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Sermon for Sunday 10 May 2015

First Reading                                       Acts 10:34–48

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 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.


Second Reading                            1 John 5:1–6

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.



Today is, as you know, Mother’s Day so it’s appropriate that we take a few moments to honor our moms. Not everyone can be, and some choose not be a mother, but one thing everyone can say is, that at some time in our life we had a mom. And I would also venture to say that at one time in our life, our mom was the most important person in our world. Some of us had moms who made great sacrifices in our behalf and we’re profoundly grateful for their willingness to give of themselves. So for everything they do, have done and will do for us in the future, we take a few moments today to honor the love they give us. Today we take time to acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering.

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you. To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you. To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you. To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is. To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you. To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you. To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you. To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience. To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst. To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths. To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren – yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you. To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you. And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you. This Mother’s Day, we honor, respect, love and remember each of you in our prayers. Mothering isn’t for the faint of heart and we have real warriors here in our midst. We remember you. When we stop and consider it, it’s not always easy being a mom; especially if you have famous children.

Here are some examples of some mothers and things they could have said: Mona Lisa’s mother: “After all that money your father and I spent on braces, Mona, that’s the biggest smile you can give us?” Humpty Dumpty’s mother: “Humpty, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times not to sit on that wall. But would you listen to me? Noooo!” Christopher Columbus’ mother: “I don’t care what you’ve discovered, Christopher. You still could have written!” Michelangelo’s mother: “Mike, why can’t you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?” Napoleon’s mother: “All right, Napoleon. If you aren’t hiding your report card inside your jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!” And finally Jonah’s mother: “That’s a nice story Jonah, but now tell me where you’ve really been for the last three days.” Being a mom isn’t always easy, but it is a calling that in many ways is synonymous with the word love.

I always find it interesting that our readings every year on Mother’s Day come from the gospel of John. Then again, when you consider the fact that John’s gospel is sometimes referred to as the love gospel, it really does make sense. In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells us, “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 . . .” Love, especially the sacrificial kind of love that Jesus is talking about, is our message for the day. If we are to love others, as Jesus commands, we must remain in God’s love.

The only way we know what love, real love is, is that God first showed it to us. For most, the standard they look to when considering how they should act toward others is the Golden rule. However, Jesus, in this passage, goes beyond the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is found in Matthew 7 verse 12, but it’s also a paraphrase of the response Jesus made to the religious leaders who were trying to trick Him. They asked Him, what is the greatest commandment? You know the answer, love God above everything else. In other words put God first in our life; nothing is to come before God. Then Jesus added to this by saying, and the second greatest commandment is this, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  But Jesus, in our reading for today, takes that basic command and ratchets it up a notch.

Here Jesus’ command is to go beyond our definition of loving our neighbor. Here Jesus is telling us that we’re not simply to love our neighbor as we love our self; we’re to love our neighbor as Jesus loves us. Now take a moment to consider what Jesus is telling us: it’s a tough command and many times we fall short. It’s a command that’s different and a much more difficult standard.

The problem we have with this command is that our own human love is always conditional, transient, and selective. Today we may love someone because he or she is simply lovable or perhaps because they act amiable toward us. The other, our neighbor, may have shown us a bit of kindness or simply been a good friend. It’s easy to have favorable feelings toward someone else when they show a bit of love to us first. However, let the circumstances change and we quickly withdraw our love, especially when we feel wronged or cheated. And, if we’re not careful, love can quickly be replaced by a need for resentment or even vengeance. Of course these feelings are wrong because while they may not be overt actions, they’re not loving as Jesus commands. And these aren’t the only attitudes that show us as sinful creatures; just as damning is the tendency to love only those people who are like us.

As self-focused creatures, we tend to love those who share our background, our status, our values; who are talented and gifted and dress appropriately.  Jesus’ love, on the other hand, is for all people. And as Jesus demonstrated, His love is sacrificial. A young lady was a writer for a magazine, and Valentine’s Day was approaching. Her editor asked her to write a poem for the magazine. “But before you do,” he said, “tell me what you think love is.” She got all starry eyed and responded, “It’s looking upon a lily pond with the one closest to your heart, by the light of the moon, while the lilies are in full bloom.” “Stop!” her editor said. “Let me tell you what real love is. It’s getting out of a warm bed on a cold winter’s night and filling hot water bottles for sick children.” Now that sounds like the voice of experience; the editor was right.

Sacrificial love looks beyond our wants and desires to those around us, even though we may not feel like we’re sacrificing anything at the time. As a parent I can testify to the fact that none of us, if we’re healthy emotionally, love our children as much we love ourselves. We love our kids far more than we love ourselves. The Golden Rule is, at best, a good place to start, but it’s insufficient for the relationship of a parent and a child. We love our children as Jesus loves them. Our love, no matter how much we try, can ever fully measure up to God’s love. The reason we can’t is because, as I mentioned before, is the fact that we’re sinful creatures. However, with God as our example and helper, we can, at least, approximate that love. We love our children, and selective others, far more than we love ourselves. But then again, loving our children, and those select few, in the big picture, is relatively easy. The real test of Christian love is, can we love all God’s children with a love that approximates the love we have for our own children? That’s what Christ is telling us to do. We’re called to love others as He loves others. This isn’t an easy task.

One morning in 2012, a Winnipeg, Manitoba, city transit bus driver named Kris Doubledee, made an unscheduled stop on a busy street corner. The passengers all watched as he got off the bus and approached a man on the sidewalk who was barefoot. Doubledee asked the man if he had any shoes; the man said no. So the bus driver removed his own shoes and handed them to the man. “Here,” he said. “You need these more than I do.” Then Doubledee returned to his seat, wearing no shoes, and continued on his route. A passenger asked him why he’d done that. Doubledee explained that he’d seen the man standing there before and just couldn’t bear the thought that he didn’t have any shoes.

When you stop and think about it, that’s the sort of thing Jesus would do. And yes, and that’s the sort of thing a follower of Jesus might do. One would think that after two thousand years of Christian history, that shouldn’t be such a radical thought, but it is. Many people claim to follow Jesus, but how many have genuinely sought to live as Jesus commanded us to live. How many of us have truly tried to love as He loves?

There are times when we see that kind of love in those who care for the aged and the dying. There was a beautiful story in Reader’s Digest recently written by a woman in Rhode Island. She wrote that only three times in her whole life did she see her father cry. The first was when she was seven. His mother, her grandmother died. The second time was at the airport when her brother departed for Vietnam. And the third time she saw him cry was when he was in his 80s. Her mother, suffering from Dementia, resided in a nursing home.

Her father had visited her mother, his much-beloved wife, daily for ten years except for three months when he broke his foot. After his foot healed, he returned to the nursing home. It seemed like such a long time since he had seen his beloved wife. He said, “I thought Mother forgot me, but when she saw me, she smiled and said, ‘I love you.’” Who wouldn’t have sobbed after that? Some of you understand those tears. We know a little bit of what it means to love as Jesus’ loved. We love those closest to us like that. The question is, can we enlarge that circle of love? That’s what Christ is telling us to do.

These was a story going around about a particular dog a while back. Some of you have animals and know how special they can be. This particular dog was your typical mutt, what I like to call a hinez 57, or a pound dog. There was nothing special about this dog. He had no pedigree. But for some reason one day this dog stopped eating the food scraps that his owner set out for him. Instead, he would take the bones, and anything else he could hold in his mouth, and disappear into the woods. This went on for a couple of days which caught the owner’s attention.

On about day three of this odd behavior, the dog’s owner, being curious, decided to follow and see what he was doing. What he discovered was that his dog had been carrying food to another dog that had been trapped in some barbed wire. Nobody had trained him to do this. Why he should take this action, nobody knows, but he was taking his own food to a comrade in distress; denying himself in order to give another dog enough to eat. We can learn a lesson from this dog.

Whether we want to admit it or not, that dog’s actions were superior to a lot of people. Even though he was just a mutt, that dog was doing a better job of living as Christ commands us to live. Actually, Jesus gives us at least two commands in this passage.  The first is to remain in His love. That’s where we find the power to love as Jesus loved. We find the ability to love others by remaining in His love.

Again in verses 9 and 10 we read: “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.” Verse 12 is where Jesus gives us a second command. It’s that we are to “love each other as he has loved us.”  This command is linked to the first which is to remain in God’s love. When we remain in God’s love, that love will motivate us and give us the power to love others.

Mark Buchanan, in his book Hidden In Plain Sight, tells about a time, a number of years ago, when he was struggling with his attitude toward a certain man. He says he fed his resentment and bitterness to the point where at times he felt hated toward this person. One day, when he was think­ing ungodly thoughts about this man, he heard his son come in the base­ment, slam the door, go to his room, and start crying. Buchanan went to his son and asked what was wrong. It seems his son had been playing goalie in a game of road hockey with some of his school friends, and he’d let the other team score a rash of goals. His teammates started taunting him, mocking him, telling him that he was useless, telling him to go home. They’d stand a better chance with an empty net than with him guarding it, they said. This isn’t something a father wants to hear. Mark Buchanan says he was enraged. He started putting on his shoes to march down the road so he could call those boys to account, to give them all a piece of his mind.

It was then he that heard an inner voice. “Mark,” God said, “where are you going?” “To straighten this matter out, Lord,” Mark answered. “No one treats my son that way.” “You have a father’s heart,” God said. “Yes!” Mark replied. “You hate it when someone hurts one of your children.” “Yes!” Mark said again. “I hate that, too,” God said. It was at that moment that Mark Buchanan says he understood in the most visceral way, and for the very first time, that he couldn’t claim to love God and hate his brother. “If I love God,” Buchanan writes, “I’ll love what [God] loves. I’ll love [God’s] children, all of them . . . Or else, break [God’s] heart.”

It’s a sobering realization. It makes us angry when someone threatens to hurt one of our children. The question is, do we feel that same anger when children are hurt . . . any place in the world? If not, then we still have some praying to do and some growing to do spiritually. We’re to remain in Christ’s love and we’re commanded to love others as Christ first loved us. Unless we have Christ’s love in our hearts, we simply cannot love others who are outside of our circle of intimate relationships.

We simply don’t have the power to love as Christ loved us unless we have Christ’s spirit within us. Then and only then can we fulfill His command to love others as He has loved us. That’s what the cross is all about. We see His love poured out on the Cross of Calvary. According to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the longest love letter ever written was written in 1875 and it was written by a Parisian painter by the name of Marcel de Leclure. The letter was addressed to Magdalena de Villeray.

The painter was so in love with Magdalena that he wanted to write “I love you” in French a thousand times for every year on the calendar. This was in 1875, so he decided to write “I love you” 1,875,000 times. Of course, he didn’t want to write “I love you” that many times himself. So he hired a secretary to do it. But, he didn’t want to diminish his expression of his love, so he didn’t tell her to write the sentence, I love you” a million plus times, rather, he dictated each “I love you” to her separately. So each time he said “I love you”, he would wait for her to write it down and then do it all over again, 1,875,000 times.  Ripley describes this feat like this, “Never was love made manifest by as great an expenditure of time and effort.”

It’s a great story, but Ripley was wrong. There was once a time when love was made manifest by a greater expenditure of effort than that of this Frenchman. It was that time when our Lord Jesus hung on a cross to show us how important we are to God. “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 . . . This is my command: Love each other.” The Golden Rule, as wonderful as it is, is insufficient for this task. It’s simply a place to start. We’re not simply being told to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We’re commanded to do unto them as Christ has done for us. It’s a tough command to follow, but it’s not negotiable. Our desire as followers of Jesus is to share His love with those around us. The Golden rule is a good place to start, but we’re to go beyond that. Maybe the next step is to love others as a mother loves her children. The two set a wonderful example for us of what sacrificial love looks like. Our moms truly are a blessing and we need to honor them today. May God richly bless our moms and all those who give of themselves freely for the care and nurture of others.


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