I went through some of my old journals recently and I was struck by how I talked about my oldest friend Isabel. Her parents have been friends with my parents since before we were born. I had written about two separate, rather traumatic, events that speak volumes to the type of person and friend she is.
One of them was when my beloved pet ferret died.
Isabel happened to be over that night, she was going to stay for a sleepover. This was unfortunate timing because it didn’t make for a very fun sleepover. I just cried and cried. In my journal I talked about how much I appreciated how Isabel was there for me that night.
She didn’t try and make it better. She didn’t tell me that Mocha was in ferret heaven or that
God needed his little ferret angel back. She didn’t reassure me that things happen for a reason. She didn’t try and distract me, make me laugh. She didn’t scoff or make fun of how I was grieving a pet. She just sat next to me and cried with me. She put her arm around me, stayed with me, and simply let me be sad.
The next story was from my bike accident.
When Isabel heard that I was hit, she dropped everything and came to the hospital.
It was like it was instinct, no questions asked she knew she had to be there for me.
Other friends came, visited, brought gifts, then left. She stayed. She even went home and watched movies with me.
Through this experience I learned about who really cared for me. Some people only wanted to talk and pay attention to me because my accident was the latest exciting thing. Not Isabel—she didn’t treat me like a shiny toy losing interest when the novelty wore off.
She was just there for me. She is still, years later, one of my best friends. She is still there for me.
This friendship is what comes to mind when I hear Jesus’ words to his disciples.
Jesus is assuring his beloved friends that if they stick with him, even when it gets rough, that in the end there will be joy. That love will endure. Something good—fruitful will come of this, no matter how painful it might get.
In that moment, the disciples couldn’t have known what exactly Jesus was talking about. But we know how the story goes. We know that if the disciples stuck with Jesus, if they bore witness to his great pain, then they would also witness the joy of his resurrection.
Jesus’ command seems simple: Love each other as I have loved you.
This should remind us of when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment and he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
When it comes down to it, when discipleship is boiled down, sifted to its core element, the center, the heart of Jesus’ ministry, is about love. Love of God, love of self, and love of neigh
Now, I struggle with this. Not that Jesus is all about love, but the ambiguity of what that might mean.
Terrible things have been done in the name of Jesus’ love. So how can Jesus love be so ambiguous that it is used as justification for despising, excluding, murdering another child of God? It might come down to how we define love.
However before we get into how Jesus is defining love here, we have to talk about blood first.
There is a clever connection hiding under the surface of Jesus’ fruit and vine metaphor. What fruit grows on the vine? Well I looked it up and a surprising number of fruits grow from a vine: watermelon, dragon fruit, passion fruit, kiwi, and tomatoes all grow on a vine.
So, like any good biblical detective would do, I cross referenced fruit that grows on the vine and fruit that might grow in the Middle East. There were two fruits that overlapped. Melons and grapes. Now, Jesus could be talking about melon, but knowing him and his love for wine, I think it is safe to say he was talking about grapes.
This talk of vines, gardeners, and branches is not new. This is a recurring image in Hebrew Scripture. In Hebrew Scripture, it is God who is the metaphorical vine grower and Israel the vine that has failed to produce good fruit.
Now, it is not Israel who is the vine, but Jesus, and we are the branches. We are extensions of Jesus’ body. We partake in the new covenant, the new relationship between God and humanity. Jesus has erased the distance between Creator and Creation.
As Richard Rohr says, “God is not ‘out there’…Jesus came precisely to put it all together.”
How, you might ask, do we partake in this new covenant?
Jesus made it clear at the last supper when he took the cup of wine and said this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Furthermore, long before the last supper, Jesus made this connection in John chapter six. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them.”
Now disregarding the total weirdness of talking about eating flesh and drinking blood,
there is a word in that last sentence that should have just slapped you in the face.
Granted you may have been distracted by the whole flesh and blood component.
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood ABIDES in me and I in them.”
Vine grower, the vine, branches, fruit, these are all needed for the process of making wine. If we are invited into this process, if we are ingredients—so to speak, used to make wine, then does that mean that we are also integrated into this new covenant?
When we take communion, when we lift the cup of the new covenant, we remember how Jesus drew us in, called us friends, affirmed our humanity and reunited us with God. Remaining part of the vine, being a living and breathing part of covenantal relationship with God, is following Jesus’ commandment to love. Jesus’ command and remaining in love are one in the same. Abiding is loving.
Abiding in one another, loving one another, is abiding in Jesus, in God. God is not ‘out there’ God is right here, in you, in me. Loving one another is seeing how God runs in your veins,
how Jesus is as close to you as your blood.
God’s covenant with humanity, Jesus’ new covenant, lives in our bodies.
Jesus is saying, ‘stay with me’ be a part of this covenant, this promise of eternal, everlasting love. Love that has no end, no condition. Love that sees you, knows you, and loves ALL parts of you.
I read a book this week called “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle. It is on of the best book on marriage that I have ever read. However, it is not actually even about marriage.
is the story of one woman’s journey from self-hatred to self-love.
Not self-love in the commercialized, cliché sense. But the kind of raw self-acceptance that often only manifests through jarring pain. To learn how to arrive in her own body, to be able to look in the mirror and recognize her own reflection, Glennon had to learn how to sit, to abide, in her pain.
She says, “What if my anger, my fear, my loneliness were never mistakes but invitations?What if skipping the pain, I was missing my lessons? Instead of running away from my pain, was I supposed to run toward it? Perhaps pain was not a hot potato after all, but a traveling professor. Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, ‘Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”
Maybe Jesus was calling us to this kind radical, uncomfortable self-love. The love that comes from sticking with your own pain, so you have the strength to stick with others through their pain. We can do so much damage to loved ones who are hurting when we try and deflect our own discomfort with pain.
Oh, you are going through a hard time? Let me tell you about how crappy of a week I have had. Or, “oh that’s not so bad, just look at the positive side.” Or, “Oh I have just the solution to fix this.”
Glennon says, “We either allow ourselves to feel the burn of our own pain or someone we love gets burned by it.” In Matthew 26 starting in verse 36 we find a distraught, hurting Jesus. He has gone to the mountain to pray, taking two friends with him. He asks his friends to “stay” there with him.
The word translated “stay” is, you guessed it, meno, the same word translated as abide, remain. Jesus is asking his friends to remain, endure, stick with him in this overwhelming, troubling moment. But the disciples couldn’t handle it. In Jesus’ great time of need, they fell asleep.
As Glennon says, “Pain, like love, is something to surrender to. It is a holy space we can enter if we promise not to tidy up.”
In order to stick with one another, to love one another, to remain connected to the vine, to bear good fruit, we must first stick with our own pain. Learn what it tastes like. Learn how fear and anger feel in your body. Know what hot buttons make you want to lash out.
If in that moment of pain, anger, fear, we can resist the impulse to push the ‘easy button’ to distract ourselves, to fall asleep to the pain—so to speak—as the disciples did, then we might open ourselves up to the wisdom, to what we might learn in this Holy moment. We might get to relish in the good fruits that grow in our vulnerability.
The yoga instructor I follow on Youtube, Adrienne, starts almost every session
by saying, “the hardest part is over, you have showed up, you are on the mat.”
Showing up every day, sticking with the stretch, is the only way to become stronger, more flexible. Breathing into a stretch opens up tightness you didn’t even know you had. You relax muscles you didn’t even know you were clenching. We return to our source when we remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves. We feel connected when we remember that we are all branches, extensions of the vine, all held and cared for by the Gardener.
We can remain in our pain, embrace our humanity, when we lean into the promise that our maker is as close to us as our breath. That even our blood is a reminder of how we are loved beyond our comprehension. That our God sticks with us, abides with us, is a part of our very bodies. Show up, stay, breathe into the discomfort, let pain and fear and vulnerability be your teacher.
Know that the Divine, the Enchanted, the Holy beats in your heart, flows in your veins, and may your Joy be complete.
 Psalm 80:8, Ezekiel 15, 17, Hoseah 10:1, Jeremiah 2:21  “Everything Belongs” Richard Rohr page 118  John 6:56  “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle, page 201.  Doyle page 203.  Doyle page 206.
F Dean Lueking, “‘Abide in Me . . .,’” The Christian Century 114, no. 13 (April 16, 1997): 387–387;
C John Collins, “Abiding in the Vine: True Branches Have No Choice but to Stay Connected to Christ,” Christianity Today 60, no. 2 (March 2016): 46–49;
“Commentary on John 15:1-8 by Osvaldo Vena,” accessed May 14, 2020, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3631;
“Commentary on John 15:1-8 by Susan Hedahl,” accessed May 14, 2020, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=304;
“Commentary on John 15:9-17 by Meda Stamper,” accessed May 14, 2020, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2435;
“Commentary on John 15:9-17 by Osvaldo Vena,” accessed May 14, 2020, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3649.