Abide In Me

John 6:56-59

As God spins the whirling planets, fills the seas and spreads the plain, molds the mountains, fashions blossoms, calls forth sunshine, wind and rain, we lift our hearts: This is the day the Lord has made; we rejoice and we are glad in it. I also rejoice and give thanks for a safe and wonderful visit to Scotland. For me, it was the right trip at the right time to the right place. The trip was good for my heart and my spirit. For the first time in a good while, I feel like Steve Keeler. May God bless the Church and people of Scotland to his glory and honor.

In the last two weeks my affection for Celtic spirituality has grown. A new friend from the Island of Mull shared with me this special Celtic Blessing:

May those who love us, love us.
And those who don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if the Lord doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we will know them by their limping. Amen

In cities like Inverness and Edinburgh, you can easily visit kilt shops where you can learn about the history of your family name. I learned some time ago that that the name Keeler is derived from the word “keel,” a structure that is installed at the bottom of a boat and serves as a spine or foundation for the entire structure. I have always surmised that this is one of the reasons I have entertained such a strong affection for the sea. It is in my blood and psyche.

It might interest you to know that a day or so before the group departed for Scotland a friend recommended a website where you type in your surname and learn even more about your family history. My friend had discovered some surprisingly good things about his family roots, things that one would be happy and proud to share with friends and acquaintances.

I could not resist so with some measure of excitement and anxiety I typed in the name Keeler. A few seconds passed and I learned that one of the earliest records for the name Keeler is dated in the 14th century. But I was somewhat startled and dismayed to learn that during the 14th century, Keeler’s were known for the special vocation of catching rats. Needless to say, I did not spend a lot of time in the kilt shops. I had learned enough.

In our gospel less this morning, having left Nazareth because of controversy, Jesus is teaching in and around the synagogue of his new home, a village by the name of Capernaum. I mention this because as much as we all enjoyed our ten days in Scotland, like Jesus, there is something to be said about the place we call home. It is here, in the area of his home that Jesus felt that it was the right time and place to extend a special invitation. If you abide in me, Jesus said, I will abide in you.

The word “abide” is an interesting word, a word that we do not often use, but that does not mean that the word is not important. On the contrary, the invitation to abide in Jesus has very serious consequences. To abide in Jesus is to make the concerted and careful commitment to follow him, to pay attention to him, to forsake the constant temptations to listen to a different voice, to forsake in the end our ways of doing things especially when they contradict the gospel.

Jesus surprised his friends when he said that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood would abide in him, and he in them. Christians have come to understand these words in the context of sacrament. Make no mistake about it. The Jesus Way is a way of life that comes with many joys but also many challenges. By way of bread and cup, we are sustained by God’s grace to make a difference in the Name of Jesus in our own little corners of the world. Some days the road is smooth and other days the road in front of us is filled with pot holes and bumps.

For over 30 years I have dreamed of visiting the island and Abbey of Iona. I finally made it. Columba traveled from his home in Ireland during the 6th century to make a new home on the island of Iona. From this small piece of real estate, battered by wind and sea, and from time-to-time invaded by ruthless Vikings, Columba and his followers evangelized Scotland for the cause of Jesus Christ. In the Abbey, which has now been restored, I shared with our group the very reading that met the eyes and heart of Columba on the night of his death. From Psalm 34, verse 10: “Those who seek the Lord, lack no good thing.”

As I walked the hills and swales of Iona, gazed upon the old and weathered Celtic Crosses adjacent to this historic Abbey, Kay walked with me to the hill where Columba used to sit during the day and write as he gazed over the surrounding campus and the work of her many monks. The words of Jesus rang in my ears, “Abide in me and I will abide in you.” I thought of you and this kirk, the Sea Island Presbyterian Church, and all we have been through the last 5 months, what we have tried to accomplish in addition to our Christian witness, and I will tell you I was and I remain in the peace of Jesus Christ.

It might amuse you to learn that Kay and I were very active shoppers while in Scotland, so much so that before we left Edinburgh we purchased two extra pieces of luggage one of which was devoted to several news books for our respective libraries. My favorite is a biography about the well-known pastor in the Church of Scotland, a man by the name of George MacLeod. A strong man in the pulpit, MacLeod loved the work of parish ministry as he helped the poor, befriended the lonely, and cared for the sick and the dying. It was MacLeod who initiated the work to restore the Abbey of Iona and create an ecumenical group of people who to this day aspire to Christian works of peace and justice.

MacCleod was sometimes criticized for his criticism of the Church of Scotland regarding the decline in worship attendance and the public’s lack of regard for church life. MacLeod believed that too many preachers were standing in pulpits on Sunday mornings doing their best to hold up old doctrines of the church that educated people could no longer believe or support. When the church found itself in the position to answer tough questions, to reform and serve the needs of the people in the name of Christ, it did not. So people have turned away from the church and turned to secularism, but what people are learning is that secularism does not answer the mind-boggling questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Well aware of my own shortcomings and with a full measure of humility and repentance, I believe that same criticism can be applied to the church in America today.

Jesus said, “Abide in me and I will abide in you.” As Christians we are called to develop and nurture the Spirit of Jesus. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about prosperity and it is not about a life that does not appreciate the grace of Christian community or experience the needs and hurts of one’s neighbor. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the cross and it is about sacrifice and giving, engaging in the lives of people who live and work around us.

The Rev. Dr. George MacCleod once said, “The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well on the steeple of the church. Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where Jesus died and that is what he died about and that is where people of the church ought to be and what people of the church should be about.” (Only One Way Left (The Iona Community: 1956, page 38)

As you consider these things, your place in the world, in Christ, with Christ, abiding in Christ –
May the rains sweep gentle across your fields,
May the sun warm the land,
May every good seed you have planted bear fruit,
And late summer find you standing in fields of plenty.

Amen.