Jesus taught and modeled the way of sacrificial love, calling us to lay down our lives for others. One way we can do this in everyday life is through being willing to enter into another person’s world—truly listening to them in order to be fully present with them, hear their stories, and understand their reality.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Bible Passage: John 15:9-17
Mother’s Day is a day to honor our mothers who took such good care of us, who loved us in so many ways. And it is also a day to acknowledge the pain that many people may experience on Mother’s Day:
Like women who have longed to become a mother but haven’t been able to for a number of reasons-maybe they never married because they chose a life of celibacy, or maybe because they never found the right person to share their life with.
Or women who have struggled with infertility, or women who have become mothers but are separated from their children, or those mothers who have gone through the heartache of the death of a child.
We also remember those people whose mothers were not able to provide them with the love and nurture they needed growing up, and who may be estranged from their mothers. Or those who have lost their mothers and miss them greatly on this day, especially those whose mothers’ lives were cut short at an early age.
There is a lot of grief experienced on this day, and it’s important to acknowledge and share in the grief of people we know who experience pain and sorrow on Mother’s Day.
Let’s take a moment of silence to do that now.
One thing that’s true for each one of us is that we all have a mother, either someone who carried us in her womb and brought us into this world, or someone who adopted us into their home. For this we can all be grateful.
And I would guess that the majority of us could say that our mothers poured so much of themselves into raising us, providing for us, protecting us, showering us with love and affection, and nurturing us in so many ways.
Many of our mothers sacrificed so much for us: they put their careers, their social lives, and their personal plans on hold for years and even decades in order to take care of us.
My own mother is a woman of small physical stature, she’s under 5’ tall, but she brought 7 boys and 1 girl into the world, and was a full-time mother to us for over 30 years, from the time the first was born until the day the last one graduated from high school. She was in full-blown survival mode for about 25 of those years!
I know it was a challenge for her and my dad to keep all of us clothed and fed, and to provide for our basic needs. My mom clipped coupons like crazy to save as much money as possible at the grocery store, and I remember her handing a big stack of coupons to the person who checked us out.
And then there were the clothes. It was convenient that there were 7 boys in a row, so there were a lot of hand-me-downs. However, I was a different story.
I was built a little “huskier” than my brothers, so my mom had to buy me special clothes, and sometimes they were hard to find in my size. I vividly remember the time that she found some pants on sale at a clothing store, but the only color they had in my size was purple.
So she bought me three pairs of those purple pants, and while every other boy in Jr. High school was wearing blue jeans at school, I was wearing purple slacks. I hated wearing those pants!
Of course I was too young to realize how tough things were for my parents financially, and also too young to appreciate and be grateful that I had clean, new clothes to wear to school, even if they were sort of an odd color.
And I was too young to understand even a fraction of all the ways that my mom showed sacrificial love to me and all my siblings. Over the years I grew to understand it,
And today is a good day to remember it, not only because it’s Mother’s Day,
but also because in our scripture today from the gospel of John, Jesus is encouraging his disciples to love one another, to love sacrificially, to lay down their lives for one another in ways that mothers have been doing for their children since the beginning of time.
And this “lay down your life” kind of love is also the way that Jesus modeled with his life to the disciples and to the world in which he lived. He didn’t just tell them to do it, he backed up his words with his actions and showed them the way of sacrificial love.
“Love one another as I have loved you”, he told them, and then he goes on to say that the greatest expression of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, it’s putting your own life on the line for the sake of others.
And Jesus knew firsthand that loving in this kind of way was costly. Jesus spoke truth to the powers of his day, the political and the religious powers, and in doing so, he put his own life at risk by the radical ways that he loved people,
He so often broke the established rules regarding who was lovable and who wasn’t, between who was in and who was out, between who was clean and who was not,
and that is what ultimately led him to being put to death the cross, for our sake and for the sake of all of humanity.
Laying down one’s life like Jesus did to save other people is the ultimate sacrifice a person can make.
It’s almost unthinkable that someone would make this kind of sacrifice, especially with all of our self-preservation, all of our fears, and all the things we humans do to stay safe and protect only ourselves and those within our own little bubble.
Did you hear the story of the guy in Ocean City Maryland who jumped over a bridge and into the bay to save a toddler? It happened last Sunday; there was a 5 car pile up on a bridge, and one of the vehicles, a pick-up truck, got hit so hard that a 2 yr. old girl in a car seat was ejected from the truck and fell down into the water.
A guy whose car was also in the pileup saw what happened. He jumped out of his car, then jumped over the bridge and down into the water. He grabbed the carseat with the girl still strapped in it, and kept it afloat until some people who were in a boat nearby came over and pulled them up out of the water.
The guy is being called a hero and a Good Samaritan, which is one of Jesus’ stories that has caught on in popular culture. Like the person in the biblical story, this man risked his life not for a friend or even anyone that he knew, but for a stranger.
It reminds me of the well-known story in our Anabaptist history of Dirk Willems, the man who was running away from a prison guard.
Dirk ran across a frozen pond, and then he heard the ice break behind him and he saw the guard who was chasing him fall into the ice cold water. Dirk realized that he could just keep running and be a free man,
But he also realized that the guard would probably die if no one helped him. So Dirk ran back and helped the guard out of the water, and he saved his life.
The guard promptly arrested him and took him to prison, where Dirk was later executed for his faith.
Greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends…and even his enemies.
I could hear the story of Dirk Willems over and over again and never get tired of it. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
Hearing stories like these helps keep my faith in humanity alive, knowing that in the midst of the part of our human nature that is self-centered and focused on minding our own business,
That we do have this capacity to show sacrificial love to other people, to lay down our life for others, even to strangers, even putting own life at risk in the process.
If that kind of opportunity ever presents itself to me, I hope and pray that I will have the compassion and the courage to respond like Dirk did, or like the guy who jumped over the bridge to save the toddler’s life,
And like Jesus did in all the ways that he showed sacrificial love to people. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, it is possible.
I already talked about the ways of loving with great sacrifice that mothers and fathers do for their children which we may have had firsthand experience with or may have sometime in the future.
There are so many other ways, big ways and small ways, that we can live out Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us, to lay down our lives for our friends, and strangers, and even those considered our enemies.
Maybe during the response time you can share a way that you have experienced sacrificial love from your mother or someone else, at a time when you really needed it.
And I want to share one more way that laying down our lives for others can be put into practice, a way that I believe is especially important in the world we live in today.
And that way is by being willing to truly enter into another person’s world. This is something that we have the opportunity to do almost every single day, in almost every conversation we have with another person or a group of people.
Peter Scazzero in his book, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, talks about entering another’s world in his chapter called “Make Love the Measure of Maturity”. To Scazzero, learning to love well is one of the seven marks of a healthy disciple of Jesus,
And Scazzero says that entering into another’s world is one of the ways that we can learn from Jesus how to love others well.
If we think about it, being willing to enter into someone’s else’s world involves a Jesus kind of sacrificial love, a love that is willing to lay down our lives, our agendas, our preconceived notions and prejudices,
in order to take the time to listen to where the other person is coming from, so we can truly understand their point of view and the reality they are living in.
Scazerro quotes Mennonite author David Augsburger, who says in his book Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard that “being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” (p. 149)
Listening is such an important part of loving. And I know that in my own life, I sometimes fall way short of being a good listener to those around me. (I know that there’s at least one person in this room who can attest to that!).
Maybe I’m too preoccupied thinking of what I want to say next, or maybe I’m distracted by a whole host of things that prevent me from listening and thus the ability to enter into the other person’s world.
Take a minute to think of a time when you really felt listened to, when you really felt like the other person heard you, both through your words as well as through your tone of voice and your body language. (silence)
What a gift it is when that happens, right?
Scazerro calls this “incarnational listening”. It’s a way of listening that communicates to the other person “your thoughts and your feelings matter to me.”
And he also talks about speaking, how our words can be spoken with grace and in a spirit of sacrificial love.
The keys to speaking well are things like being respectful, honest, clear, and choosing the right time to bring something up.
Listening and speaking in these ways are practical, everyday ways that we can lay down our lives for others, because it means putting aside our own agendas in order to understand someone else’s, stepping out of our own little world to get into someone else’s.
God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason—so we listen twice as much as we speak!
Just taking the time to have meaningful conversation with people can go a long way. I really appreciated the challenge that Hija Yu gave the congregation in her sermon a couple of weeks ago on “Knowing and loving”.
She invited us to consider having two conversations a day in order to work on getting to know others and learning to love them. Thanks, Hija!
In today’s world, we so desperately need to cultivate having meaningful conversations in order to entering into another’s world.
Our country is so divided politically and people are so polarized that it’s rare to see people on different sides having respectful and honest conversations so that they can better understand their point of view.
But we need to have these conversations at some point in order to heal the wounds that many of us have and experience reconciliation in our relationships.
Another area that especially those of us who are white need to work on is entering into the world of African Americans and other people of color in order to better understand their experiences with prejudice and racism,
and also open our eyes and hearts more to uncover our own bias and prejudices that continue to perpetuate our own racist attitudes and the racism in our society.
In our Zoom discipleship group, in one session we were challenged to consider doing some practices of racial reconciliation. One of these practices is called “racial self-examination”, where we take an honest look inside ourselves to reflect on the stories and lies that we’ve been told about certain groups of people.
And along with that we commit to taking the time to listen to learn more about how racism has reared its ugly head in our country’s history,
and also take the time to listen to the stories of people of color, to be present with them, to feel their pain, their anger, their frustration over the prejudice and injustices that they and people they know have experienced.
I remember something that Barbara Weaver shared in our group that night. She said that she really wanted to work on understanding more of the reality of African Americans,
She wants to read more, listen more, and enter into their world more than she has in the past. Thank you for your honesty, Barbara.
And actually, this is something that I want to encourage all of us to do with someone who is different from us in some way.
In the next week or two, I invite you to think of someone or a group of people whose world that you can enter into. It may be someone close to you or someone farther away. Listen to them, speak graciously to them, learn more about them, open yourself up to feel their pain and their passions.
Maybe by entering into their world a little more, you can understand them better, and you can build a bridge, break down a barrier that exists between you and learn to love them a little more.
Let’s remember that the best witness that we can have as followers of Jesus is to love like he loved, sacrificially, laying down our lives for one another.
Jesus said, ‘by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.
And as Pete Scazzero says in his book, “Christians are to be the best lovers of people on the face of the earth.”
May we make it our goal to be those people. AMEN.