The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 23, 2017
Consider two superheroes: Batman and Spider-Man.
Batman is a rich and strong individual who has at his disposal a wealth of technological gadgets. His superpowers derive from his natural advantages and material possessions. On the other hand, Spider-Man is an otherwise unremarkable individual who is given his superpowers by another being, a radioactive spider that bit him. That infusion of capabilities beyond the human entered him from outside and changed him into a superhero.
Christians may not exactly be superheroes, but they mean to do good like superheroes. They know, however, that they can’t rely on just their own resources, but must access a life force beyond themselves. Thus, Christians – everyday people in whom Christ lives and who live in Christ – are more like Spider-Man than Batman. They are more than who they are or what they have.
Christ, who dwelt on earth before Hollywood, explains all this in a different way. He says that he is like a grape vine, and that each of his followers is like a branch that grows out of the vine. Just as a branch separated from the vine can produce no fruit, so also a believer separated from Christ can produce no Christ-like character or conduct. Conversely, just as a grape branch produces clusters of grapes by just staying closely connected to the vine and taking in its sap, so a follower of Christ produces deeds of love and justice just by staying closely connected to Christ and taking in His life force. Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Him we can do anything.
We achieve more, not so much by trying harder, as by trusting Christ more. The key to our improvement is not human intention but divine inhabitation – Christ’s entering us, making a home in our heart and changing us as we stay in unimpeded and uninterrupted contact with Him.
Do you want to have a fruitful life? The source of such a life is Christ; the outcome of such a life is Christ-likeness; and the means of such a life is constant closeness to Christ. “Those who abide in me and I in them,” Jesus says, “bear much fruit.”
But what does it mean to abide in, or live with, Someone you cannot physically touch, see or hear?
Think of someone – a grandparent, a mentor, a friend – who means the world to you but whom you can longer touch, see or hear because they’ve died. Yet, even though you can’t have contact with them in the old ways, they still live in your heart and you still live with them on your mind and in your heart. Your considering what they would do brings you true wisdom, your remembering how they would enjoy certain things makes your experiencing of them all the more real, and your recalling who they were and what they did puts a fire in your belly to change what you are and what you do.
Or think of someone whom you love greatly but who is often not around. Though they are now out of your presence in one way, you are still in truth actually interacting with them as you think in an internal conversation with them about what’s going on in your life, as you wonder what’s going on for them and what they’re wishing for you, and as you ponder what you will come to see when you see them again.
Physical presence is not the only real presence. And there are more ways to interact with someone than meets the eye or vibrates the ear drum.
To abide in Christ is to bring Him into every concern, involve Him in every part of life, look to Him again and again for guidance about what to do, depend on His empowering help, and follow His wishes as best they can be determined.
When Tony was raising his five children, there was a period when one of his teenage sons, Matt, drove him up a wall. While Tony was almost always able to keep his composure with the other four, Matt’s behavior set him off into uncontrollable rages; and, while Tony almost always enjoyed the company of the other four, he frequently felt annoyed and exasperated with Matt. Tony’s wife said it was because the two of them were so much alike. Be that as it may, Tony and Matt couldn’t seem to stop arguing except at those times when they’d settle into a mutually sullen silence.
Tony didn’t need to pray to know that he was failing to be the loving father Matt needed him to be and he wanted to be. But Tony surely kept needing to turn to Christ in prayer in order to know how to change himself and make a better relationship between the two of them. The only thing he ever heard back from the Lord was something along these lines: “Tony, don’t worry right now about how you feel toward Matt. Just choose to act as if you loved Matt perfectly, asking me to help you. Bite your tongue when you want to criticize him. Look for opportunities to praise and congratulate him, even if the words choke in your throat. Go out of your way to do nice things for him – and don’t forget the pizza. Ask him about what he likes to do, and then shut up and listen. After you have listened to him for as long as it takes, ask him if you could join him in any of those activities just so you could spend time with him, and then wait, for as long as it takes, for him to invite you to join him in something, and agree to it even it’s doing something you hate. Of course, I might be nice, and it might be something that involves the Dodgers. At any rate, keep turning to me every step of the way. I care, I want to be involved and I can make the difference.”
Nothing changed at first, but Tony persevered in doing what God told him. And, as he put his hands to the task, he kept praying a prayer he’d once heard someone pray: “May my hands become gloves through which another pair works.” And over time – with a lot of pizza and a lot of seemingly inconsequential talk about the Dodgers – Tony developed into a better father, Matt developed into a better young man, and the two of them developed a better relationship.
If we abide in Christ and allow Christ to abide in us, we can produce fruit beyond anything our unaided efforts could bring about. After all, our hope is not in human intention, but in divine inhabitation – in Christ’s living in us and our living in Him. Let us pray.