The Abiding Place of God

manymansions

“In my Father’s house there are many mansions” color woodcut by Irving Amen

John’s Gospel message can be summed up in several different ways.  For many, the heart of the Johannine message is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that any who believe in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.”  That’s a good one, and so is the very next one, “God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”  There are also the seven “I am” statements in which Jesus not-so-subtly declares himself by the unspeakable name of God.  Those are a pretty powerful witness to Jesus as well.  Others might look to Jesus’ statement mission in 10:10, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”  All good, I tell you, all good.

However, as I read the first Gospel lesson choice for Sunday, I was struck by another thematic highlight in John’s Gospel, the abiding place of God.  It begins in the Prologue with John’s famous verse, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Or, as Eugene Peterson says it, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”  That verb, to dwell/abide/move in, reappears in noun form twice in the fourteenth chapter.  The first time is in the famous funeral lesson line that is represented in the Irving Amen woodcut above: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”  Other translations say “dwelling places.”

It occurs again in Sunday’s Gospel lesson, as Jesus promised Judas (not Iscariot) and the rest of the disciples that God: Father, Son and (maybe) Holy Spirit will make make God’s abiding place alongside those who love Jesus and follow his commandment to love one another.  So it is that as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples and be enthroned on the cross as the King of kings, he assures them that his death won’t be the end of God’s plan to live in our neighborhood.  In fact, in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, God will make room for more than just the Son to abide among us, but for the fullness of the Triune God to abide with those who strive to be disciples of the Gospel of love.

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Abiding in the love of God

John loves the word abide.  He uses it 40 times in his Gospel account: 11 of which occur in chapter 15 alone.  Last week, we heard it seven times.  This week, it is in there four times, including these powerful words from Jesus, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

The word abide has actually changed its meaning quite considerably over the years.  When used in Scripture, it means to live or to dwell, but that is, like the pipe organ music in many of our congregations, an archaic usage.  Modern usage of the word abide include

  1. To accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation).  As in, “The New England Patriots will abide by the findings of the Ted Wells Report.”
  2. To continue without fading or being lost. (of a feeling or a memory) As in, “The sting Tom Brady felt when he read the Wells Report will abide.”
  3. Informally, it can mean to be unable to tolerate (someone or something).  As in, “I cannot abide a cheater like Tom Brady.”

What? I preach with a Bible in one hand and the Internet in the other.

These days, we don’t talk much about abiding in a place because we just aren’t very good at it.  With every passing generation, we’re becoming more and more hard-wired toward multi-tasking such that at any given moment, our bodies may be in one place but our hearts and minds are somewhere else entirely.

As Jesus sat in the upper room with his disciples on that final evening, surely his head and heart were already focused on the cross.  It must have been really difficult to sit at dinner with Judas, knowing that he would be Jesus’ betrayer.  It couldn’t have been easy to comfort his disciples as Jesus himself was full of disquietude.  Yet in the midst of all that was happening both within his soul and beyond the walls of that room, Jesus made it clear that one of the qualities of a follower of God is to abide in God’s love.  No matter the circumstances, in the midst of whatever storm is raging about you, the promise of God is that we can abide in God’s love.  It doesn’t mean the hurt will go away or the storms will cease or that life will be easy, just ask Jesus.  Instead, being able to abide in God’s love means that in the midst of it all, God is there, with arms outstretched to offer peace, comfort, and love.  That is a love worth abiding in; a love that is everlasting.  A love I hope Tom Brady is abiding in today, even as he waits for Roger Godell to crush him.

The Spirit Abides

If you are of a certain age, say mid-to-late-gen-x and early millenial, then the word “abide” is a part of your vocabulary for one very specific reason.

The Big Lebowski, a 1998 film by the Coen Brothers, abides in my top-5 list, even today.  But this isn’t really a post about Lebowski and his rug, but rather about the word “abide.”  It’s a word that you rarely hear used outside of White Russian drinking young adults and religious leaders.

It is often used by Episcopal preachers in sermons for Christmas 1, when the assigned lesson is always the Prologue to John’s Gospel and we are at a loss for how to explain that Jesus, as the Word of God, became en-fleshed and dwelt, lived, pitched his tent, or abided with us, but there is another equally famous usage of the word “abide” in John’s Gospel that comes up in this week’s Gospel lesson.  As Jesus tries to explain to his disciples what will happen after he returns to his Father, he tells them about the paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom they will know because “he abides with” them.

That got me wondering if it was the same Greek word in 14:17 as it is in 1:14, and in fact it is not.  What I did find out, however, was that the Greek word translated as “abide” in 14:17 is also used by John in 1:32 to describe the Spirit’s arrival during Jesus’ baptism.  “And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it [abided with] him.”  For  John, this seems to be a quality of the Spirit.

The Spirit Abides.

Which is, of course, a promise worth holding on to.  There are plenty of times when it feels like God is far away, when it seems as though the darkness is drowning out the light, when you cry out to God and there is no answer, but the truth of the matter is that even in those moment, perhaps especially in those moment, the Spirit Abides.  The Spirit remains by our side in good time and in bad and in moments of deep discernment and relative calm.  God will not leave us alone, he has promised through his Son, that the Spirit will abide with us.