Discipleship…is a state of being. Discipleship is about how we live; not just the decisions we make, not just the things we believe, but a state of being. (Rowan Williams, Being Disciples)
Today we have the story of two men coming to Jesus for the first time; one is Andrew, the other unnamed. It could be you, it could be me.
It’s the story of their becoming disciples.
In this chapter, John’s Gospel uses what may seem to be an unexpected word to describe being a disciple. That word is ‘remains’.
It’s one of John’s favourite words. He uses it all over the place. It’s only one Greek word—meno, for the Greek geeks—but in our English Bibles it might be remain, stay, or abide.
This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14.17)
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15.4)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15.9)
Let’s look at where it comes in this chapter. Jesus realises he is being followed, and says:
‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi,…where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The English language mucks this up a bit, but let’s persist. Where we have two words, the Greek text has only one.
Rabbi, where are you staying?
They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day.
Remember: staying, remaining, sometimes abiding or dwelling, it’s the same Greek word. (μένω, ménō) And it’s used a lot in John’s Gospel.
It describes what being a disciple is to a tee.
A disciple is a student who remains with Jesus. And in remaining with Jesus, the disciple is changed, even transformed.
These days, a student is someone who goes to uni when her scheduled classes are on, and perhaps at other times to work in the library. They may only see their lecturers when they’re in class.
It was different in Jesus’ day. If you were a student—a disciple—2000 years ago, you would expect to
hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street…
(Rowan Williams, Being a Disciple)
Not many people these days would make that kind of commitment just to get a BA!
But it’s the kind of commitment required of a disciple of Jesus.
A disciple doesn’t just turn up to church. She abides in Jesus.
If you take the extra step of becoming a Sunday school teacher, or an elder, that’s not enough. You are called to stay in Jesus.
You can come to church meetings every day of the week, but if you don’t remain in Jesus your heart is unchanged.
What do we mean by remaining or staying in Jesus?
I’m still learning what it means to remain in Jesus. After I became a Christian in my teens, I became part of a pretty fundamentalist church. There, I was taught to focus on facts about faith. It seemed to me that a relationship with Jesus was more about believing certain doctrines than anything else.
Some of their doctrines were a bit weird. In the end, I found them to be unbelievable. I felt a certain ‘distance’ between me and that church, and it felt like I was starting to let go of being a Christian.
But I realised that to stop being a Christian was to let go of Jesus, and that felt like turning my back on my best friend. So I stayed, I remained, and eventually I became found a place in the Uniting Church.
In doing that, I think I was remaining with Christ. I think I was abiding in Christ. I think it’s because he was also abiding in me.
Let’s look back at the Gospel story. Andrew and his companion stay with Jesus. What happened? What was said?
We just don’t know.
When I first read this, years ago, I imagined them having tea together. (I mean, it was four o’clock in the afternoon!) But I was missing the point.
What happened that day was a life-changing encounter. Andrew and his friend were never the same again. They remembered the time—4pm—because it was such a significant day.
We don’t know what they spoke about, but it was enough to convince the two disciples that they needed to be near Jesus.
They had found someone they never wanted to let go of. In fact, after remaining with Jesus for some time, Andrew races off to tell his brother Simon, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ And then he brings Simon—Peter—to Jesus.
Remaining in Christ has a lot to do with depending on Christ.
Some people say I’m a self-made man—or woman. There’s really no such thing as a self-made person, I mean, who builds their own car and drives it on roads they have singlehandedly laid; but if you could be self-made, then you would be separating yourself from God.
Remaining, abiding, in Jesus is depending on Jesus.
Depending on Jesus means time for prayer. It means time spent in the scriptures. It means humbling ourselves before God.
It means sticking at it.
Remaining is also a two-way street. We remain in Jesus, Jesus remains in us.
Did you notice something else in our Gospel Reading today? Let’s look at it again. John the Baptist says:
After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. I myself did not know him; but I came baptising with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.
The reason given here for John baptising was that the Son of God might be revealed. The passage goes on:
And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.”’
The Spirit remains on Jesus, and that is how John the Baptist recognises him.
The Spirit remains on Jesus.
That’s how we recognise him as the Son of God too. Later, Jesus says
You know [the Spirit of Truth], because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
The Spirit remains on Jesus, and among us.
The Spirit teaches us as a community where we find truth—in Jesus Christ.
And there’s still more!
Jesus remains with and in God the Father. So much so, Jesus can say ‘I and my Father are one’.
Through being united with Jesus (remember what we said about baptism last week?), we are also united with the Father.
Recall what the risen Jesus says to Mary Magdalene in the garden after his resurrection:
I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.
Because God is the Father of Jesus, God is also our Father.
And all this begins with Andrew and a mate remaining with Jesus one day, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
It always starts from small things.
It starts when we put some time aside to read and pray.
It starts when we reach out to someone in need.
It starts when we accept that we are not self-made, and that we depend on Jesus.
It starts with open hearts. And it grows from there.
It grows until a person who, through years of abiding in Christ, radiates the peace, and grace, and holy attractiveness that comes from being close to Jesus over many years. It takes a long time for the peace that characterises a heart that remains in Christ to be easily radiate out to others.
Let’s get on with the journey.