Love and Abide

Love and Abide

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Most of us know that the phrase caveat emptor means, “Let the buyer beware.” The phrase is a warning to the consumer that it is better to thoroughly check out the goods before you buy them than to try to get your money back after you have bought them. Let me offer another warning that some of us should take to heart, “Permissum praedicatio caveo,” or, “Let the preacher beware.”

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, and letting you caveat emptor yourselves, I have to admit that I am leaning on some near-forgotten Latin skills that I first learned in high school [mumble…] years ago, and which were subsequently revived by Dr. David Scaer and others while I was at the seminary. So, I might be a little off on my translation, but I’m probably reasonably close. If it turns out that I’m right, the words might be something I should have engraved on a plaque so I can hang it on my study door, right next to the religious cartoons and the Yogi Berra quotes.

Allow me to explain. Sometimes I look at the lectionary and think to myself, “Why do they hate me?” Really, these texts for Mothers’ Day? Now, yes, it is true, there is no mysterious, conspiratorial “them” out there whose sole purpose in life is to make the preaching task a spiritually-challenging experience just for me. That comes naturally as we wrestle with the texts of God’s Word.

It is certainly not an experience unique to pastors, is it? Anyone who listens carefully as the Scriptures are read on a Sunday morning, or who reads the Scriptures for themselves periodically, can have the same experience. God’s Word can often make us squirm and struggle—and it should—even if one isn’t going to preach a sermon on a Sunday morning. The fact is: the sermon must be composed and edited anyway, and it is also true that for the Church, today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

But we also know, do we not, both shepherd and flock, that for many of you in the pews, today is going to be thought of first and foremost as the secularly-contrived holiday of Mothers’ Day, no matter what is on the Church calendar or printed on the front of the worship folder.

I know full well that there is many a mother and grandmother sitting in church this Sunday, surrounded by children and grandchildren who enter a church door but three days a year. You know, those three days of holy obligation for those of you who rarely think of holiness: Christmas, Easter, and Mothers’ Day. These mothers’ maternal pride in their small flock is unmistakable, as is their love of the same.

Yet a mother’s love is rarely blind; mothers can be brutally honest not only about the strengths of their offspring, but their weaknesses as well. We preach this day not only to the woman who is both mother and grandmother and a profoundly convicted Christian, but also to her children, those who have largely walked away from the faith, and maybe even to her grandchildren, some of whom have not had the opportunity to know and understand just what Jesus Christ has done for them.

I note this not only as a preacher, but also as an observer of the human condition, and the ways we all sometimes think we know more and better than God our true Father, and our common Mother, His holy Church. It is simply the way things have been over the years I have experienced things as a son, brother, husband, father, and pastor.

Now I speak as a father and husband to mothers of children of all ages. Any woman sitting here who is a mother, especially one old enough to have grandchildren, sees that she may have more years behind her than she has before her. So, she has one eye on eternity and the other on her earthly legacy. She is rightly concerned for her children and grandchildren, as all good mothers are. It is her hope that over the course of this hour of God serving us, in the words of the liturgy or readings or prayers or hymn, or in the words I preach during the sermon, that the Holy Spirit will reach out to her children and grandchildren.

She hopes and prays that God will give them faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gee, no pressure on the preacher here.

Let’s first be careful to understand a mother’s motives here. It is fashionable in our culture, especially among the young and those outside the Church who try to educate and influence them, to decry the emphasis many of us put on salvation and our hope of heaven. Such talk and such hopes are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, we are told. Yet I sincerely hope that any mother or grandmother with the slightest bit of backbone will give any pastor or teacher that also spouts such silliness a brief and painful reintroduction to the catechism, preferably right on top of the head or between the eyes. But you don’t have to be a mother to do that.

Still, a faithful mother will also have something other than heaven on her mind. She also wants those she loves to know the joy that comes with abiding in the love of Jesus Christ even now, helping us in our struggles with temptation, pain, and disappointment in this life.

Abide is not a word we hear too much these days, and that is a shame. We sing “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” and we rightly love the sentiment and the sense of security this hymn evokes against the both dark of the night and our eventual earthly deaths. Still, even in the Church, we don’t use the word “abide” often enough to have a deep sense of its meaning. These days, to abide is often used to mean just to tolerate something, or to endure it. In days long past, though, to abide meant to dwell in or with. Not just as one might inhabit a house, but with an intimacy or physical closeness like that of a vine and its branches.

That is, in fact, the metaphor we heard used in last week’s readings from the Gospel of John. To abide in Christ is to dwell in Him, and He in us, so that we are every bit as intimate in terms of our being as are a vine and its branches. Of one stalk, one root, the vine feeds the branches the nutrients they need to produce the fruit that fulfills the purpose of the vine. In Christ we have our life and being, that we might produce the fruit of the Spirit that shows the world Christ’s love for us and our love of Christ and the neighbor

For love’s sake the Father sent Jesus to us. We know from our studies of the Bible, or long-past days in Sunday School, that it was God’s intent to dwell with His people from the Exodus onward. He wanted this in spite of their imperfection and lack of holiness. So the Lord called His people to holiness, and fashioned for them the sacrificial system as a means by which they could be cleansed of their sin.

He also established for Himself a room within the Tabernacle or Temple where His glory might abide, the Holy of Holies. Then, at the end of the ages, He sent his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. In and through His incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection, God chose to abide with us as one of us, that we might abide with Him someday without fear of the awful stains of sin and death.

This means that for the first nine months or so of His life, just as did each of us here, our Savior Jesus did abide with His mother in just such a way as a branch abides with the vine. We were a part of our mothers, yet separate. We were dwelling within her as God miraculously knit us together within her womb. In most cases, she took care to live in such a way as to do no harm to us, knowing that whatever she did to herself she did also to us, her neighbor in a most extraordinary way.

Our mothers’ bodies were home to us. Her hopes and prayers for our safe development and delivery were every bit as important to our well-being, every bit a part of our nourishment, as the food we took from her. What she took in fueled our growth, deep within the shelter of her body.

A loving mother, and a loving grandmother, also wants her children and grandchildren to know the shelter that is the love of Christ, and to live in it—to abide in it—day after day. She wants them to know the true and lasting joy of this Easter season, and every “little Easter” that takes place here each Sunday morning. She wants them to know and to be constantly reassured that in Christ, they are forgiven their sins, relieved of the necessity of carrying the burden of them day after day, year after year. She wants her children and her grandchildren to know firsthand the warmth and compassion of God’s love, a love that is willing to abide with and accompany us throughout the whole of life.

It’s not just a thing for the hour we might give to worship on a Sunday morning. It’s a constant presence, granting us strength and endurance as we need it, and giving us confidence that with our Lord’s support we will indeed be conquerors of all earthly things.

A faithful mother or grandmother has been a captain in the Church Militant, this Church on earth, long enough to know the value of trust in the Lord. She knows that she can confidently act as she sees fit, so long as she acts with the mind of Christ. She wants that same boldness in the face of life’s challenges for her children; that they might draw as much as possible from the well of God’s wonders of this world. She who fulfilled the Creator’s command to be fruitful and multiply, in the biological sense of that phrase, also wants her children to be fruitful in the fullest spiritual sense of the word, that their joys might be multiplied, and not their sorrows.

An experienced mother understands that sorrow is an inevitable part of life; no matter how much her heart aches to protect her babies of any age from grief, she knows that she cannot. Bad things will and do happen to us all. But as tacticians go, a mother who has been around the block a time or two with her children or grandchildren knows that many of our sorrows are self-manufactured. In other words, many of life’s wounds are self-inflicted, and the more self-centered we are, the more likely we are to pursue those things which can, over time, only do us and those around us harm.

The perfect model of love is the love of Jesus, who laid down his life to redeem our lives from the grave. A mother’s love is but a shadow of such love, as is the love of a father. But, as we are imperfect in all things, so are we imperfect in parental love, as much as it hurts to say that.

Even so, I want my children and my grandchildren to know Jesus, as does every parent here. We want the perfect love of God to be just as much, or more, a part of their lives as is the love I have for them. While my love for them sometimes threatens to overwhelm me, there is still only so much I can do for them. I cannot abide with them as He does, even now.

So, too, the time will come when the only way I abide with them at all is in their memory, and in the gift that is Holy Communion, where God momentarily tears down the barriers of time and separation between heaven and earth, and we are united again for a time with the saints who have gone before us. But the love of Jesus Christ is also boundless, and He can, for His love’s sake, abide with them now and always. Through that indwelling, He always does so much more for them than I can or will.

So thoroughly and completely has Jesus abided with us that He willingly suffered the cross and death for us. His sacrifice was vindicated and confirmed when our heavenly Father raised Him from the dead, so now the risen Son may abide in us, and we in Him. Through His sacrifice and the Father’s seal of approval upon it, we have the promise of endless mercy and everlasting life.

We have this too: Our Lord calls us to abide in His love so thoroughly that we will give our lives for His other children, our neighbors. We cannot love those around us as we should, for we cannot love Christ as we ought, either. But to love God is to love his people—flawed as they are; weak and incapable as we are, too. And, to love His people is to love God. To love one another as we wish to love one another, we must love Jesus first. We must abide in His love. Only in that can we hope to abide in the love of family, of friends, and even of strangers.

I am not a mother, but I am a parent. And, in addition to saving faith, I want more than anything for my sons, this: That they love those who God gives them to love—each other, friends, even parents. And, one day, that they love wives of their own, mothers of their own children. And love those children who will be my grandchildren. I want them to take joy in that love, to be enriched by it, to be strengthened by it, to be lifted up by it. But to love like this, they must first know for themselves the saving love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, who took into Himself frail human flesh, that He might abide with us, now and for all eternity. Abide in His love. Love one another. Have joy that is full.

In His holy name, Amen.