Each one of us lives in a web of relationship. We are mothers, daughters, siblings, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, friend. In each of these relationships there is a degree of intimacy, isolation, and alienation. I want you to imagine today your most intimate relationships. The relationships in which you are free to be fully who God created you to be. These are the relationships in which when apart, the beloved is on your mind and in your heart, and when together, you may sit in companionable silence. This relationship may be your spouse, or maybe a child, or maybe a parent, or even a friend. This kind of relationship is a glimpse of what the gospel writer John tries to show us when he uses the verb abide. John writes, "you know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." "And then, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." The verb abide describes the mutual indwelling of God, Jesus, and the disciple whom he loves. This evokes a particular Johannine sense of divine presence and companionship. What John shows us is a picture of intimacy, and that picture sits next to a picture of transcendence on our mantel, and together give us a glimpse of the totality of the love that God has for us.
Before the cloud, before google docs, before apps, before the internet, even before every household had books, before every one in a civilized society could read, was art. In frescos on church walls, in stained glass, on massive ceilings, were the stories of our faith. The artwork showed us who we are and to whom we are related. In those days, there was a painting of Mary, nursing her son Jesus. In fact, there were many depictions of Mary nursing her son Jesus. This is an intimate view of mother and child, of savior of the world and the one who bore him. So intimate indeed, that it is very very rare for us in this time and place to even see it. As women's bodies were objectified, these intimate depictions showing the nourishment and nurturing that Jesus received at his mother's bosom were removed. In it's place was the violent image of the cross. But it is the nourishing and nurturing image that John's gospel evokes for us, the intimate incarnated image in which we are in the father and the father is in us. It is this image of wholeness, not of brokenness, the image of interdependence, not isolation, the image of healing not of fragmentation, that abides in John's gospel.
The gospel passage we read today is a piece of John that follows after Jesus telling the disciples about the new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. And that when they do so, everyone will know that they are Jesus' disciples. And that follows after the last supper of John's gospel, and at that last supper, Jesus washes the disciples feet. Jesus' disciples, you and me, take Jesus into our bodies. Jesus' disciples, you and me, have our feet washed and wash other's feet. Jesus indeed abides in us, if that's not intimate, I don't know what is.
All of this conversation in John's gospel takes place at the table in the upper room on the night of Jesus' betrayal. So in the context of a meal, in the context of foot washing, is this intimacy that is nourishing and nurturing. The intimacy of abiding is enlivening and sustaining. It calls us to be fully present. It calls us to be fully in the "here" not somewhere else, not "there", not in the future, not in the past, not somewhere else, but right here. In fact, God can't bear to be without us, not one second, God tells us that our "here" is all right here, the way is less about where you are going, than what you are being. Jesus says I'm right here, Jesus says I am the resurrection AND the life, I AM the way. Right here right now, and yet the disciples will abandon the here because here is so very difficult. They and we have become so good at "there" and not very good at "here". They and we arrive at the "Heavenly Holiday Inn" without ever having really made the journey.
The word Advocate in John means the Spirit, and it is in this place of being fully present that the Spirit finds us. As we pay attention in the here, in the present, and not so much to what the reward is at the end, whenever that end is, last week, next year, or the undetermined future, we are are thrust into the intimacy of relationship. We look the others who are here with us on this journey in the eye, we sit with them in these pews, we stand next to them in the grocery line, we see them sleeping under bridges, we serve them dinner at the Mission, we visit them in the hospital, we disagree with them at the dinner table and across our fences. And in them, like in every one of us, abides Jesus, God, Spirit. Being here, means acknowledging that truth, and for many that is so very hard.
What's so hard about being fully and completely here? What's so hard about the journey? It's the difference between entering into what is right in front of you, the immediacy and the intimacy of the incarnation, which is sometimes mighty scary, or keeping that incarnation cradled in the manger, never growing, never changing, never challenging, never imagining, never redeeming. It's the difference between worshipping Jesus in the beauty and the wonder of church, and looking into the eyes of the people you meet and serving Jesus right here. Maybe it's the difference between talking about all the different ways to pray and actually sitting in the quiet and centering yourself and listening to the still small voice. Maybe it's the difference between talking about feeding people, clothing people, and loving people, and actually doing it. Here, not there. Here, not then.
I am actually not sure what it looks like to live in the here, not there, because it is a challenge for me as well. I am distracted by what's next, what's new, what's down the road. I think that's partly why I love to read science fiction, it's often all about what may be, albeit a judgement on what is. I have had to be very intentional about sitting still and listening, I have been much more comfortable on the move, fidgeting when asked to sit for long periods, getting up and pacing when I have to listen to long lectures, much longer than this however.
But, being in the here, being in this intimate and incarnational relationship with Jesus, God, Spirit, is transformative. At the clergy retreat I attended in Arizona a couple of weeks back, one of the fellows talked about "making camp." I realized that is just what I must do, what we must do. Making camp is about being fully present, it is about being here, not there, it is about seeing exactly what and who surrounds us, it is about giving thanks for that and not lamenting where we aren't or what we don't have, and when we make camp, God knows where we are, and we are transformed. Making camp is about gathering around the campfire, or the dinner table, roasting marshmallows, breaking bread together, sitting in companionable silence, making room for the Spirit to abide in us. And as the Spirit abides in us, we are transformed, we look more and more like God's image, we treat others and serve others with mercy and compassion.