Growing in Our Relationship with God
Given on March 23, 2014 by Rev. April S. Blaine
Just before Christmas last year, I was sitting in my office in the afternoon when one of our students stopped by. This particular young man doesn’t consider himself a Christian, but he and I have nevertheless had some incredibly meaningful conversations about theology and spirituality.
And on this day, we were talking about what it meant to be a WHOLE person – what it meant to live in the world in ways that didn’t get swayed and moved by the circumstances in our lives – but were rooted and grounded in a deeper sense of identity. And I responded that for me – being rooted in a love of others and a love of God was what helped me be able to be confident and true to my own identity.
And he stopped for a minute and asked me the question – “What does that feel like? To love God?” I hear people say that – I hear people talk about a relationship with God – but what does that really feel like?
I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed to admit, since I am a pastor and all, but by truthfully I had never really thought about this particular question.
It stopped me in my tracks.
And I don’t really remember what I said –
But I have been thinking about it ever since.
The church talks a lot about God. We talk a lot about what God might think about certain things – We talk a lot about how we are supposed to live in the world.
But in truth –
We don’t often talk about the connection between us and God – and how that’s supposed to work.
we often assume that most of us naturally know how to relate and connect with God.
But the truth is – most of us actually feel pretty inadequate in this area.
I remember when the book about Mother Teresa came out and people discovered that she struggled deeply with her relationship with God. And there was this mixed reaction – some people were shocked – but a lot of us – especially those of us who, for a long time, have been trying to know and understand how to relate and connect with God – and have been wondering what we are doing wrong.
There was almost this feeling of solidarity and comfort – to know that we aren’t alone – and that even for the saints, relating to God is not easy.
In our scripture today, Jesus has just told his disciples that he is going away. That he will be leaving them. And they are stunned and not taking the news well. Where are you going? How will we know what to do next?
WHO will be our guide?
Jesus has explained to them that it will be the Holy Spirit. But they aren’t so sure yet.
And so Jesus continues.
Abide with me.
I am the vine. You are the branches.
Remain in me.
And I will remain in you.
The word used here for Abide had a very physical connotation.
It refers to remaining in a particular place and time, in a particular state or condition, it is a call to stand still, and to wait. To REMAIN in me.
The task of the disciples when Jesus leaves is not for them to go and find him.
Their task is to REMAIN with him.
There’s a big assumption – a giant theological leap that he is trying to help them make.
That even after he is gone.
That He will ALREADY be with them.
HIs Spirit will already be present.
And so it won’t be so much about what they do or where they go
It will be about standing still long enough to pay attention and to notice that he is already there.
Remain with me. Abide with me. For I will abide with you.
It sounds simple.
But it’s not.
There’s a current technique that’s been sweeping the nation called “mindfulness.”
People can go and take classes in mindfulness, but what they essentially are doing is teaching you how to be deeply present in the moment. To pay attention to your breathing – to pay attention to the details of your fingerprint or to chew a raisin so slowly that you are able to be mindful of the texture of each wrinkle and the enjoyment of the taste.
And the interesting things is how deeply hard it is for people to do this. It is difficult to slow down enough to really notice what is happening around us. To appreciate and PAY Attention.
Jesus says to them – my spirit will already be in you – so stand still and pay attention.
But the question still remains – how do we do that?
How do we pay attention to an invisible God – when its hard enough to pay attention to the things right in front of us?
I was talking to another one of our young people recently – and she was talking about some of the hard times she had been going through. I asked her the question – how are you taking care of yourself when it gets to be too much?
And she said – well, sometimes when I don’t know what else to do – I just go home. I go to be with my family who loves me and to the comfort of the one place where I know I’m safe and loved and accepted.
Not all of us have a home to go to when things get bad – but I imagine – you have a place or you have a person – where you experience a sense of home. A place that when you go there – or a person that when you speak to them – you can let down your guard – you can relax – you can be yourself – because you know – no matter what – it’s going to be OK. Because no matter what you bring to that space - what you will find in return is love.
The word ABIDE – is the language of home.
Jesus tells his disciples to ABIDE in his love.
To make a home – in his love.
The call to abide in God – is a call to notice and be aware of God’s presence already with us. But it is also a choice – to make our home there -
To know that the presence of the living God – and the fullness of love – lives in you.
That no matter where you go – or what you do –
The reality that we are AT HOME in God’s love – it goes with us. Everywhere – every place.
And most days we just need to stand still long enough to remind ourselves that this is true
I’m still thinking about that question – what it means to love God – and in the process discovering that it is difficult to say much about it without first talking about being loved BY god.
That as much as we might like to think it is something we do –
Perhaps our call is simply to stand still and pay attention long enough to receive it.
And then to REMAIN there.
Without trying to earn it or justify it – just receive it –