The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 5/13/01
Text: John 13:31-35
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

That text DOES sound just like Mom, doesn't it? Every mother wants her children to get along, to love one another. No doubt, there are times that she wonders if that will ever happen, but you know nothing makes a mom happier.

Happy Mothers Day, ladies.

Have any of you been watching the "Survivor" shows? In honor of this special day, someone has proposed a unique take-off on the concept.(1)
  • 6 men will be dropped on an island with 1 van and 4 kids each, for 6 weeks.
  • Each kid plays two sports and either takes music or dance classes.
  • There is no access to fast food.
  • Each man must take care of their 4 kids, keep their assigned house clean, correct all homework, complete science projects, cook, do laundry, etc.
  • The men only have access to television when the kids are asleep and all chores are done, and none of the TV's have remotes.
  • The men must shave their legs and wear makeup daily, which they must apply themselves either while driving or while making four lunches.
  • They must attend weekly PTA meetings, clean up after their sick children at 3:00 AM, make an Indian hut model with six toothpicks, a tortilla and one marker; and get a 4-year-old to eat a serving of peas.
  • The kids vote them off based on performance.
  • The winner gets to go back to his old job.
As I say, Happy Mothers Day!

Too many times women are made to feel that they should apologize for being mothers and housewives. Tony Campolo writes, "When I was on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, there were gatherings from time to time to which faculty members brought their spouses. Inevitably, some woman lawyer or sociologist would confront my wife with the question, 'And what is it that you do, my dear?' My wife, who is one of the most brilliantly articulate individuals I know, had a great response: 'I am socializing two homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the teleologically prescribed utopia inherent in the eschaton.' When she followed that with, 'And what is it that you do?' the other person's response,'A lawyer,' just wasn't that overpowering."(2)

The first call for a Mothers Day in this country came in the 1870's as an effort to rally women to work for peace in the world. Julia Ward Howe - writer, lecturer, social reformer (and author of the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") - initiated the idea. After her experience tending the wounded in the War Between the States, she started a crusade to institute such an event. The last Mothers Day of that kind was June 1, 1912 where the printed invitation noted that "this a time for women and children to come together; to...speak, sing and pray for 'those things that make for peace.'" Thirty years before, in establishing the observance, she had cried out,
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."(3)
Of course, the Mother's Day we now observe on this second Sunday in May has its origins with Anna Jarvis who had a very different reason for honoring mothers. Never a mother herself, Anna spent most of her adult life caring for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her concern was for mothers who needed care and whose adult children were neglecting them. Out of this interest, in 1905 Anna Jarvis started a campaign for an annual religious celebration to honor mothers. In 1914 Congress passed a resolution providing that the second Sunday in May be designated as Mother's Day, and President Woodrow Wilson issued a Mother's Day Proclamation.

Anna Jarvis envisioned Mother's Day as a time of recommitment to honoring and caring for mothers, especially mothers who were no longer able to care for themselves. But she was dismayed to see the way the holiday was celebrated. She lived to see Mother's Day become the victim of commercialism, when honoring mothers was reduced to giving flowers, cards and gifts. Anna Jarvis died in 1948, disappointed and disillusioned that her work had been so trivialized.(4)

Mothers Day need not be trivialized. It can and should be more than a "Hallmark Holiday." For that matter, I will insist on the only-slightly heretical idea that it should not be relegated to a celebration of those who have given birth. As the news media regularly attest, the ability to breed does not necessarily qualify someone to be a mother. On the other hand, some of the finest mothering I have ever seen has come from people - both male and female - who have never had children of their own. They provided encouragement to the dejected, fortitude to the faint-hearted, applause for accomplishment, and whenever needed, a shoulder to cry on. You see, when we Presbyterians baptize children, the congregation promises to help the parents raise them:
Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture these children by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?

We do.(5)
Suddenly, we have this intriguing juxtaposition of a Mother's Day observance with a lectionary text that has Jesus sounding like a Mom who wants her kids to get along. More than get along, actually. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

A NEW command? There IS something different here from all the other instructions we have from the Old and New Testaments concerning our obligation to love our neighbor. Two things different, actually: 1) this command is directed especially TO those and FOR those within Christ's circle of friends (the church), and 2) there is now a specific standard against which to measure whether or not we are doing what we have been told: the standard of the Lord's own love for his own.

Why the special concern about church people loving other church people? Probably because we can be so close, like a family. Anyone who has ever raised children knows that brothers and sisters can get into some terrible fights, and that they occasionally do things to one another that they would never consider doing to someone outside the family group. The words of the old song are surely true: "You always hurt the one you love, The one you shouldn't hurt at all." It is no different in the church. Some of the meanest battles ever fought have been waged beneath steeples.

A teenager came home from choir practice early one evening. His Dad asked, "What brings you back so soon?"

"We had to call off choir practice this week," the youngster replied. "The organist and the choir director got into a terrible argument about how to sing, 'Let there be Peace on Earth,' so we quit for tonight." A new command...that you love one another. Hmmm.

One thing to note - the Lord's command is not that we LIKE one another. That certainly would be nice, but to like or not to like is rooted in our emotions, and emotions do not respond to commands. The love of which Jesus speaks is NOT an emotion. It is a way of acting toward one another that says, "No matter what, I want GOOD for you, and I will do whatever I can to insure that you get it." Christian love is not something the Lord wants us to FEEL for one another but rather something he wants us to DO for one another.

As to how this love should be measured, our standard comes from the clause, "as I have loved you." That is a broad and lofty standard indeed! The love that Jesus had for his disciples began with a willingness to ignore the limits of society. He did not content himself with a little group made up of only his "own kind" - he reached out to ALL kinds, and especially to those whom the rest of the world would shun. The love of Jesus enabled him to take on tasks that would have been thought to be beneath him - servant work like washing dusty feet, for example. The love of Jesus was able to encompass the hypocrisy of Peter, the self-serving ambition of James and John, the vicious self-righteousness of Paul. It was a love that knew no limit. He loved them so much that he was willing to die for them. That became our standard for obedience. "As I have loved you must love one another."

Of course, the heart of this unique commandment is not simply the prevention of internecine strife. Christ's instruction to love one another as he loved us is itself motivated by another for the world outside the church. "By this [everyone] will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The command to love is really a command to witness with our lives, to be so winsome in our own fellowship that those outside will want to come in. Indeed, love for one another - DOING for one another - may be the most effective evangelistic tool we have at our disposal.

Years ago Henry Drummond preached a sermon about love called "The Greatest Thing in the World" in which he suggested that if you put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, that piece of iron becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two together, they will share this characteristic. It is no different with Christians and Christ - when we are close to him, we reproduce some of his characteristics which would be quite impossible if we merely attempted to obey his command or imitate his example.

"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Sounds just like Mom, doesn't he?

Oh. Speaking of magnets, a Junior High School science teacher was about to begin a unit on the subject, and to introduce it, he offered his students a puzzle. It read, "My name has six letters beginning with 'M' and I pick things up. What am I?" Half the kids in the class wrote "MOTHER!"(6)

Happy Mothers Day.


1. Quoted by David Salico on PresbyNet, "Jokes," #2005, 2/26/01

2. Anthony Campolo, The Power Delusion quoted by James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 380

3. From material created by Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament Education Fund.

4. To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage, (Alternatives, P.O. Box 429, Ellenwood, Georgia 30049), pp. 116-117

5. The Sacrament of Baptism, Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993)

6. Pastor's Professional Research Service

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