Easter 6, Year B
St. John 15:9-17
May 6, 2018
“Abide in me:” The Church as a School of Divine Union
These past few weeks have challenged me to reflect more deeply. In my times of silence, I have reflected on our life together as this parish community. I have thought about our common life here, in this town, this area of the state. Challenges we face. Opportunities we are given. Grace we have received. Since I will soon begin my second decade as a priest, I want to spend more time reflecting on what it means, for me, to be a priest today.
So, perhaps today’s homily is rooted in a different place in my heart. Perhaps not. But I have, for the first time, put out a few copies of this homily for you to take, if you’d like, to read and wonder about at home.
I want to know how you feel, what you think.
This morning I will offer three snippets, three glimpses, with a ring of a bell and a brief time of silence after each. For me, it’s important to actually slow down and chew on what the Spirit has offered us. How often do we take time to do that: to slow down and listen? To wonder together. Let us try it today…
Abide in my love. Love one another as I have loved you.
What do Jesus’ words mean for us? This image of abiding, of dwelling in… It is difficult for us to wrap our heads around this, to open our hearts to embrace this. To be embraced by it.
Abide in me. Commune with me. Live with me. Exist in me.
In a world where the sinful illusion of separation swirls around us. Where our leaders seem more concerned with gaining political points by stoking fear and anxiety than in rising to the challenge of imagining and risking a more whole community.
To respect the dignity of every human being.
To seek and serve Christ in all persons.
To love our neighbor as ourselves.
This is our heart center, here grounded in the images of our Baptism.
In this heart space, this is the realm of abiding.
Love one another as I have loved you, we hear Jesus say.
Do you feel a pinch when you look around and see the wider world living by such a different standard?
All around us is swirling and grasping, posturing and competition. Greed and ego and control and arrogance.
And in this swirl…into this swirl…we hear…Jesus’ voice, flowing into the dry crevices of our parched lives.
Abide in me. Abide in me.
Live in me.
Here, I think, is where we struggle: How can we understand this call to inter-abiding, this mutual indwelling, when we hear this claim that we are separate, over against, in competition with.
Do we feel this sinful illusion of separation as it squeezes our hearts and cuts off our breath, the very life of the Spirit?
What images can we explore as a parish church that will help us open our hearts to Jesus’ invitation to abide in him?
It is no secret that, in the daily life of a parish, there are many details to attend to. Especially in larger parishes with schools, each day brings new concerns, new conversations, new opportunities. Attention must be paid to make sure that all the pieces continue to fit together.
There are many expectations in a parish, especially, perhaps, given the consumer obsessed world in which we live: if we like the hymns, (if we like music at all), if the sermons aren’t too long, if our children are receiving what we think they should receive, if pastoral care is offered. If the clergy are available. So many details to attend to that deserve our care.
Given how busy things can become, it is important to pause sometimes and ask a critical question.
At first, we may think the most important question is this: “What are we doing here?” What are we trying to accomplish?
I don’t think this is the most important question we need to ask. Rather, I think we need to always ask, “What is the Spirit of Christ doing here?” What is God up to? How is God at work in our lives? How is God inviting us to live in Him, to abide in Her?
If you were to ask me what the purpose of the Church is, from my heart I would share this: The purpose of the Church, the vocation of the community, is to be a School of Divine Union.
A Fellowship whose focus is fixed on the central wonder of our lives: how God is always inviting us to a deeper awareness of our true identity, our true home: to dwell more fully in the Heart of God.
So, we need to constantly ask ourselves, How do we understand every aspect of our life here—every aspect—as an embodiment of and a yearning for this greater awareness of our union with God in Christ? How are we becoming a School of Divine Union?
“Behold who you are, the Body of Christ. May we become what we receive.”
May we become more aware of what we are, who we are, within the Heart of God.
The first part of this week, a few of us helped lead a retreat at St. Mary’s in Sewanee, Tennessee. A magical place. Grounded in almost 24 hours of silence, we listened to Howard Thurman, through his writings but also in recordings of his voice. We wondered how these essential questions of how we live in God, how the awareness of how we abide in God and God in us, transforms the way we live in the world. To be a Christian means not that you ascribe to some doctrine but that you seek to live fully into the awareness of your heart truth: that in and through Christ, the world has been reconciled to God. That all of existence is connected in this way. That Divine Union is the hallmark of our existence. That there is no separation, and that sin means the continued ignorance and ego-ic posturing of denying who we really are—and what we are called to embody in the world.
The compassion that is rooted in the Heart of God that we share as we abide in God and God in us.
Howard Thurman asks us to consider these questions:
What are we doing with our lives?
What are the motivations that order our days?
What do I love most in life?
To what am I true?
To what am I true…that’s the one that hooks me.
God has called us to do something extraordinary: to be us. To be fully us. To be attuned with the music of God’s heart. To wake up, to be awakened, to our deeper identity that we are called to abide in God and God in us.
To love one another as Jesus has loved us…with the fullest love that is imaginable.
A community will only enter into this heart space on the contemplative level, this space in which we speak, act, engage not on the level of confrontation and greed and ego and anger—never on these levels—but on the level of this abiding love of God that is, at the same time, creative, compassionate, and cooperative. It is a Trinitarian love, revealed in the unity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit.
All that we do, all that we are, all that we are called to be is rooted in this Heart of God. This is the soil in which our soul takes root and grows. This is the garden in which the fruit of our lives grows. We are nourished here. Loved here.
Do you have any idea how much God loves us? Can we even understand that?
And, the fact that God loves each one of us so fully…even as we grasp and posture to control what we think are the most precious resources in the world. Even in all this, God’s heart just pours out love. Pours it out.
If we could do this as a spiritual community, if we could share this: attune ourselves to the music of the Spirit of Christ, align ourselves with God’s dream for us, anchor ourselves in the deeper identity we share with all people—with all of creation—imagine what would blossom out of that. Imagine how our lives, the way we live, would be transformed.
We all know the problems we face as a culture, as a world, grasped by the frustration and anger and the sinful illusion of forces that want to cut us off from one another. The news we so often here is tense and toxic.
And in that parched space, where our souls seem stretched as tight as a drum, Jesus speaks into our hearts: Abide in me. Love one another as I have loved you.
Live in me.