Jesus says in our Gospel reading this morning “Abide in me as I abide in you,” and then He goes on further to give us the results of what will happen if we abide in Him. This morning, I will attempt to do three things: 1) Answer the question of why we should abide in anything. 2) Show how abiding in anything other than Jesus will lead to disappointment and chaos. 3) Show why you should abide in Jesus above anything else. It’s a rather large task before us, so let’s jump right in.
The first thing we’ve got to deal with is why we should abide in anything. Well, really we don’t have a choice but to abide in something. The Greek word used by Jesus here is μένω which can mean several things: “abide”, “remain”, “to remain in a place”, “to stay in the house”, or even “to stay alive” or “to stand fast.” And we all stand fast; we all remain; we all stay alive in something. However, most of us don’t really take the time to think about where we abide; where we stand fast. We are kind of like fish who are surrounded by water. It is so natural for a fish to live in water, he wouldn’t know what it was like to live in anything else.
So it is with how we live. We simply go through most of our lives believing certain things we have been taught–things which are deeply imprinted within our hearts. For instance, most of us, since we live in the U.S. have a deeply imprinted belief that if we work hard, do the right things, then we will achieve some measure of success. We have a deeply imprinted belief that all people are equal and have certain inalienable rights. We have a deeply imprinted belief that we are free to do as we choose as long as we do no harm to anyone. These are so deeply ingrained that if we were taken out of our culture, we would indeed be like a fish out of water. Many of us would have a very difficult time adjusting to anything else. Why? Because we abide in this particular worldview. We stand fast in this particular worldview. And even if there are those of you here this morning who question this particular worldview, you need to realize, you have a worldview of your own. You have a way of looking at things that help you understand reality. You have a way of looking at the world and dealing with all the information in the world that helps you cope with life and make sense of things. We remain or abide in those worldviews most of our lives. And it is very hard to change them. Very hard.
But sometimes we run into things that force us to deeply consider why we believe what we believe. We run into things that force us to ask ourselves, “Is this where I want to continue to live? Is this where I want to continue to abide? Do I need to shift my thinking or change how I view the world?” I have run into this more than a few times with folks throughout my career as a pastor. Usually, these times occur when someone experiences deep sadness or loss. If someone loses a job or a spouse or is faced with cancer, such questions usually arise. I mean, if you have been taught that if you work hard and do good things, then you should be successful, then what happens if you lose your job or fall on hard times? Were you not working hard enough? Were you not good enough? Do you see how this affects such a worldview? I hope you can, because now we are getting into territory number two: the vast majority of worldviews will lead to disappointment or a sense of superiority over others where you hold others in contempt. Let me say that again: the vast majority of worldviews will lead to disappointment and a sense of superiority over others where you hold others in contempt.
Let me try and illustrate this by turning to recent events in Baltimore, MD. Many of us have seen the images of rioters destroying property and burning buildings. Many of us have seen the video of the mother slapping around her teenage son. Many of us know the reason the riots have occurred is a reaction to what happened to Freddie Gray in the back of a police van and the accumulated distrust of a community toward law enforcement officials. Pundits are pointing a lot of fingers and spreading a lot of blame, but let’s delve deep, very deep.
Let’s begin with looking at those who blame the police for the violent uprising. In a very real way, they hold the police officers in contempt because they believe the police have used their power and authority abusively. This side believes they are continually victimized, and they justify the actions of the rioters by saying, “At some point all the anger and frustration boiled to the surface, and they lashed out at injustice.” The folks are disappointed in a system which seemingly keeps them burdened and heavy laden without allowing them the freedom to escape poverty. Many become hopeless, and I think it’s why these communities have a prevalence of drugs. A lot of folks in these communities only live for their next fix. Disappointment reigns as does contempt for those who they see as oppressing and abusing them.
On the other hand, there are those who blame the rioters themselves. There are those who believe if folks just followed the law and obeyed the rules, then they could improve themselves. They tend to say, “These folks are just looking for an excuse to get something for nothing. They are just waiting for an opportunity to do whatever they want, and they have no regard for the law; they have no respect for officers.” The folks on this side of the street believe they are morally superior to those who are rioting, and they are disappointed with a system who will not crack down on such lawbreakers. In reality, there is very little compassion being shown by this group, in my opinion.
Now, I will say that this oversimplifies things a bit. For we could nuance things very easily and say that there are more groups involved in this whole ordeal, but to keep time in mind, I will only deal with these two groups. Can you see how the two worldviews lead to disappointment and contempt for others? Can you see how the two sides are at great odds with each other? Can you see how there is very little room for compromise or agreement on anything? When worldviews like this clash, enmity and strife become the norm, and inevitably, worldviews will clash.
The question becomes: what is the solution? Can there be any sort of resolution? Can we just agree to disagree? No. I don’t think so. The stakes are very high. We need law and order. We also need freedom. We need to deal with those who break the law, but we also need to deal with the injustice of they systems which have kept people in poverty. And more laws will not do it. You see, people know they shouldn’t be breaking the law. Cops know they shouldn’t abuse criminals–the vast majority don’t. People know they shouldn’t riot–the vast majority don’t. I mean, why do you think some cops try to destroy or appropriate cameras which catch them abusing others? Why do you think many rioters covered their faces and hands and ran from cameras? They know they are doing wrong!!! We know we are doing wrong, even when our worldview tells us we are wrong, we still break the law!!!
I’ve outlined the problem, I think. Hopefully, I was clear. So, what is the solution? Jesus says, “Abide in me.” You may try and stop me here and say, “Well, why should I abide in Jesus. Aren’t there Christians who fall on both sides of those worldviews? Aren’t they divided on those lines as well?” Yes, Christians are divided on those lines as well, but if they are abiding in Jesus, they will not hold others in contempt, and they will not be filled with disappointment. What do I mean by that?
Well, I need to do a little bit of work here because we have to get to the heart of Christianity. We need to see what distinguishes Christianity from all other worldviews–all other religions–all other philosophies. Every other religion and every other philosophy will look at what is going on in Baltimore and say, “We’ve got to try harder. We’ve got to follow the law better. We’ve got to love our neighbors better. We’ve got to work to overcome this division. We’ve got to follow the tenets of our religion better.” The emphasis is all on us. We’ve got to do it!! But as I pointed out earlier, we already know what to do. Trying harder isn’t going to get us there. It hasn’t throughout history. It won’t now. So what will? Only a change of heart. And how do hearts change? How do hearts lose their contempt for others? How do hearts turn from anger and hopelessness and disappointment to love and hope?
Christianity says: Trust in what Jesus has already done for you, and to the extent you trust in Him–to the extent you abide in Him–to the extent you make your home in Him–to the extent you stand fast in Him–you will begin to love others. You will begin to erase the contempt you once had for them. You will no longer see yourself as superior to them. You will not be disappointed, instead you will have tremendous hope which will give you abundant life.
How is such a thing possible? How does abiding in Jesus do this?
You have to realize what Jesus did for you. You have to realize that when every other worldview says, “Try harder to be good, and then you will receive the rewards,” Jesus says, “There is no way you can achieve the standard that my Father and I set. There is no way you can ever work hard enough. There is no way you can be perfect. You are and always will be a failure in this respect. But I love you even if you are a failure. I accept you even if you fall short. I will never stop loving or accepting you.”
“How can I trust you on this?” You might ask Jesus?
And His answer is the cross. His answer is, “I died for you.”
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.
You see, when you believe that Jesus died for you when you were a sinner; when you believe you were accepted when you least deserved it, you are humbled. You cast aside your haughtiness and your self-righteousness because you know you didn’t measure up; but you don’t grovel in victimhood and self-hatred because you know you are accepted. You can neither be too high nor too low. And your heart finds peace. Your heart finds itself longing to love even those whom hurt you. Your hearts finds itself full of hope that there can be a better way and that reconciliation is possible. And you have proof of that with the resurrection. Because Jesus lives, you will live also–not only for eternity, but you will live with a lasting, assuring hope. Nothing can ever take that from you. There is never then an need to escape the world and live for the moment–you are now abiding in the True Vine. You are now getting your identity from Him. You are now getting your sustenance from Him. You now have an unending source of love and hope and compassion flowing through you. A love that makes reconciliation possible–not because of anything you have done or how hard you have worked, but because of what Jesus has done for you and even for the one who opposes you.
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, you abide in us even without us asking. You died for us when we least deserved it. You accepted us when we were failures. You rose to give us hope. May we abide in you. May we trust you. May we find our identity in you that our divisions will cease; that we may be reconciled to one another; and that peace may reign. In your name we pray. Amen.