Exodus 33:7-18; John 15:12-17
Mother’s Day and Confirmation Sunday – May 9, 2021
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. …Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend…
Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ The Lord said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And Moses said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses replied, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’
Over the last several weeks, we have talked about how the Gospel of John is mostly concerned about:
Who is Jesus and who are we because of who Jesus is.
Today, we examine chapter 15 of John’s gospel in which Jesus lovingly turns to his disciples
and calls them his friends. I do not call you servants any longer…I call you friends.
Hear the Word of God from John 15:9-17
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.
A loving friend has been defined as
“a person with whom one has a bond of mutual attachment, a companion, a confidante.”
“A good (loving) friend shows up no matter what. A true friend supports and encourages us,
tolerates our shortcomings, accepts us unconditionally, and cares for us no matter what.
A real friend walks in when everyone else is walking out.
With a true friend, the walls come down (any masks come off)
and you can be who you are without fear.
A good friend knows you well—sometimes better than you do yourself—
and is not afraid to tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself.
A (loving) friend is present for you no matter what time of the night or day it is.
A best friend is someone who brings out the best in you.
Someone said: “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg
even though he or she knows that you are slightly cracked.” (pyschologytoday.com)
And yes, if truth be told, we all are “slightly cracked”.
I recently read an article about the critical importance of those with whom we spend our days.
Much of our happiness, satisfaction, mental health, and productivity as human beings
will depend upon those with whom we spend the most time.
A Presbyterian elder in this congregation, a woman whom I greatly respect,
a woman who is greatly loved and respected by many, is a deeply spiritual woman.
She told me not long ago that her relationship with God is the one relationship
that is of ultimate importance to her life.
She claimed that her relationship with God is the “ground upon which she walks”.
For this true saint of our church and community, intimate communion with Jesus
is her daily goal, her daily task, her daily joy.
Because Jesus is her loving friend,
she has a become a trusted, respected, honored, and loving friend to so many others.
Building a life of friendship with Jesus is not just about being careful how you live;
it’s not just about showing up at worship or youth group on Sundays.
it is not just about obedience to some set of rules.
Friendship with God is a vibrant daily relationship that requires time and intentionality.
Friendship with God is about opening our heart and mind and our soul to another.
Mostly, friendship with God is about the desire to please a loving friend,
the loving friend we have come to know in Jesus of Nazareth,
the same loving friend that the Confirmation Class came to know more deeply this spring
while reading the Gospel of Luke.
Neil Donald Walsh in his book, Conversations with God,
talks about how every friendship begins with conversation.
From daily conversation we move to deeper friendship,
and from deeper friendship we move into forming a bond, a communion, with another person over time.
As we heard this morning from the book of Exodus,
Moses regularly went out to the tent of meeting, to his special place of prayer,
and the whole community became aware over time that he was speaking with God as with a friend.
Moses was engaging in a two way conversation.
Friendship with God is not just for the times when you’re in need or in some kind of trouble,
but an ongoing, daily conversation.
Vernon Gramling, in one of his former blogposts, recalled a study that it takes something like
200 hours of face time for an acquaintance to become an intimate friend.
If we take that model, then if you prayed for a half hour every day,
it could take you as much as a year to build a deep, intimate connection with God.
If you participated in worship for only one hour every Sunday,
then you might expect it to take four years to nurture a strong bond with God.
An intimate connection with God is built daily through constant, hourly awareness of God’s presence
and ongoing back and forth communication.
Sometimes, intimacy is built not even in a conversation or spoken prayer,
but in the simple appreciation of being in another’s presence.
Mother Theresa, the famous saint of the church,
the woman who gave her life working among the poorest of the poor in India,
was once interviewed by television anchor Tom Brokaw.
When Brokaw asked her about her prayer life, the conversation went something like this:
“Mother Theresa, when you pray to God, what do you say?
I don’t say anything,” Mother Theresa replied. “I listen.”
“Oh, well then, when you listen to God, what does God say?”, Brokaw asked.
“He doesn’t say anything,” she replied. “He listens.”
The most intimate of friends do not have say anything in each other’s presence.
They can be still and know, know that that other person is there for you,
know that that other person understands you and has your best interests in mind.
Confirmands, when I was about your age, somewhere around 8th grade, I first discovered Romans 8.
The Bible that my parents had given me sat on a table at my bedside,
and I would open it many nights to seek some inspiration,
to seek some knowledge or comfort or help.
One night I read these verses:
The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
and that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Have you ever let out a sigh so deep that it communicated far more
than words alone could communicate? Let out a long sigh…go ahead….(sigh)
Over the past year, I am guessing nearly everyone has let out a sigh or two too deep for words…
Today’s scripture from the Gospel of John claims:
“You did not choose me,” Jesus said,
“I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Confirmands, you are not here today by accident.
Jesus chose you to be here today, and Jesus chose to be your loving friend.
And Jesus chose to bring this special pastor, Allysen Schaaf, into your life, to be a loving friend to you,
and Jesus chose these caring mentors to come alongside you in faith, to be your friend in faith.
The spiritual fruit that Jesus desires, the fruit that will last,
is that you will love others as you have been loved,
that you will love the world as you have been loved by Jesus and by these loving friends in faith.
Today is Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there today.
Today is a good day to recognize that loving, truly, sacrificially loving another human being,
whether that human being is your own child or your own parent or your own spouse,
can be one of the most joyful and most meaningful
and also one of the most challenging things a person can ever do.
Human relationships are at the heart of human happiness and well-being,
but they are not always easy.
Today, some of you are very glad to be sitting with your mothers.
Today, some are you may be grieving the loss of your mothers.
Today, some of you may be wishing your mother had done a better job
or wishing that you had a stronger relationship with your mother.
For more than a few of you, perhaps, today you are aware of the harm your mother caused you.
Mothers, just like the rest of us, are fallible human beings,
with their own needs, their own limitations, their own sinfulness, though we may not want to see that.
Mothers will sometimes take a different side of some important issue than you do.
A mother may not always take your side of an argument.
And eventually, your mother, just like the rest of us, may disappoint you in some way.
Even so, I have learned over time that I am ever upset with my mother,
or if I am upset with the mother of my children,
then it is probably time for me to take a long, hard look in the mirror
and discern first what is up with me.
I will confess today that my mother is a better friend to me than I am to her.
Over the years, she has initiated and called me on a fairly regular basis.
She has often considered my needs well before I was even aware of them.
She is a person who is quick to listen and slow to judge, quick to encourage and slow to condemn.
I know that my mother is always just a phone call or relatively short drive away.
And I know that when I need her, she will be there.
At my age, I cannot tell you how fortunate I feel that both of my parents
are still very much a part of my life, and my in-laws as well.
And I try to remind myself regularly not to take them for granted, though I confess I often do.
I could not tell you how many people over the years
have told me that they came to know the love of Jesus through their mother or their grandmother.
Their mother or grandmother gifted them with unconditional love.
Their mother or grandmother taught them to have reverence and honor.
Their mother or grandmother encouraged them uphold high and healthy expectations for themselves.
Their mother or their grandmother taught them to take care of those who have been less fortunate in life.
When the Apostle Paul penned a letter to his young colleague and dear friend, Timothy,
who was not much older than this Confirmation Class, he wrote:
“I am grateful to God…when I remember you constantly in my prayers…
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois
and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
For this reason, (Timothy) I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you (the gift of faith)…
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:3-7)
Friends, I pray that in all of our relationships, we may live not with a spirit of cowardice,
but with a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,
whatever that may mean for you on this day,
whatever that may mean for your loving relationships.
Deep friendship with another human being or with Jesus Christ does not come quickly or easily.
Deep abiding friendship is arrived at with a great sacrifice of time and effort,
and is received from the other as a gift.
Ultimately, a loving friendship, with God or with another person,
is not something we can earn; it is something we are given.
Friends, on this Mother’s Day Sunday,
I pray that you may nurture and receive a meaningful friendship with your mother.
I pray that you may appreciate your mother as the unique, wonderful, and fallible person she is or was,
and I pray that you will show her some kindness—and know her as friend—
not just today, but all year long.
There is no other higher calling in life than to be a loving friend.
There is nothing more important you can do in this life than to love the people around you.
As the Father has loved me, Jesus said, so I have loved you, Jesus said.
Abide in my love. 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.
To God be the glory in all our loving friendships. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church