January 17, 2016 // Balance: UP - Abide // Sara Wolbrecht / John 15:1-4, 9-12, Luke 6:12
Friends, to start out our time together today, I want us to spend some time listening to scripture. And I do mean listening.
We’ll say more about this text in a few minutes, but first I want us to listen to parts of John 15. I invite you to listen for something that grabs you. I will read it twice – the first time through, just listen to the whole passage, let it wash over you. Imagine Jesus saying these words to you. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and out, get comfortable in your seat – and listen to what Jesus has to say to us today…
Jesus continued: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.”
You can keep your eyes closed, stay in that listening space. Now as I read this a second and final time, I invite you to listen for a word or short phrase that stands out for you. As something grabs your attention, you can grab hold of it, just sit with that word or phrase, repeating it to yourself. There is no wrong or right answer, just listen for something that gets your attention…
Keep holding onto that word or phrase. If you didn’t quite get something – the passage is printed on the insert in your bulletin and you can continue to look it over for the next few minutes. What got your attention, shimmered? What word or phrase stood out for you? I’d love to hear some of them. Shout it out…
Now, take a moment and consider: how does this word/phrase relate to your life right now? What grace does it speak into your circumstances? How can you hear this as something spoken for you?
Sit with that for a moment, as we have some silence – and then I’ll pray for us. What word of grace does this speak to your circumstance?
God, thank you that you that you are our God who is always speaking into our lives. Thank you that you are always right here, with us in this moment, and with us in the reading of your word. We ask that you would continue to draw us in as we turn to you, that in this time we share you would meet us in the midst of our joys and pains that we carry this day – let it be so.
We’ll come back to that text from John in a few minutes. Last week we kicked off our new year together by beginning our January journey through finding balance in our lives. And the balance we’re talking about is specifically in our relationships. And the pattern we look to for this and for all things, is the pattern Jesus lived out in the four gospels.
Jesus is very intentional in how he spends his time in certain kinds of relationships. It’s the pattern of his whole life and ministry. Put another way: He had three great loves his entire life oriented around. Jesus had Three Great Loves. We named last week that these three great loves are also articulated by the prophet Micah in the Old Testament. Beautifully named in
Micah 6:8 - And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Three great loves – Up (in relationship with God), In (with our close friends and spiritual family), and Out (in relationship with those in need, outside our comfort zones).
Turning to the gospels, there are places where we see Jesus move from one to the next: Up, to In, to Out. And Luke 6:12-19 is one of those places. We’ll read through Luke 6 over the next few weeks. And today, we start with his first love – his Upward relationship.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12
Jesus, alone on a mountainside, praying to God – all night. This wasn’t abnormal for Jesus. Throughout his life he was constantly getting away from the crowds and everyone else, spending time with his first love, attending to the Upward dimension of his life, his relationship with his Heavenly Father. From what we see in the gospels, Jesus was in constant contact with his Father, whom he spoke of in a very personal, intimate, and familiar way.
I wonder: Why did Jesus need that kind of time? Have you ever wondered that? Jesus is God, he is the Son of God – shouldn’t he just know what to do or have it all together or just be so focused that he doesn’t need to take breaks like that? Have you ever wondered about this?
Jesus walked this earth with grace and radical inclusion of all people, and with the power of God to heal and raise people from the dead, and he stood up against the systems of injustice and oppression on behalf of women, children, foreigners, those considered unclean and outcast. He spoke revolutionary teachings of forgiveness, grace, generosity, and love and went out of his way to share food and a table with all people – especially those who were outsiders. And all the people in power – the Pharisees and church authorities, the emperor and Rome itself – all the people in power did all they could to stop Jesus. Because justice threatens the status quo and threatens those who are abusing their power. And yet we know that not even death on a cross could stop Jesus.
So why does Jesus take time to be with God? All of these things – this radical life of love unto death that Jesus lived – this life was only possible because Jesus made time for his first love. Jesus needed that time with God. Jesus said himself in John’s gospel – that he only did what he saw the Father doing. How did he see what the Father was doing? Jesus knew God, knew what God was doing because Jesus spent time with God – in the language of the Micah text, Jesus walked humbly with God. And so Jesus could step out boldly to do the things of God. His fruitfulness flowed from his prayer life, his time spent with God.
What also flowed from that time with God was Jesus’ identity – we talked about this before when looking at Jesus’ baptism in Mark’s gospel. In the midst of all the crowds, demands, healing, teachings – Jesus could come back to the quiet place where no one told him what to do or who to be. There were no demands, urgent needs, deadlines. Where he heard again the voice of love telling him who he really is. There are a few places in the gospels where God speaks to Jesus (like at his baptism) – and every time God says: This is my Beloved. I am delighted in him.
This is the same voice of love that speaks to us – the voice telling us who we really are, that we are invited to come back to and be grounded in. Our first love. And the love that loves us first. Jesus introduced his disciples then and us now to this very personal relationship with God, calling us into the same kind of intimacy with the Father that he himself has always known.
But it is important to remember that it isn’t about how hard we work to make the relationship with God happen. It’s about surrendering to our God who is always there. That place, the space, that relationship with God is always there for us to lean into or again in the language of Micah: we are invited to walk humbly with our God.
Which is different than TALKING humbly with God. This isn’t just about prayer as a place where we talk to God. This is about walking – inviting Jesus to walk with us, to be part of our everyday life. Accompanying us as we drive, as we work, as we play, as we cheer for the Seahawks (and cry with them). In the regular times as much as times that we set aside as “spiritual.”
And to put it in the language that we heard in our John 15 text that we listened to – where Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches that grow from him. Often, that passage reads with the word ABIDE. Jesus says: Abide in me. Make your home in me. I love that – that we are invited to live and move and have our being in God. To wake up and walk with God. Our God who is with us, our God who is for us. Metaphors are so rich in offering us understanding. And I love the vine and branches image for what it means to be connected to this life-giving source of love and identity. Jesus says – when you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant
Abide in me – that is the most fruitful, life-giving, awesome life that you’ll have, when you’re connected to what God is doing in the world and grounded in who you are as a Beloved son or daughter of God. Man – I know I need that reminder all the time.
How about you? When are the times and places and ways that you have opened up and been found by that abundant love of God? What does your Up dimension look like? When have you felt completely accepted and forgiven and grounded? When have you felt alive and passionate and connected to what God is doing? What does that look like in your life?
And can we just be real for a minute about how hard it is to make time and room to abide with God, to be connected to that source. I know for me there are never enough hours in the day. For work, for my family, for exercise, for cleaning all the things, for friends. And I am so easily distracted. And yet for me – when I consider what UP looks like, those times when I can hearGod and remember who I am …
One of those seasons is when I am good about opening up and reading the bible on most days – when I have had a regular diet of the abiding in the Bible. I intentionally had us start out with listening to scripture today in a personal way because many of us have never done that or find it hard to do that. But opening up the bible – or your Bible app – there in the pages of this ancient text we encounter God. Because there, we get to know the character of God. There, we experience God speaking into our world and our lives through the lives of folks in the bible. What has your rhythm of scripture reading been like? What could it be like?
My Up dimension has also thrived in times when I have prayed – abiding with God as I cry out about the stuff that is so hard, giving thanks for the stuff that is so good – and taking time to listen. And for me, the most profound moments of encountering God have been the times when someone else has prayed for me. I have felt the presence of the Spirit in my body, those praying for me have shared words and images that God has spoken into my questions and longings. I also abide with God in worship (singing, worshipping in community) and hearing sermons that have been God with me in those moments. Also, the times when I am out running, or hiking, or walking the beach and there in the wild is the beauty of God and my own sense of knowing I am a part of something bigger than I am. But the most fun times of abiding with God are most certainly the driving around, playing with my kids, doing the dishes moments where I have known God was there abiding, even in the non-spiritual stuff.
What about you? What has abiding with God looked like in the past? Moments of connection, growth? Seasons of deepening relationship with God and growing faith? …And what about now? How do you abide with God – and how might you open yourself up for that?
I would like to offer one possibility for you moving forward – if you would like to try reading scripture daily for the first time or getting back into it. I’m going to commit to that too. And for whoever wants to join me, we’re going to form a texting group – which just means we’ll read the same thing each day and send a text to the group with one sentence about what spoke to us. Knowing that we’ll each miss some days, but we’ll have the accountability of one another and the joy of hearing what God is saying in each other’s lives. Sign up tonight or let me know this week. As we make room in our lives together to abide with God.
As the band comes back up, we’re going to sing a song about Abiding in God. And we let this become our hope, our prayer, celebrating the rest and life and joy we find when we abide with God. And as we sing, with intention we hold that question: how do we abide with God? To spend time with God like we would with any other dear friend or beloved partner. To get to know God more intimately. How do we abide? Hold this question, and also rest in knowing who you are: Hear, again, the good news that you are loved, accepted, delighted in by the God of the universe. You, just you, as you are. And it is our God who waits for us to come and abide with him, always. For this we all say – thanks be to God. Amen.