Sunday, May 2, 2021
|'Christ the Vine,' Tanja Butler|
Later this afternoon, a new team gathers to consider the church’s plans, our opportunities and choices over the summer and into the fall. How are we going to face the possibilities ahead – as more and more of us are vaccinated this spring, and restrictions are eased and even lifted this summer? What might fall look like at our Community Church? What might worship look like? So many questions. Good questions, hopeful questions. What kinds of adjustments or creative improvements might we make – so that we can see one another, and pray together, and worship together in this space? And what have we learned this year, what have we done this year, that we want to integrate thoughtfully into our life moving forward? We’ve been challenged and changed by our experience. And I’ve heard so many of you say things like: “We will not, we ought not, simply revert to how things used to be.” We are a people in motion. We are a tradition in the making. And this year has changed us.
There are a host of really important technical questions we can ask, and we should work together to answer. Questions about public health and safe gathering practices. Questions about technology and hybrid programming and what’s necessary to make these things happen. Thankfully, our Church Council has set in motion a couple of new teams to think these things through, and to help us plan for the summer and fall and into the next year. But Jesus asks an even more urgent question, theologically complex and spiritually exciting. I think so. Will you abide in me? Jesus asks. Will my words abide in you?
Will you abide in me? Will my words abide in you?
As we imagine a church reunited, a church gathered again, a church reborn in the midst of so much suffering, and so much fear, and so much disruption—as we imagine a church reborn, we’re invited not simply to show up together, and not simply to go through the motions together, and not simply to replicate old patterns together. Jesus asks us, Jesus invites us, Jesus calls us to abide together. To abide in God’s love, in God’s mercy, in God’s passion, together. And abiding is such a sweet and powerful notion, right? Abiding together is so much more than co-existing side by side. Abiding together is so much more than tolerating one another.
We’re called – you’re called and I’m called, and we’re all called together – to abide in God’s love, that love revealed, radically and fully, in Jesus himself. We’re called to abide in that love, the way branches abide in their vine; the way fruit-bearing branches abide in their life-giving vine. There’s the love song again. “I am the vine,” Jesus says, “you are the branches. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
As you imagine the days ahead, the opportunities before us, then, I want you to imagine how it is that we might abide, together, in God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s passion. If we abide in Christ, the light of Christ’s gospel can only shine, and will certainly bless and heal and embolden our neighbors. So imagine how it is – into the summer and into next fall – that we will abide, together, in God’s love.
And we’ve got all kinds of experiences to draw on. I know that we do. I’m thinking about the Wednesday Farmers who abide together in the dark loam and the good earth of George and Sandra’s farm. Abiding in Christ, abiding together—has everything to do with enjoying one another’s company, and it has everything to do with bearing one another’s suffering, and it has everything to do with tending the earth and feeding our neighbors and living gently together. “Abide in me as I abide in you,” Jesus says. I’m thinking too about Antony’s birthday party in Greenland two weeks ago—and the extraordinary community of friends that Antony cherishes and Barry and Sherry welcome so warmly, the brave community of friends who devote themselves tirelessly not just to Antony but to immigrants from all over the planet who come to us seeking friendship and hospitality. And protection.
You see how this call to abide in Christ, to abide together in Christ, like the fruit-bearing branches in the live-giving vine—you see then how it’s a call to a robust and dedicated community, rooted in a particularly vibrant spiritual life. Prayer and tears and activism. Laughter and gardening and joy. To abide in Christ is not to be better than others, or more convinced of things than others, or more saved than others (heavens no!). To abide in Christ is to see our lives joyfully connected in worship and prayer. To abide in Christ is to experience our futures fashioned by the same grace, the same light, the same great love. To abide in Christ is to be beloved together, and yes, to be pruned together, and yes, to bear much fruit together.
This has been my experience this year in all the Koinonia groups I’ve led, on Sunday afternoon and on Wednesday evening, and again on Thursday in the morning and Thursday in the evening. We are learning to abide in God’s great love, to abide together and lean together into that gift.
Jesus isn’t calling us to Christian pride, or even to certainty around any particular theological assertion or creed. We’ve all seen the damage that can do. No, Jesus is the Vine, the holy, sweet and generative Vine of Life. And he invites us to abide there, in that sweet vine, in our holy communion, in all our diversity. He invites us to abide together, in wonder and in doubt, in pain and in fearlessness. As we are. If you’ve participated in the Koinonia program this year, I trust you’ve experienced some of this. We are gay and straight. We are young and old. We are new members and long-timers. We are evangelicals singing new songs of peace and universalists learning to love Jesus like a friend.
But it’s about so much more than just being different together, isn’t it? It’s about so much more than just tolerating one another, right? In the church, we abide together in God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s passion. We abide together in the holy, sweet and generative Vine of Life. Paul says in First Corinthians: “When one suffers, all suffer together. And when one is honored, all rejoice as one body.” And that’s where our future takes root. That's how the love song becomes our song. The Risen Christ is our constant companion, our friend, and the Vine who binds us and feeds us and renews us for every season and every challenge. And that’s why we look to the future with joy and thanksgiving. In that future, we will abide together, disrupt injustice and cruelty together, and praise God--one people, one church, one Vine!