Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
What is it like to spend time with a really kind person? You know, the kind of person who always seems to see the good in the world and others… The kind of person who always seems to rise above the gossip, pettiness, and quarrelling at your school or workplace… The kind of person that is genuinely kind, actively listens, and is authentically good…
I know what it is like for me. I start to feel a change I didn’t anticipate. Suddenly I find myself smiling more and criticizing less. Without my consent, I’m replicating the way they encounter the world and other people. And what always surprises me about the imitation, is that I don’t remember inviting the change. It just sort of happens. My mother would say they rubbed off on me.
The problem, of course—which I have noted equally in my life, is that the opposite also tends to be true. As frequently as I subconsciously absorb the good in others, I’m just as prone to imitating the bad. As I wake up to this reality, I feel the obvious need to control who I surround myself with, but even more that that, I’m hearing some of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in the gospel of John in new light.
I imagine this reality about our humanity—that we take on the best and worst in each other—is a part of what led Jesus to remind his disciples that he is the true vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). After all, to unpack this metaphor Jesus doesn’t use grounding language, that is, language that invites us to be grounded or rooted in him, but instead uses abiding language. Jesus used language that invites us to live and dwell with and in him.
As we live and dwell with him, Jesus tells us that we can expect three things to happen.
- We will bear fruit (John 15:5). Bearing fruit is a sign of a tree’s life and helps sustain life in those who partake of it. Bearing fruit is also a sign of a tree’s purpose. What good is a vine without any grapes? As we dwell with Jesus we find our purpose, and we put forth signs of the life we have in him.
- We love one another. Abiding in Jesus’ love leads to obedience to Jesus’ commandments, and what is Jesus’ commandment? That we love one another (John 15:12). As we dwell with Jesus, like dwelling with that person we discussed above, we find ourselves taking on their attributes. In Jesus’ case, we find ourselves loving our neighbors as Jesus loves.
- We experience joy (John 15:11). As we abide with Jesus his joy becomes our joy.
If we know that we are formed by the people we spend time with, why then wouldn’t we immerse ourselves into our relationship with Jesus? Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were not focused on their time apart, but on the necessity of continuing to dwell with one another. May we too be formed a little less by our fellow branches, and dwell a little deeper in the vine ourselves, and in so doing may we experience what it is like to have the savior of the world rub off on us forming us to bear fruit, share love, and produce joy.