Sunday, January 19, 2014

Abide with Him

(A sermon based on John 1:29-42 for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany)

My good wife and I met in college and it was on and around the campus that we did our initial dating. After a while, she invited me to go home with her for a weekend. So we drove from Macon through Cordele and on through Albany until we arrived at her hometown of Leary out of which we drove three more miles until we arrived at her parents’ house. We drove up in the front yard and she said, “Well, that’s where I live.” And then we turned around and went back to Macon.

That is not, of course, what really happened. We got out of the car and went inside the house where she hugged her mother and father and introduced me to them—and then we spent the entire weekend there. We stayed there. And because we stayed there, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and I got to know each other better. But we did not get to know each other as well as we would have had I moved in with them and lived with them—then I would have, to use a good biblical word, abided with them.

As it turns out, I think that the only person in the world that I have really gotten to know and that has really gotten to know me is my wife. That’s because we have lived with each other—we have abided with each other—for three and a half decades now. That’s how you get to know someone—you spend time—lots of time, abundant time, constant time—with them.

And you spend it directly with them, not through an intermediary. I could have gotten to know Anna or Cheryl or Pam or another of Debra’s friends and they could have told me a lot about her, but eventually, when they figured out that Debra was who I needed, they would have said to me, “Behold! There is the one you need! Go to her!” That would have been—that was—better than hanging out with her friends talking about her.

John the Baptist had been preaching that people should prepare for the coming of the Lord. “The kingdom of God is at hand,” John proclaimed, and he baptized people as they repented of their sins. One day Jesus came to John to be baptized and John saw the Spirit of God come down like a dove on Jesus. When John next saw Jesus (on the day after he baptized him?) he said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (v. 29). The following day, John was standing with two of his disciples when Jesus came walking by and John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (v. 36). And John’s disciples left John and followed Jesus.

John was great but they didn’t need to stay with John; they needed to go to Jesus.

When Jesus asked them what they were looking for, they replied by asking him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said, “Come and see.” And they went and saw. But they did more than see---they stayed; they abided. To find out who Jesus was, what Jesus was about, and how Jesus would have them be and what he would have them do, they had to stay. They had to abide.

And so do we. It’s good that we go to see where he lives; it is good that we go to our Bibles and to our church and to our prayers, for Jesus is surely there. But we cannot really know him and we cannot really know what he has to say to us if we just stand in his front yard and look at his house or if we just glance in passing at his Book or if we just pray afterthought prayers. We have to settle in and live with him; we have to abide with him.

So when we come to our Bible, let’s abide with him. Let’s spend real and quiet time prayerfully contemplating how the Lord comes to us in Scripture. I would suggest taking a small passage—a parable, a psalm, a paragraph—and reading it slowly and prayerfully several times a day for several days.

When we come to our times of prayer and contemplation, let’s abide with him. Let’s find time when we can be alone with Jesus and really talk with and listen to him.

When we come to worship, let’s abide with him. Let’s come with no other agendas but to praise God and to listen to Jesus. Let’s come focused and ready and eager to be with Jesus.

And here’s something that we might not think about: when we come to other people—because he is present in them—let’s abide with them. Let’s abide with our brothers and sisters in Christ in whom Christ dwells and let’s abide with people out there in whom we can see glimpses of Christ.

Let’s not settle for intermediaries. After all, it is the resurrected Lord with whom we, through the Holy Spirit, have a real and ongoing relationship. The Bible is good because it points us to God in Jesus Christ; the Church is good because it points us to God in Jesus Christ; prayer is good because it points us to God in Jesus Christ; other people are good because they point us to God in Jesus Christ. Abiding in them provides a means for us to grow in abiding in him.

How important is such abiding? It is all-important. Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was crucified:

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.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete
(John 15:4-11).

It is the branch that stays attached to the plant that lives and flourishes. There is a difference between us and a branch, though: a branch has no choice in the matter …

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