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To Abide in Christ

  • May 3, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for May 3, 2015 (Pascha 5, Year B)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             1 John 4:7-21; Psalm 22:24-30; John 15:1-8

Title:               To Abide in Christ

Where is my home?

Is it the house where I live,

The garden where I sit in summer,

The country where I roam,

Or the church where I worship?

 

The place I call home

Is where my heart is at rest.

And my heart is most at rest

When it turns to God in prayer.

So wherever I pray is home.

(From Celtic Parables by Robert Van De Weyer, Northstone Publishing, 1998, p.100)

This is an old Irish poem collected by Robert Van De Weyer.

Where is your home? Where is your heart at rest?

My sisters and brothers, today’s readings give us a chance to explore a unique idea in the scriptures, one that is found only in the writings of John – in the Gospel of John and the letters of John. These are called the Johannine writings, and it is only in the Johannine scriptures that we hear about abiding in Christ. And it is the central idea in both of our readings today.

“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (John 15:5).

Now, what does it mean to abide in Christ?

In its simplest form, to abide is to remain, to dwell, to stay put, to settle down and make our home

So what does it mean to settle down and make our home in Christ?

Think about home for a minute. Home is one of the most powerful concepts in the lives of humans, but home is an entirely subjective idea.

While watching the news about Baltimore these past few days, I heard one woman in that city refer to the inner harbor of Baltimore as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Well, I’ve been there a number of times. It’s nice. A fun place.

But it is NOT one of the most beautiful places in the world, I can assure you of that!

So why did she make that claim? Because it’s her home, and she’s proud of it.

“Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4).

Abide, dwell, make your home in me…when you make your home somewhere, you become proud of it, you celebrate it, you tend to overlook it’s shortcomings and you’re ready to tell the whole world why it is such a great place to be!

Of course, think of the challenge of making your home in a place like West Baltimore, where unemployment stands at 52% and one-third of all the children live below the poverty line with lead paint violations four times higher than any other neighborhood in Maryland, and nearly every manufacturing job which once created that proud city has now gone overseas.

None of us can choose where we are born, so none of us can choose where our first home is.

Many of us even here today cannot choose where we make our home now.

And even if we have a home now which is quite comfortable after living in it for many years, it is likely that we will one day leave it – whether we want to or not.

To abide Christ then must be an intentional act – or more like the continual application of our intention to be at home with God no matter what our outward circumstances might bring to us.

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

In the Hebrew and the Aramaic – the language system which are the background behind all of the New Testament – in the Hebrew and Aramaic, the primary word for the love of God is “chesed”.

Chesed means covenant loyalty. It has nothing to do with romance. It has nothing to do with feelings or emotions. It is steadfast loyalty, unwavering commitment.

God’s chesed, God’s steadfast covenant loyalty was revealed among us in the person of Jesus the Messiah so that we might live through him.

Live through him.

Dr. Eleanor Chestnut was a Texas physician who was called by God to abide – to settle down and make her home – in China. She was sent there by the Presbyterian Church in 1894 as a medical missionary. Using her own funds, she built a hospital for the sick in the city of Lienchow in Gansu province, but, until it was finished, it is said that she often performed surgery in the kitchen of her home.

Once a humble Chinese day laborer came to her in desperate need to have a portion of his leg amputated. A few days later, it was noticed that Dr. Chestnut was limping.

She brushed off the questions of concern, so a nurse who assisted at the amputation told the story. Complications had arisen which required a skin graft.

Since no other solution was readily available, Dr. Chestnut obtained the skin for the graft from her own leg using only a local anesthetic. She gave her own skin – literally – to protect the life of a poor Chinese worker.

“God is love [chesed], and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

Last night, our family was honored to be guests as one of Fiona’s best friends was called to the Torah to become a Bat Mitzvah – a daughter of the commandment. During the service, I was reminded of the central focus of the synagogue.

Directly in the center, directly in front of the people, is the ark which holds the giant Torah scroll.

As you know, in the typical Christian sanctuary, there is a different focal point.

It is also an ark, often called a tabernacle, but it does not contain a scroll.

It is commonplace nowadays to say that Christians, Jews and Muslims are all peoples of the book. That may bear some truth, but those of us who follow Jesus as the Messiah have a different perspective.

In our ark, in the central focus of our sanctuary, it is not the book of the scriptures that is found there. Not the Bible, but the body and blood of Christ.

Not a book, but a Person.

The Rabbis say that the Torah brings salvation. The Imams say that the Koran reveals the truth of God.

The Church says that it is our Lord Jesus who brings salvation. Not a book. Not even the Bible. But a person.

A person who chose to abide, to dwell among humanity as the chesed love of God in human skin.

A person who CHOOSES to abide – to settle down and make a home – among us even now. Even today.

Yes, you might notice that OUR sanctuary here does NOT have the tabernacle as the central focal point. Instead, we have a small aumbry in the corner to hold the sign of Christ’s living presence among us – in the tiny nook which was designed in 1890 as the safe to hold the offerings.

But don’t worry. We’re going to work on fixing this, I promise. And we should fix it.

“God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:8). So that we might live through the Word made flesh and bone and blood who chooses to move into our neighborhood.

To abide is an intentional act. A decision of the will. It is to settle down and make a home.

Abiding is like marinating – that’s how I like to think of it.

To abide in Christ is to intentionally marinate ourselves in Christ.

It is true that we revere the living Word more than the written Word, but there is no better way to marinate our hearts and minds in Christ than through daily meditation on his teachings.

Daily reading and study of the Bible. There is simply no substitute for this. Thankfully, the Church offers simple resources for each of us to do this in a systematic way. Pick up one of the Forward Day-by-Day booklets in the narthex or the parish house. You can also find this on-line at the Forward Day-by-Day website. An even easier way is to like Saint Mary’s on Facebook where these daily devotional readings are posted each morning by one of our faithful members.

The daily meditations that you will find there are rarely exciting, I must admit.

But they are steadfastly loyal and faithful. Abiding, like tending and pruning a vine, is a work of patience endurance. It may not be very exciting, but it is the only way to get any fruit!

My friends, where is your home? Where is your heart at rest?

Can you make your home in our living Messiah through your daily intention to study and to love with steadfast loyalty and commitment?

Abide in Christ in this way and I promise that you will never be disappointed. Amen.

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