I did not realize that I was a daily participant in international intrigue rife with stories of mafia connections, global smuggling operations, and bribery scandals. Don’t worry, I will not soon appear in an episode of America’s Most Wanted or even merit a mention in the Oklahoman. I am just one of millions of consumers who like to cook with olive oil. The global demand is stretching the available supply so there is a huge international criminal conspiracy to put fraudulent olive oil on grocery store shelves. Sometimes this oil is made from spoiled olives. Others have mixed a bit of real olive oil with mixtures of oils from other sources. (1,2)In a recent government crackdown they found an expensive imported Italian olive oil actually significantly blended with cheap soy, peanut, and hazelnut oil. (3)It seems just because the bottle says it is olive oil, does not mean that it actually is.
He seems like any other passenger when he sat down beside me. I simply could have never imagined what awaited me on my flight from Atlanta to Dallas. It seemed that as soon as we had cleared the runway he turned and introduced himself to me. He explained that he was cucumber quality control officer for a pickle company. His dad had been one before him. He was raised with a keen eye on which cucumbers could be great pickles and which should be sliced up for a salad. He took better than an hour to tell me everything I would ever want to know about cucumbers and much, much more. Finally, he paused, then began to rant about a lawsuit his company was about to files a lawsuit against a competitor who had began to package and sell something called a sandwich pickle stacker. He explained that it could not be called a pickle because their product was based on something from the squash family rather than a cucumber. In raised voice he declared with a passion that only a cucumber quality control officer would know, “if it does not begin with a cucumber then it can never be a pickle!”
It was the night of all nights. The disciples had gathered in the Upper Room to share the Passover meal together. Jesus had unnerved them a bit by washing their feet when they entered. They had been troubled by Jesus’ pronouncement that one of them was about to betray him. They had struggled to understand what Jesus meant when he told them that he was going away from them but that God would provide a Comforter for them. They listened closely. They hung on Jesus’ every word.
Now, Jesus invites them to claim a picture that would have been a common sight for them. He used the everyday image of the vine and its branches. But, as he had done so many times before in their walk with Jesus, he talks this ordinary everyday image and transforms it into something sacred. He tell them to think of God as the vine and that they were the branches and they were to bear good fruit. But he tells them if they are to bear good fruit, if they are to know the joy that God intends form them then there is something they must do. When we hear Jesus’ words of instruction in the New International Version we hear Jesus teach, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” Older translations like the King James Version and more literal translations like the New Revised Standard Version use a different term. In them we hear Jesus teach, “Abide in me, and I will abide in you.”
Abide is a word that has been virtually lost in current common English. It is our loss. It better captures the essence of what I believe Jesus was trying to teach his disciples. “Abide” speaks to both a place and time relationship. (4) “Abide” is a “where.” You do not abide in a hotel; you pass briefly through its halls. You abide where you reside – where you settle in – where you are you with no pretence – where you are at home. Jesus wanted them to know that they needed to make themselves at home in the presence of God. “Abide” is also a “when” word. The “when” is always! Abiding is about an ongoing, never-ending, no time-out, settling in -not just passing through- kind of relationship. Abiding is about being at home in the presence of God and rooting ourselves in to the will and way of God. If you listen to what Jesus is saying in John 15 it is clear that he wanted them to understand that the only way that they could bear fruit that would bring glory to God; the only way they could know the kind of joy that God intended for them; the only way they could know what it was to be sustained by God’s love and word; would be to abide in Him.
I think one of the reasons that this word, “abide”, has almost vanished from our language is not that the word is archaic, but that the very idea has become foreign to our contemporary way of life. We live in a very temporary disposable kind of culture. Football coaches, CEOS, and politicians understand that they have to be successful NOW because way we measure success is not with a long term view but rather with the resounding question, “what have you done for me lately?” A life time pledge of commitment has become reworked as a commitment until one of the two don’t feel the same quality of passion any more or feel they have “outgrown” the other. The career of a missionary that was once measured in decades is now most often measured by whether they served three, five, or seven years. The employee’s commitment to the company and the company’s commitment to the employee that was once measured by generations is now defined by “until something better comes along” or “until there is a shift in the economic conditions.” It seems that our understanding of forever is progressively shorter and shorter and shorter. Jesus is trying to help his disciples, and those like us who followed them, to understand is that our relationship with God is not supposed to be for a season, but is to be the kind of relationship that defines us today, tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil can only be what is promised if that every drop comes from olives. Apparently a pickle can only be a pickle if it begins with a cucumber. Nothing else will do. If we are to be the people in God we are intended to be then we must find our nourishment and our identity in the vine that is God. We are just the branches that spring from God’s love and God’s word. We can only bear fruit if what courses through us is the way and will of God. Anything else would be a poor substitute. Anything else would be scandalous. Anything else would cheat us from knowing God’s joy. Anything else cheats God of the glory that is due him. We are to be a people who abide in God, nothing else will do. Jesus teaches, This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
There is an uncomfortable part of this passage. It tells us that if we do not abide in God – if we choose our own way rather than the way and will of God, then we are of no value and are cut away from the vine and casted aside. This is a picture that I can hardly put my hands around. God invites us to His side with love through Christ. God’s desire is for our redemption and our joy. Why would we settle for anything less?
What claims your attention? What stops you from abiding in God? What kind of fruit are you producing and what kind of reflection is it on the love of God? Make this the day you choose to claim a defining relationship with God. Make this the day you choose to make a commitment to spend real time with God. Make this the day you choose to set anything that that gets in your way aside and choose to abide in God. Life, real life in and through God, awaits you.
Note: Focal passage was sung in its entirity as "Scripture in Song" by our Sanctuary Choir
(4)Influenced by http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=678