Sermon for Mother’s Day, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 15:9-17
Sermon Theme: “The Gift Goes On, — Or at Least It Should”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentaries; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations: Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last August, a little boy was interviewed prior to beginning school. The interview went something like this:
“No,” he answered.
“No,” he again answered.
“Do you have any pets?”
“No, not right now,” the boy answered sadly.
Finally, almost out of frustration, the boy looked up with a smile on his face, and said, “But I do have some friends.”
Yes, and so do we all. We have all been chosen to be Jesus’ friends. Jesus says in our sermon text, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Chosen, by Jesus Christ of all people! We are special. We are all winners because of Christ. He has called us to play on His team. Losers, never! Winners, always!
When Jesus spoke the words in our sermon text, He was sitting with His disciples, His closest friends, after washing their feet at the Last Supper. Judas had already left the table. Soon they would all go out to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was about to be separated from His disciples, His dearest friends, forever in His physical, human form. Knowing this, we are able to experience the words of the text more deeply.
With all of what is to come, — betrayal, denial, judgment, death, — it would be easy for our Lord’s followers to turn on one another, point fingers, abandon this now lost and leaderless group. What is about to come is amazingly hard, shocking, and tragic, — we just spent six Wednesdays looking at it during Lent.
To prepare the disciples as He says His farewells, Jesus issues a single commandment, “Love one another.” This is not a sentimental love, but a love that holds people together through the very worst life can dish out. It is also not a love that we manufacture of our own will or power, but a love that comes through our connection to the ultimate source of love, which is God as manifested in Jesus and God the Father.
Before Jesus entered our world, the Greek language, unlike English, had many words for “love.” These included eros, sexual love, caritas, caring, communal love, philia, love among friends, storge, love between members of a family. Because the love Jesus practiced and spoke of was much deeper and more awesome than any of the existing Greek words, the New Testament writers in Greek came up with the word agape. Agape is love directed at the good of others, unselfish love, unconditional love, intentional good will on behalf of others. It may or may not include the emotions. Agape is the word used by John in quoting Jesus.
Jesus commands the disciples and us, to abide in His love, agape, to tap into the source of life and love and keep that connection flowing all our days. Without that live- and love-giving connection, our love will wither and die.
Jesus tells us that we are loved because we are children of God. Love is a free gift. In contrast, the world tells us that we only receive love when we earn it, and, of course that is not agape. In worldly life, often eros must be earned; in many cases, even philia and storge must be earned. Non-Christian parents often force their children to earn their love (storge). But Christian love is agape, totally unconditional love.
Jesus tells us that we find meaning and purpose in life when we cooperate with one another; working as an interdependent team and sharing with one another God’s plans for us. In contrast, the world tells us that we must always be in competition with each other. From the world’s view, life only has meaning if we beat others to the top of the ladder.
Indeed, Jesus tells us to love one another. Love exemplifies the behavior we use both with people we like and those we do not like. Jesus never said we have to like everybody, but to love everybody. You’ve heard the expression, “He is so ugly only a mother could like him.” In fact, it is very common to compare the agape of Jesus to a Mother’s love, and no doubt that’s why this text was chosen for Mother’s Day.
Love shows patience and kindness. Love does not gloat when another makes a mistake. Love respects the abilities of another and allows that one to share those gifts with us. Jesus asks for us to show respect to one another, to recognize the dignity of every person, and to recognize others as God’s children. It is an often-quoted truth that other people will know we are Christians by our love.
As I said, these teachings of Jesus in our text make it an ideal passage for Mother’s Day, and yet we must be careful in equating a Mother’s love with Christ’s love. In some instances, Mother’s Day can be one of the saddest days of the year.
Some of us had wonderful mothers, others good-enough mothers, and others abusive mothers or mothers who abandoned us or put us up for adoption. Some women were not able to have children. Some had children who died at birth, or died later in life. Some prayed to have children all their adult life but never did. Some cared little or nothing about the children they did have and abandoned them. Yes, sadly, Mother’s Day can bring forth images that would not illustrate Christ’s agape.
The establishing of a special day of the year to recognize Mothers has a complicated, and partly negative history. The first attempts to establish a Mother’s Day in the United States came from women’s peace groups.
A common early activity was the meeting of groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. In 1868, a Mother’s Friendship Day was established for the purpose of reuniting families that had been divided during the Civil War. Some States like Boston established a “Mother’s Day Walk for Peace,” honoring homicide victims and their families, seeking to counter the violence that wounds and kills so many children and young adults in our inner cities. Mother’s Day was never intended to equate a Mother’s love with God’s love. In spite of the teachings of some churches, even the Virgin Mary was not sinless. So let’s keep Mother’s Day in perspective.
Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” The Father gifted the Son with His perfect love, and the Son has gifted the world with His self-giving love (agape). Those who are born of the Spirit pass this gift along to others and the gift goes on and on and on. Mothers play a part in this, but so do fathers, and so do grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends and neighbors. Mothers get more press coverage than these others, and, in some cases, they deserve it, but not always.
To be sure, Christ gifted us with the love, the agape, He received from His Father. We learn to love from being loved. The love we receive is a gift. The gift cannot be hoarded, — we must pass it on.
On this Mother’s Day, let us remember not to put our faith in human love, such as philia, storge, caritas, or eros, but in the love and mercy of God, which alone is the only perfect agape. Let us give thanks for and celebrate the love of mothers and children, but let that be the beginning, not the end, of God’s call to love one another as He has loved us. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.