Connected to Christ

j15 graphic.2To listen to Pastor Marcus’ sermon click on the audio player below:

 

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Sermon based on John 15:9-17 & Luke 1:28-33, 38

I’m sure we all have some stories from our youth that remind us about our mothers that we reflect upon on a day like today. As we think of our mothers, we remember that on May 10, 1908, at a memorial service for her mother, Anna Jarvis gave a carnation, her mother’s favorite flower to each person who attended to express her affection and admiration for her mother. Within the next few years, the idea of a day to honor mothers gained popularity, and Mother’s Day was observed in a number of large cities in the United States. Finally on May 9, 1914 by an act of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

When I was younger some of my role models were athletes. However some athletes provide poor examples of morals, ethics and faith. As I have grown older I began to realize that role models in life are often people of faith.I’m sure we can name many people who have shown us how God calls us to live our lives. To find role models we do not have to look very far for many are among us this morning. Perhaps many role models in life are mothers. Role models may be people who quietly go about their daily routine, accompanied without a lot of fanfare. We all have heroes who we admire and respect. We all know people who have made an impact upon our life. Our world is full of good people.  Living among us are individuals who really care, people who donate their time and funds to various charities, people who raise their voice to make a difference in the Kingdom of God.

We can also look into Scripture and see people who are role models for our faith. On this occasion of honoring our mothers a great role model who rarely receives the fanfare she deserves is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary was perhaps connected to Jesus greater than any other person. Mary was the only person with Jesus throughout his whole life. Many people often marvel about how God chose a teenager to become the mother of His Son. As we look at Mary and her life we see very little in her background that would merit her selection as the mother of God’s Son. Mary was a Jewish girl who was anticipating her wedding day to a man named Joseph, a carpenter. Mary was someone who was not rich, or educated. She lived in a remote, out of the way place called Nazareth. Perhaps there was someone else, someone more influential, less off the beaten path that would have been better suited to raise Jesus. God however thought differently. Mary I’m sure did not expect to be confronted with a messenger from heaven. Yet the angel Gabriel appeared to her and said that the Lord was pleased with her. While Mary had the option to say “no” to God’s request to bear his son, she answered “yes” and in doing so her faith was strengthened. As she watched Jesus grow and come to maturity, she probably reflected with great pride the day she said,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

God calls each of us to answer similarly His call. Our gospel lesson from John emphasizes this point. We see in this passage that we are called to bear fruit in our service in God’s Kingdom. Within the first eight verses of this chapter Jesus makes reference to the grapevine and its ability to bear fruit. It is interesting to note that the grapevine is the most talked about plant in the Bible with nearly 500 references. The grapevine is not just planted and cultivated simply as ground cover or beautification purposes. Grapevines have a purpose which is to bear fruit that we enjoy eating, and wine that some of us may enjoy drinking. On the subject of bearing fruit, in Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine nearly 1,000 years old. This grapevine has one root that is at least two feet thick, and some of the branches are 200 feet long. Despite its age the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Although some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they still bear the sweet and delicious fruit because they are connected to the vine. Life flows from that single root throughout the vine bringing nourishment and strength to each of the branches. Jesus promises the same for each of us. He is the “true vine” bringing life to each of the branches, which we represent. The purpose of the vine is to bring nourishment to branches in order that they might produce fruit. Our strength as Christians is dependent upon our connection to Christ.

My favorite verse in this passage is the following from verse nine:

As the father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

Speaking of love, there was a very unusual military funeral in California in 2013. Sgt. First Class Joseph Gantt, who fought in both World War II and the Korean War, was laid to rest. He had been captured in Korea in 1950 and died the following year. However, his body was not returned for many years, and his death was never confirmed by North Korea. His wife, Clara, for decades waited for her husband to come back. She regularly went to meetings with government officials seeking information about what had happened. Clara even bought a house and had it professionally landscaped so all Joseph would have to do when he came home was go fishing. She was ninety-four years old when his remains were finally brought home for a military funeral with full honors. It wasn’t the homecoming she dreamed of, but she finally knew his fate. Clara told a reporter who interviewed her, “He told me if anything happened to him, he wanted me to remarry. And I told him ‘No, no.’ Here I am, still his wife, and I’m going to remain his wife until the day the Lord calls me home.” As this story shares, love, true Godly love is not temporary or fleeting. Love is a commitment that is meant to last. Love is not based on everything going in a direction that we think should be right and love does not always bring happiness to our lives.

While I can’t speak for my brothers and sisters in ordained ministry,  the recent decisions of our Provincial Synod have created far more stressful than happy times for me since my return. On a Sunday when we are acknowledging our love for family, on a Sunday that celebrates my 6thanniversary of serving this great congregation as pastor, our Moravian family some fear is at a crossroads. As our congregation addresses the impact of the recent decisions of  our Provincial Synod  featured yesterday in the Winston Salem Journal that has not made some of us happy , we can live out these words from a Synod resolution that was passed 23 years ago at our 1995 Synod that says:

“…in our discussions and dialogue with one another on the question of homosexuality we will  strive at all times in our hearts and in our actions to love one another, to respect one another’s  understanding and search for truth and God’s will concerning the question of homosexuality as befits Christians of good will seeking to bring unity in Christ.” (1995)

As your pastor and as Chairperson of our Leadership Board, I want you all to know that we will be devoting a great deal of time in the days ahead of discussing the impact of these resolutions upon our congregation.  We will provide a forum of some nature for our congregation to voice their opinions.  As we move forward together let us covenant now to treat one another with respect and love.

As we speak about love let’s return for a moment to Mary and her love of Jesus. She loved Jesus as he matured from a child to a man. The customs of society clearly dictated that she bathed him, fed him, changed his diapers, and sewed his clothes. His upbringing was Mary’s focus. Mary loved Jesus as any parent loves their child. Mary loved Jesus when they were together at the wedding in Cana, the site of his first miracle. Mary loved Jesus when he told the crowds that Mary and her other sons weren’t Jesus’ true family; those who did the will of God were his true family. Mary loved Jesus at the foot of the cross, when she had to suffer the pain of watching her son die for the sins of the world. Mary’s life and example should remind us that we are all Christ’s ambassadors in the world.

To be the best ambassador we must choose to live out these words of bearing fruit and abiding in the love of Jesus. Mary understood in her service to God what it would mean to care for and love Jesus. On this day in which we honor our mothers and those who serve in a mothering role let us remember that we are presented through our Scripture in John some instructions. If we follow these instructions we will bear great fruit in God’s Kingdom.  Fruit is a metaphor for our actions, attitudes, words and prayers.

As we think about prayers it has been written that countless times each day mothers across our nation and world do what no one else can do quite as well. They wipe away a tear, whisper words of hope, and soothe a child when they are afraid. They teach and nurture the next generation. They challenge and inspire kids to do their best. While this is true of many mothers, I believe the same can be said for those who serve as Christ’s ambassadors in the world. As living branches for Christ may our words and actions reflect that we too are connected to our Lord and Savior and that we will abide in His love, his love for us and for all!

The Rev. Dr. David Marcus, Jr.

May 13, 2018

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