Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 9, 2021
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Mother’s Day
Scripture reading: John 15: 1-17

Because today is Mother’s Day, I am going to reference my own mother a few times during this sermon; it’s only fair because that is the mother I know the best; also, in raising me and my two sisters, there are several examples that will come in handy when I am making various points today.

Let’s begin with the word that comes up often during today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of John: commandment.  That is a word that every single person of God knows and understands well…or, at least we think we do.  Most often, we think of the Ten Commandments tables God gave to Moses.

I don’t usually think of my mother when I consider the word commandment.  Instead, I think of three other words that could fit in a similar category.

First, there is the request.  This is when my mother would ask me to take out the garbage or set the table.  If she said “please,” that ensured it was a request.  Still, it contained a sense of authority behind that implied the “please” could be removed if I refused or was slow to perform the request. 

Jesus might have given a request when the elders questioned him about paying taxes and he asked them to show him a coin; then he said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.” [Mark 12:17]

Second, there is the demand.  When this occurred, there was authority and force behind it.  Such a thing might be when my little sister and I were fighting (which happened way too often).  My mother would tell us forcefully to STOP whatever we were arguing or fussing or fighting about.  Reasoning with us usually did little good because my little sister and I were pretty stubborn in our childhoods… perhaps that continues today, but she and I are really close so there is little arguing or fussing or fighting occurring.  Still, Mom’s demand and was not a request; we understood that clearly.

Jesus gave a demand when Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet at the Last Supper. Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.” [John 13:8]

Then, if things were truly rotten, we would receive an order from Mom.  As all parents understand, this involves a raised voice, anger and frustration, and a stronger attempt to get things under control. I’m sure you understand that one too.

An order was given by Jesus when Peter tried to rebuke him for clearly explaining that he would suffer and die on the cross; when Peter tried this, remember what Jesus told him?  “Get behind me, Satan!” [Matthew 16:23]

Finally, there was the phrase Mom used that I now understand to be as close to a commandment as she ever got.  She would tell us, “Stop right now, or I will pull you out of here in front of God and everybody.”  This was effective if we were causing trouble in church, in a store, or even in front of our own house.  

The word commandment means an order or a directive that has divine authority behind it and must be strictly observed and obeyed.  In the olden days, kings and queens gave what they considered to be commandments because they thought their authority was divinely given.  We know that was not necessarily true, especially if that ruler was corrupt, wicked, or even weak.

Although my mother was not corrupt or wicked – and certainly not weak – she didn’t give commandments to her three misbehaving children.

God gave Moses the famous Ten Commandments on the mountain as the people of Israel waited below.

Jesus gave just one commandment…

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus sets the stage for his so-called love commandment by first explaining how he loved his followers and how they must follow a new commandment.  He had earned the right to give this commandment by his love and the sacrifice of his own life that was to come.  Yet he gave them an explanation first.  He used the image of the vine to do this.

Jesus said that the fruit of the vine would not and could not exist without the vine itself.  The fruit of the vine was the work of the believers; the vine was Jesus, who made those believers’ work possible.  And what force made this occur?  Love.

When Jesus referred to himself as the “true vine” in this description, he was speaking of healing.  Believing in Jesus and following his new commandment is accepting his word.  And accepting his word means that whatever is wrong or out of line or wicked in us can be healed by the power of his love.  We cannot be made perfect or worthy, but we can be healed.

We might think of a commandment to love as being somewhat controlling.  And we would be right to think so.  But the commandment to love coming from Jesus also has the love that he demonstrated with his life and death behind it.  Jesus never said it, but we owe him a debt – which we can only pay by following his new commandment to love one another.  Jesus is committed, no matter what we do.  Jesus is “all in.”

Our only option is to ignore his commandment or follow it as faithfully as we can in all circumstances.

But this isn’t that easy, Preacher!  The commandment to love one another can be followed when we are dealing with people we already love, but what about those that are so hard to love?

  • What about mothers who abandoned their children?
  • What about mothers who were cruel and abusive?
  • What about mothers who never NEVER put their own children first in anything?
  • What about mothers who forfeited their rights to even called the mother of a child?

We all know this happens, and we all know some who have done these things.  And we also know how hard it is to love anyone – mother or not – who goes completely against the love commandment from Jesus; these folks seem to love trouble, strife, and themselves.  They certainly don’t love one another.

In a Bible commentary I read this week, there was a passage in which Jesus’ love commandment was called a “madman’s bargain.”  It explained that if we truly want to be in communion with the Lord, we must set aside normal feelings, words, and actions that come so easily when others do not love us.  This perfectly explains why Jesus commands us to love one another; there is not a single soul who ever lived that Jesus leaves out when he gave that commandment.

Jesus loves freely, honestly, and openly.  

If we cannot do the same, then whatever we feel is not love.

So we must try.  We cannot be perfect, whether we are talking about following the original Ten Commandments or this new commandment from Jesus.  But as we struggle, remember:

“Faith, hope, and love abide – but the greatest of these is love.” [1st Corinthians 13:13]