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Abide In Me

John 15: 9-17

The Rev. Jon Roberts

5 May


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant[b] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.


Our Lord Jesus Christ (Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ), James Tissot 1886–1894

Church, more than a parking space,
It’s a holy place.
A place where the restless spirit comes to be,
Searching for a voice that says,
“Abide in me”. [1]

At our church we have a parking lot which is open to the public. Part of it is our offering of hospitality and yes, there is the expectation that those who part here, to go to the beach, will be so moved to give a donation. This is the time of the year when thousands come out to visit that holy place, they know as, the Gulf of Mexico. They yearn to spread out their towels, place their tents to cast some shade, arrange their chairs and coolers. They slather on their sun block, adjust their hats and begin to relax. It does not begin with relaxation as they may drive around for hours, looking for a parking space. They have come to know Calvary as that church, where they can park. I have been known to greet them or place a postcard of invitation in their windshield. It invites them with this saying, “If you love to park in our lot, you will love to park in our pews.” Of course, it also has a QR code for donations. Most of the time, people are kind and grateful, but then there are those who are not so much. Yesterday, your priest had an encounter with one of those restless spirits. Let me share how it all took place.

It was a Saturday, following a funeral we had that morning. It was about eleven thirty, and I noticed there was not a parking space to be found. Some were even parking on plots of earth that were not intended for parking. Desperation and restlessness could be felt. With a stack of invitations, I began my work and finished within about thirty minutes. Standing, down by the far north entrance I heard the engine of a very big truck; a Ford F150 or maybe a F650, if they make one that big. The sound from the muffler and exhaust pluming behind could be seen and heard four blocks away. They came down 18th Ave. in a hurry, saw our entrance and made a sharp turn. I literally saw the truck take ascent of a few inches off the ground when they jumped into our lot. Then, they immediately slammed on brakes, seeing this man in black, wearing a collar stand before them, holding up his hand to stop. I motioned for the driver to roll down the window. She was rough looking. Her eyes looked angry and tired, like ‘sick and tired.’ She would not be one to be trifled with, but then again, a truck this size, with an entrance so obvious needed to be given something they did not expect; kindness and hospitality. She looked at me and said, “What do you want?” I replied, “You are invited to come to church tomorrow. I am inviting you.” She said, “I’m from Oklahoma, and I have a church”. “Well,” I said, while you are in Florida, Jesus would like you to join us here.” Then she said this, no kidding, “I’m too busy for Jesus”, to which I replied, “Then you’re probably too busy to go worship the beach.” She spun out with rage, not perhaps for what I said. I really do not think she cared, but most likely because she could not find a place to park.

This church is more than a parking space. It is a holy place.

We can learn a lot from meeting the public, often I consider to be pagan and rapidly growing in our culture. It is important to evangelize now, more than ever. We may understand what Church is, but the rest of the world does not get it. That’s the problem. It is our role in this world to invite the restless spirits. There are certainly many who come here, who are so grateful, so thankful. “Oh, we’re so thankful your church allows us to park here. That is so nice of you.” Well, it should be. They know they are driving two hours on a hot Saturday morning, trying to find a place to park that does not cost them at a metered lot, four dollars and hour. They are most grateful to give us five for the whole day. Counting their contributions is not of the greater interest for me, nor should it be for you. We should be more concerned about why they can get that close to the church, but not find their way inside. Are you curious yourself, why they don’t join us first, then go walking over to the beach? Maybe they are too busy for Jesus. Maybe they want a place to park, but it’s not in the holy.

There are a lot of pagan idols in the world today. Happy sun worshipers. Maybe they love the horse races, excessive shopping, or prioritize their sporting event, that now encroaches all Sundays, competing with the sabbath, holy offering only the church can give. If we are parking our spirit into things, places, activities that take us away from God speaking to us, something is wrong. “But Father, I hear God speak to me when I’m on the water, at the park, at the game, the venue where others gather.” Do you really want to make that claim? Do not short God, taking advantage of His hospitality that allows you to live. When you come inside and park in a pew, you are participating in the holy.

Last week in the text, Jesus said he was the vine. The week before, the Good Shepherd. Today he commands us to love one another. [2] I don’t know about you but when I circle the lot of my life, I get frustrated with this pursuit of love. It gets put out there, but the meaning is often lost. “You should love one another as I have loved you.” Easier said than done. It is hard to love people, those people, when they do not provide the evidence of being lovable. They must meet us somewhere in a place of mutual hospitality and sharing, do they not? The answer lies within what Jesus says love is about. He says, “Abide in me.” Another way of saying this is, “Park in my space.” Like the disciples, we may be confused by what this means. Our bishop recently said that to trust, one must take a risk. Abiding in God, means there must be a certainty of trust. Trust relies on a certain degree of risk. He also said that our faith in Christ should begin with joy. Joy leads to faith; faith leads to risk; risk leads to trust and trust leads to hope. After hope, we return to joy. The understanding of love therefore relies on this cycle of relation. The problem is that most Christians cannot have true joy if they have none of the other attributes of love.

When we invite people to church are we inviting them into a political party, the club of “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done it” before? Is it about social lifestyles that distinguish us and give us a higher credit rating? Think about what we are inviting people into, this thing called the church. If our love is not authentic, beginning with joy, and faith, risk and trust, hope, then we simply do not abide in Christ. Why would we ever think people want to be part of us if we do not first live into this love of Christ? Our hope comes from the expectation of seeing people come to know Jesus as we know Him. This is when we meet the discerning, or restless spirit, who simply needs an invitation. The hard part is that the person you should invite may not be someone who you like the way they look, the way they speak or live. They may be from Oklahoma. Can you trust someone like that? Probably not, if you don’t first take the risk. Being shunned, scorned, isolated, or ridiculed may happen, simply by raising your hand, asking someone to stop and roll down the window. It does not always turn out the way you want it to, but one out of the ten, let’s say, may become your friend. Friends, true friends, are built by taking risks. When Jesus said, “You are to keep my commands. You are to love one another as I have loved you,” he is saying to his disciples, “I took the risk to call the twelve of you to abide in me. Be my church [para].”

Today, Jesus is calling us to do the same. He is calling us into this holy place and learn what it truly means to love others, when we abide in Him. This is where we find the problem with Christianity today. We think we can contain this love in our little cannisters, our little space between two lines of our individuality, but that is not the intent of the good news of Christ. The good news of Jesus reaches out. When you reach out, you are vulnerable. You are taking risks. When you take risks, bad things can happen. There is a cautionary note for the Christian when it comes to taking risks. We would not want our children to go out and take certain risks for the sake of the Gospel. There is something to be said by having the appropriate experience and training to go out and to love others, but we must admit that to follow God, we are called to take certain risks. We do not want to be turned away from Christ and why would he turn us away, you might ask? He turns us away when we only come to park between those two white lines. We just want that little bitty space, but God cannot be contained in a little bitty space. Maybe that’s why my friend from Oklahoma was drawn to the beach, to look upon a vast ocean unable to comprehend it all. To love one another is about taking risks but not the risk of inviting people to identify with your individualism but rather with the expansive nature of the almighty God.

How can you articulate that? Simply, by coming to church. It’s more than a parking space. It’s a holy place. Are you able to take that risk. Church today is risky business. If you stay long enough and hear my inner thoughts, you might be wonder, ‘Where is the joy and hope in this priest,” who questions the place of the church tomorrow. As sure as God is my witness, is the Church this floor to which we stand, the pews to which we sit, the cross that we venerate? Is it the music, the altar? Is that our church, or is the church the holy place to which Christ commands to live in each of us, inviting the world to know who He is? Who is Jesus? He is the one worth the risk. He’s the one to which there will be great trust forged. The salvation we are talking about, is found in the Christian’s cycle of life; found in the love where we abide in Him. Salvation is an invitation into what is large. It is open and huge and our tiny little bitty brains, and our tiny feeble hearts tremble. When we get hurt, instead of opening, reaching up, we close down. When we close down, the love of Christ cannot enter.

Therefore, dearly beloved, keep Christ’s command to love one another, for the sake of making friends. That is the key. Somewhere inside of me I hope to meet again that woman from Oklahoma. Maybe that next intersection will be one of wonderful conversation where she might say, “All I needed was for someone to invite me to Jesus.” Maybe she is in a church today. Maybe she is asking questions. Maybe she is no longer too busy to accept Jesus in her life. I sure hope so. No one needs to be that restless.

Church, more than a parking space, it’s a holy place.
A place where the restless spirit comes to be,
where they hear the voice of Jesus who says,
“Abide in me.”

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] John 15:9-17

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