05/03/15 Sermon (May 3, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:41 AM by David Hawkins

“The Fruit of An Abiding Faith”

Scripture Reading: John 15:1-8  (Liturgist)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Sermon: "The Fruit of an Abiding Faith"  Rev. David Hawkins

As most of you already know, I am a word nerd. I am a Greek geek, or as my friend, and fellow word nerd, Sunny Coffee recently told me, I am a logomaniac. I am drawn to strange words. And so, it is only logical that in a Bible passage so thick with theological meaning, so profoundly full of deep insights,  I would immediately get stuck on the word ‘abide.’ I mean, come on. It’s a funny word. Abide.

What on earth does abide mean? Who even uses this word, except for Jesus?


The only time I’ve ever really heard this word used conversationally was in the movie, “The Big Lebowski”, with Jeff Bridges. Do any of you remember that movie? Jeff Bridges played this dude, who was called, “The Dude,’ and his main concern was abiding, as in, “The Dude abides.” That was his motto. It was what he always came back to when times got hard. “The Dude abides.” Yeah, it didn’t make sense in the movie either.

The problem is, we don’t use that word anymore, at least, not in the way that it was used back in the days when the King James version of the Bible was written. It’s not a word that rolls off our lips easily, unless, of course, we’re the Dude.

So what, exactly, does abide mean?

Well, according to the dictionary, ‘abide’ can go a few different ways. It can mean ‘remain’, or ‘persist’, as in ‘an abiding memory.’ Like your first childhood crush, or the thrill of a sled ride downhill, or how you felt at the birth of your first child. A memory so full and real it almost hurts when it comes to mind. A memory that you can’t let go, a memory that brings you to a complete stop, and you find yourself lost in contemplation.

Maybe this is what Jesus is talking about, abiding, encouraging those who would call themselves his disciples to remember him, to not forget him. After all, Jesus is saying these things on the night in which he was betrayed and arrested, the night be before he was killed in disgrace and shame. In just a few hours, the memory of Jesus will be all his disciples have left of him.

Or, abiding can also mean, ‘to wait.’ In fact, this was more or less the original meaning of this word, the ye Olde English version of the word, and we still use a form of it, when we say that someone is ‘biding their time,’. We can see them in our minds eye, can’t we, waiting for just the right moment. Abiding.

Maybe this is how Jesus was using this strange word. To encourage his disciples to wait, to see what was going to happen next. To remind them that life might seem bleak, that all might seem lost, that the darkness has taken over the world, but wait, abide, and trust that there is more to this present reality than we can ever see or understand.

Or abiding can also mean ‘tolerate’. That’s how we most often hear this word these days. Of course, it’s almost always used in a negative sense, as in, “I just can’t abide cilantro.” Am I right? No? Well, you know what I mean. To abide something means to be able to put up with it. To not abide something means to not be able to tolerate it.

And truth be told, sometimes the words of Jesus are hard to abide. His insistence that we love each other like he loved us, that we love even our enemies, even those who hate us, and bomb us, and terrorize us. It’s hard to abide that sort of love.  It’s hard to abide the idea that when we feed the hungry, we are feeding Jesus, when we house the homeless, we are sheltering Jesus; and it’s even harder to abide the idea that when we don’t, when we ignore the poor, when we walk past the broken, the lonely, the outcast, the voiceless, we are walking past Jesus, and we don’t recognize him and even worse, he’s not sure that he recognizes us either, at least, not as his disciples.

These are hard words to tolerate, if we are honest with ourselves. These are hard ideas to abide.

Now, the way Jesus is using the word ‘abide’ actually has a very specific meaning, and that meaning is to dwell, to live with. When this word si used in the old testament, it has the meaning of ‘seeking hospitality’, of ‘sojourning’ with someone. Jesus is inviting us to dwell with him, to travel with him, to find rest with him. And he promises us that when we dwell with him, we will bear fruit.

But when we think about it, dwelling means all those other things that we just talked about, as well. When we dwell on something, we reflect on it, we meditate on it, we remember it, and it remains with us. We sit, we ponder, and we wait for understanding. These are all parts of dwelling.

But dwelling is more than just thinking, or waiting. It’s also doing. And when Jesus is talking to his disciples and inviting them to dwell with him, it’s not just an individual request. It’s a group thing. He wants them all to abide with him, He want them all to dwell with him, he wants us all to dwell with him, and that means abiding with each other.

And let’s face it, while abiding with Jesus is not really so very hard, abiding with other Christians, now, that is a whole different ball game. Dwelling with Jesus means one thing, dwelling in each other means learning how to be patient with each other, putting up with each other, thinking about the needs of each other, walking with each other. And sometimes this is easy to do, sometimes, not so much.

Because people, even Christian people, are full of their own stuff. We’ve got all kinds of problems, hang-ups, quirks, wacky ideas, and sometimes we’re just plain not lovable. It’s hard to dwell with each other when we don’t agree with each other, whether it’s about politics or sports or theology. It’s easier to walk away than to abide. It’s easier to disconnect than it is to dwell.

But Jesus promises us that dwelling in him, and with each other is worth it. When we dwell with Jesus, our lives bear fruit. He doesn’t say what kind of fruit that might be -- it might be in terms of mission, or ministry, or evangelism, or any number of other ways that our unified witness shows the kingdom of heaven to world.

The type of fruit is not important. The important thing is that when we abide, we bear fruit. When we we dwell with Jesus, when we remain with him, when we wait on him, when we are able to live in community with him, our lives will bear witness to a new reality.

And this is an important word order. Jesus doesn’t say that we have to bear fruit in order to dwell with him or with each other. We don’t abide in Jesus by living a certain way, by saying certain things, or by believing certain things. Our behavior doesn’t buy us a seat at the table.

Rather, Jesus says that it’s our dwelling in him that changes our behavior. It’s our abiding in Jesus, and with each other, that shapes our lives.

Today, we celebrate the abiding of Jesus with us. We don’t have to do anything to come to this table, we don’t have to prove our worth, we don’t have to demonstrate our faithfulness. We are invited, all of us, to come as we are, with all our warts and scars and quirks, and are welcomed with open arms.

And when we do come, when we abide with Jesus, when we dwell with each other here at this table, we are changed into something  new, our lives are transformed into something beautiful.   

To the Lord who speaks to us,
and strengthens us,
and blesses us with peace,
be all glory and honor forever. Amen.