1 John 7:21
This sermon was preached at Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA on April 29, 2018.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Although our Celebration of New Ministry was more than a week ago now, I am still beaming with joy, excitement, and pride; and still reflecting on the depth and richness of the prayers we prayed, the songs we sang, the gifts we exchanged, and the words spoken by Bishop Barry and Professor Arthur Holder. For those who missed the celebration or who would like to experience it again, Rex White and Paul Gossard recorded the service and I am slowly uploading it in parts to our website and I encourage you all to watch it, because I believe it will serve as a helpful foundation and guide for our future years of ministry together.
This morning, both the Epistle and the Gospel readings invite us several times to abide; to abide in God, to abide in Christ, and to abide in love. The Greek word for “abide” is meno, which means “to remain,” “to stay,” “to stand firm” and “to plant deep and strong roots.” Our Celebration of New Ministry served as a liturgical expression of my commitment to abide here, to stay and remain here as long as God wills. A few of you said that the service was kind of like a marriage ceremony between myself and the congregation, and that is true to an extent. And that felt particularly true when the church bell ringtone of someone’s cell phone started chiming right after I said the words, “I do.” (A well placed cell phone ring can really enhance a liturgy.) I made a commitment last Friday to plant roots here, to establish and institute myself within this community, to abide here.
And you all made a commitment to support and uphold me in this ministry which we all share. And then after that, we prayed, we abided in God together. And that is one way that I ask that you support and uphold me in our ministry together: by praying, by abiding in Christ, and by reminding me to pray as well.
Professor Arthur Holder spoke to me deeply when he said that I would do well to hope that some future historian of Christ Church Eureka will look back and say of me, “Ah yes, old Father London; he was primarily a teacher who tried to say his prayers.” Please help me try to say my prayers; and one of the best ways you can do that is by saying your prayers as well.
Now by prayers I do not necessarily mean praying lots of prayers and blessings before meals and meetings, but rather, I mean setting aside some time each day to simply rest and abide in God’s loving presence, to spend some time in holy silence, listening to God’s still small voice. Professor Arthur Holder said, “Remember that both ministry and prayer are conversations that require you to listen before you can speak.” So let us abide in God by praying and trying to listen each day to God’s still small voice and attend to how God seeks to guide us and manifest himself among us as a community.
About a year ago, Professor Arthur Holder hooded me at my Commencement service at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley and the Commencement speaker that year happened to be the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry; and Michael Curry preached on this morning’s Gospel very passionately, as his style.
Bishop Curry said, at “the Last Supper, in the crucible of the Paschal Mystery, wherein the midst of the tension between death and the possibility and hope for resurrection, there in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Abide in me as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
And then Bishop Curry said, “The key to the fruit is always in the root. The key to the fruit in the spiritual life, the key to the fruit in life is found in the root, deep in the soils, not in the shallows.” He said, “My brothers and sisters, you want to move this church? You want to move this world? You got to go deep in the soil of the tradition. Go deep where the nutrients and the minerals and the life actually is. . . And if you go deep, then you can go long.”
I plan to be here for the long haul. And in order to that effectively, we need to first go deep. Deep in the rich soils of our Christian tradition and Anglican heritage, which offer us many spiritual practices that help us abide in Christ and help us connect to the vine so that we can bear fruit. If we are not connected to Christ on a regular basis, we can do nothing.
So let us try to say our prayers by abiding in Christ and listening to God’s still small voice and going deep into the soil of our rich tradition. Next month, I will start offering some practical ways for us to do this. I will offer Discipleship Groups that are meant to help us pray and abide in Christ. Also next month, we will start offering Compline prayer at the chapel every Tuesday evening at 7 PM, just as we did during Lent. Compline is an ancient contemplative prayer within our prayer book that has roots deep within the soil of the Benedictine tradition. It is meant to be prayed at the end of the day, to complete the day, before going to sleep. We will be offering Compline prayer throughout the season of Pentecost, starting on Tuesday May 22nd so I do hope you can join us.
These prayers and spiritual practices are not meant to be just another list of chores to complete and add to our already very long to-do list. No, we are invited to pray in order to make our to-do lists meaningful and fruitful. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Without prayer and connection to the vine, our long to-do lists are ultimately meaningless. Martin Luther understood this when he said, “I have so much to do today that I will need to spend at least three hours in prayer.”
Every week since I have lived in Eureka, I have tried to attend the Centering Prayer meeting that gathers in our chapel on Thursdays at noon. I always treasure this opportunity to abide in Christ and reconnect with the vine. It was this group of Centering Prayer warriors that presented me and us with the singing bowl to help us improve our conscious contact with the divine through prayer and meditation. I plan to keep that bowl by the presider’s chair and I will let it ring after the homily, and as the bowl’s ring sings and resounds, I invite us to observe some silence together, in order to rest in God’s loving presence, to deepen our roots, to improve our conscious contact with the divine, and to abide in Christ, without whom we can do nothing. Please join me as we begin this practice together.