May 9, 2010, 6th Sunday of Easter

SERMON preached on Easter 6 (Mothers’ Day), May 9,2010, by Ted Berktold
Church of the Resurrection, Eugene

“If you know what’s good for you, young man,” my mother used to say, “”you’ll do as you’re told.” She was right. Her bonding of obedience and goodness holds true. In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Those who love me will keep my word.” (John 17: 20-26) It is an alternate version of last week’s gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14: 15) “You’ll do what I say.” And right there you find the secret of discipline – of discipleship – for they are one and the same. There you find authority, obedience, and love. Without any one of those three, there is no discipleship.

Very little has ever come about in this world without discipline – in a family, in a nation, in a human being, in a church. Self-discipline makes us who we are. If you really care about good health, you have to do what it takes to stay healthy. Have your flu shot, eat right, and get enough sleep and exercise. See your doctor when you need to. I know what happens to me when I ignore the rules. On Mother’s Day, I think of the ways Jesus’ words apply to a family. There’s nothing as enjoyable as a family that knows what discipline means, an orderly way of life that doesn’t crush a person’s spirit, but releases members of a family so they can be in healthy, happy relationship with others. We’ve all seen children who, when asked to open a door, close it; or if told that its time to go to bed, even if they are tired, pay no attention and stay up. Going to bed becomes a battle in which both child and parents are miserable.

Some families have the wrong kind of discipline, where there is simply authority and obedience without love. It’s a sad fact that we need agencies to protect children who are victims of unhealthy, unloving authority in their own homes. Obedience for fear of punishment was not the way of Jesus. Unless children love and respect their parents, they will obey them only until they have a chance not to. My fear of my parent’s anger seldom matched my deep urge to obey and please them out of love. They acted consistently, important for any authority figure, and they acted as one. At night, they didn’t just send me off to bed. One of them went up the stairs as if they were going with a friend. When Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents, he was responding to people who meant what they said, people who loved him, people who walked the roads of life with him. He had, even in childhood, a habit of responding to God with perfect obedience.

What works for families works in communities. If you want to learn anything at school, you have to listen to others, to those who know more than you do. The same applies when you finish schooling and take a job. One of the great fears in American cities today is the alarming growth in the crime rate. While Eugene is not among the most dangerous cities in America, it is also not listed among the safest. A state-wide study indicates that alcoholic beverages are served illegally to one in every three minors seeking to buy them. Would it really feel better if we kept juvenile crime down while adult offenders multiplied? We have a 25 mph speed limit on most streets. Have you ever been in a flow of traffic that observed that speed? You might argue that speeding is not all that bad, but the young might argue that neither is underage drinking. For young and old, in matters large and small, obedience is a thing of the past. Authority has given up in despair. The jails are full. Love has been dropped as an impractical or unsuitable motivation, and we hear a cry on every side, especially in election years, for a return to law and order; enforced law and order. What about the Church? How many people follow the canons which say a member of the church is one who attends worship every Sunday, participates in the activities and ministries of the church, and contributes a portion, a tithe, of their income?

Jesus was a great teacher, one of the greatest in history. He spoke with authority, says the Bible. That doesn’t mean he shouted. His disciples knew he meant what he said because he went with them through every thing, through every valley, to the top of every mountain. He went with them because he loved them. He still goes with us in the power of the Holy Spirit because he loves us. Sometimes we would like to forget what he says: Deny yourself, take up your cross every day, take the lowest place, forgive your enemies, be with the sick and the poor and those in prison, love God and love one another; the list goes on…. As his students, we know that what he requires, he requires. Either you do what he says or you leave the class. He doesn’t threaten us to get us to listen. We hear what he says because he loves his subject so much, and he loves us so much. His subject is the Kingdom of God and he cares about us with such passion because it was meant for us. His disciples tried to do as he asked, because they loved him. They never quite made the grade, but they never completely gave up, nor did they realize what he was about until they saw him die. That’s when they knew how much he cared, and they began to take seriously the commandments he had given them. Their obedience grew out of their love.

W. H. Auden wrote: Obedience to some authority is inescapable; if we reject the authority of tradition, then we must accept the authority of local fashion.” Our tradition is Christianity. The authority of that tradition has often been exchanged for the authority of local fashion. I can’t help wondering how many people in this un-churched state miss the love of Christ every day, and especially on Sunday, because of local fashion. I believe it’s more important to be here than sipping mocha at Starbucks or out on a golf course; to bring your children here instead of to T-ball or a soccer match. When Jesus says we can’t live on bread alone, he means it. When he says you can’t live a completely self-centered life, he means it. When he says you have to keep his word, not just hear it, not just repeat it, but keep it, he means it.

We did not come together today to pass judgment on others. We came here to look at ourselves and to remember that we are under the authority of Christ who first loved us and who loves us still, in spite of everything. We came together in love. I believe my mom was right. If we know what’s good for us, we’ll do what Christ told us to do. Only then can his will be done is us; his kingdom come in us.

Let us pray:
In our worship, in our work, and in our daily living,
May our hearts touch the things we do with love.

May who we are and what we do
bring healing and renewal to others,
the way Christ touches lives all around our community and our world.

May our days never burden us,
and may we approach this day with dreams, possibilities, and the promise of eternal life. Infused with Christ, may our lives become gifts to be received and, at the same time, gifts to be given away. Amen.