May 10, 2009
Abide is one of those lovely old words we don't use much anymore. I don't know why. The dictionary says it means three things: to remain, to endure, to put up with. A colleague once shared with me that his message in every wedding he ever did was to tell the bride and groom that over the long haul there'll be times you'll just have to abide each other, endure, and put up with each other. How often do we think of the love invested in simply remaining, remaining steadfast, remaining together, abiding?
Surely there is something of this feeling in Jesus plea to his disciples: Abide in me as I abide in you. Remain with me as I remain always with you. Endure with me as I put up with you. He did put up with a lot in those days when he walked the dry and lonesome valley. He puts up still with our failure to trust, to obey, to love, does he not? Yet when we do get it right, when we abide, we do bear fruit. We know that. We know when we bear fruit, when we are abiding in God. We know because, well, we know because of the peace, the joy even though we may not recognize it at first but then if we are paying attention it comes to us, we are abiding.
Sometimes church is like that. We go through dry spells but we keep gathering, keep coming, keep enduring, keep remaining, remain present before the God whose presence seems more like absence and one day in a moment we are surprised by the beauty of the life we have endured together, the fruits of our abiding, the abiding of the presence.
Have you heard this one? Two Rabbis are talking. The first Rabbi says, "Full experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental." The second Rabbi answers, "Rabbi, if knowing God is jut accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?" the first Rabbi says in reply, "To be as accident -prone as possible."
We have as it happens an amazing example of putting oneself in the place where an accident might happen in the Ethiopian eunuch who has traveled a great distance to worship and is sitting in his chariot on the side of the road reading Isaiah and wondering what it could mean for he was reading the word about the silent unprotesting lamb who is led to slaughter. Here are in abundance ways to be accident prone, ways to open your heart to God's revelation, to God's abiding presence: worship, the word, wonder, wanting to know more, and lo and behold, Phillip who also must have known a thing or two about being accident prone at this point as he is only here by accident being as he had listened to what the angels told him to do. Listening to angels is perhaps another more advanced technique in the practice of being accident prone before the presence of God. Bottom line Philip was there when the eunuch was ready to hear what Philip knew what to say and the beautiful crazy ending is the Ethiopian's question that is the question of every one blessed to fall into the presence of God, What is to prevent me from being baptized, what is to prevent me from abiding with God?
We try so hard or, failing that, we give up trying at all while all along what was needed was just to be there, waiting, wondering, abiding. To remain, to endure, to put up with. What might come of such of such faithfulness?
Those of us who have been blessed by our mothers will know that this is what they do. To remain, to endure, to put up with. Abiding. Did you know that Mothers Day began as a peace movement? Hear this statement from its inception, the voice of mothers from the latter half of the 19th century: Arise then, women of the day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly, "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience! We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm! Disarm!"
Abiding. Consider for a moment that it was the next generation, the children of these voices that developed weapons of mass destruction. Do not think that abiding is for the weak. Enduring endures. It never gives up even when all is lost.
Love endures all things, every loss, even the loss of everything. These are not just pretty words to calm us but what will get us through the night. What will get us through the night. Abiding.
It is not just about us. It is about the whole world, the creation of God, everything torn and broken, suffering without end. If the suffering of the every day world does not break our heart every day we are not paying attention. It may be our first natural response to want to avoid having our hearts broken every day but the truth is that it is not just the sadness of what is happening that breaks our hearts it is the compassion that is in us when we abide in God that breaks our heart when we hear of and see the pain of others. I know it sounds like a broken record but only love can break your heart and only love can heal us. The very thing then that breaks our heart is the thing that will make us whole. Abiding know this. Abiding remains, is present in the world. Abiding in God in such a world is very much like the poet's description of peace makers in the world are like:
A candle-light is a protest at midnight.
It is a non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,
"I beg to differ."
Even we can't make right every wrong, even if we can't change the sad history of the world, we can continue to beg to differ. Abiding unto the end. Coming to worship when the last thing we feel like doing is coming to worship again. Why do we come? A friend of mine quoting Sloan Coffin I believe said in a sermon a few years ago: Here in church we face the truths we flee elsewhere; we seek to know our faults but live our strengths. Here in Church we refuse to allow among us the fear and greed we see around us, thereby heeding the poet's words: "be of love a little more careful than of everything."
And I might add, where else would we dwell on abiding? Faithful attendance in worship is not small part in the act of abiding. I think we sometimes forget how important it is for us to be together in the presence of the abiding God, abiding.
The fruit of abiding is not always what we see in the consequences of the sum total of life lived on earth among humankind or even of our own efforts no matter how sincere but it is the unseen saving grace that sits quietly but steadfastly (there is another beautiful and holy word: steadfast) in our souls, that remains present abiding, that little flickering light the simply refuses to go out. Abiding.
Sometimes it is the smallest thing that may accidentally reminds us of the truth of the greatest things. A poet named Donald Hall once wrote something called, "String Too Short to be Saved" after he found in his grandfathers attic stored a way a box that was labeled STRING TOO SHORT TO BE SAVED. Inside the dusty old box was full of string too short to be saved all of it, of course, saved, saved anyway, too short or not, saved it all, every one. Abiding.
This is for me a perfect description of what the abiding God must be like:strange and frugal and generous and unwilling to let a single one of us go or be lost.
Abide in me, Jesus said, as I abide in you.
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