The word “abide” appears 6 times in our reading from 1 John (4:7-21) and 8 times in the Gospel reading (John 15:1-8). The word “love” appears 27 times in the 1 John reading, but not in the Gospel reading, although I get the sense that the idea of love is there. So what’s the point in my word count? That the repetition of these words means that they’re important.
To “abide” in the Biblical sense means to dwell or to stay. Dwell in love. Stay in love. God’s love dwells within us. Our love for each other is based on God’s love which stays in us. This is the message we receive from the reading of 1 John. That we are Beloved. All week this reading has been with me in my heart and in my mind because it is so intimate. It’s like a love letter. It’s poetic and beautiful. It’s a reassuring message to hear that we are the recipients of the most wonderful, living giving perfect love.
And yes, I would very much like to stay in that warm and fuzzy place that makes my heart feel good. But that’s not the work I’m given to do.
In the Gospel, we read that Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches”. What does that mean?
My grandfather, in his later years, took on the venture of having a backyard vineyard. Most of the wine he had produced prior to that had been fruit or wild berry wine, but he decided he wanted to try the grape process. So he spent a lot of time tending to the vines. One afternoon I remember going out to look at the little vineyard with him.
The vine is the part that grows out of the ground from the roots. It’s a little thicker and not really tall. But what I realized is that the vine is what nurtures the branches. It is through the vine that the branches get water, nutrients from the soil, and the ability to thrive. The branches depend on the vine. But the branches also have work to do. They are responsible for growing, becoming entangled with one another for support, and producing the buds which will lead to fruit. Sometimes, they have to be pruned in order to continue to grow. Without pruning, they can’t prosper.
In particular I found the branches to be really interesting. Unless you look really carefully, it’s hard to tell where one vine and its branches end and another begins…they’re all tangled up. And they’re long…it’s as if they’re reach extends forever.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what Jesus was after in this pseudo-parable. He is our vine…he gives us life, he nurtures us, he grows us. We are his branches…we get tangled up together, supporting one another, extending our reach through one another, growing and changing the world around us. And we do this by abiding, by dwelling and staying, in his love.
Every week I visit Mae Kniskern. I was with her when she turned 97 this year. She’s still spunky, she drives, and she loves bingo. And every week when we spend time together, we read the same passage from scripture…this passage from John’s Gospel. For two years now we’ve been reading this scripture, and admittedly, I never gave it much thought. But pairing it with the reading from 1 John, I’m finally starting to understand it in a new way.
It is because God—the vine--loves us, that God cares for us, nurtures us, provides for us and grows us, that we are able to do our work as branches—to dwell in God’s love, to create and change our ministries, to hang on to one another and grow. We need the vine and we need the branches to be able to fully abide in the love of God.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.