Abide in me, says Jesus. Abide in me as I abide in you. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you.
And so we assemble our little list, and we submit our requests to God in the name of Jesus, and we wait.
I knew a man, a Christian leader who thought that gambling was a terrible sin. What he didn’t know was that his wife played the lottery. When her ticket came up with just the right amount of money to repair their roof, which was in dire straits, he decided that he must have been wrong after all, and that clearly God’s will was that they trust God to provide for their needs by means of Lotto.
I can’t help but think that to judge God’s will by the outcome of our prayers that way is a pretty dangerous sort of reverse-engineering.
Jesus doesn’t say, abide in me and ask whatever you wish and if you get it right, I’ll grant you three wishes, and if you get it wrong, I’ll turn you into a pumpkin. Prayers are not wishes on a birthday candle and God is not a genie in a lamp.
Abide in me, says Jesus. Abide in me as I abide in you. Love me so closely that our heartbeats sync up. Follow me so nearly that your footsteps trip into mine, that we leave one set of footprints behind. Abide in me, let me words abide in you so that when you speak, you speak with my voice, and together we will do great things.
Because apart from the vine, the branches can do nothing. And without branches, the vine bears no fruit.
Abide in me. Stay with me, work with me here. Seek me out and find me where your need is, find me where you are needed. Let me words abide in you, so that when you speak, you speak with my voice. Sit at table with those outcasts and sinners that your peers reject, find out their stories, seek their souls. Tell the oppressors, the agents of Rome that they have no power, they have no authority to destroy the life that God creates. Tell death that it does not have the final word, but that we will continue to rise up. Speak my words on the streets of Baltimore, in the courtrooms of Cleveland, the classrooms of Euclid, the church everywhere. Abide in me, let my words abide in you.
Abide in me, when the earth falls around you, when the world breaks apart before you, when all else fails you, abide in me, let my words abide in you, so that you may know that I am with you, to the end of the age and beyond, and that whatever you ask of me, I will do for you. Only abide.
Jesus says all of this as he is at the last table he will share with his disciples before his death. Abide with me, stay with me, he says, knowing that they will scatter, knowing that they will fall and fail and hide. Knowing that even so, he will seek them out and find them, that however life and death intervene, he will not fail them, that even when all looks to have been lost, he is already on his way back to restore their hope, renew their resolve, resurrect their faith.
If they were to look at the cross and decide that this was God’s way of answering their prayer, of telling them they had got it wrong all along, following this Jesus down the road that leads only to death, well, then their reverse-engineering of God’s will would have got them nowhere.
Abide in me, says Jesus, as I abide in you, and still, we will rise up. Amen.