Abiding in Love

Abiding in Love
X DEAD WOOD FALLING AWAYThe vine and the branches are a powerful image in the Gospel of John, however, we do not know if this metaphor can be traced back to Jesus. This parable occurs in no other gospel, and the images about judgment in verses 2 and 6 sound a lot more like the concerns of the early church than Jesus: “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, God takes away. If a person does not abide in me, she is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the dead wood is gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Now I understand in the life of the church how appealing the image of dead wood falling away can be, but I think that is the kind of judging of other people that can make the church so unattractive. So is the metaphor of the vine and the branches fatally flawed?
X PERENNIAL WISDOM FOR THE SPIRITUALL INDEPENDENTActually I was quite surprised while reading Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, I found Rabbi Rami Shapiro using this scripture passage. Now Rabbi Rami omits the verse about judgement and he does not use the vine and the branches in the same way a good fundamentalist preacher would, but I think he comes closer to understanding our scripture in the way of Jesus.
X EVERYTHING IS GODRabbi Rami writes: “The vine is God, the branches are extensions of God. When you know you are an extension of God, your actions are shaped by godliness; you naturally engage the world with justice and love. This is true, because there is nothing apart from the whole. Everything is God. God is all there is. So do not imagine separation where none exists.”
X SEEK CONNECTION WITH THE DIVINEI hear Rabbi Rami saying, we are all parts of God, and we are all connected to one another. When Jesus says to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is encouraging us to recognize our fundamental unity in Christ. In God there are no neighbors or selves, rather we are One even as God is One, then through the love of Christ we transcend our individual egos, we connect with other people and with God as a single reality. Indeed, the point of the vine and the branches is to encourage us to seek connection with the divine, because unless we are attached to the vine of love and the root of the spirit we cannot produce the fruits of love. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
X PATHWAYS TO THE DIVINESo then we must ask, “How do we connect with the source of divine love? How do we abide in the vine of Christ?” And that brings me back to the Twelve Pathways to the Divine the Birmingham Eight formulated several years ago – a copy is included in your bulletin: sacred texts, ritual practice, community, sacred places, silence, awe, hospitality, compassion, mending the world, prayer, spiritual guide, transcendence in the presence of the divine.
We cannot examine all twelve pathways in depth, so this morning I would like to lift up four of the pathways for our consideration for staying connected to the vine of Christ: sacred texts, community, silence and hospitality.
X PASSAGE MEDITATIONRabbi Rami’s book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent is based in the practice of meditating upon sacred texts.
“In passage meditation,” he writes, “you choose texts that articulate your deepest insights and values, commit them to memory, and then silently repeat them to yourself during formal meditation sessions. Internalizing texts through memorization is like planting seeds in a garden. The seeds are plunged deep into the ground, watered, and allowed to germinate and blossom of their own accord. In Passage Meditation, seed texts are worked deep into your psyche through memorization, watered by daily repetition during formal meditation practice, and allowed to shape your thoughts, feelings, and actions as they become your constant companions. Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent is an anthology of perennial wisdom texts designed for Passage Meditation.”
X MANY TRADITIONS POINTINGRabbi Rami’s book includes sacred text from many spiritual traditions: The Jewish Torah, the New Testament, the Quran, the Bagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Confessions of St. Augustine, and many more. Rabbi Rami then provides commentary on the passages he has provided. One of the important discoveries is how much alike are the passages from the different traditions. They all seem to point toward a common transcendent truth. Let me encourage you to look at Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent as a method for connecting with the Divine through Sacred Texts.
X COMMUNITYThe second pathway to the divine I want to lift up today is community. One reason Rabbi Rami has written for the spiritually independent is that he is very introverted. If you have seen him perform in public, that might be hard to believe, because he has a wonderful public persona. But he is naturally very shy and introverted and he found life as a congregational Rabbi very stressful. So despite Rabbi Rami’s appeal to spiritual independents, I want to lift up the pathway of community for connecting with the divine. After all in Judaism it takes ten people to form a minion to pray. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And in Islam, the individual believer can pray by him or herself, but praying in the congregation of the mosque is considered highly important. The Eastern religions Hinduism, Buddhism, rely less upon community than Western spirituality, but the Sikhs in India are highly communal even prescribing that every Sikh temple must conduct at least one communal meal per day to which everyone is invited to eat – talk about the Sharing Table.
X CLOSER CONNECTION WITH OTHER PEOPLESeeking community as a pathway to the divine reminds us that we cannot connect with God isolated and alone. Unless we reach out to others in fellowship and prayer we will miss the connection to the divine One. Indeed the purpose of connecting with God is not to distinguish ourselves from others but to bring us into closer connection with other people.
X SILENCEThe third pathway to the divine I want to lift up today is silence. Learning to listen to the silence brings us into connection with the divine presence. Our Congregational Retreat will offer some important tools in the form of mindfulness meditation for bringing ourselves into the silence.
X RESTWe are most likely to connect with the divine presence when we leave the everyday level of consciousness, quiet our minds and relax into a centered state of awareness that athletes and performers sometimes refer to as the zone. When we enter a mindfulness state, we become open to messages and energy from the universal energy system. We re-orient ourselves so we enter into a kind of spiritual rest. As Rabbi Rami writes: “Rest in this sense is what the Chinese call wei wu wei, non-coercive action. This is the quality of swimming with the current and cutting with the grain. The rest isn’t non-doing, but doing in harmony with Reality as it presents itself moment to moment. . .
“Too many of us turn spiritual practice into serious work, when in fact it is nothing more than letting gravity do what it must.”
X REST AT CAMP SUMATANGASpiritual practice is rest not work. And I hope many of you will take the opportunity to go on retreat at Camp Sumatanga, for an exploration of Mindfulness Meditation. Out of the silence comes energy, guidance, and rest.
X HOSPITALITYThe fourth pathway to the divine I want to mention today is hospitality. Hospitality is the welcoming of others into one’s spiritual space. Basic hospitality is providing non-judgmental welcome – “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Hospitality means making the guest comfortable, offering refreshment, even if it is simple food and water to drink. Our guests need to be assured they are in a safe place, where people are not attacked or made to feel inferior, because of who they are.
X LISTENINGOne of the most important aspects of hospitality is listening. A place where we can be heard, not always agreed with, but really heard. Where people listen without formulating what they want to say before you have even finished your story. Hospitality invites people to share their stories knowing they will be heard and not judged. Listening is healing both for the speaker and the listener. Listening is not rushing to fix something or somebody, but just listening until the story has been told. Hospitality helps bring us into the divine presence where we can begin to transcend our own individual egos and connect with the larger reality of which we are all a part.
X BEAR GOOD FRUITSeek to connect with the true vine. Become a branch that recognizes its relationship to the whole, and so bear the good fruit of love.


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