Summary: With things changing about us faster than we can imagine, we can remain the same --- strong and steady in Christ.
Remain In Christ John 8:31-36
In our elementary school chapel service last Sunday, I noted how attentive all the kids were when the object for the children’s message was a pumpkin. There is something about pumpkins that grabs our attention and keeps it. My wife suggests it’s because it only comes once a year; and I think she’s right.
How do we get people like ourselves to pay attention like that with other things – important, spiritual things like church or God’s word? Maybe that’s why some people choose to come to church just once or twice a year. It’s easier to pay attention. But now, I’m not advising that practice, believe me.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites people to pay attention to him --“If you hold to my teaching.” In another translation of the Bible, He uses the word “remain.” Remain in my word; or as the King James has is it: “abide in me.” Can we really do this?
I say that for the most part, things just don’t remain anymore as long as we’d like. There is just too much change -- too much technology. It’s hard to catch one’s breath and to sit and be still and remain or abide. We’ve got to be doing something; cell phone in hand, or TV remote, ears plugged with miniature headsets. This is the culture of restlessness; of not remaining long in any one place -- Multi tasking. We’re so mobile; and we eat on the run. I read a statistic the other day that said 55%- 65% of our meals are ‘fast food.’ So the whole concept of remaining long, lingering a while is foreign to us. Have you had the experience for example of watching a video – say a movie from the sixties or seventies for old times sake and recognizing, “boy this moves slow!” It doesn’t grip you and grab you and move you along with the action. You don’t have the patience to sit through it. We want things faster and faster.
But how important it is to be still and know him and that he is God and is in control of our lives and life itself. Jesus says, ‘remain in me.’ “Linger here in my love.” Jesus’ words to remain in him then are difficult words --because we’re not used to being still and remaining with and in him.
Yet around us there’s plenty of stuff staying right where it is, where it was, and where it will be the next time and the next time. I think for example of the Mennonite religion with their plain clothes, beards and cars or buggies. I wonder if their founder Menno Simmons didn’t take his first name from the Greek Word here for remain: ‘meno.’ But, even with our very modern way of living, things still seem to remain the same for us. We sometimes think --if only life were less monotonous. “Vanity of vanities” proclaims the writer of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is vanity -- Uselessness. The sun rises and the sun goes down. That which has been is what will be; that which is done is what will be done and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said:” ‘see, this is new?’ he writes.
And yet people, including ourselves resist things that are new. We stay the same. But Jesus spoke of remaining, not of being stuck. There’s a difference. Being stuck causes problems for others --like that balled up piece of chewing gum I shoved out of the way of a sidewalk with the side of my shoe one morning before the sun would warm it, and soften it, and someone else would step in it, and get stuck. Stuck things need to be moved so people can move freely.
And we do get pretty stuck sometimes don’t we? -- Same pew at church; same parking place even; same group of friends. That’s no crime of course. There are more serious things. Paul writes in Philippians: ‘don’t quench the Spirit.” Another version reads: “don’t stifle the spirit.” It’s a word that means to smother or repress or withhold from circulation or expression; like cutting off the oxygen. We can do that by just ’remaining.’ Same ol; same ol. Churches are good at that. I’m pretty good at that. I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve grown older I think. The Germans have a word that almost sounds like the word, stifle. It’s ‘steif.” It means, formal, stiff. And we have some ‘stiffs’ around here if you know what I mean. Was that what Jesus meant when he said ‘remain, abide in me.’ “Stiffen” ourselves? There’s not a great leap from being stiff to being dead.
My previous church had many oak trees surrounding it. We used an acorn as one segment of our stationery logo and the theme verse was from Isaiah who spoke of God’s people as being like stately oaks strong and steady, bringing forth fruit even unto old age. How grateful we are for those who are as ‘oaks in our midst.’ For the young, in this constantly changing culture, they model rootedness, constancy, dependability, endurance, strength, resilience, faith! Years ago, like our young people today, with the Holy Spirit’s help, you made your vows to Jesus and stuck with him. And you’re still sticking there where it matters. Don’t overlook your influence in just being there now like that steady oak. I know it’s easy for me to say: you may think your influence has waned -- your movements may be slower now than they once were. At least physically, you don’t bend quite as easily as that young sapling in the wind. But you have an influence just in remaining and abiding there with Jesus and his word. What an example you are with those hidden and even exposed roots of yours -- of remaining and abiding as you have in Christ. And yet you have managed to remain fresh and green and bearing fruit, not decaying and diseased and rotted and down for good as some of those of a younger generation have already become. You’ve seen what a hollow thing, a life without Christ is. In the words of Jesus here: ‘you’re free!’ “The Son – Christ, has set you free.” ‘You’re free indeed!” You’ll be even more so when you obtain your heavenly reward promised you in Baptism and in Christ’s own resurrection from the dead and his triumphant ascension and promise to return again soon. You know a liberty and a movement in your spirit and soul that those much younger can’t equal or comprehend. You know where you’re going one day because of his promise. You’ve understood because of the Holy Spirit’s influence what Jesus meant when he said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Why, your life is anything but hollow. It’s because you’ve have remained in Him and in his Word all these years --that unchangeable Word that speaks of the Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the fountain of life; the fountain of youth that keeps rejuvenating us with the continual reminder of the forgiveness of sins won at Calvary and the promise of mercies made new every morning and especially on that great morning yet ahead when we shall rise with him and be given the crown of life. There we shall remain! There we shall abide! – And there be made entirely new.