The Gospel: John 15:9-17
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I 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. You 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: For those of you who follow the liturgical calendar, you will know that we celebrated Monica, the Mother of Augustine of Hippo on Tuesday. Monica is also known as the patron saint of all mothers. Monica's story is an interesting one, she lived a life that had much to celebrate. She married a Roman, but through her life and witness was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. She is also celebrated because it was her determined communication with her son Augustine that led him to become Ordained. Both of these things no doubt could be seen as testimony to her faith and conviction. Of course, if you go one and read more and study more about Monica it soon becomes clear that she must have been a person with a strong and vibrant personality. Augustine writes about Monica in his great work "The Confessions." It soon becomes obvious from reading what he says there that they must have had a somewhat volatile relationship. So, perhaps, it is fitting, that she should be the patron saint of mothers. Her family relationships were less than perfect and she was what we might describe these days as a "personality." A force to be reckoned with.
Today is Mother's Day. Today we take the time to acknowledge the mothers among us in the community. We want to thank them and recognize the task and role of being a mother. But I have to say that, like so many other things in our world and our society these days, this celebration was much simpler several years ago. Back then it was simply a matter of saying thank you and taking a few moments to recognize the mothers in our circle and community.
Today as we talk about mothers we have to acknowledge that motherhood is not a given. We have become aware of the need to minister to the needs and disappointments of those who have not had the opportunity to be mothers.
We have to stop and acknowledge that there are among us people who did not have good role models as mothers. Or perhaps, there are those, who have found that they were not good role models to their children. There may be some families, or some family members here today, who are all too aware that their family relationships are fractured. They are very aware that there are areas of unforgiveness and hostility in their family relationships.
We need to pray for the blessing and the challenge of motherhood. Perhaps that is why Monica is such a good choice for being the patron saint of motherhood. From all that I read she certainly would understand the issues, we are talking about this morning. She was no stranger to strife and disappointment. Her disappointment in the life choices that Augustine made in his early adulthood is very clear. Her mother's heart must have ached watching his lifestyle choices.
It seems to me that Monica had a choice to make and in many ways, it seems to me we have a similar decision to make. When Augustine was wandering in the wilderness of his lifestyle choices Monica could have given up on the hopes that she had for him. In a similar way, we could give up on celebrating motherhood - celebrating Mother's Day, because there are so many challenges and so many hurts associated with this particular celebration. It seems, the ideal we are striving for is alluding us, and perhaps we should give up. Perhaps we should stop focusing on that.
As I consider giving up, I am very glad for the weekly celebration of our coming together. I am very glad for the opportunity to recalibrate my life with Scripture and liturgy. It seems very clear to me that the Gospel for this morning is so applicable to our celebration of motherhood. I am encouraged that Jesus has faith in us that we can actually do what he suggests. Despite our struggle to meet the ideal Jesus continues to hold the truth up before us and asks us to join in the opportunity of continuing in faith.
I have to say that I also believe it is helpful in dealing with the divisive and contentious world in which we are living.
The message from John's Gospel this week is clear. Love one another. Abide in my love. As I have loved you, so you should love others. Lay down your life for others as I lay down my life for you.
The message is right there for us all to see and hear, but perhaps it is more difficult to implement than we would like it to be. I don't know how many conversations I have had with folks who feel convicted that they should love others, but they just don't know how to go about it. Their thoughts might best be summed up this way: "That is a great theory, I am all for it, loving one another is central to all I know and understand about Christianity. There are just some people that I can't do it with."
Jesus in the Gospel this morning has laid out an ideal which if we are honest with ourselves and each other we will admit that we are not often able to achieve. There are a couple of points I would like to make about these passages.
It is important to know that this section of John's Gospel is part of what is known as Jesus' Farwell discourse. In other words, this is part of the final words and thoughts that Jesus' shared with his disciples. Jesus is leaving. He is passing on his desires and his hopes to his disciples. This is his time to lay out for them the best way that they can represent him once he is gone. He wants them to be like him. He wants them to behave and act like him. If his legacy is to live on they must come to understand and respond as he would have.
So, for the mother's here this morning I want to ask you a question. The rest of us can answer it as well. I know that the fathers will relate. Perhaps if you have ever trained a group at one time and have had to leave them you might relate as well.
"Have you ever gone out for an evening or gone on vacation and left one of your elder children in a position of responsibility and care of others? Perhaps for their younger siblings?
"What things did you want to be sure they knew? How did you hope they would behave? When they were speaking to their siblings and guiding the behavior of the group what did you hope would be central in their behavior and actions towards one another?
"On the other side of the coin. What did you not want to hear when you came back? What did you not want to happen between the siblings while you were gone?"
How did you prepare them? Not just in the moment as you were talking to them. What were you are depending on from the past? What were you hoping they had seen and heard from you up in the past?
As we read the passage from the Gospel of John I believe we can hear and see many of Jesus' hopes and desires for the disciples in what he says to them.
It seems to me that when we ask someone to care for and safeguard others whom we love we are asking them to reflect on what we have instilled in them, what we have taught them. We are depending on them being the "best self" that they can be. We want them to be kind and gentle, warm and affectionate with their siblings. We want them to be strong but caring with their brothers and sisters.
Now the first time we try to pass the responsibility of care to someone else they may not achieve all that we hope for. We then need to choose to allow them to try again. We have to plan to out and hand the responsibility to the one we have trained and allow them to grow into all that we hope they might become.
Perhaps we need to apply that same willingness to our relationships in the body of Christ. To seek, as Jesus did, to train and equip and then to allow those around us to exercise the gifting we are hoping is developing in them. If someone doesn't quite meet up to our expectations and hopes do we give up on them or do we entrust them with another opportunity? Maybe we can draw encouragement from Monica?
I would like to end this morning by reading from Romans 15.
"We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate this Mother's Day, as we remember the example of Monica and seek to implement Jesus' words from the Gospel of John may we be gracious to one another and remember that Jesus' is confident we can do this.