Today, as we welcome new people into our church family, is a good day to reflect on what it means to be part of a church community. You tell me: Why is it good to be a part of a church family? What are the benefits?
For me, from the pastor’s perspective, a church community can be the support system we need when we are confronted with tragedy, when we face uncertainty, when we our lives change suddenly and we feel like we are all alone. A church community embraces us and can be a “home” for us.
In our scripture lesson today, we are introduced to the idea of the vine and the branches. Jesus explains this parable of our connection, in verse 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “Abide in me.” he says.
Abide. It is a strange word – one that we don’t hear often. What does it mean?
to tolerate / accept – to abide by a decision
But it is also a word rooted in the idea of home – I abide in an abode. This is where I live, where I am, where I stay. This is my home.
What a lovely image to think, Jesus is our vine and in him we live, we stay, we remain, we GROW, we abide. Jesus is our home – but more than that, Jesus is our connection to the vine grower (God the creator) and to one another as the FRUIT of this vine.
This is my home. Here, I abide.
But it is more than an image of an individual relationship with God. It is more than just a relationship between Me and Jesus and God. This image used in John’s text is a vision of the Church – the community of disciples, and TODAY as we add more branches into our Christian vineyard, it is an image that speaks to us:
Author Brian Stoffregen explains, “First, the image of community that emerges from [this text] is one of interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling. To get the full sense of this interrelationship, it is helpful to visualize what the branches of a vine actually look like. In a vine, branches are almost completely indistinguishable from one another; it is impossible to determine where one branch stops and another branch starts. All run together as they grow out of the central vine. What this vine image suggests about community, then, is that there are no free-standing individuals in the community, but branches who encircle one another completely. The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine, nothing else. What matters for John is that each individual is rooted in Jesus and hence gives up individual status to become one of many encircling branches.” (2)
Here I live, I abide, I stay. Here, I stand.
To “abide in Christ” is more than just an individual’s relationship with Jesus, it is our relationships with the other branches in our vineyard and our relationship with the whole vineyard. To Abide in Christ means to identify as a part of, to be a part of something greater than ourselves, bigger than a single church or a particular denomination. To Abide in Christ is foundational understanding of who we are, what is important to us and what we will FIGHT for.
What is essential to you? What is so important that you would stand up to enemies and friends alike? What is vital to your personality, to your being… where do you ABIDE?
* In recent days, we’ve seen great examples of people standing up, walking out, protesting injustices and supporting one another through protests, marches and community gatherings. In these events, one can witness the power of collective protest. But occasionally, we can also witness the quiet witness of people demonstrating where they “abide.”
Whether it is Ieshia Evans, at a Baltimore “Black Lives Matter” Protest or the iconic “Tank Man” protesting in Tianneman Square, quiet courage demonstrates to others and confirms to oneself, “Here, I stand.” This is important to me. I can’t look away, walk away or turn away from the uncomfortable truth. “Here, I stand.”
In 1521, the Holy Roman Empire gathered in Worms, Germany – then an Imperial free city of the Empire. This gathering was called a Diet and this assembly of the Roman Empire in Worms, in 1521 is now referred to as the Diet of Worms. I want to tell you this story to bring it to life for you.
* In 1517, Martin Luther – made a list documenting the abuses of the clergy in the Catholic Church, the corruption of the church hierarchy and some of the practices of the church that he believed went against what the Scriptures taught. He himself was a Catholic priest, devoted to the Church and her teachings, and his writings were controversial, so by 1521, The Emperor (Charles the Fifth) had to address Luther and the ideas that would start the Protestant Reformation. So, the Emperor called a Diet to address and discipline Luther.
On April 17, 1521, Luther appeared before the council. He was asked pointedly if he was ready to recant his writings and take back all the accusations, complaints, oppositions and challenges he made to the Catholic Church and her hierarchy. Luther requested more time to prepare a proper answer and was given a new time to appear the following day.
On April 18, Luther again appeared before the assembly and was asked the same question: “Are these writings yours and are you ready to denounce them?”
“They are all mine.” he said and then he began a speech describing the reasons he would NOT recant. He concluded by saying this:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” (2)
Our tradition in the Protestant church is that Luther said, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
Here I stand. I will not recant. Even though it is dangerous, even though I am scared, even though others may see it as foolish. Here, I stand. This is where I live, I abide.
As we embrace the new branches of our vineyard, let us also receive the blessing of our vine-grower. We have a home in Christ; we abide together in the Kingdom of God. This is where we live and grow and prosper. And in our growth, we cannot deny the growth of others. We stand for each other – for the rights and dignity of ALL our branches. Here, we stand. Amen.
Stoffregen, Brian found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john15x1.htm
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–93, 1:460.