Sunday 28 April 2024 Fifth Sunday of Easter
How to be spiritually healthy
Context: a Service of the Word in a rural community, involving a varied congregation, with a mixture of ages
Aim: to encourage us to prioritise spending time with Jesus.
We all have those things that give us a lift when we’re feeling a bit low, tired or below par. It might be a favourite film that you’ve watched 100 times, indulging in a favourite comfort food, visiting your happy place, or catching up with a friend who always makes you laugh. Then there are those things that we know are good for us no matter how we’re feeling but might take a little bit more discipline – eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, finding ways to relax, getting some exercise, even just a short walk in the fresh air.
We know all these things are good for us, don’t we? Sometimes they’re easy to do. Sometimes it can take a lot of willpower to do what we know will help. Particularly over the past few years, there has been a focus on well-being - caring for our physical and mental health. Looking after ourselves is important. We know we need to care for our bodies and our minds. But what about our spiritual health? Do we put as much effort into caring for our spirits? Do we even really consider what might be spiritually good for us?
In the Gospel passage this week, Jesus tells us what spiritual well-being looks like. It is achieved through abiding in him, and the outcome is bearing fruit. This passage is part of the last conversation Jesus had with the disciples before his crucifixion. He has washed their feet. Judas had already left to betray him to the authorities. Jesus spends his last few precious hours with them preparing them for what is to come. Those words that we read today about Jesus being the vine and the disciples abiding in him like branches are all about caring for their spiritual health as they learn to live without Jesus being physically with them.
The Greek word that is translated as ‘abide’ can also mean ‘remain,’ ‘stay’ or ‘stand firm.’ Jesus wants them to stick with him, to keep following him even though he won’t be there with them. They need to stay connected to him as a branch is connected to a vine. We all know that if you cut a branch off a living plant, the branch will quickly start to wither and eventually die completely. It won’t be capable of producing fruit or sustaining life anymore. The New Life Version translates Jesus’ words as ‘Get your life from Me.’ (John 15:4) The One who said that he came to bring abundant life (John 10:10) gives his followers instructions on how to be spiritually alive even when he has gone. God wants our faith to flourish, to develop and grow. We’re designed, as our Gospel passage tells us today, to bear fruit. If we don’t stay connected to Jesus, then our faith, like a cut-off branch, will quickly wilt and wither and there will be no fruit.
ABIDING AND BEARING FRUIT
So, how can we abide in Jesus? What does that look like? Just as we have to choose to be intentional about looking after our physical and mental health, we need to do the same with our spiritual health. Choosing to make Jesus a priority in our lives is vital to our spiritual health. How each of us goes about that will be different for each of us. But the important thing is making time and space to abide in Jesus and finding ways to maintain that.
The activities each of us chooses that help us stay mentally and physically well will be different depending upon what brings us joy. And even something that we all need to do, like sleeping will be different. Early bird or night owl – it doesn’t matter! Prayer, worship, reading Scripture, and social action are all things that can help us care for our spiritual health. There’s no set way for any of them to be undertaken either. Explore what works for you. Discover what brings life to your spirit. The important thing is, that as we practise them, they help us to abide in the True Vine so that we too can bear fruit.
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