May 9, 2021 – “No Greater Love”
Grace and peace to you!
In today’s Scripture from John’s 15th Chapter, Jesus said:
“You didn’t choose me. Remember? I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit.”
That’s true isn’t it? Our Lord chose us to be His followers. When Jesus walked along the sea shore, pointing to people and saying, “Come, follow me” He was breaking the mold.
That’s because in Jesus’ day, would-be students of a rabbi would have to apply to be be his follower…They would basically have to be a promising enough talent for him to accept them into his fold.
But not so with Rabbi Jesus. He picked ordinary people…people just like you and me to be His students. It’s a good thing we don’t have to be Straight-A Bible scholars to go to Jesus University…Very few of us would make it in.
But Jesus calls ordinary, everyday, regular people… basically all of us, to a life of hope, joy, love and life-everlasting.
That’s one reason we are worshipping Him in this service…Because He loved us before we even knew He existed. And we know we wouldn’t qualify unless He did love us despite of our imperfections.
Would you like to have hope, joy, love, and life-everlasting? Then, come, let’s walk in the footsteps of Rabbi Jesus.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says.
Why don’t we give it a go and respond with more loving? With greater love?
We can do it…Don’t you think?
We are here to worship God! Let’s make a joyful noise, for He calls us “friend.”
It’s Mother’s Day in our country! For many, it’s a joyous occasion in which we say “Thank you” to the one who often holds the family together…
But, to the one who also often carries heartache buoyed by hope that no one else sees…Today offers us an opportunity to remember, or say “Thank you” to the one who brings order out of the chaos of raising a family.
She’s the one who can almost always find the missing sock, the missing homework, get us to school, doctor appointments, church, and sports events on time…Often rearranging her schedule…to tend to the young ones under her care.
This is our chance to lift a silent “Thank you” to the mom who is now part of the “great cloud of witnesses” or, say thank you to the one who rarely gets thanked for all she does, day in, and day out.
It’s Mother’s Day today! And even though it’s a happy occasion for many people…How can we ignore the people whose experience of mother was more painful than joyous?
What about those who have longed to be a mother, but for some reason have not been able to receive that blessing? What about the mothers whose sons and daughters are no longer around to send them cards and flowers?
Well, as Christians we examine everything we do, everything that happens to us, everything our culture does…from a theological perspective.
That’s my goal anyway…To try to get a handle of the joys and concerns of life when seen through the eyes of Jesus.
We’re all familiar with the term “helicopter parent.” That’s a parent who hovers over their child; protecting them, guiding them, controlling their projects, and interactions with precision.
On the other hand, I recently saw a Facebook post that said, “Do you remember how ‘play dates’ were made when we were kids? Our moms used to open the front door, push us out, and tell us not to come home until dinner.”
I imagine that good parenting lies somewhere in-between those two extremes.
And somewhere between a rock and a hard place was where the parenting of Mary, the mother of Jesus, fell.
From the moment of the Annunciation Mary knew that her role as a mother was going to be different than that of any other mother. The birth of her firstborn was marked by one mystery after another, one miracle after another.
The unique presence of this baby was celebrated by strangers as humble as shepherds and as kingly as the magi. And yet immediately Mary and Joseph had to go into “protective parent” mode, fleeing with their newborn son to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous hunt. Jesus was a refugee for much of his infancy.
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Jesus’ childhood. But even as Mary was raising Jesus and her other children in the ordinary journey from childhood to adulthood in a small village, Mary always had the words of the angel in her heart and in her head.
She knew there was an identity and mission that Jesus was to embody and fulfill, and that she could not protect or “parent” him through all that was to about to unfold. She knew that she had custody of Jesus as a child, but that she would have to release Him to God the Father’s custody at some point.
Maybe Mother Mary did get a little pushy when she took Jesus aside at the wedding in Cana and suggested He do something about the embarrassing wine shortage their host was experiencing.
She knew what He was capable of…As a proud momma, she knew that Jesus should save the day.
And surely Mary felt triumph turn into terror as Jesus preached in His Nazareth hometown synagogue, only to see His relatives and neighbors denounce Him, chase Him out, and try to kill Him.
Yet, through it all, Mary continued to follow Jesus on His mission, both as His mother and as His #1 follower…She knew better than any of the disciples, Jesus’ true identity and calling.
Then try to imagine Mary’s emotions the last week of her son’s life…as honor turned into horrific, through His arrest, trial, crucifixion and death.
Think about this: Besides God the Father, Mary was the only person ever, to witness their son execution, even though His life’s mission was to share God’s love and save the world.
On the cross…as Jesus felt death overtaking His earthly body, He managed to speak words of instruction to and for His mother, Mary.
Jesus spoke to her and “the disciple whom He loved” (John).
To Mary He said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then Jesus gave His last command to John: “Here is your mother.” (John 19: 26-27)
Jesus’ last act before proclaiming “It is finished” was to be concerned for the ongoing welfare of Mary, ensuring her ongoing status as “mother” for all of her life.
His instructions to His disciple John were: “Take care of my mother. Take her home with you.”
I have to think that the intent of Jesus’ directions was, “Love her as I have loved you.”
Surely Jesus felt that He could entrust His mother’s care to “the disciple whom He loved.”
And surely, John’s mind raced back to the time Jesus said to His disciples:
“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 friend.”
I mean, don’t you think that even though John’s heart was filled with grief, his eyes with tears, and his mind was foggy…that when he heard Jesus say, “Take care of my mother” something clicked and John remembered the day that Jesus said:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you to do.”
Can we really be commanded to love? Well, I guess so, since Jesus commanded it.
And Jesus still commands it of His followers. That command wasn’t a one-time thing. It wasn’t a “Love each other one time,” for the disciples, and it isn’t a one-time thing and we’ll call it good for us either.
This is an ongoing, new every morning kind of command. “Love one another.”
This isn’t even a love your enemies kind of thing. This is each other. The people around you. Those who are close to you. Those who need you. Those who look up to you and respect you. Love the people who are in your care.
This is the kind of thing that a mother ought to do.
But, it’s also the kind of thing that a father should do. Or a teacher, or pastor, or caregiver…Love one another.
Surely John knew how to love the woman given to his care. Surely we know how to love the people around us…If we know the Jesus Story, we should because Jesus taught by example. He led by example. His whole life was the expression of God’s love for us.
We don’t really like being told what to do. We don’t like being told what is best for us, or what we “need to do.”
And, if it comes as a command or an order..Our natural reaction is to push back.
Or to whine, “M—o—m, do I have to?”
If we ask, “Why do I have to do that?” The parent answers, “Because I said so!”
We might ask Jesus, “What right do you have to command us…to demand that we love one another?”
Jesus doesn’t answer: “Because I said so!”
His answer is:
“No person can show greater love than to lay down their life for their friends…And I did that.”
Love one another in the way that Jesus loved us. Is that too much to ask? Evidently so…because this is one messed up world.
However, Jesus instructs those who follow Him:
“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit…Fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command:
‘Love one another.’”
(John 15:16-17 MSG)
As Christians, loving is who we are. It defines us. We should love in a way that lays down our own wills, motivations and desires…for the people we love.
We should love in a way that honors God…We should love as a response to the love we’ve received….Love we’ve received from mothers and fathers, spouses, brothers and sisters in Christ…But most of all we are loved by God in the utmost sacrificial way.
We celebrate those mothers today who have been through all kinds of highs and lows for the sake of their child. A mother has a sacrificial heart. If anyone claims a heart like Jesus, it has to be a mom.
In Erma Bombeck’s book, “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing In The Pits?” there is a chapter titled: “Mike and The Grass – Raising Kids!”
The following is an excerpt from that story:
When Mike was 2, he wanted a sandbox, and his father said: “There goes the yard. We’ll have kids over here day and night, and they’ll throw sand into the flower beds, and cats will make a mess in it, and it’ll kill the grass for sure.”
And Mike’s mother said, “It’ll come back.”
When Mike was 5, he wanted a jungle gym set with swings that would take his breath away and bars to take him to the summit, and his father said: “Good grief, I’ve seen those things in back yards, and do you know what they look like? Mud holes in a pasture. Kids digging their shoes in the ground. It’ll kill the grass.”
And Mike’s mother said, “It’ll come back.”
Between breaths, when Daddy was blowing up the plastic swimming pool, he warned: “You know what they’re going to do to this place? They’re going to condemn it and use it for a missile site. I hope you know what you’re doing. They’ll track water everywhere and have a million water fights, and you won’t be able to take out the garbage without stepping in mud up to your neck. When we take this down, we’ll have the only brown lawn on the block.”
“It’ll come back,” Mike’s mother said.
When Mike was 12, he volunteered his yard for a campout. As they hoisted the tents and drove in the spikes, his father stood at the window and observed, “Why don’t I just put the grass seed out in cereal bowls for the birds and save myself the trouble of spreading it around? You know for a fact that those tents and all those big feet are going to trample down every single blade of grass, don’t you? Don’t bother to answer. I know what you’re going to say…“It’ll come back.”
The basketball hoop on the side of the garage attracted more crowds than the Olympics. And a small patch of lawn that started out with a barren spot the size of a garbage can lid soon drew to encompass the entire side yard. Just when it looked as if the new seed might take root, the winter came, and the sled runners beat it down. Mike’s father shook his head and said, “I never asked for much in this life – only a patch of grass.”
And Mike’s mother smiled and said, “It’ll come back.”
The lawn this fall was beautiful. It was green and alive and rolled out like a sponge carpet along the drive where gym shoes had trod … along the garage where bicycles used to fall … and around the flower beds where little boys used to dig with kitchen spoons.
But Mike’s father didn’t notice the beautiful lawn. He anxiously looked beyond the yard and asked with a catch in his voice, “He will come back, won’t he?”
Many of you have come back this morning, either online, or you have come back home in this sacred space, your Mother-Church, so-to-speak; to say thank you to the one that besides Jesus gave you the gift of life.
We thank you for coming to church, for being here, to share with us your thanks for the one who loved you like Jesus loved her, and to trust Jesus when he said, “I’ll be back.”
“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.”