January 19, 2020

Abiding – 10 am – Revd Sally Bedborough


In the final years of my mother’s life, we would have a day together each week that included a trip to Waitrose, followed by lunch at her place when we got back with the groceries, and then a bit of day-time TV. One of her favourite programmes was ‘Through the Keyhole’ – I’m going back 20 years or so - and at that time it was hosted by Lloyd Grossman. The format was that a panel and those at home, were shown a clip of film that toured around some celebrity’s house and along the way there would be all kinds of clues that led to the identity of the celebrity. The catch phrase, delivered in Lloyd Grossman’s Canadian drawl was ‘Who lives in a house like this?’

Well, we enjoyed the programme very much. My mother was a talented interior decorator in her own home, with an artistic eye for fabrics and colours and she always had a keen interest in other people’s houses.

Perhaps it is a human quality to be curious about where we stay and how we order our homes. Certainly, it seems that John the Baptist and two of his disciples were curious in this way. They asked Jesus ‘Where are you staying?’ Remember, by this time he is far from his home in Nazareth, he is near Bethany, the Bethany that sits near the Jordan river where John has been exercising his ministry of Baptism. So Jesus may be staying at the home of a relative or friend or maybe he has no place to stay and maybe that is the point. The home that he welcomes them to is not geographic; it is a home of disposition, a spiritual home to which Jesus generously holds the door open.…with these wonderful words: ‘Come and see.’

Now, to back track slightly, the Greek word used by John’s disciples has the meaning of ‘abiding’. ‘Where are you abiding?’, they ask. And it is this disposition of abiding that I want to address this morning. We often use the word in a negative sense; ‘I can’t abide fast cars and loud music’. We used it to describe what we don’t like. We might also say, ‘I need to abide by the rules’ so that’s about conforming. We might also say that we have an abiding memory of sorrow or regret, something that plagues us that we can’t just shake off.

But the word has a very positive meaning and the fact that we use it less often in a positive sense is possibly due to our culture not valuing the qualities it describes. Abiding is about perseverance for instance, it is about being steadfast and rooted; to abide is to remain.

At the outset of the gospel reading set for today, if we were reading the text in Greek, we’d have noticed that the word for ‘abiding’ is used there as well. When John tells others about the events surrounding his baptising of Jesus, he says he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Jesus; it rested on him and it remained steadfastly with him.

I’m drawing on a Lent book from a few years ago entitled ‘Abiding’. This passage from the gospel of John is referred to in one of the final chapters. The chapter is about Abiding in Peace. The author, Ben Quash, conjures up a visual image of silence and stillness as the dove descends, he writes: this vision has the atmosphere of mystical stillness, as though it is an insight into the heart of some timeless truth about Jesus; Jesus dwells in the power of the Spirit, the Spirit dwells on Jesus. It is a vision of profound peace.

This peace turns out to be the true home in which Jesus resides. We don’t know where he took those disciples when they agreed to ‘come and see’ where he was staying, where he was abiding. The venue is obscured because his true home was spiritual, his abode was that mutual indwelling between him, his Father, and the Holy Spirit of God. Here we stray into the home of the Trinity, which elsewhere has been described as a beautiful dance, a continuous flow from one to another, a joining - but more than that: a total giving of one person of the Trinity to another and a total receiving of one by another. This, when we go back to the state of true peace is all that the word offers in terms of well-being and wholeness. Shalom.

And it is this home to which Jesus gives them an insight. We don’t know the details of place, nor do we know the details of the words and teaching that he gave them; perhaps there weren’t any…..? but we are told that they remained with Jesus for the rest of the day. That same Greek word, for abiding is used again. Those disciples were welcomed into the life of the Trinity.

A veil is drawn over those crucial hours, we don’t know the details but we know the outcome. The disciples having remained with Jesus are bathed in his light and their first impulse is to share that light. They go and tell others. The light and peace given to them in their first meeting is the spark that drives them to share with their friends and their families.

Abiding is possibly the greatest word in the gospel. The life of God – father, son and HS welcomes us as it did those disciples long ago. God’s life and especially his peace is ours. God’s presence which is peace itself is ours so no matter what storms rage, we can know God’s perfect peace. And in that abiding we open ourselves to God for his life to come within us and to translate us from darkness to light. It doesn’t stop there. The life that is ours, that precious abiding is the blueprint for all our relationships. In this week of Christian unity, what could be more relevant? We are to open ourselves to others who have different emphases in their worship and ministry, we are to value and respect them and to work with them as we hope they will with us.

Our world is in need of people who abide: who are open to others, who share and listen to others in mutuality. We are surrounded by examples of not abiding: our country is not remaining in the EU, one of our royals is not remaining in what is fondly referred to as ‘the Firm’, our life on earth is not abiding with the natural world in the way it should, to the cost of our environment. And I expect it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to think of your own personal examples of the lack of steadfastness around you and within you.  And yet we are called to abide in this context of shifting sands.

As I walked along Sandbanks the other week, I noticed the names of the houses. Some were so grand; ‘Emporio’ was the name of one for example. Beyond the high walls surrounding it was a mass of glass and chrome. I wondered, ‘who lives in a house like that?’ Perhaps some celebrity, who had built their empire and who felt that they needed to protect their home. But the house, the abode, into which we are invited by Jesus is not some grand affair with high walls and security features. We are not barricaded apart from the world with its rifts and storms; we are invited into an abode that is a disposition of peace and as such it is vulnerable – open to God, open to other people and open to the world. An abode with open doors and open windows through which we engage with our world.

This house of ours is one of peace. Jesus left his disciples and he leaves us with these words: abide in me as I abide in you. As the father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. Amen.