Sermon Series: A Place to Call Home
Title: Residing in Love
May 26, 2019
Rev. Sandy Johnson
In our search for a place to call home we have considered the empty tomb, and the gathering of disciples following the resurrection at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus introduces them to the idea of “home” reminding them that they will never again be alone. Forever they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and part of the family of God.
Next, we learned that all are welcome, and when we say all, we mean all. We have learned to avoid fear and doubt and to embrace the risen Christ as an open and welcoming presence. Then we considered that everyone has a place at the table, even our enemies. Jesus teaches us to demonstrate extravagant hospitality and focus on unity in the body, not division.
Last Sunday our lesson was, “Always Room for One More.” We learned that God continues to seek us and there is always room for one more believer, one more follower of Jesus Christ, one more evangelist to share the good news.
Today we are learning how to become a church where love abides, where we can reside in love, where we can share love with our world. I heard a beautiful story this week from my friend Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner. She serves at the University of Arizona and helps to run the Inn Project, a ministry that welcomes asylum seekers. They help their guests with whatever they need – food, clothing, water, a shower, laundry and more importantly they connect them with family members and help them to find their way to a new place to call home.
Last week, Pastor Hannah approached a woman and sat down on the ground near her feet. She held a handful of hair ties from her pocket and the woman picked a navy blue one. She had arrived with both her hair and her shoes ties with pieces of trash bag because they take away their shoelaces and hair ties in immigration detention.
The woman removed the piece of trash bag from her hair and pulled her hair back into a low ponytail with the new hair band. In synchronized motion, Pastor Hannah slowly untied the plastic strips that are holding together the women’s shoes.
“Then, carefully, she laced her shoes up in the soft lavender laces that she had earlier picked from the jumble of colors Hannah held in her hand. Pastor Hannah smoothed out the twists, so they looked perfect, while the guest ate and fed her baby. The Pastor’s fingers gently wrestled the laces into two bows, and the woman lit up with delight. This, more than anything else she’s ever experienced, this felt like a foot washing.”
When we abide in love, when we are connected to the source of love, we are able to demonstrate love to others, sometimes in very simple acts of kindness, like tying shoes. The question becomes then, how do we above in love? What does it even mean to abide in love? Abide isn’t a word we use much today, more often we might use the word reside.
“To reside is “to have a home,” to be present in or belong,” or “to be vested or placed in somebody or something.” When we make our home within Christian community, we invest in belonging – being in a particular place with a particular people – having a spiritual home. This does not require us to all have the same perspectives. It only asks of us to be present to each other with love.”
I learned something profound two weeks ago when I was at the Preaching Pastors Retreat. The speaker shared the importance of diversity and being with people who don’t necessarily think alike. When we all think alike, we tend to conform. When we teach our children the lessons of our faith, we put them through a process of confirmation, confirming their beliefs to the churches, to the parents, to the community.
There is a place for confirmation, for agreeing on things. But transformation happens when we have diverse beliefs, when we don’t all think alike and when we dare to share a variety of points of views, respectfully and with love. It is in this tension of differences that real transformation takes place.
How do we make sure we have the groundwork ready for such transforming work? We must be sure we are grounded in the love of Jesus Christ to be able to dare to be open and transparent with one another and bring about real transformation.
Our scripture today gives us the roadmap for residing in love, for being connected to the source of love and using that source to empower us to do great and powerful things for Christ Jesus. The night that Jesus was betrayed, he and eleven of the disciples left the Passover meal and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way they passed a vineyard. It is here that he shares his final lesson to his disciples.
The scripture lesson tells us that Jesus is the true vine. God is the vinegrower. He removes every branch that does not bear fruit, those that do bear fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit. To fully understand the lesson, we must first know a little about the grape vine. When I think of grape vines, I think of the small branches that connect to the trellis. Actually, the vine is the trunk, the part that grows out of the ground. A grape vine is typically 36” to 42” high. It is from this vine that the branches stretch out on either side, supported usually by a trellis.
The vinedresser is either the owner or person hired to tend the vineyard. His role is simply to produce the most grapes possible. A healthy, properly tended vineyard produces more fruit. God is this Vinedresser.
The branches are those that come off the vine and are propped up with sticks or tied to the trellis. Without the vinedresser, the vines would be growing along the ground, down in the dirt, getting trampled, rotting, bearing no fruit.
Jesus says, “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.”
You and I are the branches. We are connected to the fine, we are connected to Jesus and through our connection we learn and grow. We produce fruit, we demonstrate our Christian faith through our service to the community, our donations to our ministries, to the work we do to share our faith with the world.
The grapes on the vine are the fruit. Fruit symbolizes the best result or sweetest prize in life. Fruit represents good works – a thought, attitude or action that God values because it glorifies Him. Love for example. So how do we get this sweetest prize? How do we stop seeking the wrong places and find our way home?
The key is to be connected to the vine. Being connected to Jesus. Using the source that is Christ to nourish us, just as the branches on a grapevine do. They are connected, intimately intertwined with the source of life. But just like these grapevines, we must prepare ourselves for the treatment of the vinedresser.
When we aren’t doing our best, perhaps when we have stepped away, or denied God in some way, God disciplines us. If we refuse to use our gifts for God’s glory, we can expect that God will do his best to get our attention. Sometimes it is painful isn’t it? God disciplines us to lift us away from our destructive and unfruitful pursuits. Anyone know what I’m talking about?
Through the pain of God’s disciplines, we must remember that God is the source. He disciplines all believers and it is a demonstration of his great love for us. God wants only the best for us and if we are on a path to destruction, like every loving parent, he intervenes with whatever he needs to get our attention, to turn our path around. To keep us connected to the vine.
Hebrews 12:11 says, “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Jesus said, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
To avoid that discipline, we must learn to abide, learn to stay close to Christ, following his teaching and being the hands and feet of Christ in the world today. This lesson reminds us that Jesus is committed to us and producing fruit in our lives. We become partners together, abiding with one another and gaining the strength and desire to transform lives.
When we surrender to Jesus Christ, when we accept our role as branches, connected to the vine, there’s nothing we can’t do. But we must stay connected. Being connected to the vine means we worship together, we are part of a small group of believers, we read and study scripture, we serve our local charities and support the ministries of the church. Being connected means putting Christ as priority #1, not leaving him for last.
It means spending time in prayer and meditation, seeking God, sharing our concerns and praises and listening for God’s response. It means tying the shoelaces of a south American woman, offering a cool drink of water, or arranging for a bus ticket to family who are eager to receive them.
Abiding in Christ can be dangerous, it will
require you to be bold, to step forward and say yes to things you might not
otherwise consider. When we abide in Christ,
we depend on him to direct and guide us.
When we are abiding, we are loved.
And when we are loved, we can love one another. That is Christs message. As we seek a place to call home, God calls us
to abide in Christ and in doing so our joy will be complete. Amen.
 https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=hannah%20adair%20bonner&epa=SEARCH_BOX Facebook Post, May 21, 2019. Hannah Adair Bonner