6 May 2018

Abide with me

[RCL]: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide: when other helpers fail and comforts flee, the help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Abide with Me is a familiar hymn that Henry Francis Lyte penned while battling tuberculosis. He knew he was gravely ill, and What a thrilling prayer request is penned into the words: ‘ dear God, please abide with me always, especially when the “darkness deepens” or when “other helpers fail.” But what does it mean for God to abide with us?

The gospel reading from John reminds us of some words spoken by Jesus to his disciples (and us of course) that, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9).

Abide. We don’t use this word much any more. We abide by the law, or we abide by the rules and regulations of the gym, that sort of thing.

Jesus tells us to abide, or to remain, in his love. He also tells us in the very next verse that abiding or remaining in his love is the consequence or result of something else. Do you see it there? ‘Keep my commandments’ Jesus is saying, and then you will experience the abiding love of God.

God is love. God also has some rules for life, something we must do and some things we must not do. It really is not negotiable — Jesus has explained it quite simply: God has standards, God has told us some things are right and other things are wrong. Black and white. We make a whole lot of grey out of many of these things, but Jesus simply lays it out there: here is what I want you to do, here is how I want you to behave, here is how I want you to treat others, etc., — an now it is up to us to decide what we will do about this.

To abide in Jesus’ love means to abide in Jesus because Jesus is love. Jesus lays out the three benefits of abiding in him. God is love, and in us, so we can love like Jesus loves; there is a byproduct called joy; and, the Holy Spirit anoints us with the ability to bear lasting fruit in our lives.

First, abiding in Jesus means that the love of God is present in us, and, as a result, we can love like Jesus.

Like most things, this is much harder than it sounds. Using Jesus as our model for love, the reality is that most of us come up short and miss the mark. Actually, did you know that missing the mark, is one of the better translations of SIN? We miss the mark of God’s standards for us.

Anyway, Jesus loved unconditionally and without judgment and without the need for reciprocity. Loving to be loved, is missing the mark. Verse 13 spells out what it means to love as Jesus loves: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” By most standards today, that sounds crazy, over the top, beyond the pale. Most people say they would do much for one’s friends, but stop far short of doing anything that might cost them their own life.

Watching a documentary this week on the life of Robert Kennedy, brother of President John F Kennedy, I was reminded that Bobby Kennedy was killed in 1968, the same year as Martin Luther King was also shot and killed. Taylor Branch in his book called ‘Parting the Waters’ tells what happened after King’s front porch was fire-bombed while his wife and 10-week-old baby were inside:

*“King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said… We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’” *

Indeed, Dr. King is just one example of the love of Jesus being humanly possible; there are others. It is possible for us all, with God’s help.

Second, abiding in Jesus and loving like Jesus creates the byproduct of joy.

We become joyful and joy is present when Jesus abides with us and when we abide in Jesus’ love.

Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

One little word there that makes the difference. Found it yet? IF. Later in Abide with Me, Lyte mentions the dimming of earth’s joys:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

In life, it is true to say that sometimes, joy is hard to find: when disappointments and setbacks are the order of the day and God seems far or prayers seem unanswered. It is difficult to keep one’s joy when there is no hope or the walls seem to be caving in all around us.

Nehemiah 8:10, however, reminds us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Because we are ‘in Christ’ and because we seek to do the things he asked us to do, we have (by the ministry of the Holy Spirit) access to the joy that the Lord himself has, and we have access to all the joy that our Father God wishes to give us. In fact, it is a source of joy we can never fully use up — there is always more — if we allow the Lord to give it to us.

In Nehemiah’s story, we find a people who were in the midst of harsh conflict. Hope was dwindling, and joy was a rare commodity. Nehemiah reaffirms the people as they hear the words from the Book of the Law of God that this is where we find our strength for life, for setbacks, disappointments, health crises, raising children, relationships, missions, everything. The strength we need for this life is found in the essential joy that God provides if we abide in him and in his love.

Thirdly, abiding in Jesus means that we are anointed to bear fruit that will last.

Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name”(John 15:16).

The proof is in the pudding, so we say. What fruits are you bearing? A good tree does not bear bad fruit. Jesus is serious about his disciples bearing fruit. Good fruit. Fruit that will last.

We have been anointed by Jesus, who abides in us, to bear fruit joyfully.

That appears several ways. One important way is in how we are making disciples. How are we sharing and telling of this love that we embody and that radiates throughout our entire being and impacts all we interact with.

How are we telling our faith stories with each other and especially with those who may not yet know Jesus for themselves? We are not called to practice an insular type of faith or Christianity; we aren’t called to stick to what we like and what’s comfortable. If Jesus abides in us, truly abides in us, this all comes somewhat naturally, through the mysterious yet reliable gifting of the Holy Spirit.

This doesn’t make it easy, by the way, but when Jesus abides in us, we can’t help but exude his love and ways and share them. We can’t help but be joyful in all things. And because the proof is in the pudding, the fruit we bear is good and pleasing in God’s sight.

Abiding with Jesus is exemplifying the love that God and Jesus share with each other and that we as a community of faith, called Stoke Row Chapel, are called to enact. Like Henry Francis Lyte, if we acknowledge our helpless state and ask Jesus to abide with us, teaching us to love like him, we can joyfully sing out in confidence:

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes; shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies; heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Let’s close in prayer.