express their belief in the risen Christ and resolve to follow His way.
These precious gifts of love and the Spirit are there for all yet so many people are unaware of this or believe themselves to be unworthy.
And they often judge themselves unworthy in the light of what they do or in some cases do not do. They believe that the kingdom of God is only available for do-gooders rather than the broken, the lost, the bewildered.
I think that sometimes people judge the success of a church by looking at all the things they do, the number of activities that are held , the amount of services that are held, the number of people on the electoral roll. They do not consider what the church is being, what Christlike qualities are shining out, how prayerful the gathered church is.
This past year has provided us with a way of moving away from purely the doing of church to the being, the being of a dispersed community who endeavour to support each other, to reach out to others, to worship and pray together albeit often through the lens of a camera, on the end of a telephone, standing at a garden gate
Rather than listing all the things we have done as a community of believers, I think it is far more valuable to reflect on who we have been, who we have prayed for, what we have been thankful for, who we have talked to, prayed for, shared the good news of the Gospel with.
Rather than talking about what we have done I believe we have had far more opportunity to share how we have felt, what we have experienced, what has been of value to us.
Now don’t get me wrong – there has still been a need to do things and I am very grateful to all those who have responded so creatively to the challenges of retaining our identity as a Christian community in this season. But I am equally thankful for those who have simply prayed and held our community out to God in simple but heartfelt ways.
Yes we need to do, but in order to do that from a place of spiritual healthiness we need to be as well. We need to be able to abide in our Saviour’s love, we need to step back from the doing and allow ourselves the joy of just being, of residing in that space where we can enjoy luxuriating in our Saviour’s love, where we can feel the very real presence of the Holy Spirit.
And we shouldn’t feel we need permission for that or that we have justify that need – we have all the permission we need right here in Jesus’s words – abide in my love.
Love is the central theme of this passage. Not only does Jesus provide us with the assurance of His love and that of our Heavenly Father but we also receive what is surely the fundamental message of the Gospel – that we should mirror Jesus’s commitment of unconditional love for us by loving one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”
In theory thats all well and good – after all we’re Christians, its fundamental to our faith. As we read in the Corinthians, the greatest of these is love.
But actually it is really hard to truly love each other without exception, all the time, regardless of the actions we take, the things we say. It’s not easy to love those who have harmed us, those who have committed acts that have brought pain, sorrow, destruction, fear…..is Jesus really telling us to love those people?
I wonder if I asked you to write down two lists – one of all the people that you love and one of all the people that you don’t love, which one would be longer? For myself I’d like to think that the former would be way longer than the latter…..but would it really? If I searched my heart would I really be able to say that I loved those who have caused me anguish, those who have been mean spirited, who have lacked compassion, who have rejected me?
The commandment we have received from Jesus requires us to love those with whom we disagree. It is only through demonstrating this love in real and tangible ways that we can live distinctively with Kingdom values at the core of all we do.
However you voted, or not, in last week’s elections, we know that all true authority and power comes from God and we must therefore commit to robust and sustained prayer that all those who have been elected to govern do so with wisdom, justice and equity at the centre of all they do. And we must also commit to love them no matter how hard that may be.
Jesus holds out His hand to us in friendship – He has chosen us because He knows that we can bear fruit for the Kingdom, He knows we can do great things in His name and that we can do all of this through love. He has faith in us, we need to have faith in both ourselves and in others that we can live out His command to us.
I am going to conclude by reading one of the verses of Abide With Me – the language may seem archaic but the words remind us that we need God’s love to sustain us and that in order to know that love in all its depth we need to commit to remaining in His presence, abiding in that love through which we are sustained and empowered in our discipleship and our desire to participate in God’s mission for the world
“I need Thy presence every passing hour
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine abide with me”