Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States. Some have suggested that the American Motherís Day was first started in the late 1800ís by Julia Ward Howe, the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She intended the day to be one to promote peace. Mothers were encouraged to gather at an organized meeting in Boston Massachusetts each year. In 1872 she asked for June 2nd to be identified as "Mother's Day for Peace," but her campaign was unsuccessful. By 1893 she considered transforming July 4th into "Mother's Day." In 1908, Anne Jarvis held a memorial service for her own mother and then campaigned to make Mother's Day a nationally recognized holiday. By 1911, it was being celebrated all over the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday in 1914. Anne Jarvis was disappointed that only a few years later the day was already becoming over-commercialized; she intended for the day to be faith-based and include attendance at a special worship.

The American Mother's Day has taken on a character of honoring our own mothers, but in Europe the focus is a little different. While it, too, has become secularized, Mothering Sunday was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent and was a day when Christians visited their home church or "Mother church." The parishioners gathered together at a special service at a central church that connected local parishes. Domestic servants were given the day off so that they could go to church with their own families. It was not necessarily a day to honor each person's mother, but rather to celebrate the body of Christ and our "mother" the church.

Mother's Day has become a secular event, with children sending gifts and cards. The flower industry makes 25% of yearly sales for Mother's Day. Mother's Day is the most popular day for making telephone calls worldwide. Churches will likely be more full than usual, as families that have gathered to honor their mothers attend worship as a family, but the focus of the day will more likely be brunch and presents. Worship is not the purpose of the gathering, but a convenient coincidence.

It is good to honor our mothers. It is not an easy job. After nine months of carrying another being, a woman goes through intense pain so that child will be born into the world. That pain is set aside as a mother takes her child in her arms showing her love and beginning a life of caring for that little person. During the early days, the child is completely helpless. Mother must change diapers, carry, feed, bathe and love the child from sun-up to sun-up. As time goes on he learns to do things on his own, but Mother must continue to care for the needs of the child for many years, until they become independent adults. A mother's job does not end when a child moves out of the home. She always loves her babies and continues to pray for them.

Mothers not only provide for the physical needs of a child, but also the intellectual and emotional needs. From the day of birth, mothers talk to their children, holding them close and whispering love and encouragement through the tears, fears and hurts. Mothers sing songs, such as the Alphabet Song, that help her children in language development. Mothers provide opportunities throughout their toddler and school age years for continued learning and growth.

Mothers also provide for the spiritual welfare of their children. Christian mothers promise to provide every opportunity for their children to hear the stories of Jesus. They take the children to Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and worship, give them copies of the Bible so that they can read and study it on their own. Mothers teach the children the Lordís Prayer and other ways to speak to God. Mothers teach them the ways of living faith, so that they will be obedient to God our Father in Jesus' name.

Mothers suffer many things. They suffer through the pain of childbirth, the rambunctious toddler years, the preteen years when children begin to grasp their own independence and the teenage years that provide their own difficulties. Mothers do their best to raise the children in the ways of Christ, pray for them and hope that they will continue to walk in those ways. The children will rebel and they will even reject their mothers sometimes, but the seeds of faith that were planted in the hearts of our children will grow into lives of grace, thanks to the endless sacrifices of our mothers.

A mother lays down her life for her children. They set aside their own hopes and aspirations, at least for a time, as they love their children into the people God has created them to be. Oh, mothers aren't perfect, and there are many mothers who do not sacrifice everything for the children's sake. However, all mothers make sacrifices of some sort or another. Even if they are struggling to pay the bills they make sure their children are fed. They have sleepless nights as they worry about a sick child. They clean up the messes left behind by children of every age. They cry the first time their child says, "I hate you," and they forgive when the child has done something to disappoint.

Mothers do it because they love their children. They lay down their lives for the sake of their children because of love. They sacrifice and suffer so that they will provide everything a child needs and a few things they don't. In this way mothers are like Christ.

The Gospel lesson for today is from the final discourse from Jesus on the night before He was betrayed. Jesus offered the final lessons, the final encouragement, the final words of hope that were meant to help the disciples through the three days. They were about to lose Him; they would be scattered, confused and afraid. Jesus warned and commanded them to abide in His love. They were about to experience sadness beyond anything they ever knew or expected, but Jesus told them to be filled with His joy. The sacrifice was necessary and the suffering real, but it was the moment when God revealed to us His deep love and invited us to truly abide in it.

Together we abide in God's love, the Church called and gathered to be Christ in the world. We are sent into that world to bear God's fruit, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of His children. We will suffer. We will have to struggle to provide physically, emotionally and spiritually for those to whom God has sent us. We will have sleepless nights as we pray for those who are sick and dying in body and spirit. We will cry when we hear the hatred of those who reject our God and the words we speak on His behalf.

We begin to dwell in the love of Christ by living the life He has commanded us to live. We honor Him by keeping His commandments, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, taking time to pray and delve into His word, making time devoted solely to Him. With these actions we are obedient to the first table, the commandments that govern our relationship with God. We also honor Him by obeying the second table, the commandments that govern our relationships with one another. He has called us to a life of honoring those who are the authorities set above us, beginning with our mothers and fathers. That obedient life requires more than one special day a year, but a realization that our mothers (and fathers) truly do lay down their lives for our sake. The rest of the commandments, the ones that teach us not to do murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet, are summed in one verse, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It comes back to love. John writes in the Gospel, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you." He tells us in his first letter, the second lesson for today, that we love because God loved us and His love has given us new life. We are reborn in faith b the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by His blood and through the waters of baptism. We are called to take His Word into the world and to call all those who are lost and dying to Him, where they will experience forgiveness, grace, new life, peace and His joy. We are sent into the world, as the Church, to invite the world into our fellowship, to make them part of us, so that they will benefit from the Spirit, the water and the blood as we have.

Peter was a great preacher and evangelist, but he had a fault. He was keeping God's grace confined to his own community. He thought the Messiah had come for his people, but Jesus came for the entire world. Today's first lesson from Acts finishes the story of Cornelius, the Roman centurion of Caesarea who had a vision from an angel telling him to send to Joppa for Peter. Peter also had a vision in which God showed him all things that He cleans are good. Peter went to Cornelius, shared the Gospel and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. The Gentile Pentecost showed to Peter that even the Gentiles could benefit from God's saving grace, that they, too, were called into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ.

All that fear God and do what is right is acceptable to God. This does not mean that those who are good and righteous, prayerful and generous are saved by virtue of their goodness. We are reminded in John's letter that the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is the one who overcomes the world. Faith is given by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by our efforts, but God has sent us into the world to speak the Gospel so that they will hear and believe. Peter says in Acts, "And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." He invites us to be part of His saving work in the world, to be like a mother to those who are lost so that they might be saved.

Our works will never be proof that we love God, but when we love like God loves, our lives will be manifest with sacrifices that help others become children of God. It is a never ending circle that begins and ends with God. That might not make sense, for how it is possible for a circle to have a beginning and end? This is a matter of trusting God, just as we trust Him to help us love the children of His family even when it seems like an impossible task, especially when we experience the sacrifice and suffering. He has called us to lay down our lives, and He will give us more than enough love and grace to share. We will know without doubt that we are truly children of God because weíll see His love transforming the world by the fruit He produces in our lives.

Today's psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving for the good things God has done. The psalmist tells us about those things: about how God has won the victory over Israel's oppressors and how He has saved them from exile. The psalmist sings about God's faithfulness and His love for His people that is lasting. Telling others about the great things God has done is just one of the many ways we can sing His praise. Peter praised God by telling Cornelius and his family about Jesus. Peter loved God by doing what God called him to do.

The psalmist tells us other ways to praise God. We can sing a new song. We can sing praises with a harp. We can sound trumpets. The creation even gets involved with the heavens and earth joining in the noise of praise. The sea roars, the floods clap their hands, the hills sing. Today we are reminded most of all that we can praise God by living as He has set us free to live, abiding in His love. There we will find joy, the fullness of joy that comes from Jesus Christ our Lord.

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