‘Abide in me, as I abide in you’ and ‘become my disciples.’ Abide and become. Two words from the Gospel I invite you to ponder with me this week. Abide and become.
And I want to begin by making a couple of assumptions connected to this Gospel reading. Firstly, I assume, that you are here, or watching at home because you are interested in Jesus.
There might be other reasons too, you like hymns, or ceremony, or this building and community. Yet I assume and hope that there is something about Jesus too.
And though we might not use the same language perhaps this is something about wanting to ‘abide’, to live in, with and through Jesus.
And the second assumption relates to the first because surely if we want to ‘abide’ in him then part of what that means is wanting to know more about him so that we can ‘become’ his disciple.
Abide and become.
The Bible makes a radical claim that the God who is at the heart of everything, a God impossible for us to ever fully comprehend is uniquely present in each one of us.
We read in the Book of Genesis that we are ‘made in the image of God’ . Jesus in the Gospel before us explores that imagery further when he says ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’
This is a lot to take in, and I’m not sure we ever do at least in this life. The Apostle St. Paul has it right when he says ‘for now we see in a mirror, dimly’ and yet though our view is partial we see enough and we are drawn, like metal to a magnet – towards the light and life of God.
And Christ is the key and in discovering who we are in him we spend our lives becoming who God uniquely wants us to be, becoming his disciples.
But this becoming isn’t straightforward or easy because it means we have to be prepared to change.
And this change happens over that lifetime as amidst the seasons of life we learn to let go of control.
As we learn to follow Jesus not on our terms but on his.
As we learn to be open and humble, recognising that we don’t have all the answers.
As we learn that who we are and what we have are not ours to possess but gifts to be shared.
This journey of becoming is difficult too because we can so easily be drawn away from abiding in Jesus often not by anything malicious or deliberate but by carelessness and lack of attention.
That’s why participating in this Holy Eucharist where we meet and feed on Christ even remotely is so important, for here we are made and remade time again.
Just as we are through times of daily prayer, Bible reading and so on. For I think we all need to find a rhythm for living our faith – something we shall explore later in the year in a ‘Rhythm of Life’ course during Advent.
And of course we need one another too, fellow pilgrims on the journey, friends to support and encourage, challenge and console.
So, we need help if we are to abide and become. Just as a bewildered Ethiopian court official did when he was trying to make sense of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading. Then Philip came and ‘proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.’
And experience tells me that the more we travel on this journey of becoming, the more we learn to live into a kind of openness of heart and generosity of spirit that is I believe God’s gift to us.
And here I want to turn to another image from the Gospel of Jesus as ‘the true vine’.
Just down the road from here is Leventhorpe vineyard. I remember meeting the owner and being told how he came to choose that site. For its a little bit of south facing land not too exposed and well drained ideal for growing vines.
But the quality of the soil, the aspect those these are essential are only part of the picture. For then there is the careful and patient task of planting and tending those vines – an art it seemed to me that requires patience and understanding.
Perhaps it is helpful to think of ourselves as being like the perfect land where the vines can grow. But just like the vines there, we need tending so that we might abide in the vine that is Jesus Christ and ‘bear much fruit’ in lives becoming along the way who God uniquely wants each one of us to be.
Abide and become.
We can of course choose for good or bad to abide in a different set of values and then of course our becoming will be different because Jesus’ invitation is distinctive. And it is an invitation to a life shaped by his life.
And here we remember those shaped by his life at the very beginning of the church. We’ve heard of their story through these Sundays of Easter described through the words of the Acts of the Apostles.
One thing that’s apparent is that whatever the challenges they faced we never sense that their life had become a joyless duty more a joyful calling. Jesus called them, abided in and with them and they became his disciples.
And that same joy is ours, amidst the struggles and challenges of life that we sometimes face. A joy that’s not a superficial happiness, a banal smile but a deep and lasting joy. A joy rooted in our belief and conviction that God abides with us in Christ.
So that no matter how hard life can sometimes be, whatever the challenges we face, whatever the sorrows we carry – not least in these weeks as we say farewell to Brian, Beatrice and Ken beloved members of our church family – we can as we look to the risen Christ see a love at work that will not let the cross have the last word.
Abide and become.
Two words to carry with us this week as we follow Jesus and hear again his words of invitation to abide in him as he abides in us that we might become his disciples and bear much fruit.