Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2012
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Most of us know the phrase caveat emptor means, “Let the buyer beware.” The phrase is a warning to the consumer that it is better thoroughly to check out the goods before you buy them than to try to get your money back on shoddy goods after you have bought them. Let me offer another warning that some of us should take to heart, caveat praedicator, or, “Let the preacher beware.”
I am leaning on the memory of my son, the Latin scholar, trusting that the above Latin phrase does indeed mean what they say it means. If it does, I’m going to have it engraved on a wooden plaque so I can hang it next to the sign outside my door that says, “Pastor’s Study.”
Allow me to explain myself. I look at the lectionary on occasion and think to myself, “Why do they hate me?” Really, Mother’s Day? Now, yes, it is true, there is no “they” out there whose sole purpose in life is to make the preaching task a spiritually challenging experience just for me. That comes naturally as I wrestle with the texts every week, and it is not an experience unique to me or even to pastors generally. Anyone who listens carefully as the Scriptures are read on a Sunday morning or who reads the Scriptures for themselves periodically has the same experience even if they aren’t going to preach a sermon on a Sunday morning. And it is true, the sermon must be written anyway, and it is also true that for the Church it is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. But we know, do we not, both shepherd and flock, that for many of you in the pews (or on the chairs, as it may be) the day is Mother’s Day no matter what is on the Church calendar or the front of the bulletin.
Many a mother and grandmother is sitting in church this Sunday surrounded by chicks and grand-chicks who enter a church door but three days a year, the three days of holy obligation for those who rarely think of holiness: Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day. The maternal pride in their small flock is unmistakable, as is their love of the same. Yet a mother’s love is rarely blind; mothers can be brutally honest not only about the strengths of their progeny but their weaknesses as well. We preach this day not only to the woman who is both mother and grandmother and a profoundly convicted Christian, but also to her children, who have walked away from the faith, and maybe even to her grandchildren, who have not had the opportunity to know it. I note this as a preacher; it is simply the way things have been over the years I have been a pastor. Now I speak as a mother for mothers to children of all ages. Any woman sitting here who is a mother, especially one old enough to have grandchildren, sees that she may have more years behind her than she has before her. So, she has one eye on eternity and the other on her earthly legacy. She is concerned for her children and grandchildren, as all mothers are. It is her hope that over the course of the liturgical hour or in the words I preach during the sermon that the Holy Spirit will reach out to her children and grandchildren and give them faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No pressure here.
Let’s first be careful to understand a mother’s motives here. It is fashionable to decry the emphasis many of us put on salvation and our hope of heaven. Such talk and such hopes are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, we are told. Any mother or grandmother with the slightest bit of backbone will give the pastor or bishop or teacher who spouts such silliness a brief and painful reintroduction to the catechism. You don’t have to be a mother and a pastor to do that. But she will also have something other than heaven on her mind; she wants those she loves to know the joy that comes with abiding in the love of Jesus Christ even now.
Abide is not a word we hear these days, and that is a shame. We might sing “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” and love the sentiment and the sense of security against the dark of the night the hymn evokes, but we don’t use the word often enough to have a deep sense of its meaning. These days, to abide is to tolerate something, or to endure it. In days long past, to abide meant to dwell in or with, not just as one might inhabit a house, but with an intimacy or physical closeness like that of a vine and its branches. That is in fact the metaphor used in last week’s readings from the Gospel of John. To abide in Christ is to dwell in him and he in us so that we are as intimate in terms of our being as is a vine and its branches. Of one stock, the vine feeds the branches the nutrients they need to produce the fruit that fulfills the purpose of the vine. In Christ we have our life and being, that we might produce the fruit of the Spirit that shows the world Christ’s love for us and our love of Christ and the neighbor.
For love’s sake the Father sent Christ to us. We know from our studies of the Bible together that it was God’s intent to dwell with his people from the Exodus onward in spite of their imperfection and lack of holiness. So the Lord called his people to holiness, and fashioned for them the sacrificial system as a means by which they could be cleansed of their sin and for himself a room within the Tabernacle or Temple where his glory might abide. At the end of the ages he sent his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ to abide with us as one of us, that we might abide with him someday without fear of the twin taints of sin and death.
For the first nine months of his life, our Savior did abide, as did each of us here, with his mother in just such a way as a branch abides with the vine.
This means that for the first nine months of his life, our Savior did abide, as did each of us here, with his mother in just such a way as a branch abides with the vine. Each of us was a part of our mother yet separate, dwelling within her as God knit us together within her womb. She took care to live in such a way as to do no harm to us, knowing that whatever she did to herself she did also to us. Our mothers’ bodies were home to us, and her prayers for our safe development and delivery were every bit as much our food as the energy we took from her to fuel our growth deep within the shelter of her body.
A mother, a grandmother, wants her children, her grandchildren, to know the shelter that is the love of Christ and to live in it day after day. She wants them to know the true and lasting joy of beginning new this Easter and every Easter, forgiven their sins, relieved of the necessity of carrying the burden of them day after day, year after year. She wants her children and her grandchildren to know firsthand the warmth and compassion of God’s love, a love that is willing to accompany us throughout the whole of life, not just the hour we give worship on a Sunday morning, granting us strength and endurance as we need it and confidence that with our Lord’s support we will indeed be conquerors.
A mother, a grandmother, has been a captain in the Church Militant, the Church on earth, long enough to know the value of trust in the Lord. She knows that she can act as she sees fit so long as she acts with the mind of Christ. She wants that same boldness in the face of life’s challenges for her children, that they might mine as much as is possible from the wonders of this world and the love of other human beings. She who fulfilled the Creator’s command to be fruitful and multiply in the biological sense of that phrase, wants her children to be fruitful in the fullest sense of the word, that their joys might be multiplied and not their sorrows.
I want my children and my grandchildren to know Jesus… so that the perfect love of God is as much or more a part of their lives as is the love I have for them.
An experienced mother understands that sorrow is an inevitable part of life; no matter how much her heart aches to protect her babes of any age from the grief she knows that she cannot. Bad things happen to us all. But as tacticians go, a mother who has been around the block a time or two with her children or grandchildren knows that many of our sorrows are self-manufactured. In other words, many of life’s wounds are self-inflicted, and the more self-centered we are, the more likely we are to pursue those things which can, over time, only do us and those around us harm.
The perfect model of love is the love of Jesus, who laid down his life to redeem our lives from the grave. A mother’s love comes close, as does the love of a father, but as we are imperfect in all things so are we imperfect in parental love, as much as it hurts to say that. I want my children and my grandchildren to know Jesus, as does every mother here, so the perfect love of God is as much or more a part of their lives as is the love I have for them. While my love for them sometimes threatens to overwhelm me, there is still only so much I can do for them. I cannot abide with them as he does, even now. And the time will come when the only way I abide with them at all is in blessed (I hope) memory and the gift that is Holy Communion. But the love of Jesus Christ is boundless, and he can, for love’s sake, abide with them now and always, and through that indwelling do so much more for them than I can.
So thoroughly did Jesus abide with us that he willingly suffered the cross and death for us. His sacrifice was vindicated when our heavenly Father raised him from the dead, so that the risen Son may abide in us and we in him. Through his sacrifice and the Father’s vindication of it we have the promise of endless mercy and everlasting life. We have this too: our Lord calls us to abide in his love so thoroughly that we will give our lives for his children, our neighbors. We cannot love those around us as we should and as will keep us all safe unless we love Christ. To love God is to love his people. To love his people is to love God. To love one another as we wish to love one another, we must love Jesus first. We must abide in his love, that we can abide in the love of family, friends, and stranger.
I am a mother, a parent. And I want this more than anything for my children: that they love much those who God gives them to love — wives, children, friends, even their parents. I want them to take joy in that love, be enriched by it, strengthened by it, lifted up by it. But to be loved like this they must know for themselves the saving love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, who took frail human flesh that he might abide with us, now and for all eternity. Amen.
Join the Conversation:
What do you hope for your children’s relationship with God through Christ? How do you nurture that relationship now?