Prepared for and delivered at Winter Park Pres. Primary text: John 1:29-42
The heading for the second part of this passage often reads something like “John’s Disciples Follow Jesus”
It makes sense. After all, John the Baptist points the two men toward Jesus and they follow him. I can’t tell you how many times I read through this text, focused on that whole idea of calling and following.
But a few years ago I was sitting with my Mom listening to Dan DeBevoise read this passage to the congregation at Park Lake Pres. For some reason, the question that those two followers of John asked caught my ear.
They asked Jesus… Where are you staying?
The part of me that prefers an Embassy Suites to the KOA likes to think this a very logical question. After all, these men had been followers of John. The one who dressed very oddly and lived in the desert eating honey and insects. Perhaps they were hoping for something a little less – rustic?
More likely, they were letting Jesus know that they wanted to hear more. Some commentaries even point to a cultural politeness- going someplace less public so that they might learn more about this teacher. Given the very public nature of John’s proclamation, I’m not sure that theory rings true.
Whatever the motive, it was the question itself that piqued my interest. It reminded me of the colloquial question that some of my schoolmates used back in Texas. Instead of asking “Where do you live?” they would ask “Where do you stay?” Or “Who do you stay with?” The connotation was that one might be staying someplace for a few hours or days, or perhaps for years. If you live somewhere, well, that implies something more like permanence or at least longevity.
Like any good seminary student and word nerd, I had to open my Bible app. Right there in the pew, while Dr DeBevoise went on reading and began his sermon. I had to find out what word John used in the original Greek. The root verb is meno. And like all good Greek words, it has several shades of meaning. In this passage alone, it might be translated as staying or remaining.
A quick run through John’s gospel reveals several other ways to understand this verb.
In John 6:27, we read:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
And John 8:31 reads:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;
Or John 6:56 , where we see:
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Which of course sent me exploring the familiar passage about the vines and the branches, in chapter 15.
At this point, “Where are you staying?” was no longer a simple question about where they would sleep if they talked late into the night with this rabbi. And when Jesus answered the question with “Come and you will see”, it was much more than an invitation to check out his accommodations.
That same invitation was offered by a Samaritan woman who learned about the living water that assures you will thirst no more. It was an invitation to eat of the food that assures you will hunger no more. Jesus was inviting two would-be followers to “come and see what it means to abide in me.”
And Jesus is inviting THESE would-be followers to come. Come and see what it means to abide in me.
I’d like us to reflect on that invitation together for a bit. We’ll be working through John 15:1-11, if you want to turn there. And as we go along, I’m going to leave some space for you to think and maybe jot down some thoughts or questions of your own.
John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
God is the vine grower, the one who assures the health and fruitfulness of the vine by pruning. Jesus is the vine, producing fruit that nourishes and refreshes the world. We are that fruit. But we have also been grafted into the vine so that we might produce that same fruit.
This is God’s great love for us. God cares for us, provides for our physical needs and attends to our spiritual health. As individuals and as a body. That same love requires that God must sometimes bring out the pruning shears.
What does that look like – the pruning? How have you seen God trim and cut back areas of this congregation? Have there been seasons in your own ministry when you were called to stop or pull back?
It can be painful when the Holy Spirit causes you to take stock, reveals those things that aren’t building the Kingdom of God. And even more painful when God prunes a ministry is fruitful. But by removing a branch that is not healthy or overextended another branch, another outreach, another way of serving receives nourishment… new buds and new fruit can emerge.
John 15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
Remember that this is Jesus speaking – the Word who was with God and is God – the One who has spoken grace and truth over our lives. It is in his life, death and resurrection that we have been redeemed. By his wounds, we have been healed.
Do you trust that healing and forgiveness?
What word or words from Jesus help you to recall the experience of cleansing water?
My peace I give to you…
Your sins are forgiven…
Get up and walk…
Your faith has healed you…
My yoke is easy, my burden is light
Or perhaps the words from John that remind us why Jesus came: For God so loved the world…
John 15: 4-6 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.
Do you hear the call of Christ?
Abide in me.
Remain in me.
Stay in me.
Endure in me.
Continue in me.
In some ways that may feel like a relief – you and I are not expected to produce fruit under our own steam. The fruit comes through our connection with Christ. And yet, it may feel like there is work to do. At the very least the work of releasing the past, the work of not breaking our connection to the vine.
Perhaps the words of the old hymn resonate with you, as they do in my heart…
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love
And yet, if Christ abides in us… how can we wander?
Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above
That becomes our prayer
Abide in me, Jesus.
Remain in me.
Stay in me.
Endure in me.
Continue in me.
Remember, God is the keeper of the vine, the one who prunes the branches that do not bear fruit. We are the branches from the true vine. The fruit that comes from the vine is not our works, but the work of Christ- in and through us. Our work is to abide, to remain in relationship with, in connection with the vine.
And so the question –
Where are you abiding?
As you share your gifts and talents…
As you spend your time…
As you dream for those who come behind you…
Where is your heart putting down its roots?
John 15: 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
The heart of God abides within our hearts.
The God who is able to do more than anything we might ask or imagine abides in us, prompting us to pray.
for those who woke up hungry this morning and will go to bed famished…
for those whose loved ones have been lost to violence, war, and crime…
for those in the midst of conflict…
for those who have been rejected…
for those who have been hurt by the church…
and for those who long to abide in Christ, without even knowing what they need…
What words, needs, hopes has God placed in your heart?
John 15: 8-10 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.
Come and See, he said.
Come and see where I am abiding.
Come and see the wonders and miracles
Come and see the great and glorious love of God.
For I abide in the love of my father.
I abide in God’s love for you.
I abide in you.
It’s interesting that in John’s opening verses, where he tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he didn’t choose meno. The word there is literally “tabernacled” – some have even interpreted this as “pitching his tent” among us.
A tabernacle is also a place of worship, but not like the great Temple David and Solomon built. It is a sanctuary, the place where God resides wherever God’s people go. And as permanent as this sanctuary feels to us, it is just a temporary place.
This world, these bodies… These are not our home. We live here until that day when we join with those from every tribe tongue and nation as they bow down to worship the One who was and is and is to come.
The One who said “Come and see”
Maybe my friends had it right after all when they would ask “where do you stay?”
John 15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Let us Pray:
You loved us Lord, before we knew your name.
We love you only because you loved us first.
We open our hearts to the joy you offer through a life given wholly to you.
O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emmanuel.