The School of Love

A sermon for 10 May 2015 – Sixth Sunday of Eastertide

John 15:9-17  (NRSV scripture included below.)

A reading from the gospel of John 15:9-17. This is a continuation of Jesus’ words to his disciples while they linger at their last supper together. Listen for God’s word to us.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Standing in Nazareth today, with nods to the Holy Family all around, it’s easy to conclude that family is to be the social structure. The Virgin Mother Mary is everywhere. At Nazareth’s well, where tribute is made as the place God’s messenger first came to announce the plan for her life. Through the streets towers the beautiful basilica, which was built over the presumed site of her childhood home. Inside that church there are artistic creations of the mother and child from all over the world. Gorgeous interpretations of the woman who lovingly gave birth to and raised up the Son of God for the benefit of all the world. . . . Part of the story we often overlook is that of the earthly father Joseph. But in Nazareth, he too gets a beautiful sanctuary. Built over the site presumed to be his family’s house which became his home with Mary and young Jesus after their years of his early childhood in Egypt. The Holy Family’s home includes remains believed to be Joseph’s storefront carpenter shop. That’s the view captured on the front of the bulletin today. The scene of adolescent Jesus working with his hands alongside his father. Mother Mary is looking on so that the threesome is seen together as a complete family. And right smack in the middle of the photo is the angelic child. Halo and all as if to proclaim that he never gave his parents one bit of difficulty. Sure we have that story recorded only in the gospel of Luke. You know: the one where the twelve year-old Jesus is taking full responsibility for his own spiritual growth, as all bar mitzvahed boys were expected to do. Several days after they have begun the journey back home from Passover in Jerusalem, his parents realize Jesus is missing – which just goes to show Mary and Joseph weren’t always the most attentive parents. All the while, Jesus is engaging the rabbis in the Temple. When at last his parents find him, I’m sure Mary was ready to wring his neck over the panic he put them through. But even then we’re led to side with the boy Jesus instead of his frantically worried parents.

It’s a beautiful thing about Nazareth with its prolific statutes and portraits that remind us of the Holy Family. But like all professionally done family photos, typically the very best of the clan is captured. So that it’s easy to begin to believe that everything always is as idyllic as the photo shouts. As we take it all in, we’re left concluding that families always are beautiful, happy, and overflowing with love. It’s just that: we’re all a part of at least one. So unless we’re totally delusional, we know better. . . . The other night I was reading a plea to Presbyterian pastors to ensure worship services on Mothers’ and the pending Fathers’ day are sensitive to the wide spectrum of experiences of families. And to the reality that today can be a sad one for some who grieve the loss of their mother, or of their child. The reactions to the plea I read got down-right ugly. Some people thought today should be widely inclusive of all women who have nurtured life in this world and some wanted today to be reserved solely for women who have endured the 9 months of pregnancy and 18 years of upbringing. A few gave leeway for parents who come to the job through marriage or adoption. No one mentioned that parenting really doesn’t stop after 18 years – especially not today when so many young adult children still can be found at home for whatever reason. Wouldn’t it be great, moms and dads, if the moment they turned 18 you were done? No more worry. No more pain endured for them. No more money sent off to cover whatever! . . . Whether or not you want Mothers’ and Fathers’ day to be restricted to one way of mothering and fathering in this world, the reality is families are not always easy. They’re never perfect – which should ring out as good news in all of our ears so we can stop wishing our families were something other than they are and start accepting one another for who we are. The gifts we do gain from one another – whether we had a wonderfully loving momma from whom we can learn by example, or not so much so that we’ve had to learn by contrast. Whether our fathers were engaged and available to us, or nowhere to be found. . . . Families are not perfect. I dare to say that not even the Holy Family was perfect, even if Jesus was – because other than him, we human beings are not able to be perfect. We are not loving at all times. Patience can grow thin and kindness may seem like a foreign concept in some households. Sometimes it may seem like we got the wrong child – or wrong brother or sister – like the nurses really did switch someone out at birth! Maybe you’re convinced the stork meant to leave you on the doorstep next door because things seemed so much greener in the family on the other side of the fence. Hopefully as we’ve each aged, we have made peace with our parents or actively are working on it – whatever form they took. And where needed, have found a way to overcome obstacles we might have had to face because of our family’s limitations. So that a day like the secular holiday noted today can be one in which we have nothing but gratitude for the mother and father who made our life possible – whether they were the best parents a kid ever could have asked for, or not. Thanks to them – or maybe in spite of them – we are here and are who we are today. Growing a little bit more each day in our love of God, self, and others.

We can breathe a sigh of relief that families are not the primary social structure where we are to learn of love. We all may wish it would be and it’s not a bad aim to make yours so today. But Jesus makes it clear in his words to his disciples. He didn’t say go back home to your mother and father, siblings and children and spouse to learn to love through them. Rather he said: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12, 17). I’m guessing as they sat there in a circle around that table that he made them look around into each other’s eyes to really see each other. “Love one another,” he tells a ban of folks who haven’t known each other all that long. A few of them might have been blood brothers, but he’s making them family in a whole new way. Through his life, death, and resurrection; he gave birth to the church to ensure there always remains a people on earth where love reigns. Where we do experience the self-giving gift of another’s will being put before our own. Where we can wrestle with the difficulties of finding a way to love –when the circumstances are complex and in the situations where we may be feeling very hurt by another. . . . We, as the church, are the school of love. The people who, day in and day out, encourage one another. Who build each other up. Who help one another to believe in ourselves as much as we hope our own parents believe in us because God sees each one of us as precious enough to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit. We are loved so deeply as the church, Christ’s own body still on earth. We didn’t choose to be a part of it all; rather, as Jesus’ said: “I chose you!” (John 15:16). He’s even given us the special assignment of bearing the lasting fruit of his kind of love by loving each other. Being a sign to everyone – a kind of witness to compassion, and out-of-our-own-way care, and sacrifice even so that all can flourish. . . . If you were fortunate enough to have gotten the lessons at home too, then thanks be to God! And never stop striving to be about such love with one another – with your parents, children, spouse, or friends that make up your family. But know that the command lies here: among one another. That we teach each other how to live the love of God. That we bear with one another, practice forgiveness together, and be for each other because that is the way of the Great Teacher.

Brothers and sisters in the family of God, let us fulfill Christ’s command. Let us love one another as he has loved us. Just in case any miss the lessons at home. As the family of God right here together, let us be Christ’s school of love.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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