Updated: May 15
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
May 14, 2023
JOHN 14:15-21 NRSV
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Ah, it’s Mothers’ Day! Ok. I’m done. Amen. [ laughter ]. Really, I tell everyone that I think preaching on Mothers’ Day is a fools errand for a man. The things I don’t know about being a mother are beyond infinity. The things I shouldn’t say about mothers are that multiplied about, oh, the square root of infinity. By the way I know about as much about math as I do about mothering. So let me begin by saying I do not give advice on Mothers’ Day. All I really want to do is express admiration and appreciation and hope I don’t offend anyone by leaving someone out or saying something epically stupid.
I mean here’s the problem, besides the obvious that I am a man and genetically I am more stupid than a woman. And, because it is beyond my wildest imagination to know what it is like to carry a child in a womb, let alone deliver a child, I should stay in my lane, as the saying goes. The truth is also in any number of hard things about mothering. I think of those who have had children die. I read a great article from a mother whose child was stillborn. She said the only thing she really wanted on Mother’s Day was for someone to say her child’s name. She wanted someone to acknowledge that he lived, that she was not only a mother to a living child, but to one who died. I feel that sorrow and that longing. I also think of those whose children have hurt them in ways too horrible to name. On the other side are those whose mothers, out of their own unimaginable pain, may have caused their children terrible suffering. And if you just lost a mother and this is your first Mothers’ Day since, I grieve with you.
All my caveats aside, I hope to say something that relates to Mother’s Day. But let me do so within the context of the preacher’s task: to listen to Scripture, let the Holy Spirit speak and guide as best as I can, and share with you what I learned, hoping that it maybe of some use to you. My hope is buoyed by the fact that although not all of you are mothers, all of you – all of US – have had mothers. So I will attempt to be honest about what I hear from our Scripture today and apply it to this day.
The verses we read report Jesus speaking to his disciples as he prepares to leave them, to go to the cross, to his death, and what John calls his “glory.” John’s Gospel often gives us a 28-ounce Porterhouse steak of theology in a small number of verses. There is way too much meat here for me to cover in a few minutes or even an hour of preaching. Don’t worry, I have not forgotten that I do not have an hour to preach. Let me give you as much as we can digest in a few minutes.
This passage is labeled by some as “the promise of the Holy Spirit.” I would say that this passage makes “Love Promises” to us. I believe to say one loves is a promise itself. Jesus promises to ask God to “send” an Advocate to the disciples. He calls it a “Spirit of Truth.” What is interesting is that some of the other copies of this scripture use a different word than Advocate. Some use “Helper.” Some use “Comforter.” What that tells us is two things: first that the word “Advocate” either had a broad meaning to those who first heard it or read it, or that, second, that those first disciples sometimes felt free to take the liberty to interpret and change words when making copies of the text. What that means to me is that we must sometimes be careful to reflect on these differences not as errors but as ways to broaden our understanding of the message of the text.
So if this Spirit is a Spirit of Truth who will act as a Comforter, a Helper, and/or an Advocate for the disciples and for us, I want to claim that promise for mothers today – and for all of us – but since it is Mothers’ Day I want to claim it especially for mothers and also for all of us as we think about our own mothers. May the Spirit of Truth help guide you. May that Truth be one that brings Comfort and Help in whatever way you may need it. If you are hurting, I pray that Spirit will heal and renew you. If you are struggling and wondering, I hope that the Truth of the Spirit will be a guide and a strength to you. I also hope that the Advocating Spirit of Truth is at work advocating for you, and for whatever you need in your relationships. If you are celebrating some part of being a mother or of your own mother, may it be a Helping Spirit that assists you in that. I hope that Spirit is a Spirit of Promise that is fulfilled in bringing your Spirit what you need this day.
The second thing I hear this passage emphasizing is the enduring presence of that Spirit. John tells us Jesus said this Spirit would “be with [us] forever.” He affirms that, saying that the Spirit, “abides with you, and will be in you.” Once again others who transcribed this passage worded it slightly differently saying the Spirit “is IN you,” or is “AMONG” you. I think the only difference is in the way we experience the Spirit. Sometimes we may feel that the Spirit is “in” us, and sometimes “among” us, or both. The promise I hear and want to assure all of us is this: that Spirit will not leave us, even if we do not sense its presence. At times we may struggle, and may believe that the Spirit has left us because life is so tough. If there is anything that the Scriptures assure us of is that the real God does not ever abandon or leave us because we aren’t “good enough.” Did you hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned. I will come to you … and because I live you shall live also.” I pray that this promise is a heart-lifter for anyone and everyone today, but especially for anyone struggling.
Now, despite the fact that I said I wasn’t going to GIVE any advice, I am smart enough to know to ask for advice on mothering. My local “in-house expert” commented on what she thinks is important about “mothering” in a way that echoed this part of the Scripture. She said her mother, who entered into Life Everlasting just this past October, never tried to control her or tell her what to do or think, but she was always there and always willing to help if asked. I will add her parents came and stayed with us for months after two of our children were born sacrificing their retirement years to help us as Tammy went back to work. Tammy also talked about how she believed in assuring our children she is always there for them. She echoes these words of Jesus. “I will not leave you… I will come to you….” I think to whatever degree God is a Mothering God, this “love promise,” is pretty much one we can all agree expresses something powerful about God’s love.
The last phrase that spoke to me as I was preparing this message is the last verse:
21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
One of the challenging things about John’s Gospel is that Jesus often says things that seem to have a kind of circular, repeating logic to them. “if you love me, you will be loved, and I will love you.” It can sound difficult to understand, but maybe it is because love itself is by nature circular. If you love, you will be loved. If you are loved you almost certainly will learn to love and love in return. There didn’t that make it all clearer? Let me try again. My prayer and my promise, in faith, is that we remember that in John’s Gospel Jesus gives this one commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.” If we obey this commandment, I believe we will see Christ revealed to us in the loving of others and in the loving of others. There I did it again! Circular, and maybe confusing. Maybe I can say it this way.
I believe the “love promise” that Jesus makes to us is that in the act of loving others we will discover that others will return that love to us. I admit there may be times when those we love do not act loving towards us in return. And I admit that is heartbreaking. My prayer is that this promise ultimately will be fulfilled. Sometimes that love cannot be returned until we, or the person we love, is transformed. But to me the love promise that God makes is that we will be transformed, that all things will be transformed, that all things will be transformed by love into love. That is what I believe about the power of God’s love.
It can be hard to believe in this promise. We live in times when many focus on the hatred of others. We seem to be obsessed with fear and hatred and magnify it and its power so easily. I pray and I promise that love is much more powerful. I promise that if we magnify love in our lives it will return to us more than my limited mathematical abilities can even describe. For me, I know that even as a dumb man, a father, I can say that my children have taught me more about love than I can ever describe in a hundred sermons. Knowing that, and believing in the power of that love of God, I asked my daughter to share her thoughts on being a first time mommy. As you know she just delivered her first child and our first grandchild almost 3 months ago now. Here's what she wrote:
“When my dad asked me to write up something about my first Mother’s Day, I was excited. I believe most new moms are fervently waiting for any opportunity to talk about their baby and the changes that come with being a new mom, and I am certainly no exception.
“My lovely little River has expanded my world in such a beautiful way, I am grateful every day. My experience as a new mom has been wonderful. Everything with my son feels simultaneously brand new and the way things were always meant to be. I have certainly faced challenges … and when our son was one month old, my husband had shoulder surgery which meant he couldn’t do much with the newborn while I was on the last month of my maternity leave. However, I was able to get through those hurdles due to the support I have in my life both from loved ones and my employer.
“As Mother’s Day approaches, the specific challenges too many women in America needlessly face have also been on my mind. The Guardian reports that ‘one in four women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth.’ At two weeks both my newborn and I were in diapers, crying frequently, and having trouble sleeping. I cannot imagine being forced to return to work so soon after giving birth.
“I think that this is also an important time to emphasize that motherhood should be reserved for those who choose it. I celebrate the people in my life who have chosen to become mothers just as much as those who have decided against it. With the repeal of Roe v. Wade, our country enters a dangerous era of forcing motherhood on the unwilling, unprepared, and unsupported. Motherhood has been exciting, and I appreciate this day of celebration. However, if we are going to be a nation that sets aside this whole day to honor mothers, we need to keep motherhood a choice for those excited to welcome new children into this world and support those who choose it with the appropriate amount of time for recovering from the trauma of childbirth.”
See, I love that. That is so perfectly said and so perfectly our daughter. She is always committed to speaking her truth and her truth always includes her deep concern for the social justice that our Bible and our God demands.
So the only thing I try to be smart about is when to shut up. Now is the time. I will end by reaffirming my prayer that each of us will believe and know the love promises God makes to us and that we will share that same love with all those our lives touch. AMEN.