Monthly faith reflections from Pastor Clark.
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” and in the same breath, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
At the end of March, April, St. Paul’s Director of Music, told me about the ups and very real downs of those social isolation days. Then she said, “And it’s been a real reset, a time to reevaluate and reorient.”
The next day, St. Paul person, Kami, posted a similar sentiment on the church Facebook page. She’s hearing “a call just to retreat and listen to your heart and what it really needs” and get back to “what really matters.”
“I am the true vine,” Jesus said, as if to wake us up to all the pretenders and to draw us closer. For our own sake and for the sake of the pandemic-wracked world.
Friends of mine got sick in Spokane, another in Davenport. They were denied testing for coronavirus, because there weren’t enough tests.
Another friend is a doctor, delivering babies at Davenport’s Edgerton Women’s Health Center. She enlisted a squad to sew personal safety equipment, because there isn’t enough. Her husband—you know him, Pastor Rob Leveridge—described the serious spiritual discipline required for him to stay calm about this.
A colleague in Seattle said the high school nearest her has a football field. It’s now a temporary hospital. “All the nursing homes have COVID,” she said, holding back tears. “Including the one my parents live in.”
Over and over—34 times!—in the original Greek of the Gospel of John, there is this little word, μένο (meno). In English, it’s translated variously: stay, abide, continue, remain, dwell. Meno is this Gospel’s definition of what Jesus does, so much that it’d be better to say meno is who Jesus is.
Jesus stays with my sick friends, abides with my doctor-friend, and continues with her husband. Jesus remains on that Seattle high school football field and dwells with my friend’s parents and in all the nursing homes.
The cross is Jesus abiding. So is the resurrection.
Medical and other experts say we are now only in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. But back in the earliest days, when suffering in China was at its worst and videos of empty interstates in Wuhan were going viral, some here were sounding warnings. They said, unless we take extreme measures like that, the United States would be utterly overwhelmed and millions would die.
I said then, “I can’t imagine not holding worship.”
And here we are, living the unimaginable. Now I can’t imagine holding worship on Easter.
Meanwhile, Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” These words from the Gospel of John is St. Paul’s Easter season theme. In his next breath, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
Can you imagine that? Take a minute. Simply abide.
God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1st Kings 19)
In silence, there is a voice.
Waiting for me in silence were (and are) some of my life’s most profound questions and truths. And even though it can terrify me, I also hunger for silence. Being in control is a poor substitute for being loved. Avoiding silence only means that need for love controls me. Even when silence provokes, confuses, or feels painful, God is present. Becoming present to God’s presence in silence wakes me up to God’s presence in all other times and places—including the “storm,” “earthquake,” and “fire.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
One of my teachers was born blind. He had a complicated relationship with this chapter in the Gospel of John. He loved what Jesus said and did in it and the boldness of the man born blind. He hated how so many Christians read it.
Because he was blind, Christian leaders quoting Old Testament prohibitions tried to deny his calling to become a pastor. It pained him to hear the many hymns and sermons that repeated the “blindness equals sin” metaphor.
I remember the powerful sermon he preached about “the eyes of faith.” He talked about the “lenses” we rely on, instead of trusting God. When he took off his thick, heavy glasses and invited all of us to do the same, I and many others wept. To trust that his blind and uncorrected eyes were truly “eyes of faith” was incredibly moving. God includes and loves our eyes as they are and our “uncorrected” selves!
The metaphor Jesus used here in John is “seeing equals sin.” Jesus praised humbly accepting one’s blindness and warned against what these religious people did: self-righteously claimed to see clearly, as they damned and threw people out.
But Jesus wasn’t out there criticizing anyone. Can you see love in Jesus’ interaction with everyone in this chapter? It can be an act of love to hold others to a higher standard of love...when you do it with love. But this is such an angry age, we don’t have many role models.
Look to Jesus, who would rather be stoned than thrown stones. Ask God to help you trust what you cannot see: Christ in every one and every thing. Ask for wisdom to discern what, here and now, really is love.