A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Place Where We Live

Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptizer are the first disciples called in the gospel of John. Jesus, aware that they are following him, turns back and asks them what they are looking for. “Rabbi, (meaning teacher)” they reply, “where are you staying?” Jesus answers, “Come and see.”

The particular word for “staying” that is used when Andrew and his friend ask that question is the Greek word μένεις. In addition to stay, this word can also mean remain, or live, or dwell; it can be translated last, endure, or continue. But throughout the gospels, when that word is used, it is very often translated as “abide”.

“Rabbi, where are you staying?” Where do you abide?

Months later, when Andrew and that other disciple sit around a table in an upper room in Jerusalem with other followers of Jesus, hearing him talk about vines and branches, perhaps they would realize that their initial question to Jesus, as well as his answer, had much deeper significance than simply a home address somewhere near the River Jordan and that their initial encounter with him had led them far beyond a domestic location and into a new way of life that defied not only the physical boundaries of a home or an inn, but also religious, social, and cultural boundaries as well. The place where they and their fellow disciples abide at this point in time is not like anything they could have imagined when they began this journey.

Jesus has opened up a whole new life to them: “life on the vine”. Life on the vine would be disciplined, sacrificial, selfless, but ultimately fruitful and rewarding. Life on the vine would require a willingness to let God be in control, to let God prune away anything and everything that might stand in the way of full and complete commitment to the new way of being and of relating to God and one another that Jesus had come to inaugurate. Life on the vine, life in Christ, would also mean having a new place to live: not only where to abide; but also how to abide.

The word abide is used eight times in these eight verses. As Christians we abide in Christ, we abide in God and so naturally, logically, we also abide in one another. We stay, we remain, we endure, we continue, because this is where we Christians are called to live.

God is love. Fearless, bold, perfect, abiding love. It’s the love made flesh and blood in the selfless love of God’s son Jesus; it’s the love that pulls us back when we lose our way and forget where it is that we live. It’s good to remember that. We have a home. No matter how bad life gets, or how good life gets, we have a place to abide in the God who is love. Regardless of where our lives happen to be at the moment, our home is in and with God. That’s where we live. That’s also where we meet others who may, on the surface, appear to be nothing at all like us but who become our brothers and sisters in love.

When we baptize someone we welcome that new Christian into both the local and the larger Church by saying “We receive you into the household of God.” In other words, you have a new home now. You abide in God; you have entered a community of love. From now on, we say, no matter what happens this is where you live. This is your “real” estate: a home in the place God calls us all to be; where we experience the abiding presence of love, the beloved community that Christ created for us. And when we do, no matter where we find ourselves in this world or what shape our life takes, the place where we live is the place where God’s love abides, and where we abide in it.

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