Scripture: John 13: 31-35
Date: May 10, 2015
Many persons are quick to point out that Mother’s Day is not a church holiday, even though it is often one of the best attendance days in the church calendar and it was begun by a couple of Methodist laywomen. But it is not Biblically based and so there are those who contend that the church has no business making it a religious celebration. Well, I got to thinking about that and so I did extensive research into the subject of Biblical mothers and discovered some surprising but obscure texts in the Old Testament, which I think relate to Mother’s Day. They are things that mother’s said to some of the most famous persons in the Bible. And in reading these texts I discovered that really Biblical mothers were not that much different than my own mother.
For instance, I found reference in one of His Psalms where David’s mother once said to him:
David! I told you not to play with your sling shot in the house! You’re going to break something. Go practice your harp. We pay good money for those lessons.
And then I found this surprising encounter between Abraham and his mother:
Abraham! Stop wandering around the countryside. People will think you’re a nomad. And, young man, you won’t live to be the father of any nation if you’re late for supper one more time.
Or consider these words from Noah’s mother:
No, you can’t keep them! I told you, don’t bring home any more strays. And why are there always two of them. And don’t even start with me about building a boat. There’s not a cloud in the sky.
And then there was Samson’s mother:
Samson, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. Look at yourself. I don’t care where you get your power from. You look like a shaggy dog. Here’s a shekel. Go get your hair cut.
So perhaps we need to rethink the sacred nature of Mother’s Day because apparently from the beginning of recorded time, mothers have been the source of great wisdom. I’m sure that most of us can recall touching words of advice that our mothers offered as we were growing up. I can still hear my mother saying to my brothers and I when I was a child: Why don’t you go play in front of a bus? Or Go out with your brothers and play in the street. I knew then that she loved me. Of course she didn’t really mean it. Well maybe she did for my brother, but certainly not me.
I heard about a man who was the chief of police in Knoxville tells of a time when he was meeting with the city council when his cell phone went off and he was alarmed to see it was his mother. And so thinking it was an emergency he excused himself from the meeting and stepped out in the hall to answer. “What’s the matter mother?”
“I’ve been watching the meeting on T.V. Phil Keith, are you chewing gum?”
“Well it looks awful,” she continued. “Spit it out.”
And so he did and then went back to the meeting.
Well, whether Mother’s Day is a secular or religious holiday is a debate for someone eIse. But there is no debate that days such as this can be bitter sweet. Because there are some painful images associated with this day also. Of course, I just lost my mother in January and others have experienced the same thing. Others of our church family are not here today because they are caring for sick mothers. And there are some mothers who are not here today because they are caring for sick children. So this is not a day of celebration for all. But the truth is that mother’s play a very important role in scripture, and that there are many times in scripture when God’s love is compared to the love of a mother. And so it is in that context that we celebrate this day in the church and hear these familiar words from Jesus:
Read John 13:31-35
Now Jesus tells the Disciples that this commandment is a new one, and for the Disciples it would have been, but there’s really nothing new for us 2000 years later in this commandment that we are to love one another. We have heard it many times. It is familiar ground. And so for a few minutes this morning we will be plowing familiar ground for most of us. And, in some ways, that is so appropriate for a Mother’s day message. Because our holidays tend to be familiar ground. Most of us like to celebrate the same way we have for years. And if something gets out of place, is different, then there is a sense of discomfort. Most of us have family traditions when it comes to our holiday celebrations. Many will be honoring mother’s as you have for many years. I’m so glad that church is part of that tradition. On days like this we tend to stick to familiar ground. But for Jesus’ listeners, there was nothing familiar about it because Jewish law tended to focus on the love of God and for God, and not worry so much with relationships between people. And so Jesus adding that we should love one another as a commandment would have been a completely new way of thinking for the Disciples. Especially at this last supper when the spotlight was on Jesus himself. But since most of us have heard these words since we were children, they are so familiar, and we tend to forget sometimes, especially on days like this that there are many children who are growing up who don’t know the love of God, or the love of a mother, or the love of another. Children growing up in loveless environments. Henry Woodruff writes:
(Sometimes) It is a matter of survival. On this day, in this place we call home, it is a matter of survival for families. In far too many homes the threat to authentic family is poverty and all the deprivation that goes with it — the lack of adequate nutrition, the environment of defeat and despair, substandard educational opportunities, the threat of violence, and the ever-present temptation of drugs as the means of escaping it all; these create an issue of survival for families mired in poverty. But survival of authentic family life transcends the poverty line. It has to do with work and wealth taking the place of time with each other with schedules that never allow any time for sharing intimacy. It has to do with parents not parenting, with television being the baby sitter,. . . It has to do with the disappearance of faith being practiced in the home and reinforced in the community of faith. It has to do with all of this and more.
Now that may sound like a harsh word to some, but it’s a perceptive one. We look at the riots last week in Baltimore and we want to think they are all about the life of a young man who died, and certainly that’s part of it, but the riots are also about poverty and despair and hopelessness, and in many cases the breakdown of family and the frustrations those bring to the surface.
So maybe in those contexts, this command to love one another is not the familiar word we think it is. Because , on this Mother’s Day there are a lot of children growing up without knowing the love of a mother, or anyone else for that matter.
In fact, I read about a program in one of our inner cities that is geared for those kids in that community. It is called “Grandma, Please.” It’s for children who simply need to talk with someone. Who have no one to share their experiences with. And so children can call and talk to Senior citizens who volunteer their time, just to listen. The program receives hundreds of calls a week. Some children just call and ask “Grandma” to sing happy birthday to them. Or some call and share things like they are pregnant and don’t know where to turn. One volunteer wrote that it was such rewarding work, but also heartbreaking sometimes. One day she said a child called and after they talked for awhile, the child said: “I love you grandma. What’s your name?”
“Little children,” Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you.” Familiar words perhaps, but just as then, they are words spoken to a world that desperately needs that kind of love. That’s the kind of love we should celebrate today, a love that is lived out, often in families, but also the kind of love each one of us needs to be living out in the midst of a love starved world.
So what does that kind of love look like. Well, for many of us who have been so blessed, that love looks like our mother, but for all of us, it looks like how Jesus loves us. So, first of all, Jesus is talking about a Iove that never fails. Paul wrote about this kind of love when he said to the Corinthians: Everything that you put so much importance in: prophecy, spiritual gifts, knowledge, those things will fade away, but Jesus love never fails. I can recall so many times when my mother’s love never failed me. When I was sick, when I’d fall and scrape my knee, the time in first grade when I fell off the monkey bars at school and broke my arm, even the time I ignored her warnings and skated where I shouldn’t have and fell through the ice, every time when I was battered and bruised by life, both physically and emotionally, I knew that I could count on my mother for comfort and help and security and strength. That she loved me, no matter what. It didn’t matter that I had been doing some things I shouldn’t have been doing.. She would wrap me in her arms and love me. And in her embrace things would be better. That’s the kind of Iove that Jesus had in mind that we ought to be showing to one another.. A love that never fails. Some years ago an airplane crashed as it was taking off from the airport in Detroit. There were 156 people on board. All on board were killed but one. The only survivor was a 4 year old girl from Tempe, Arizona named Cecilia. The initial news accounts said that all persons had been killed, but then they found Cecilia in the wreckage under her mother’s body and they discovered that Cecilia had survived because when the plane started to go down, her mother had ignored the instructions of the flight crew and unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter and wrapped her arms and body around the little girl to protect her, and would not let her go even as her own life was fleeing from her mortal body.
The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is a love that never fails no matter what may come.
In one of the many movies that has been made about the crucifixion, and I tried to find this clip but could not remember what movie it was from, but I recalled that there is this wonderful scene of Jesus being taken down from the cross. A Roman soldier climbs up on a ladder and as he takes the nails out of Jesus’ hands so he can bring Him down, by reflex the arms of Jesus, first one then the other, wrap around this soldier, one of the very ones that had crucified Him. And the message is so clear that even in death, Jesus’ love embraces us all. It never fails.
And then secondly, Jesus was talking about a love that builds us up. Love that leads us to support one another. Encourage one another. As the disciples gathered that night for the last supper, they were all in it for themselves. They were arguing about who would sit in the place of honor at the table. And so Jesus says, essentially: Stop the arguing. Love one another. All of my life, my biggest fan has been my mother. She was always building me up, no matter what. No telling how many times she sacrificed her own wants and needs for me. Paul, in what has come to be known as the “love chapter” tells us that Jesus is talking about love that does not “rejoice in wrongdoing” but rather His love expects and brings out the very best in us. It is truly, as the choir sang, the wind beneath our wings. That’s how he expects us to love one another.
In the book of I Kings there is a strange story of two mothers that illustrates this kind of love. These two mothers lived together in the same house and both had just given birth. But one night one of the mothers accidentally rolled on top of her sleeping new born and suffocated the baby. When she woke in the middle of the night and found her baby dead, she switched it with the baby of the other mother. In the morning, they argued about whose baby was alive and whose was dead. And so they took their case before King Solomon. After hearing their story, Solomon ordered that the living child be brought to him, and taking out a sword, he announced that the only fair solution was to cut the child in two, and give half to each mother. The mother whose child was dead, said: “That’s fine with me. Cut it in half and give a piece to each of us.” But the other mother pleaded with the King, “If that’s how you’re going to decide, then give her the child, so that he may live.” Hearing that, the King knew who the child belonged to. A sacrificial love that wants only the best for one another.
Whether it’s Zacchaeus up a tree, or Matthew in the tax collectors booth, or Judas with a kiss of betrayal, or Peter hiding in fear, or soldiers gambling for His clothes at the foot of the cross, or you and I struggling to make it in this world, the love of God wants only the best for us and of us. It is love that knows no earthly boundaries or insurmountable barriers.
During the Civil War, a confederate major by the name of Horace Lurton was taken prisoner. And while he was in prison, he developed tuberculosis. His mother had been searching for him and finally found him and she came to visit Him in prison and saw what terrible shape he was in. She knew he was going to die soon, and so she pleaded with the commandant to let her take him home and nurse him in his last days. But the commander was not moved to compassion and would not let his enemy go. But undeterred the mother went to Washington, D.C. to beg mercy from President Lincoln himself. And Lincoln was so moved by this mother’s love that was willing to push through all boundaries and overcome all barriers for her dying son, that he immediately wrote a note to the officer in charge of the prison. All it said was: “Let the boy go home with his mother. A. Lincoln.”
The love of Christ knows no boundaries. No barriers. Not even the Cross.
And then, it is the kind of love that is often evidenced by the scars.
Jamie Buckingham is a writer who tells of the anxiety that a daughter felt during her first pregnancy. One day, uncomfortable with the changes in her appearance, the daughter was talking with her mother about her fears that she would never look normal again after giving birth to her child. And the mother assured her that everything would return to normal, except, she said, there might be a few scars. And when she said that the mother pulled up her own shirt and showed her daughter the scars of her five pregnancies. And then she said they were her pride and joy, because each scar represented a dearly loved child. Love is often known by its scars. That was the kind of love that Jesus was talking with His Disciples about, on the night before he would have a crown of thorns mashed down on his forehead, and the flesh ripped from his back, and nails driven into his wrists and ankles. In fact, the prophets had said that He would love us so much that he would bear our scars. That we would know Him by His scars. True love often leaves us with some scars. Jamie Buckingham goes on to say that from that time on: “When I think of Mother’s Day, I think of the scars.”
Little Children, I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you. And how do we know that love. We know it as love that is always there, that is always striving for the best in ourselves and others, and that is willing to bear the scars if needed. And finally we know it as a love that is always enough. The love of Christ is always enough to get us through, no matter what. In this world and through all eternity. We know it because we have seen it in Jesus, and I praise God that for all of my life I have seen that kind of love in my mother. And though I am keenly aware that there are those who have not experienced that kind of love from their human parents, there is not one of us who cannot experience the love of Jesus. Because even though human love might fail us, the love of God never does. It is always enough.
A few weeks after my Mother’s death in January, a friend sent this article to me. It was written by a man named Bob Perks and it reads:
At an airport I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced the daughter’s plane’s departure and standing near the door, the mother said to… her daughter,
“I love you, I wish you enough.”
And the daughter said, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom.”
They kissed good-bye and the daughter left.
The mother walked over toward the window near where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy, but she welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?” ”
Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Mom had done for me. Recognizing that her days were limited, I took the time to tell her face to face how much she meant to me.
So I knew what this woman was experiencing.
“Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?” I asked.
“I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, her next trip back will be for my funeral, ” she said.
“When you were saying good-bye I heard you say, ‘I wish you enough.’ May I ask what that means?” She began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.”
She paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, she smiled even more.
“When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were
wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them,” she continued and then turning toward me she shared the following, reciting it from memory.
“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye..”
Love is enough. And as I read this story I thought how my mother’s love was always enough.
And then I thought about it again when I read once more Jesus’ familiar words to His disciples at their last supper together “A new command I give you, that you love one another” and reflected on no matter how familiar those words might be, in some ways they will always be new, and there will be so many times in our lives when we will need to hear them again. Because that night Jesus knew that through denial and betrayal. The Cross and the Empty Tomb, through persecution and martyrdom, through death and resurrection, that that kind of love alone would be enough to see them through for all eternity. And so it is for us. I am thankful today that I had a mother that loved me in that way all of my life, but I am saved because Jesus has never failed to love me enough and I have the assurance of that through all eternity.