Back in the mid 1980s when my now husband and then boyfriend Starman had been dating for a couple of years, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Bisuteki grill. The Bisuteki was one of those Japanese places like a Beni Hana, where you sit with a bunch of people at a table and a chef comes over and grills your food for you. We were kind of shy, so we didn’t usually strike up conversation with the people at our table, but on this occasion, we couldn’t help but overhear the dialogue between a couple sitting next to us…it went something like this:
“Well, here’s to us! And to our moving in together”
“Cheers! So, what did you say your mother did for a living?”
“She’s a teacher. How about your mom?”
“What did you say you liked to eat for breakfast?”
“How many sisters do you have?”
It became very clear to us that this couple were dating, were about to move in together, and yet had no idea who one another was! This was a concept that seemed particularly strange to Starman and me as a couple – you see, we lived together before we even dated one another! Let me explain…
At the University where Starman and I both attended school and met on the first day of my freshman and his senior year, a full 30% of the student population lived in off-campus housing of some sort – in the 1980s when we were there, there just weren’t enough dormitories to house all of the students. So, when freshmen arrived on campus, they immediately entered “Rush Week” – when they visited fraternities, sororities, and off-campus living groups to try to decide where to live. I ended up, rather by accident, joining one of two co-ed fraternities on campus, formerly the Zeta Zeta fraternity. Now, before you wonder about our living conditions, all 33 of the fraternity members slept in bunk beds in the third floor attic of the house, in one big room, women on one side and men on the other. But each of the “study rooms” on the second floor was co-ed. So Starman and I, along with two other members, lived together in a quad room when I first moved in.
Living in the same house with 30 other people, people from different cultures and backgrounds, people with different habits and musical tastes (this was college, remember) taught me a lot. In addition to learning Starman’s habits (he likes to go to bed late and sleep late, and he is clean but not very neat), I learned a lot about the difference between living with someone, and abiding with them.
Abiding isn’t a word you hear very often in American English these days. It seems almost quaint – I have a plaque we received as a wedding gift that says “Every house where love abides, and friendship is a guest, is surely home sweet home, for there the heart can rest.” Nice poetry on a pretty plaque, but what does it mean? In our scripture passages from the first letter of John, and from the gospel of John, this word appears no fewer than fourteen times. This word is a favorite with the Johannine community that most likely wrote these letters – all in all, in the gospel of John and the three letters of John, the word mano, the Greek word translated as “abide” here, appears 64 times!
It seems to me that what Jesus is saying, and what John is saying, in these two passages, has to do more with how we live together than the fact that we do live together. Does the word “abide” mean something different to you than the word “live”? It does to me…and I think it did to the writer of the Gospel and the epistle lessons as well.
In the Greek, the word mano actually has several meanings. I went to my Strong’s Ehanced Lexicon, a dictionary of Biblical Greek, and found that the word had several different meanings. I hope you don’t mind a little Greek lesson here…in the Greek, mano means to remain, or abide in three different contexts. With respect to place, it means to sojourn, or to tarry in a location, not to depart, to continue or to be present. Tarry is another great old word – when is the last time you “tarried” a while with someone? I picture a pot of tea shared between old friends, as they sit with one another and enjoy one another’s company. Or even, as one of my blogging friends pointed out, Philip abiding for a while with the Ethiopian in our Acts lesson for today.
With respect to time, the word means “to continue to be, to last, to endure, not to perish.” To abide, then, means to have staying power. For me, a great example of that is most of you here – you who have been coming to this service for years, or who have been members of this church or another church for years, through thick times and thin, good times and bad. You abide. This church abides, here on this corner after over 175 years.
Finally, with respect to a state or condition, the word “abide” means to remain as one, not to become another or different. I like to think of this usage of the word as the way a family can abide, or a church can abide, or a relationship can abide – where the people in the relationship vow to remain as one, no matter what happens around them.
In our lesson from the first letter of John, we read in verse 16, “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.” and later in verses 20 and 21 “Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from God is this: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
So we have two things to do here – to abide in God, and to love our brothers and sisters.
Think back to all the people you have lived with in your life. Maybe for you that isn’t very many people, maybe for you it is a lot. Who are those people you truly “abided” with, and who did you simply live in the same place as? How do we really get to a place of abiding with the people we live with? Can you abide with someone you don’t even always like?
Living with 30 people in the fraternity house was a lesson in what it means to abide. We took a pledge when we joined the fraternity, a pledge to commit ourselves to “the fraternity as an institution, the group of people in it, the individuals in that group, and the development of ourselves”. You can imagine, with thirty people in the same house, there are some people I got along with more than others. But as a group we were committed to being together, and I tried to uphold that pledge.
One night, I came into the living room, where, as usual, there were about 10 of us studying, or reading. “Does anyone want to go out for ice cream?” I asked. Going out for ice cream in college in Boston was something everyone did, no matter what the weather – I think this was a pretty cold winter night. Of all the people in the room, only George wanted to come with me.
Now, George was not my favorite person in the fraternity. We got along ok, but he was very talkative and not a great listener. In fact, I had done pretty well at avoiding being with him alone for most of that year. But, I had asked, and so off we went.
As we walked to the ice cream store, George kept up a pretty steady monologue. And at first, I found myself getting annoyed. But then, something happened. I don’t think I consciously reminded myself of my pledge to support the individuals in the group of people I lived with. But I did decide I might try to enjoy this trip out for ice cream, and actually listen carefully to what George had to say. And as we walked, I began to see George differently. I began to abide with George, rather than just hanging out with him. George hadn’t changed on that walk, but I had changed, and it was a good change.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself suddenly, or even not so suddenly, able to see someone in a different light, to really abide with them in a way you couldn’t before?
With three little and growing girls in our house, I think a lot about the commandment given at the end of our first John passage. Loving your sister all the time is a tough thing to do, I can tell you. Perhaps it wasn’t for you when you were growing up, but it sure was for me – I have one older sister, and we seemed to be in competition over just about everything. And my three, some days, seem to spend more time fighting together than playing together, no matter what I do to intervene.
It’s not always easy, is it, to love the ones with whom you live? Those who know your good habits and your bad ones, those who see you in all your moods. But this is exactly why Jesus calls us to do it. For if we can’t love those with whom we live, how can we love those who live across the world from us? If we cannot love those right in front of us, how can we claim to love God?
Abiding in love means doing just that – abiding in the fullest sense of the word. Taking time to tarry, to be with those around you, fully present to them. Working to be one with them, to connect with them.
And, in that abiding, we gain another abiding as well – God’s love, God’s spirit, abiding in us. How many of you remember that old hymn, Abide with Me? The first stanza goes like this:
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, God. Stay with me through the darkness and trouble. Sojourn with me as I travel through life. If we can trust that God will and does, indeed, abide in us, then we are free to abide with one another. We are free to bring our whole selves to our relationships. We are called to find ways to tarry with our brothers and sisters – both our blood relatives and our relatives in Christ.
So, take the time to abide. Abide with those you love, with whom you live – take the time to simply be in one another’s presence, to listen carefully to one another. Abide with those you encounter – at work, in your daily life, here in this community – and understand how much richer your life can be for abiding. And above all, abide in God – for it is in this primary relationship, with the one who formed and made us, that we find strength, and solace, and understanding.
Thanks be to God.
“Abide With Me” words by Henry F. Lyte and music by W. H. Monk, United Methodist Hymnal #700 (1989, United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, Tennessee).