Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 22 April 2018.
There is a difference between living somewhere and staying somewhere. One is about being and belonging, the other is about passing through.
So: we may stay in a hotel when on holiday but we live at home. We may enjoy the places where we stay, and we may appreciate their finer points but it is in our homes that we are secure and relaxed, and here we control our routines and the arrangement of our belongings.
And so when Jesus calls on us to abide in Him, He is wanting us to find our homes and our sense of being in relation to Him, rather than to someone or something else.
And so Jesus was wanting to show that we do not just know Him as a friend or an acquaintance, and not just like a family member with whom we may be in regular contact while still living our own lives with our own homes.
Rather, we are in permanent residence with Him and He is our constant companion. Whereas married couples are joined in the flesh and in an intimate sense of each other’s being, in Jesus Christ that sense of being and belonging is even deeper and is extends into those areas of our lives where no secrets can even be entertained, and where all memories and hurts and denials abide.
For this is the part of our lives that Jesus most wants to inhabit, even the places that are the most hurt and the most vulnerable. It is in those areas where the memories are the most sensitive and where the relationships are the most intimate.
Yet while in any group or society some may wish to know others in order to be able to gossip or even to manipulate or control, Jesus’ motives are wholly engaged in building up the church as the Body of Christ in its intimacy with God the Father and that includes every member of it.
It is in this place of being and belonging where as we belong to God in Jesus Christ, so we also find that our relationships with one another are also the most committed and the most enduring.
This is where we come to support and trust and edify one another.
And that is part of the point, for in belonging to Jesus so we also belong to one another. As we draw strength and wisdom and life from Him, so we are also able to feed and strengthen one another.
This is where Jesus’ image of the vine is so powerful, for the vine was also the symbol of Israel and yet Jesus was applying it to His disciples as they came to love one another and to wash each other’s feet. As they drew closer to Him then they would also come together and as they did that then they would find that they could also be fruitful.
Jesus never came to establish an organization driven by goals and so His image is of a vine which lives rather than a building which stands but has no soul of its own and has to be maintained.
But the vine would also put forth shoots, and according to the season of the year, it would bear fruit. That also is the intention of comparing the church, or rather the gathering of the disciples, with a vine.
And there is something else, for Paul described the qualities of life of the church in terms of Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. In a way the cultivation of these fruits of the Spirit is central to the life of the Body of Christ as a living being rather than as an organization.
But even more than that, Jesus speaks of His Father as the vine dresser. Jesus is the vine and the disciples are the branches – but it is the action of the Father as vine dresser who cares for the vine and prunes it.
And yes, the pruning is the difficult bit for it is here that we find parts of our lives being pruned off. The unfruitful or the less fruitful branches are cut away in order that other branches may become more fruitful yet, and our experience of these things can indeed be painful.
And yes, this is where we may indeed encounter the cross as we meet it and carry it day by day and even as, in times of crisis, we recognize that parts of our lives have also been crucified upon it.
And yes, this is where our sense of abiding can be tested for as we encounter the reverses of life so we can also receive the same reverses and offer them back to God the Father.
This is where God is looking at our lives, to prune them and train them so that they can become more fruitful yet. But it is as we make the effort to abide in Jesus Christ that we also find that those same reverses have a wider context and that our Father is still looking for our lives to be yet more fruitful.
And that will only happen as we determine to remain in Jesus Christ, committing to Him who we were and who we have become as well as what we will develop into in the future.
But it all requires us to determine to continue to abide in Him and so to be fruitful and become the more so.