Through out the years, I have always contended what made Jesus of Nazareth truly divine is that his will and the will of the Father’s were truly one. And, I have also contended that the victory of the cross was not the resurrection, but Jesus remaining obedient to the will of the Father all the way to death itself. In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands us to “abide in his love.”
As I have read this passage through the years, I have always interpreted Christ’s command to “abide in his love,” as a call to live into and to become one with the love of Christ in the same way Christ lives as one will with the Father. According to Martin Luther, learning to abide in the love of Christ is a process that is the journey towards sanctification or becoming Christ-like. It is the process of learning to give up our will in order to unify our desires with that of God.
But how do we do this in a world; where the I and the me come before we and the us, where it is more important to be right. . rather than finding common ground. Where the needs of the individual always seem to outweigh the needs of the community. When this is the foundation upon which our lives are based, it becomes difficult . . . if not impossible to heed the command of Christ to abide in him by giving up our lives for God.
Karen Armstrong would argue abiding in Christ begins with compassion. In order to abide in Christ we must first be willing to be the compassionate presence of Christ. St. Teresa of Avila tells us we must be willing to be the hands and the feet of the risen Christ because he has no hands or feet on this earth.
Compassion is the art of viewing the world from another’s perspective and then being able to respond from that perspective. And so the first step of abiding in Christ is to learn to view the world through the eyes of God. This of course no easy task, after all, as the prophet Isaiah tells us, “God’s ways are not our ways, nor are our ways, God’s ways.” And so we must be willing to look out into the world from a totally foreign perspective. We must be willing to look out into the world through the eyes of God, a perspective in which one is willing to give one’s only begotten son so that whoever should believe in him shall not die but have everlasting life. It is a perspective from which the teacher willingly washes the students’ feet, that willingly loves his or her enemy and believes in the willingness to forgive no matter what the crime. Abiding in Christ is developing a willingness to live into a kingdom where the meek inherit the earth, and where those who fight for righteousness sake are celebrated. Abiding in Christ is developing a willingness to sincerely ask, “What would Jesus do?” before moving forward.
There is no doubt, following the command to abide in the love of Christ is difficult for many of us as it runs counter intuitive to much of what we are taught in terms of how to survive in today’s world. But then again, Christian living is about so much more than just survival. Living in Christ is about living in hope of the resurrection, and living as if the Kingdom is upon us today. Abiding in Christ as we have learned from our apostolic parents has never been about survival. Instead, abiding is Christ has been about being the embodiment of God on Earth.
And so again, we continue to struggle with the underlying question of how we begin to let go of our own desires in order to unite ourselves with the will of God.
On the corporate level, the language we have used to get at this question tends to center around our living into our mission. And it is only through this that I can articulate our beginning steps.
It is hard to believe just under a year ago, I stood before you less than 48 hours after New York State approved the Marriage Equality Act opening the door for gay marriages to be recognized in this state. I remember sharing with you the impact this legislation would have on our congregation and how we would have a decision to make in regards to gay marriage. I remember explaining to those present the theological conundrums this issue raised and how we, as a congregation, needed to make the decision if gay weddings would take place here at St. Luke’s. At the end of that conversation, I told the congregation, no matter what decision we made, we would have to make this decision through the lens of mission, and not through the lens of personal desire.
As I think back over the many conversations I had with individuals, I knew the decision we were about to make was not an easy one. As your pastor, I could not have been more pleased with the struggle many were willing to enter into as individual understanding conflicted with what it meant to bring all people to God’s healing embrace. There is no doubt our decision to allow gay weddings to take place at St. Luke’s only came about because many in this congregation were willing to allow living into our mission to take precedent over our individual feelings and presuppositions.
As we continue to abide more deeply in Christ’s love, it seems as if our lives become an ongoing process of being in constant conversation with Christ over every decision we make whether in regards to the minutia of our lives and the simple decisions of what we eat, the clothes we buy and the energy we use, to the larger more complex issues we must decide in terms of how we vote, or where we stand on issue of social well being. It is when we are willing to constantly ask ourselves, what would Jesus do, who do I understand Jesus of Nazareth to be, and how are my answers and actions consistent with the vision of the Kingdom Jesus taught. When we are able to live into these questions, we are able to let go of our own will and more closely unite with the will of God and to abide more deeply in the love of Christ.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he extorts the reader to “pray without ceasing”. The ongoing conversation between us and God over the daily decisions of life is the unceasing prayer to which Paul is referring. And it is this unceasing prayer that draws us more deeply into the abiding love of God, and Christ’s desire for us to abide in him.