I’m preaching this Sunday on John 15:9-15 – the second half of Jesus’ evocative teaching about abiding. This 7-verse chunk of John’s gospel offers several avenues for reflection and comment, including these ideas:
the connections between love and law;
the meaning and experience of joy;
the beauties and responsibilities of being chosen and appointed;
a definition/description of ‘bearing fruit that will last;’ and…the meaning, modelling and mastering of the art and discipline of friendship. And it’s that last one that has captured my imagination and curiosity this time around.

We’ve just come through (well, almost completely through) a desperate and terrifying time in Santa Barbara. A time of imminent disaster, sleepless nights, displacement from home and possessions, and the stupefyingly paralyzing specter of flames on all sides. This was the view from one part of our town, looking at all the rest of our town last Thursday night: There have been many points in the last week when I have been too exhausted, too depleted, too psychically battered to put together any kind of coherent prayer, sometimes any coherent thought. The phone still worked, however, as did the computer, and those two tools – products of the last 100 years of human inventiveness – allowed me access to a wide circle of friends during an exceedingly stressful time. Thank God for that!

Interestingly enough, the vast majority of that network (not that the network itself is all that vast :>) are friends of mine because of our connection to one another through Jesus. We are all grafted onto the same vine, joined to the same life source, connected to one another by our shared dependence upon our Holy Friend for nourishment, strength, sustenance and power. Because of that, there was a very real sense that these friends, more than some others, truly ‘got’ what was happening within me and within our larger church community. I can’t really explain that – I just know it to be true.

Well, let me take a stab at ‘explaining’ it. Maybe describing it is the best I can do. Describing it in light of my reading and reflecting on John 15 this week. In the opening verses of that chapter, Jesus chooses a word picture that is viscerally familiar to his audience – the vineyard. “I am the vine,” he claims in verse 1 (last week’s lesson), and in verse 5, he adds, “and you are the branches.” “Remain/stay/abide in me…” Look at the pictures of grape vines posted above. Note especially the points at which branches are connected to trunks. Do you see how large the base of each branch is? How widely open each one is to the vine? How firmly connected? And those branches are about as productive of grapes as they are big enough – in other words, as well-connected – as they are to that trunk.

That’s the basis upon which the rest of this extended analogy is built. We need to be attached to Jesus, like a small child attaches him/herself to his/her parents’ leg! Like a firm anchor is buried in the bottom of a swirling sea. Like a sturdy house is bolted to a stone foundation. So any understanding of the teaching found in verses 9-15 needs to be entwined with the picture formed in verses 1-8. Friends of Jesus (part 2) are those who abide in him (part 1), who dwell in him, who stay with him, who unashamedly draw sustenance from him, who know that any ‘doing’ that counts must come from ‘being’ in the right place first. And, if it’s not stretching the metaphor too tightly, any doing that counts (as fruit, shall we say?) is a natural outgrowth of that being.

My goodness, that’s a hard lesson for me! One that I seem to have to learn over and over and over again. Being busy is a high value in the culture of this land, perhaps even more markedly so in central California than in other parts of it. It’s beautiful here – the weather is generally terrific (EXCEPT for sundowner winds). So there’s no excuse for not getting out there, for not adding one more activity, planning one more event or series or training session or ….???? Practicing the fine art of presence is looked at with suspicion at best, condescension at worst. Being present – with oneself, with others, and most of all, with God – is generally not highly regarded. I can so easily be sucked into the pressures of both world and of church to ‘be productive’ in a quantitative, measurable way that time spent being quiet, reflective, attentive gets squeezed out and devalued. I continually have to learn that ‘fruit that lasts’ will not come from my own efforts to produce it. Fruit comes as a natural by-product of abiding; the only ‘doing’ that will make a real difference in my life or the lives of others is the doing that comes naturally and sequentially from a place of centeredness, not busyness, from focused reflection, not distraction. Meaningful, long-lasting fruit comes from paying attention rather than seeking it.

to be continued…

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