Sermon Abide in God Rev. Joshua D. Gill
Jesus is continuing his teaching in this moment the disciples are participating in the last supper. John is unique in that he places a large teaching block in this setting. It is also the final “I am” statement in the gospel. So far Jesus has said: “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the gate for the sheep,” “I am the good shepherd,” “ I am the resurrection and the life,” “ I am the way, and the truth, and life,” and finally “I am the true vine.” This last image is more than just an agricultural image, it is an image that is deeply connected to the nation and the people of Israel. In Isaiah we read “ You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and you planted it…” God cares for this vineyard. At times God has executed judgement and pruned the vineyard, to ensure fruitfulness, connectivity, and unity. In Jesus’ teaching, Jesus is the true vine and the disciples are branches. They must “abide” or “remain” together. A vine and a branch are indistinguishable from one another, yet the branches can be pruned and cut off, and it will enable more growth. Branches are never independent; they are always rooted and growing in Jesus.
Gail O’Day in her commentary on the Gospel John asks the question of the text “What does it mean for the church to live as the branches of Christ, the vine? What would ‘church’ look like if it embraced this model for its corporate life?”
I believe part of a response to these questions rests in a hymn composed in 1847. The Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte composed the hymn “Abide with Me.” Lyte was suffering from tuberculosis as he penned these words. Some believe he was in the countryside trying to find comfort from his sufferings.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide! When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Abide with me, abide with me becomes a prayer. God, when it grows dark, Lord remain, abide
with me. When I no longer have comfort, when I no longer feel safe, God abide with me. I am sure all of us can identify a moment when we felt profoundly alone. Sit with that moment, sit with those feelings for a minute. Maybe it was during a period of transition, a period of loss, or a period of struggle, sit with that and ask God to abide in that moment. As the body of Christ part of our role in and call is to abide with those who are abandoned, alone, and oppressed.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see. O thou who changest not, abide with me.
Where the vine is not producing fruit, the vine grower prunes so new growth might take
place. Our focus should not be on what is lost but on what new growth will appear. How is God calling Eastminster to new growth? What are the ways in which God is pruning us and calling us to respond to the changing world around? We can see the decay all around us. Just this week there were four shootings in York City. We can see it in the poverty that plagues so many of our communities; we see it in the climate crisis; we see it in the divisions in our society, the fact that for many political affiliation has become some sort of litmus test. How is God calling us to speak into this decay? How is God calling us to respond?
I need thy presence every passing hour; what but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
This is a reminder that the world is not yet what God desires; temptations abound. Even though Christ has conquered death, we continue to see death all around us; poverty, racism, sexism, classism and we might even wonder what has even been changed? How did Christ’s work remake life in the midst of death? Just yesterday I read an update from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. PDA just sent an additional $20,000 to India specifically to the PDA BIRDS program. It is a rural development society that focuses on two states in India. They work directly with the Dalit population or lowest caste in India. Paul Rao, the director of Birds PDA, said, “The poor are always becoming poorer, their suffering starts form birth to Death! They face hunger, discrimination, poverty, denial of rights, and no dignity.” He goes on to say “their dead are not respected…” The BIRDS-PDA program helps “food, medicines, decent treatment, providing socio-economic and legal support, PPE, and an education campaign, and for people living on the edge.” In the face of all of the problems of the world, there is always a temptation to turn inward and only focus on acts of self-preservation. But to follow Christ is to cling to the true vine in the midst of these temptations.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grace, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
This is the gift that we are offered when we abide in Christ. It is not because we abide in Christ, but because Christ abides in us. In Christ, through Christ, and with Christ we can do all things, not because of us but because of Christ in us. We only triumph when we abide in Christ. This is the hope so that the Church is a courageous sign of hope of Christ’s love in this world. Too often the church has been a place of judgement, but Christ’s love is inclusive. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Texas had made this a cornerstone of their ministry. The church of about 500 has historically helped to resettle refugees, at one point helping many Laotians refugees, many of whom went on to join the church and stay, forever changing this congregation. As a congregation they focus on being multicultural, multigenerational, demonstrating real inclusivity, integrating members with disabilities, and members of many different classes. The expectation is that all people are included and all people are welcomed. 
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes; shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
As we a fix our eyes on the cross on Jesus, we will become more like Christ, our desires
will align with Christ’s desire. The vine will produce the fruit of Christ as we desire what Christ desires. May this be our prayer that we would abide with Christ.
 Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9 (Luke-John), (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 760