John’s sermon, Bide a Wee, begins about 20 minutes into this recording.
Several times, when Deanne and I lived in Scotland, we were invited to “Bide a wee.” Stay a little longer – have a wee dram before returning to the city. It was an expression of warm friendship and hospitality.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you….” The Greek for abide is “Meno” which is usually translated “remain.”
But the translators have it right – it is not the Principal saying: “Lentz, remain behind so I can speak with you.”
Here, Jesus is offering a warm relational invitation rather than an institutional command. “Hang in there with me, we will get through this together! Together we will move into a more profound experience of life and love. You will know the presence of God. Bide a wee.” This is one of the loveliest passages in scripture that we should keep close at all times.
My friend Amos was in town this past week to give several talks about his book The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust. He stayed with us as he always does. Amos and I have been friends for over 40 years – it is a deep and enduring friendship. We tell the same stories, adding embellished details to enhance our academic or athletic prowess. You would think that our freshman dorm inter-mural football championship was greater than the Super Bowl! (I was the quarterback on that winning team, by the way!)
After our wives, we call each other We called each other almost immediately to share the news of our fathers’ passings. We share the triumphs and tragedies of our children’s lives. There are times when we call each other every day – just to check in.
Deanne says that Amos and I are like an old married couple: We give each other knowing glances and even finish each other’s sentences, we argue and call each other names. It is pathetically endearing.
I have lots of other friends with whom I share rich affection and, in many ways, have much more in common than I do with Amos. He is an atheist, secular Jew and, well, I am who I am.
But we were each other’s roommates in the first two years of college and there is just something there. Thankfully, Deanne and family love him too – so it is easy, although they would wish we had new stories to tell.
I hope you have a friend like that.
The abiding relationship that Jesus talks about here in John’s gospel, is like the relationship that you have with your dearest friend: rich, enduring,one with whom you can be totally yourself, all the barriers down. You can speak your mind, and utter stupid things, and even say naughty things that you would never say in polite company – but there is acceptance, support, and love. And sometimes agitation and intervention. That is what friends do.
I don’t know if you are used to thinking of Jesus like this. There is, of course, the beloved old hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”
But I like to think of Jesus not just bearing with my worst but laughing and rejoicing at my best too! Friends are like that!
Jesus says: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done.”
This verse is easily misunderstood.
It seems like a transactional proposition: If you do something for me, then I will do something for you.” Jesus becomes the genie in the bottle or Santa:
You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town,
He’s making a list and checking it twice
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when you’re sleepin’
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake.
This unfortunately is the root of many a Christians’ theology and understanding of God.
It couldn’t be farther from the truth of what Jesus is talking about. For, in abiding relationships you are freed to ask for anything – even if it is silly, or unformed, or impractical.
This is the nature and quality of a Jesus friendship. It is not about pleasing, or passing a test, or saying the right word – it is being in this kind of intimacy where you may not even need to ask, for it is known.
And a friend knows what is really behind your request.
Ask for anything. But don’t be surprised if God’s answer reshapes your original request.
I knew a very religious person who took prayer seriously. He had prayed that God would allow him to become a Doctor. And then he took his first college Biology and Chemistry classes.
He is now a lawyer.
Yes, you can ask to win the lottery – but you need to buy a ticket, or do you need to find a job?
Or should we change the system so that people have a living wage and don’t need to rely on luck?
Do we have to organize so that people who can’t afford cars to get to work have easier access to transportation?
We can ask Jesus for the end of injustice – I suspect that you know what friend Jesus’ answer might be!
You can ask Jesus for anything – but be ready to get an answer that may call you to do something. Be the answer to your own prayer.
“And it will be done…” may mean: “It will be done by you, and if you don’t do it, it may not get done.”
Lord, I pray for racial reconciliation: Great! Make sure the church staff is racially balanced!
I pray for the poor: Wonderful! Give more away! Vote for those who actually are doing something to level the playing field.
Of course, ask for a cure of the cancer that is spreading in your friend’s body; perhaps it may happen – I don’t discount the miraculous…. But make sure you visit and bring a meal, and tell your friend you love her. And a prayer for a cure that is uttered in fear and grief becomes a prayer of release uttered in love.
There was a man who had just lost his wife and he was in such deep grief. He kept asking God, “Why, why, why?” Until one day, as he was walking across the fields near his home, an inner voice spoke to him: “You don’t need to know.” And that moment was an epiphany for him – a breakthrough.
So, in the intimacy of the friendship with Jesus – ask for anything but don’t be surprised if your question gets shaped in ways you couldn’t have imagined and you are led into depths that you did not anticipate.
One of the great promises of our faith is that Jesus abides with you and with me, always present; we are surrounded by a presence of love – we can’t get outside of it.
“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.
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.”
Jesus promises to abide with you. He is already there – open yourself to it.
No longer are we servants but we are friends. And friends are always there! Not just following rules, but free to give and take and disagree, and laugh and argue and be yourself.
Jesus asks for you and for me to be there for him by being there for others – for incarnating the reality of a loving and caring and present friend: standing with the widow and the orphan, the immigrant and the outcast, the sick and the dying, the broken and the lost and the lonely … you begin to get out of your own self and start engaging with others and you experience something rich and profound – you might even be the answer to their deepest yearnings.
Jesus laid down his life for his friends. Jesus asks us to live.
What is Jesus’ command: “Love one another, as I have loved you!”
Or in another place: “what is the greatest commandment? Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” And as one rabbi added, “all the rest is commentary.”
Today we share in communion feast – we remember the love of Christ, we re-member the body – calling us all together again. We remember the friendships and those we loved who have passed, connecting us to that great cloud of witnesses.
We are fed for the journey, we are given a wee dram of juice and a piece of bread.
And before we go back into our places and stations, Jesus invites you and me, his friends, to “bide a wee.”