A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
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.
Today’s Gospel lesson continues the beautiful discourse in the Gospel of John, where Jesus likens his relationship to the disciples, to a vine and its branches. It explains the relationship of God with Jesus and Jesus with us. The word that is repeated throughout this, and also in First John, which we have been going through in this season, is “abide.” We mostly see that word used in church settings and hymns but it is not a particularly holy word in itself. It means “stay” or “remain.” If you were speaking Greek, it’s the same word that you would use to tell someone, “stay right there and don’t move until I get back, it won’t take long.” It is also the same word as one might say, “Stay with me.” But when we translate it as “abide,” it means to stay and continue to remain a very long time. Where you abide is where you live. And Jesus invites us, “Abide in my love.”
Today is Mother’s Day. It is a day where we are encouraged to obey at least half of the Fifth Commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” There are quite a few mothers in this world, and it is difficult, and maybe not appropriate to generalize about who mothers are or how they behave, or even what constitutes a good, bad or indifferent mother. I have a mother.
I have had the same one for nearly sixty-one years. She was only twenty-three years old when I came into her life. She has remained my mother for almost three-quarters of her life, and I have lived in her love for my whole life. That is a long time for people to abide with one another. The emergence of an infant into this world who is dependent on a mother for nurture and thriving is the closest analogy we have for the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus with God the Father, or of the church’s relationship with him.
Over the course of their lives, children are a joy, a responsibility, a heartache, and a support to their parents. A child always affects the course of its mother’s life. As a mother abides with her child, she may see her aspirations in her child’s future, or she may see her aspirations changed in response to the needs of that child. Mother and child adapt and grow together, whether the relationship appears to be always smooth or, perhaps, sometimes rocky. We know that life is complicated, that the love of mothers is often complicated, and that it is even complicated to know who we are talking about, when we are talking about mothers. You don’t have to bear a child and be its mother for sixty-one years to be a mother. Tragedy often takes a child away long before they reach that age, sometimes even before birth. Sometimes a child is taken into a home and raised with abiding love by someone who did not biologically bear the child. And we all know those, who for whatever reason, did not bear children of their own, but who give of themselves in nurturing care for the community and also raise our children with steadfast love.
We abide in the love of God, and our relationship with God is equally complex. God’s love is steadfast, but there may be barriers for us in perceiving, feeling, or understanding his love. Sometimes a loving mother’s concern for the child leads to a choice that makes the child angry. Sometimes the mother is even right, but the teenager doesn’t understand. We often attribute things to God that are not from God, or we fail to understand the consequences of our own behavior, and blame God, just as we might blame our mother. And Christ suffers pain in seeing his children embark on a path that will lead to their suffering or the suffering of others.
He says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” But there is ONE commandment, not many: “Love one another as I have loved you.” But think of how complicated that gets. We justify ourselves by explaining how our selfishness is really love of others. Or we are hurt, and give hurt back, and after a while are lost in how to unwind our hurt relationships. The life of a Christian is spent on the adventure of discovering how it is that we can love one another simply and truly.
He says, “I have called you friends, because I have made know 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.”
Happy Mother’s Day!