Flinders Ranges under cloud Nov 2014. North of Merna Mora on the way to Brachina, looking east.

Christ in David Jones

As I searched for music for Sunday's church, I came across the songs of Fay White. I listened to a song she wrote about the 2006 fires in the Gariwerd – Grampians in Victoria, and found myself weeping uncontrollably— howling might be a more accurate description.

It reminded me of trying to read a Colin Thiele story to my children years ago; the one about the 10-year-old boy who tries to cart water back to the homestead after his dad has been evacuated by the Flying Doctor. I could not finish it for weeping. Something about this glorious but harsh land has "done a job on me," leaving a load of grief.

Overnight I had been thinking over an excursion well out of my comfort zone into David Jones. It, too, raised strong feelings. The refined environment, so carefully designed to appeal to the 1% of Adelaide failed to attract me. Of course, in my Target jeans and t-shirt I was well out of place, but something about the place struck me as almost laughable. Terms like "plastic," "try-hard," and plain fake. It tries to sell a myth of the good life that is unsustainable. If we keep the David Jones' of the world the cost will extinct us.

What most moved me was the effect of the store upon its staff— all that tottering on high heels under layers of paint. I listened to a conversation across the racks from us about the location and presentation of stock. Petty difference and insignificant nuance of placement was  being discussed  in tones I might consider for life altering points in a sermon, and then abandon as melodramatic—  a young woman dashed up at this moment: "And that's the new design by Jamie Oliver!" she gushed about the top one of us was inspecting.

What is this place doing to the people who work there?

Be careful where you live and work, and how you live and work. It gets into your pores and stains your soul. It is laid down in the bones.

Be careful about that to which you give your life. David Jones during the week will wash out an hour of Sunday Church as though it was never there. You won't notice. You won't know. But one day there will be a reckoning, a realisation that you've had a job done on you.

It's not just being a porn proprietor or a drug dealer that does this. It's not just being an crass opportunist—  "I like to call it selling them shit they don't need at prices they can't resist." Every job affects us. Every day we live gets into our soul for good or for ill. Everything we do is practice for the next time. (Aristotle) Every place touches us.

And that's the problem. Too often, we do not get to choose. Do this job or starve— it is the choice of the homeless teen prostitute, and the choice of the Australian welfare recipient.  So we spend our days laying up acid in our soul with nowhere to go.

How do we live in a world that is on an acid trip, a crazy journey in the wrong direction, destroying the planet, turning people into drones and slaves for the rich? How do we live with the constant seduction that invites us into David Jones and tells us this is real— and that this is salvation?

Abide in me as I abide in you.

What does it mean to abide in Jesus? There is an intimacy here; if he is the vine and we are the branches, we share the same sap! Rev Professor Bill Loader says

The language of abiding in or simply being ‘in’ is the language of intimacy, almost sexual in tone, but expressing a continuing relationship of closeness. For John, salvation is, above all, a relationship with the Son and with the Father through the Son.

­­Abiding in him, being of the same sap— and yes, some will think we are saps; do not —13Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters,* that the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.  (1 John 3)

—  abiding in Jesus is the only thing I can see which heals us from the world and its inanities, heals from its injustices, and heals and protects us from its idolatry. Abiding in Christ lets him get into our pores and stain our soul. A different being is laid down in the bones. We are called, as much as we are able, to mould our hearts after the heart of Jesus. He should influence our discipleship choices.

This may not be easy; how do you work in a bar, or practice killing people, or work in immigration while abiding in Christ!?

How do we not cheapen our convictions? Christ does not call us to private piety. Where is the boundary between church and nation? What do we owe to the country and what do we owe to the kingdom? How do we give to Caesar what is Caesar's while being faithful to the most important call upon us— giving to God what is God's (Mark 12:17)

One commentator says that in the image of the vine

there are no free-standing individuals in the community, but branches who encircle one another completely. The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine, nothing else. What matters for John is that each individual is rooted in Jesus and hence gives up individual status to become one of many encircling branches…. (O'Day, quoted here by Stoffregen)

Fruitfulness is this:

  1.  8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
    So stay in God's love.
  2.  10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:8-10)
    We stay in his love by keeping his commandments.
  3. And this is love:
    16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 

Abiding in Jesus, and loving God, means abiding in the mutuality of the church community. It means being shaped by the growing and increasing humanity of the church community. Church rubbing the rough edges off us— gently reminding us when our behaviour could be more loving—  this kind of church is the pruning which tidies our tangled life-vines and keeps us fruitful.

This pruning means we are given the heart of Christ, that we have the same sap running through us. It looses the flow of a sap in us that counteracts the acid of the world and its idolatries.

Indeed, we should take the mutuality and love of the congregation so seriously that it is our highest priority, so high that we should find it difficult to imagine loving and serving him apart from the congregation. 

None of this removes the hard questions and dilemmas of life. But it will mean we have the heart of Christ in us; that is, a new sensibility about the world. We will, for example, see David Jones for what it is— a shop that worships and promotes the false idol of being rich.

It also protects us from building a superstition of words, or an empty piety around this Christ, because honest mutual abiding, especially when it meets the acid test of the suffering and grieving, is a great leveller of superstition. It grounds our theology. (This is the main problem with being a "solitary" Christian. Who do we practice on!?)

It is not possible to truly love our brothers and sisters in the faith, and then treat the customers who come into the shop where we work with contempt. It is not possible to learn what really matters in life— love, justice, compassion— and continue to be fulfilled by shallow merchandising and "selling … shit they don't need at prices they can't resist." The Faith leaks out of the church into the world. Either our working self will be transformed, or we will be so alienated by what is expected of us that we will seek other work.   

And if we are unable to move— and so it is for many— or if we are a pensioner or invalid with no prospect for moving—  there is still a place for us in the vine. My experience—  my witness— is that where I have tried to live well in church there has been a change done in me that affects how I live outside the church. What we do today is practice for tomorrow. It is laid down in the bones.

Abiding in Christ is not some super mystical experience. It is down to earth practice. And it changes us. It sends a new sap through us. It saves us.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Wes Penney 02-05-2015
Thank you for this post Andrew. I have finally found a workplace where I can carry his sap without a stained soul. Finally...
Kathy Donley 03-05-2015
The quote from O'Day moves this from a vine image to a tree image, which is something I can more easily relate to. Good words here and lots to think about. Thanks!

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