14 May, 2017

Mother’s Day

John 15:9-17


Gemma Gaye Kileen was a young beautiful 22-year-old woman. She had a child, 22-month-old son named Te Reringa Kayden Ashley Watere. She seemed to have the kind of life that many young girls today would like to have. On November 25 2010, she looked like the picture of a perfect young mother when she cradled Te and strolled with him around the shops in Hillary’s Boat Harbour.

But that was only the facade. Deep inside, she was torn between her responsibility as Kayden’s mother and the kind of lifestyle that she would like to enjoy with her friends. The night before, Gemma arrived home at 2 am after a night out. She then had a big fight with her son’s father, Eddie Watere, with whom she had had an on again and off again relationship.

The fracture between her and her son’s father, as well as between her real life as a mother and the kind of life that she would like to have, had grown bigger and bigger. Finally, on that fateful day in November, she did an act that most mothers would never even imagine doing. She took her 22-month-old son from the car seat, carried him to the rocky waterline of the harbour, and left him there.

She returned to her car alone and drove to the other end of the harbour. There she started telling people that she had lost her son. She falsely claimed that her son had been taken away from the stroller as she put something in the car.

Kayden, would later be found dead floating in the water by a couple who initially thought they found a doll. Gemma admitted the she was the one responsible for Kaydens’ death, but she still claimed that she never meant to kill or seriously harm him. She only wanted that things between her and Kayden’s father become how they used to be: “perfect”. She faced a life jail term for the murder of her own son.[1]

I’m sorry to tell you this story especially today when we celebrate Mother’s Day. But tragedy like this does occur. And I would like to invite you all to reflect on it, especially as we remember the sacrifice that our mothers (biological or adopted) have made to raise us.

So, with this uneasiness in our mind, I would like to invite you to return your attention to our reading from John’s Gospel today. I would like you to focus on the word abide. The Greek word that is translated as abide in our reading today may also be translated as remain, stay, live, dwell, last, endure, or continue. The word in Greek refers to the connection between the branches and the vine, between the believers and Jesus.[2]

Abiding is also the key message of the verses before our reading today. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I abide in them, will produce much fruit in their life (John 15:5).”

Indeed, abiding is one of the major themes in John’s Gospel. The language of abiding is at the core of the Gospel.[3] In our reading today, Jesus reminded us that the only way to abide in his love was by keeping his commandment, just like he abided in God’s love by keeping God’s commandment (John 15:10). And this commandment is the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

So “loving is the highest form of abiding, of being present for another.”[4] If abiding has a purpose, that purpose is to love. Love is the fruit of the abiding relationship between the Father and the Son. Love is also the fruit of the abiding relationship between the Son and his followers.[5]

But this love is not the kind romantic love that is often idealized in our society today. This love is not about that feeling of infatuation to the man/woman of our dream. This love is a self-sacrificial love; the greatest kind of love that is shown when one gives one’s life for another person (see John 15:13).

Phillip Yancey in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace, talks about the speech that Mother Theresa gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in the US. She came to the meeting hall as a frail 83-year-old woman who needed help to stand up and who could barely reach the microphone. Yet, with a thick accent, she spoke clearly and slowly and her voice filled the entire auditorium.

In her speech, she reminded America that the nation had become a selfish nation in danger of losing sight of the true meaning of love.

But what is the true meaning of love?

For Mother Theresa, the true meaning of love was “giving until it hurts”. For her, love was not that warm feeling that we feel towards that special person that makes us fall head over heels. For her, love was not about loving a car or a job or any object that we desire. No, for her, love was not about getting something or someone that we want. For her, love was about giving: “giving until it hurts”.[6] And I would add that love is not only about giving until it hurts; it is also about giving even though it hurts.

The love that most mothers have for their children, either biological or adopted, expresses clearly this kind of self-sacrificial love. Even though Jesus, in John’s Gospel, described God as his Father, the kind of love that he was describing was motherly. That’s why this passage from John’ Gospel is an appropriate passage for us today on this Mother’s Day.

Now, I’m not saying that all mothers have that capacity to love and continue on loving even though it hurts. In reality, there are limitations to a mother’s love. We heard, at the beginning of my sermon, about a young mother who harmed her own son because he stood in the way of her achieving her “perfect” life back.

And she was not the only one. We have heard many other stories about mothers who caused significant damage, either physically or mentally, to their own children.

But in most cases, I think it is fair to say that a mother’s love is enduring. I experienced it myself with my late mother.

My mother was not perfect; no mother is. But there was nothing that I could do to lose the love that she had for me. For sure, I had stretched her love to the limit, but even then, she still loved me. Her love for me stayed strong until the day she passed away.

This kind of love that my mother showed to me and her other children is the kind of love that God in Jesus has shown to us. God is nothing like that young mother who murdered her own son for her own benefit. God is like a true mother who will sacrifice herself for her loved ones.

But sacrificing oneself for another person does not make one less of a person. A true sacrificial love would make us become the kind of people we are meant to be.[7] A true sacrificial love does not diminish our life; it enhances it.

Faye Row was only15 years old when she was pregnant with her son, Auron. She was in foster care at the time and had been there since she was 13. Both her mother and father were drug addicts and there had been a lot of violence in her family. When she was a small child, her father went to jail a couple of times and her mother passed away from a drug overdose when she was 17.

Being very young and pregnant was difficult. Strangers would look down at her and say things to belittle her. But she did not want to abort her baby. She accepted that she alone was responsible for the pregnancy and she made some dramatic changes in her life to make sure that her baby was safe. She quitted taking drugs, smoking, and drinking and became very pedantic about her health because she didn’t want to harm her own child.

She was still in year 10 in Mirabooka Senior High School when she was pregnant, but she didn’t want to become a ‘dropout mother’. So, after giving birth, she went back to school and continued her study.

It wasn’t an easy ride. Faye never had a good role model for herself and there were times when she didn’t know how to handle Auron as a baby. At 15, instead of going out with friends, partying and drinking, she would be at home, looking after Auron. She would like to keep her friends, but she also knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep pace with them any longer.

Years later, looking back, she was glad that she had Auron. Before she fell pregnant, she was contemplating about dropping out of school. But since Auron was born, she did not only manage to finish school; she also got accepted into university and had done much study and work. She did not worry much about going out with friends anymore and was glad that she was able to spend much time with Auron. Considering her difficult backgrounds, she considered herself as doing rather well and had finally settled into her role as a young mother.[8]

What an amazing young woman. Despite her young age, Faye was able to show to us what a true motherhood was. She had made sacrifices for her son, who became the first priority of her life, and reordered her life back for her son. With open hands, she welcomed Auron into her life, even though she knew that it would be hard for her. She was a reflection of God in Jesus who also accepted us with open hands as God’s children.

Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, let us remember again the sacrifices that our mothers have done for us. Those sacrifices are the reflection of God’s sacrificial love on the cross in Christ Jesus. Their love is the embodiment of God’s motherly love to all God’s children. And it is only appropriate for us to honour that love by showing that kind of love in our life as well. Amen.

Toby Keva

[1] Jones, Christiana, A Struggle with Motherhood, in the West Australian (May 10, 2012), p. 7 (News).

[2] Stoffregen, Brian P., Exegetical Notes (John 15:9-17), on Cross Marks-Christian Resources (www.crossmarks.com). Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[3] Brosend, William, Abiding Love, on www.religion-online.com. Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[4] Brosend, William, Abiding Love, on www.religion-online.com. Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[5] Boyce, James, Commentary on the Gospel (John 15:9-17), on www.workingpreacher.org. Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[6] Stoffregen, Brian P., Exegetical Notes (John 15:9-17), on Cross Marks-Christian Resources (www.crossmarks.com). Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[7] Lose, David, Love and Obedience, on www.workingpreacher.com. Retrieved May 8, 2012.

[8] Hampson, Katie, The Mum Diaries, in the West Weekend (May 5, 2012), p. 13.