For most of my adult life I have been a renter. It wasn’t until Bryon and I married 10 years ago that I first owned a home. I once calculated the number of places I had lived in my life and realized that I averaged at least one move a year before I turned 45. It was great to never be responsible for major upkeep like roofs, HVAC units and plumbing. It was fairly easy to pick up and move on when necessary and those frequent moves helped me avoid accumulating too much stuff.
But there were major disadvantages to renting. I always had to live with white walls and be very careful about what I hung on them. Then there was the garden. In many locations I either rehabilitated an overgrown garden or dug out and planted a new one. I planted herbs and annuals and vegies that grew fast. It was always difficult to leave the garden and move on. You’re never sure if anyone else will love and tend it after you’re gone. Even though the land never belonged to me, I had invested in it with my whole being and it had returned something beautiful and nourishing.
This past week as I dug out the sod, amended the soil and prepared the raised beds at our home, I realized that my gardening had changed. I was planning for how a shrub or tree might look after 10 years. I was moving things that would get crowded out over time if they stayed where they were. The roses I planted last year are doing great and should produce blooms this summer and for years to come. I’m adding to the blueberry bushes and thinking about raspberries.
There is something different about my relationship to this home and this garden. I’m home. The Pacific Northwest is the geography of my soul and I know how to grow things here. I’m investing in a future that may not even include me. I’m not just dwelling in this place. I’m putting down roots. I’m abiding.
To abide is to dwell in your heart’s home. It is to know where you belong. To be a renter is to serve the owner. You don’t really belong. You are only valued for the economic income you provide to the landowner. To abide is to be in a relationship of mutuality with the place you belong. You take care of it and it takes care of you. All the time, work and money you put into your abode is for a continual and future return. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a little land to produce fruit and flowers, trees and shrubs, vegetables and herbs, you can’t help but think of those who might come after you to reap the bounty of the land you have tended and cared for in your lifetime. There’s a difference between renting and abiding.
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, the proclamation that redefines a consumeristic understanding of the whole creation based on exchange and return is this. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The God of the universe pitched a tent in the middle of our human existence. The divine one became present intimately in Jesus. God chose to abide with us in all our frail, human messiness. God invested everything in this human adventure and gifted us with love divine, mercy unending and a willingness to sacrifice everything for our flourishing.
Like a rich woman who leaves her McMansion on Bainbridge and takes to the streets of Seattle to live amongst the unsheltered, God pitches a tent right in our neighborhood. Like a friend who moves in with you to bathe, feed and care for you during a life-threatening illness, God shares our sorrow and suffering. Like a vineyard owner who changes into work clothes and picks up pruning shears to work alongside the field workers, God partners with us in caring for this world.
By the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, as Jesus prepares to go to the cross and his death, he describes the complete turnaround that his life and ministry has made. God had been pictured as a strict taskmaster, a distant ruler, a commander requiring absolute obedience, an accountant keeping track of our good and bad acts. Jesus puts those myths aside. He contradicts all the false notions of God. His intimate knowledge of God opens up a different relationship with the Holy One. Abiding with us, we can no longer be known as servants. God names us as friends.
We belong to God. No matter where we go, God will accompany us on the journey. No matter what happens to us, God will never abandon God’s friends. God will not demand blind obedience, that’s not what friends do. God will not keep secrets. Because we are God’s friends, Jesus will make known to us everything he has heard from God.
We share God’s joy. This is not joy without suffering. Rather it is joy that cannot be stolen from us whatever life’s circumstances. Remember that curious phrase from Philippians, “For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross?” Complete joy is joy that is not dependent on our situation, but rather on our status as God’s beloved friends and on the security that God will not abandon us.
We abide with God and in God. To abide in God is also to abide smack dab in the middle of this beautiful, broken world. It is to take seriously the command to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. The fruit we bear is the fruit of love. We are clearly called and commanded to love one another as God in Christ loves us. We are to pitch our tent in the middle of those with the greatest need. We are to care for our friends in their deepest distress and to labor in the field for a harvest that will nourish everyone.
At St. Luke’s we have been blessed to be a blessing. We are called to be God’s beloved community in this beloved neighborhood. We have been gifted beyond anything we can ask or imagine with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, baptized into the Body of Christ and commanded to live in love.
St. Luke’s was a renter congregation when it was first planted in Ballard at the end of the 19th Century. It took many years before the church was able to find land and money to build a permanent building. That chapel is now nearly 100 years old. There have been ups and downs, times of feast and famine in the life of this community. Sometimes we were bursting at the seams with people in attendance from all over the city, the nation and the world. At other times, we were nearly abandoned or closed.
Through it all God abides with God’s people. We are part of the larger Body of Christ, called to live in love and faithfulness and to tend this patch that is a legacy gift. Our Bishop Greg reminds us often that St. Luke’s is the heart of the larger Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. It’s the heart of Jesus that beats in this place and that powers us for the transformational ministry that turns strangers into friends and draws us to the table where all are fed.
Kristen recently preached a brilliant sermon in which she encouraged us to see ourselves not only as stewards of the gifts God gives, but as shepherds. Shepherds are intimately tied to those they care for. We are called not only to shepherd the riches of grace in the Christian tradition, in the gifts of word and sacrament, in font and table. We are commanded not only to love those who are in church on Sunday morning, but God’s friends who enter in through other doors to this holy space, in the Edible Hope Kitchen, the Bridge, Suzuki School, AA groups or through the SLUG.
Today we are taking seriously our care for all of creation. We are caring for the water cycle with our RainWise installation that prevents rainwater from overfilling the stormwater system, filters it naturally through our raingarden and provides irrigation from cisterns for our many gardens here. We are celebrating seven years of the SLUG gardening community where church members and neighbors work together to grow produce for themselves and for our kitchen and the Food Bank.
And today we bless the bees in our new beehives. These honey bees are so useful. They will pollinate plants in a 5-mile radius. They will produce wholesome, local honey that we can serve to guests in the Edible Hope Kitchen and share with others. We hope to get beeswax candles that can be burned at our first Great Easter Vigil next year as we celebrate the resurrection and the light of Christ in our midst.
None of us can say how long we will live in our current location. We can’t say for sure that St. Luke’s will still be here in another hundred years, or if so, what it will look like. We don’t know what state our planet will be in after another hundred years of global warming, pollution and over use.
But today we rejoice in the love that has brought us together, in the beauty and fruitfulness of this patch of earth, in the fruit of loving service that restores and heals in body, mind and spirit and in the love of God in which we abide and that abides in us, now and for ever. Amen.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98;
1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17