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Sermon for 13 May 2012

FIRST READING Acts 10:44–48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

PSALM Psalm 98

1 Sing a new song to the LORD, who has done marvelous things, whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory. 2 O LORD, you have made known your victory, you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. 4 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. 5 Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the voice of song. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy before the king, the LORD. 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, the world and those who dwell therein. 8 Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD, who comes to judge the earth. 9 The LORD will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.


1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

GOSPEL John 15:9–17

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I 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. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


No one casts a longer shadow throughout the course of one’s life than a mother. Today we take a few moments not only to hear and study God’s word, but to honor and celebrate our care givers, our mom’s and those who nurtured us, for the sheltering shade of their shadows.
Back in the mid 1950’s Theodor Geisel railed and revolted against the boringly trite books, forced on first time readers. His books, penned under the now famous name of “Dr. Seuss,” transformed reading to our little ones, from dull and dreary tales of “Dick and Jane” to the lyrical fun of “The Cat in the Hat.” Adding to this new literary library was a protégé of the Dr. Seuss style, the books of P.D. Eastman. His “classics” in this new children’s literature include “Go, Dog, Go,” “One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and the perennial favorite, “Are You My Mother?”
In case you didn’t get the chance to read “Are You My Mother?” aloud six hundred times over the course of your children’s childhood, it’s the simple story of a baby bird who hatches out of his egg while his mother is off the nest. The little bird falls out and promptly sets off looking to find his missing mom. Having no clue what his mother may look like, the fledgling approaches dogs and cats, trucks and boats, and finally a huge steam shovel (who deftly dumps him safely back into his nest), earnestly asking each one, “Are you my mother?”
Like the hatchling in the story, we all crave a mother’s presence and pine for a mother’s affection and love. This Sunday, the second Sunday in May, has been officially designated as “Mother’s Day” since May 9, 1914. But in England as far back as the 1600’s there has been a tradition of a “Mothering Sunday.” Originally born out of the Catholic celebrations of Mary, the Mother of Christ, the English “Mothering Sunday” allowed poor women who worked and lived as servants in wealthy households a day off to return home and be with their own families. So with the thought of honoring mothers in mind, I thought you might enjoy a few stories concerning mothers.
A little boy watched, fascinated, as his mother gently rubbed cold cream on her face. “Why are you rubbing cold cream on your face, mommy?” he asked. “To make myself beautiful,” said his mother. A few minutes later, she began removing the cream with a tissue. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Are you giving up?” It’s not always easy being a Mom. One Mom says that she’s going to try something different next summer with their dog and with their kids. Next summer, she says, she’s sending the dog to camp and the kids to obedience school.
Writer Erma Bombeck once said, “What mother has never fallen on her knees when she has gone into her son’s bedroom and prayed, ‘Please, God, no more. You were only supposed to give me what I could handle.’” Sometimes it’s just plain tough being a mom. Or as someone has said, “The hand that rocks the cradle is usually attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.” Of course, sometimes it’s not easy having a mom, either. Comedian George Wallace says, “I grew up hearing such stupid things. My mother would say, ‘That’s the last time I’m gonna tell you to take out the garbage.’ Well,” he adds, “thank God.” Maybe Mom’s comments sometimes seemed a little silly to us.
One mother tells about when her son arrived back in the United States after fighting with the First Marine Division in Iraq. She says she still couldn’t help reacting like a mom when she saw him running across the base carrying a bayonet to give to some of his buddies. “Kevin!” she shouted halfway across the base, before she could stop herself. “I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t run with a knife in your hands!” Every mom has done it at some time or another, but let’s face it: we’d be lost without our moms.
One more. A couple was moving across the country. They decided to drive both cars. Their 8-year old son Nathan worried. “How will we keep from getting separated?” Dad reassured him, “We’ll drive slowly. One car can follow the other.” “But what if we do get separated?” Nathan persisted. “Well, then I guess we’ll never see each other again,” Dad joked. Nathan quickly answered. “Then I’m riding with Mom.” Smart young fellow. Actually, the situation can be summed up in the words of one mom when she responded to a stranger’s sarcastic remark, “I’d like to be the ideal mother, but I’m too busy raising my kids.” Touché!
Our lesson for the day from John’s Gospel is perfect for Mother’s Day because it’s about love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last and so that whatever you ask in my name, the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
Now if you were to breeze through this reading paying little attention to what Jesus is saying here all you’d hear is love, love, love. And this is a very important part of this reading. But there’s more to it than that. If you spend a bit more time with this passage you find that it’s much more challenging than that. Not only are we told to love, which is hard enough, but were to show our love for God by obeying His commands. No mention of satisfying the self in this lesson. Then on top of all that, we’re to bear fruit for the kingdom. We’re told to love, obey and produce. And all three are to be done to God’s glory. And even more difficult here is that Jesus isn’t giving us a suggestion that we love one another. This is a straight forward command just like the Ten Commandments. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to love; love our families, love our friends, even love our enemies. “By this all will know that you are my disciples,” said the Master, “if you love one another”
There’s just no way to side track Jesus’ statement; it’s direct and to the point. And when you stop and think about it, there aren’t many rules to the Christian faith, not really, but this rule is iron clad. We are to love. Not just ourselves, not just those we like; we’re to love others regardless. Of course, this was not the first time that the Master lifted up love as the great commandment.
In Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) an expert in the law tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Jesus declared. Straight forward, love God, love others. One of the lessons I like to teach to all the confirmands is look at how brilliantly Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments with this response.
If you love God, truly love God, would you ever consider breaking the first three commandments? In the same way, if you truly love your neighbor, could you really consider harming them by violating the remaining seven commandments? By the way if you need a quick reminder of what the Ten Commandments are, you can always turn to page 1160 in the hymnal, they’re listed there in Luther’s Small Catechism. Or if you prefer, stop by the office and I’ll give you a copy of the Small Catechism.
A young boy in elementary school was given a test in English grammar. He was being tested on the perfect tense of verbs. One question had a column of verbs in the present tense, and he had to put the perfect form of each of these verbs in the opposite column. He came to the verb live, and in the opposite column for the perfect tense of the word live he wrote the word love. Grammatically he was wrong, but from a Christian standpoint he’s right on target. The perfect form of “to live” is to love.
John Ortburg talks about a friend of his who had a tough life. This man had virtually no father growing up and his mother was a difficult person. She married multiple times; none of the relationships lasting long. She had little time for her children and gave them little encouragement. This adult man still carries many emotional scars from her inattention.
However, late in life his mother developed a degenerative muscular disease and gradually lost almost every physical capacity. Considering her challenging life, one can only imagine how difficult she was to care for. None of her other children would have anything to do with her nor would any of the men she had married; no one except this son, Ortburg’s friend.
Ortburg says, “My friend decided to love. He took her into his home and cared for her, feeding her by hand, combing her hair, and cleaning up after her messes . . . about all she could do was cry and moan incessantly.” Ortburg thought to himself about his friend, “How can he stand this? I’ve been given so many blessings, the church, Scripture, family exponentially greater than this guy, and I don’t know if I could love like this.”
When his friend’s mother passed, only sixteen people came to the funeral. None of her other kids came. The son who cared for her had a little toy tape recorder his mother had gotten him one Christmas and he played a tape of he and his mom singing a Christmas carol. He talked about how she loved Christmas and how that when he was a kid he would play the guitar and she would sing with him. Ortburg says, “He didn’t love her perfectly, not by a long shot. But he loved her when loving was hardest. He loved her when no one else would love her, and he remembered her with kind words.” It must have been difficult loving her when she showed him so little love. But that’s what Christian love is. That’s the kind of love Christ gave us when we were undeserving. Love is a command of our Lord, not a suggestion. The second difficulty with today’s reading is that love is sacrificial. Christ speaks of “laying down one’s life for one’s friends . . .”
For many, love is little more than a squishy emotion without any real content. We see it splashed across the TV and movie screens and it’s thrown about in advertisements. One recent commercial shows a guy falling in love and marrying bacon. Love has been turned into a joke or a manipulative tactic. “I love you for what you can do for me,” is the basic rule of such love. “You meet my needs and so I have a warm feeling for you.” We sing about such love, but in our hearts we know such love is horribly superficial. True love is sacrificial.
There’s a story about two tribes in the Andes that were at war. One tribe lived in the lowlands and the other high in the mountains. The mountain people invaded the lowlanders one day, and as part of their plundering, they kidnapped a baby boy and took the infant with them back up into the mountains. The lowlanders didn’t know how to climb the mountain. They didn’t know any of the trails that the mountain people used, and they didn’t know where to find the mountain people or how to track them in the steep terrain. Even so, they sent out their best party of fighting men to climb the mountain and bring the baby home.
The men tried first one method of climbing and then another. They tried one trail and then another. After several days of effort, however, they had climbed only several hundred feet. Feeling hopeless and helpless, the lowlander men decided that the cause was lost, and they prepared to return to their village below. As they were packing their gear for the descent, they saw the baby’s mother walking toward them. They realized that she was coming down the mountain that they hadn’t figured out how to climb. And then they saw that she had the baby strapped to her back. How could that be? One man greeted her and said, “We couldn’t climb this mountain. How’d you do this when we, the strongest and most able men in the village, couldn’t do it?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “It wasn’t your baby.”
Every parent worth his or her salt understands that love is sacrificial. When it comes to our children, the sky’s the limit. Of course, some of us are at that stage of life when it’s our parents who need our sacrificial love. It’s part of the circle of life. Our parents provided for our needs when we were young, but now it’s they who have pressing needs. Who’ll be there for them? You may be part of what is often referred to as the “sandwich generation,” caught between the needs of your children and the needs of your aging parents. It’s really a difficult place.
A lady named Bev tells about a time years ago when her mother came to visit. Her mother asked Bev to go shopping with her because she needed a new dress. Bev confesses that she’s not a patient person, and didn’t look forward to shopping with her Mom, but they set off for the mall together nonetheless. They visited nearly every store that carried ladies’ dresses, and her mother tried on dress after dress, rejecting them all. As the day wore on, Bev grew weary and her mother grew frustrated.
Finally, at their last stop, her mother tried on a lovely blue three piece dress. The blouse had a bow at the neckline, and as Bev stood in the dressing room with her Mom, she watched as her mother tried, with much difficulty, to tie the bow. Her hands were so badly crippled from arthritis that she couldn’t do it. Immediately, Bev’s impatience gave way to an overwhelming wave of compassion for her Mom. She turned away to try and hide the tears that welled up involuntarily.
Regaining her composure, she turned back to her mother to tie the bow for her. The dress was beautiful, and her mother bought it. Their shopping trip was over, but the event was etched indelibly in Bev’s memory. For the rest of the day, her mind kept returning to that moment in the dressing room and to the vision of her mother’s hands trying to tie that bow. Those loving hands that had fed her, bathed her, dressed her, caressed and comforted her, and, most of all, prayed for her, were now touching her in a most remarkable manner.
Later that evening, Bev went to her mother’s room, took her Mom’s hands in her own and kissed them. Then much to her surprise told her Mom that to her they were the most beautiful hands in the world. Bev says she’s so grateful that God let her see with new eyes what a precious, priceless gift a loving, self-sacrificing mother is. She prays that someday her own hands, and her heart, will have earned such a beauty of their own.
Some of you can relate to this simple story. You remember the many loving sacrifices your Mom or your Dad made in your behalf. Now you watch sadly as your parents struggle with aging. Now it’s your turn to make sacrifices. Again, it’s not easy. Christ never promised that it would be easy. But love is sacrificial. Finally, Love is what life is about.
In I Corinthians 13 St. Paul summed it up like this: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Author J. Allan Petersen tells about a flight he once took on a 747 out of Brazil. He was awakened from sleep by a voice announcing, “We have a very serious emergency.” Three engines had quit because of fuel contamination and the fourth was expected to go at any second. The plane began to drop and turn in the night, preparing for an emergency landing.
At first the situation seemed unreal to Petersen, but when the steward barked, “Prepare for impact,” he found himself and everyone around him praying. As he buried his head in his lap and pulled up his knees, he said, “Oh, God, thank You. Thank You for the incredible privilege of knowing You. Life has been wonderful.” As the plane approached the ground, his last cry was, “Oh, God, my wife! My children!” Petersen survived.
As he wandered about the airport afterward in a daze, aching all over, he found he couldn’t speak, but his mind was racing, What were my last words? What was the bottom line? As he remembered, he had his answer: relationship. Reunited with his wife and sons, he found that all he could say to them over and over was, “I appreciate you, I appreciate you!” He discovered, as sooner or later we all discover, the bottom line of life is love. Love is what life is all about.
God created this world so that He would have persons He could love and who would show that love in return. God sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross because He loves us and wanted to reconcile us to Himself. No greater love has anyone then to lay down one’s life for His friends. And all He asks in return is that we Love Him. And we show our love for God by loving others, by obeying His commands and by bearing fruit for the kingdom.
When one day we’re gathered around God’s throne with all those we love, we will discover that the final payoff for living is love. “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” It’s not always easy. To truly follow this command we must genuinely love God and others, we’re to obey God’s commands and we’re to produce fruit for the kingdom. No wonder people want a laundry list of do’s and don’ts to get to heaven, it’s much easier than loving. Today we’re being called to go forth from this place determined to live a life of love. In doing so, we’ll be able to perfectly fulfill the commandments of Christ.

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