I wonder if we are willing to abide in anything, to immerse ourselves wholly in something, to allow anything to captivate our heart and life, to view our whole existence through that one lens . . .
At first I want to say, no, no one would be willing to give of him or herself in that way. It sounds too constricting.
But then I begin to think about the many things that we give ourselves to: our jobs, our families, our hobbies, interests, or activities.
I begin to think about the things that we spend our time doing, the things that we give our lives to.
Many of us are sports fans, we dress up, we go to games, and we make the time. Some of us love our television programs, so we sit there and even "binge-watch." We cannot wait for the next season to begin again.
So as it turns out, we are constantly abiding--constantly living in, taking residence in, fixing ourselves permanently on, many things in our lives. Our abiding speaks to our rooting, and it turns out that we are rooting in different ways every day. We do so every moment of our lives.
We kid ourselves if we think that those things that root us are not affecting us, shaping us, and transforming us. The proof of our shaping is evident all around us. That which we value, which we spend our time doing, the activities that we engage in, our attitudes and ways of engagement, all speak to the things that captivate our hearts. These things are the fruit of our abiding, the fruit of our rootedness.
All we have to do is pay attention to our daily smartphone notifications to recognize the fruit of our abiding . . . violence, objectification of neighbor, systemic prejudice, greed, and our incessant consumption speak to our hunger.
Where are we abiding? What's our rootedness? Are we truly rooted? Are we truly abiding in Jesus? Are we letting Jesus abide in us?
This is a difficult question. I struggle just thinking about it. It seems like it would be an easy answer. I want to say, "Of course, I abide in Jesus. Of course, Jesus abides in me!"
This seems like the answer that any good Christian would give. A good answer for a pastor . . . right?!
But if I am honest, I have to recognize that often I do not abide in Jesus and I'm not alone.
We abide . . . oh, we abide in things that we think we can control, then they end up controlling us.
We abide in things that require little of us, but they end up taking our souls.
Abide in the security of my small ideas about God, and they end up making me more anxious than ever, with every contrary opinion an enemy and every enemy beyond redemption.
Our abiding seems fruitful; our vines seem healthy. They might even be producing grapes, but it's rotting grapes, underdeveloped grapes, seedless grapes, grapes that are unable to produce the wine of the kingdom.
- Grapes of idolatry, self-importance, and self-righteousness.
- Grapes of a myopic view of the world where God only loves those that we love, and where God hates like we hate.
- Grapes of control, over our lives and over others.
- Grapes of our participation in structures that perpetuate an individualist and egocentric community.
- Grapes that keep us from paying attention to the needs of others, that keep others at arm's length.
- Grapes that refuse to put ourselves in the place of the other and to live alongside them.
It is hard having to face the reality that what we have produced is truly not fruit but weeds, of how "overgrown" everything is around us . . . how truly un-rooted and unfruitful it is, how unwilling we are to face our reality, to be pruned, to have anyone, anything, question our fruitfulness. In other words, we fool ourselves, when in reality all that stuff that comes from me is not fruit at all; it's just weeds, it's just weeds. These weeds keep me from experiencing the grace that God has given me, that these weeds that I have confused with fruit are not allowing me to move forward and to grow in love of God and neighbor.
One of the key places where I see the weediness mistaken for fruitfulness is in the unhealthy rhetoric of our day. In our civic life, in social media engagement, and in our personal conversations, we have become divisive; we have become unwilling to listen, unwilling to see other points of view. We have couched this weediness in talk around what is right, truth, in our own desire for a "so-called" better life; but in the end we have questioned the motives of others, we have called other names, we have made caricatures of the positions of others, and have become peddlers of untruth. All this shows us that none of this is truth. None of this is abiding in Jesus. None of this!
We have allowed fear, ignorance, and our limited understanding of God to take root in our souls. We have chosen to allow our souls to become rooted in a religious version of ourselves instead of being rooted in God's abiding love.
More importantly, many of us who claim the way of Jesus, who have been called by God to love God and neighbor, to love our ENEMY, and to be bearers of truth, have not lived differently. Instead, we have carried the unfruitful practices of our society into the church and have at times even led the way into straw man arguments, character assassination, and divisive conversation.
We should be convicted, for Christ gives us an invitation: Christ says, "Come and open yourself up to being grafted to me. I have strong roots. I have the DNA needed to make you fruitful, alive, and to make us flourish, to make all of creation flourish."
Jesus calls us to be rooted in him; we must then cut ourselves from our root in sin and death and graft ourselves in the personhood and identity of Jesus. He tells us that only in him can we truly be fruitful, that everything else is to be cut-off, to be removed. Wow!! This is difficult work!
The gospel provides us with a mirror that shows us possibility, shows us a new way, and shows us the beauty of fruitful abiding, of God's call to new life. We must be willing to get in front of that mirror; we must be willing to see that what we are calling fruitfulness is nothing but weeds. We must see that we are really not abiding in Jesus; instead, we are abiding in our own sense of self. Only then will we be able to see what it looks like to let God clear the way so that we can live a fruitful life. The process is not easy; it requires a dramatic vulnerability, a willingness to let go. It requires our willingness to find a new home and a new center.
So Jesus provides us with the way. Our following Jesus grafts us, cuts us from our rootedness in sin and death, the unhealthy roots of the human condition and then allows us to live a new life. Jesus then becomes our root, our vine, with God the father being the one that grows it, tends it, and makes sure that it is healthy and whole! We are then invited to be the branches. The flowering and visible presence of Jesus in the field of God's kingdom!
So imagine what that looks like! Imagine our commitment as followers of Jesus to allow the Holy Spirit to graft us into Christ, to allow the nurturing, energetic, and fruitful presence of Jesus to be the source of life for us.
In order for this reality to happen, we must abide; in order for our branches to be fruitful, we must allow for this re-location, transplantation, and transformation to occur, to happen, in us.
We are seeing again and again our need to re-calibrate our lives into fruitfulness rooted in our abiding, in our changing of address, in the permanence of God's identity as love. Making our home in God, inhabiting God's place, living into Christ's identity, requires that we acknowledge our need to be grafted . . . that our salvation, our healing, is dependent on our willingness to acknowledge our inter-dependence with God, each other, and all of creation.
At Grace Community here in Shreveport, Louisiana, we are committed to living in this way, to live in fruitful abiding. We are committed to living in this way by being agents of conversation, by being space makers for engagement, by being a people that teach one another what it means to be in loving and respectful relationship with those that we disagree. Allowing those things to be the fruit of our abiding in Jesus.
This is difficult work, but I believe that we must live in this way. We must be willing to engage the difficult conversations of our day; we must be willing to abide in the midst of the difficulty--that's where Jesus would live--and allow the fruit of our abiding, the love and grace of Jesus, to be made known in our communities.
Now more than ever, God's people must lead the way into conversations that uplift, conversations that restore, conversations that renew, conversations that reconcile, conversations that honor the image of God in the other.
It is my prayer today that we can begin a movement, a movement of people committed to being agents of reconciliation, committed to a movement rooted in Jesus, a movement that inhabits the way of Jesus and that allows for the way of Jesus to inhabit the world. A movement of "abiding fruitfulness" that shines a light on God's reconciling love in Jesus and in the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.