“Abide in Order to Love” John 15:9-17

It’s sometimes difficult for us to hold a narrative arc together. Do you know what I mean by that?
Okay, how about I give you an example. “When you’re knee deep in alligators, it’s a little tough to remember that your original task was to drain the swamp!”
You’ve probably heard that phrase before. It’s about remembering what the whole thing you’re doing is about.
A “narrative arc” is what the whole thing that unifies a story is about. It’s about what holds it all together, tells you what the purpose of the story is all about.
It’s often tough for us to follow and hold on to big narrative arcs. We have a tendency to get bogged down in the details or distracted from the main point by the individual events or side stories that are often connected to them.
Those “side stories” are meant to drive the narrative, but sometimes they can be detours.
For example, if I asked you what the narrative arc of the “Star Wars” saga was all about, could you name it? Would you start out with “it’s about bringing balance to all things” or would you instead launch into telling me about Luke, or Leia, or Darth Vader, or any one of a number of characters and their stories swirling around “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?”
Or if I asked you what the narrative arc of “The Lord of the Rings” is, you might at first tell me “well it’s about destroying the One Ring.”
But that’s not really what it is about.
Tolkien makes plain from the beginning of his saga that the One Ring cannot be destroyed. It has to be returned to the fires from which it was forged, to Mt. Doom.
Tolkien builds a narrative around the kind of cooperation that it takes amongst very different characters to put things right, and how they learn not to overlook the power to be found in the simple things, even what at first appear to be villains, and in one another.
It’s not about destroying something that cannot be destroyed.
It’s about returning something that should never have been tampered with in the first place to the place where it belongs, and what you learn along the way from one another as you do so, thereby changing the world in the process.
If I asked you what the narrative arc in John’s Gospel is, what would you say?
Would you tell me a story about Jesus?
Would you tell me about Jesus teaching, healing, or doing miracles?
Would you talk about the breathing out of the Spirit on the disciples? Or of the crucifixion?
Those are all elements, to be sure, but the narrative arc is what the whole thing is about, what it tries to convey to us.
This is the point in John’s Gospel when we discover the narrative arc, what the Gospel is truly all about, and as it turns out for John’s Gospel it’s about “abiding.”
It’s all about discovering where God resides, and how you are connected to God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That’s how John starts the story of his Gospel.
God and this incarnate Word made flesh in Jesus, are one in the same. They “hold together”, they “abide in one another.”
Then the “Word is made flesh and it dwells among us, full of grace and truth.” Jesus comes among us, and that Word made flesh “abides” with us. It may look at first like it’s just about Jesus hanging out here in the Gospel, but the deal is God is hanging out with us as well.
Jesus comes to dwell with us so that we know what it’s like to have God around, and that’s kind of cool. Yeah, I can see that, God is here in Jesus, as Jesus “abides” in God.
But now in the story the narrative arc pushes that abiding to us.
Not only is God around in Jesus because they “abide” in one another, but God is around also in YOU, because Jesus chooses to abide in you.
This is what that “abiding” looks like.
Abiding is loving one another.
Abiding is laying down your life for another.
Abiding is a source of joy.
Abiding is finding a sense of completion.
Abiding is a commandment given, “love one another as I have loved you.”
Abiding is about bearing fruit, and the fruit found is what you’re willing to lay down, and how much you’re willing to love one another.
This is what the whole story is all about.
It’s about how much God is connected to Jesus, and to us, and how much we are connected to one another, all of us.
We are here to “abide”, to live in and with one another, and to find life in that!
God loves us so much that God sends his very self to be with us. Jesus’ sole task, the signs that he does, are all about showing us that God is here, living, dwelling, abiding in Jesus, yes.
But more than that.
The resurrected Jesus breathes that very presence of God, that Spirit that abides in him into his disciples, and into you, and so God dwells now also in us.
We know that abiding presence by the fruit we bear, and the fruit that we bear is found in how we love one another.
It’s a heavy narrative arc to keep hold onto.
There are so many distractions along the way, so many times that we look at what Jesus says or does, or what the disciples do, or the questions that the Pharisees raise, and in the midst of those side stories we lose sight of the narrative arc.
We fuss over secondary things.
We fuss over the commandments, and about what we should and should not do, about which one is the greatest, and we speculate from the individual stories about what God would find “acceptable” and who God would choose to hang out with, and what God might want us to do.
In the side stories and wanderings, we forget the narrative arc!
“God so loved the world…”
Commandments (after all) beg to be understood as rules and regulations, and so we focus on them instead, and draw up our lines and build we our walls.
But the commandments were originally given to show us how much God loves us, and how we might properly love God and one another.
The commands gave us lines not to step over, not out of fear for getting caught, but rather out of love, to protect the relationship with the neighbor.
We forget in all the side stories that what Jesus came to proclaim to us first and foremost was that God is present in the world, and that God is found in the love that we have for one another.
But that’s hard for us to do.
When you’re knee deep in humanity, with all its faults and foibles, all its irritations and diversity, all its variety and variation, it’s a little tough to remember that your original task was to love one another.
You get distracted by likes, or dislikes, or personalities, or differences of opinion, policy or politics.
“Those people…” we catch ourselves saying.
“People like that…” we find ourselves thinking.
Outsiders, foreigners, refugees, illegals, Conservatives, Liberals, etc, etc.
We come up with a thousand different labels that start out to be just descriptive but that tend to quickly move from simple description to being used in demeaning or exclusionary ways.
When we fall into the labeling of people for whatever reason, we lose sight of the central narrative arc that John’s Gospel asserts.
God dwells within us and within each and every one.
God’s indwelling is marked by the kind of fruit that is born, and the fruit that we are to bear because we abide in God and God abides in us is all about what we’re willing to give up, (not what we try to hold on to), and how much we’re willing to love, even and especially those most different from us.
We are meant to abide, as God abides, and Jesus abides.
So, abiding is what it’s all about.
But not just that, we are to abide in order to love.
We’re made for bearing fruit, and the only fruit worth talking about is to be found in what we’re willing to give up, and how much we’re willing to love one another.
That’s the narrative arc of John’s Gospel.
It’s the narrative of arc really of the bible, of a God who so loves this world that God moves dramatically through the stories related to reveal just how we are all connected, how we are meant to “abide” with one another.
How we are meant to be a blessing, one to another, that we might find a blessing.
It’s tough to remember that, but the world and the coming Kingdom of God depends upon us doing so.
It’s all about “abiding,” people.

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