The true vine
Jesus says ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’
I love that word abide. Somehow it sounds stronger, deeper, better than just the word ‘live’. Of course your abode is where you live – your home – but home is so much more than just where we sleep, isn’t it. So the word ‘abide’ contains a meaning of stay, live, inhabit, dwell.
Jesus could have said be at home in me as I am at home in you. Inhabit my love – live entirely in it.
Abide in me.
The key to discipleship is right here. It is not just agreeing that what Jesus says makes a lot of sense, and deciding to try to live the same way. It is a real, loving, relationship with God through Jesus. We must abide in him and allow him to abide in us.
Jesus uses the example of a vine to help us to understand this.
The branches at the end of the vine cannot continue to live and grow and thrive if they are cut off from the rest of the vine. We know this from trees all around us – branches that are cut off the rest of the tree wither and die. But it’s interesting that Jesus uses the example of the vine rather than a tree.
I once had a vine in the garden of a church house where I was living. It grew all over the back of the house, and if I didn’t trim it back from time to time it was very happy to grow all over the windows, like something out of the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’! I had never really paid much attention to the branches that I cut off – just gathered them up & put them on the compost heap.
But one year I decided as we were decorating the church for harvest, that I would take some branches of vine to decorate the pulpit. The pulpit had carved stone vines on it and I thought it would be good to have real live vines on it , too.
So on the Saturday afternoon & cut some long branches of the vine and took them to church and they looked very attractive. I thought, on the pulpit.
Until the next morning and the service. Overnight those vine branches had completely shriveled up and looked awful.
That’s what Jesus knew. Branches cut from the vine almost immediately shrivel and die and can no longer survive. That’s the image he wants us to have of how vital it is for us to abide in him. Cut off from Jesus we simply can’t live as we should. Immediately we start to shrivel.
It is by abiding in Jesus and allowing Jesus to abide in us that we learn to live in God’s love, in the knowledge that we are loved by God and that God wishes us to have eternal, full, unshrivelled, life.
The writer of the first letter of John puts it more elegantly : 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.”
And “ God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”.
This has consequences for us personally and as a faith community, because abiding in God’s love shown in Jesus is vital for each one of our lives, but it’s also vital for passing the faith on.
I've just started reading a book by an American Youth Pastor called Kenda Dean. Her book's title is "Almost Christian" - and examining data about what young people in the US believe, her theory is that it is not that our generation has failed to teach the next about the faith, it's just that we have taught them a wishy-washy, watered down faith which basically tells people to be nice. She calls this Moralistic therapeutic deism - a belief in a God who doesn’t interfere with our lives too much, but who encourages us to be nice to other people and seek the best in life for ourselves.
This belief in a God of the side-lines isn’t harmful to people, but it is not a real living faith in Jesus Christ. If we abide in Christ we are light-years away from this sort of luke-warm faith, and instead inhabit a living faith and allow it to inhabit us. Then we can teach our children, and anyone else around us, what real faith is.
So the really important questions needs to be how do we abide in Jesus. It’s vital for us, it’s vital for passing on the faith – so how do we do it?
Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t once mention ideas in what he says about the vine & abiding in him. Abiding in Jesus is not about accepting ideas and signing up to truths – it is about living in the love of Christ Jesus. The only idea we need to accept is that God chose to come to us in Jesus to show us his love for us – to share his love with us. God loves us more than we will ever fully grasp and he wants us to know that love, and live in its light, and walk the earth as loved children of God our Father, who love God and others because we know what it is to be loved.
‘The rest’, as a good friend of mine says ‘is just fluff’.
Abide in Jesus. Live surrounded by his love, walk with Jesus at your side, know you are loved and held in God’s arms. Allow the love of Jesus to live in you, and flow through you, and stay connected to Jesus, the true vine. There are ways to help that connection to stay strong, of course – prayer (by which I mean sitting quietly in God’s company as well as actually saying anything), reading the Bible, singing praise, receiving God’s grace in this bread and wine. All these are ways to abide in Jesus.
May you know yourself, today, filled with the love and light and life of abiding in Jesus. And may you abide in him and he in you now and forever. Amen.