Genesis 12: 1 – 4a
Ephesians 3: 14 – 19
John 15: 9 –17
We are God’s friends. We just heard Jesus say: “I do not call you servants any longer… I have called you friends… “. It is good to be with friends. When we are with friends, we can be ourselves without worrying about appearances. We can do ordinary, everyday things and find great satisfaction in them: sitting on the couch, riding around in the car with no particular destination, goofing off at work, talking about silly or stupid things, or maybe not talking at all. Friendships thrive on the ordinary, everyday things in life, not on the spectacular. Spectacular things may happen, but they can not be the basis of friendship, because spectacles don’t last, and neither do those things based upon them.
And our friendship with God is meant to last. Right before Jesus calls his disciples friends, he says “abide in my love”. Right after he calls them friends, he tells them to “bear fruit, fruit that will last”. Both abiding and bearing fruit take time and require stability. They can’t be rushed, and they involve a lot of unspectacular, everyday work. We might not think of abiding taking a lot of work, but just think of all the people you know who can’t sit still for five minutes, much less keep the same address for a year or two. We might have a better concept of the labor involved in bearing fruit, not merely from the viewpoint of having a summer garden, but even more so of planting and tending an orchard or vinyard. Abiding in God’s love and bearing fruit are much the same: they take a lot of work, patience, fortitude, and time, and they might not be the most glamorous thing to do, but they are what God our friend has asked of us.
We heard Paul writing to the Ephesians about abiding and bearing fruit when he prays that they “may be strengthened in their inner being… and that Christ may dwell in their hearts… as they are being rooted and grounded in love.” All of that suggests a lengthy process, not a one shot emotional or spiritual rocket to heaven. Rockets may go off every now and then, but they are not necessary, because heaven is not a place we need to get to – heaven is a place we need to cultivate and abide in. If we abide in Jesus, and allow him to abide in us, then heaven can and should be wherever we are, and that is why we need to work so patiently to bring it to fruition.
We bring heaven to our world in simple ways; making God’s love a concrete thing for those around us. A tv preacher once said an unusually smart thing by commenting that people don’t make love in bed, they celebrate love in bed. Love is made earlier in the day by cooking, cleaning, and otherwise earning a living. That’s what we should do as God’s friends – at home, at work, in the monastery or at our parish – making love for and with others by doing our simple, daily round of chores in peace and joy, thereby slowly and surely helping to bring heaven to those around us. Every once in a while we might have the chance to do something spectacular, and of course we should do the best we can when that happens, but we shouldn’t be disappointed if the opportunity never occurs. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “we don’t need to do big things, we only need to do the little things with love”. The big things might seem more important and heroic, but in the end they are much easier than the little things, because the little, everyday, ordinary things never end, and they can easily become drudgery if not done in thoughtfulness and love.
The story of Abram which we heard today is a good example of patiently abiding and bearing fruit. It may sound strange to say that a man who spent his entire adult life wandering around the middle east is a good example of patiently abiding, but Abram’s home was in God, no matter where he pitched his tent. Abram lived in God’s promise through good times and bad, through doubt and surprise, and because of his constancy, produced fruit that is still blessing the world. A lot of spectacular things happened while Abram traveled (including having his name changed to Abraham), and we read about them to help us in our life with God, but it was the ordinary, everyday work that made those big things possible: pulling down the tents, setting them up again, grazing and watering the flocks, finding suitable places to camp, calming fights between wives and concubines. That’s a lot of hard work, even with all his slaves. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and we should follow his example.
And so today, in that spirit, we remember one of God’s most unspectacular of saints —Benedict. He is not very popular, although he is becoming more so. Most people don’t know what he did. When people look for an icon or medal bearing his image, they usually have to search through pages of catalogues filled with pictures and stories of several other more glamorous saints, and even then are lucky to find anything in his memory (although it is getting easier to do that, also). However, the work that he did in setting forth a way of life based on patiently abiding in Christ and bearing fruit from that relationship has had long term effects that most of those other more popular figures can’t claim. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and follow his example, bringing God’s love to our world as best we can in our own time and place with joy, constancy, and peace. And now in his memory and honor as we continue our festival of the mundane, let us with thankful, ordinary, everyday hearts prepare to meet at this familiar table for yet one more meal with the God who calls us “friend”. AMEN