Sunday, May 2, 2021

"Pray more, worship more and give more!"

 John 15.1-8

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“Abide”.  It’s a lovely word, isn’t it?  A quick search of the etymological dictionary tells me that is rooted in an old English word – abiden or gebiden – which meant to remain, or to wait.  My New Testament Greek isn’t good enough to parse the meaning of the original word used by Jesus, which we translate as ‘abide’.  But translators over the centuries have routinely stuck with ‘abide’ as the best rendering of what Jesus meant.  ‘Abide in me’.  Or deeper still, ‘abide in me as I abide in you’. 

Incidentally, it’s not the word which Sydney Carter chose when writing the Lord of the Dance – as we shall see when we sing it shortly.  Carter went for ‘I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me’ – but probably because that fitted the line of his poetry.  But ‘abiding’ is a much more complex idea.

There’s a richness to the word, which goes beyond simply ‘staying’ with Jesus, of hanging around with him.  The word ‘abide’ is linked with ‘abode’ in Old English (which meant a place to stay, to remain).  If we are abiding in Jesus, and Jesus abides in us, then, we are doing much more than hanging out with the Messiah.  We are living with him, staying with him, waiting for him, remaining with him – as he does with us.  There’s a deep closeness to the relationship.  Indeed, like grapes on a Vine, we are connected to him.  We draw our very life, energy and sustenance from him.

I wonder how many of you have experienced the Taizé style of worship which we offer from time to time in the evenings.  Taizé is a method of praying through song, in which a short phrase is repeated, and repeated, until it sinks into your very soul.  There’s one Taizé chant which always challenges me.  It is centred around Jesus’ rebuke to his disciples who fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane:

“Stay with me.  Remain here with me.  Watching and praying.  Watching and praying’. 

I say that this chant challenges me because whenever I sing it, I feel guilty for finishing it and moving on to something else!  The chant, and Jesus’ word, encourage me to remain, to abide, and not to go off searching for the next experience, or the next bit of sensory input.  In many ways, this one chant should be enough, in a whole Taizé service, to teach us to abide.

Because, let’s face it, we’re not very good at abiding, are we?  I wonder how many of us have a to-do list in our heads of all the things we need to get done immediately after today’s service.  For example, I understand that quite a few of you can be found wandering the halls of Waitrose after church – I’m told it’s like a post-church social club over there!  No doubt most of us will be thinking about what to cook for Sunday lunch.  Then there will be the need to do a bit of gardening, or to go for that walk, or meet up with those friends.  Then there will be some absolutely vital episodes of Line of Duty to catch up with.  But there won’t be much abiding going on, will there?

Please don’t think I’m being critical….my own to-do list after this service will be just as crammed.  I’ll spend some time on the ol’ interweb, uploading this sermon, and responding to comments and queries on our web-pages.  I’ll no doubt have an inbox of emails to answer, I’ll have some diary-planning to accomplish, I’ll have next week’s sermons to start researching.  I won’t be doing much abiding, either, if I’m honest.

So what shall we do, friends?  How shall we abide in Jesus – so that we can be so grafted on to him that when we pray, we will seek only what he wills for the world, and then see our prayers answered?  How shall we do this?

There’s an old adage which I learned 20 years ago in my training for the priesthood.  A wise old tutor at my college said that all preachers need to be wary of settling into a predictable pattern.  He said that there’s a real danger that all sermons can be boiled down into three points, which are ‘pray more, worship more, and give more – preferably to the church!’.   My wise old tutor encouraged us to think more widely, to embrace poetry, philosophy, and theology in our sermons – because our listeners will pretty soon give up listening if all they hear is a constant nagging to ‘pray more, worship more, and give more’!   The task of the preacher has to be to encourage, enlighten and build up their listeners…not to weigh them down with guilt about what they are not managing to achieve.  It was good advice, and its advice which I hope you’ll agree I generally follow.  But….

…at the end of the day, doing more of what we already do, in varying degrees of depth and commitment, is really the only way that any of us can ever truly abide in Jesus. 

·       If the only attention we pay to God is the one hour we devote on a Sunday morning, then we will never really know the deep joy of abiding in him. 

·       If the only time we pray is when we cry out for favours from God in times of crisis, we’ll never know the joy of uniting our wills to God’s will:  we will miss the joy of praying with him, and through him, and in him, for the things that delight God’s heart.

·       If the only money we ever give is the minimum we think we can ‘get away with’, then we’ll never know the real joy of giving sacrificially, and seeing God’s kingdom come powerfully to pass amongst us. 

In other words, truly ‘abiding’ in Jesus takes time.  We are in charge of how we use our time:  God has given us that gift, and that ability.  If we are to remain grafted to the Vine, if we want to truly abide in Christ, then how we choose to use our time, and indeed our money, is critical. 

‘Pray more, worship more, and give more’!  My old tutor was right to warn me against over-using that concept.  But from time to time, perhaps we all need a little encouragement:  to take the next step of commitment towards the goal of truly abiding in Christ.  Amen


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