Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mommas and the Love that Lays Down Life

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

From the first letter of John this morning: "Everyone who loves the parent loves the child."

What apt words, and a beautiful image, for Mother's Day - a providential coincidence of our lectionary this morning - God's good sense of humor.  The author of John observing that the relationship between parent and child is such that love for the one necessarily must entail love for the other; that it makes no sense to talk about loving the one without loving the the other, so deeply united are the persons of the parent and the child in their own mutual love. This is love at its contagious best, where love without condition begets love without condition: "everyone who loves the parent loves the child."

On a personal note, the providential coincidence that gives us this scripture to consider on Mother's Day is especially sweet to me because I have the especially rare gift of sharing this Sunday morning with my mother, whom I never have called "mother" but mostly "Momma," whose love for me is a gift beyond describing.

Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. In this verse's particular context within John's letter, we learn that God the Father is the Parent and Jesus is the Child; that you can't have the Father without the Son. "I am the way and the truth and the life," we remember Jesus saying. "No one comes to the Father except through me." Love of the Father necessarily entails love of the Son. And this is the beginning of the mystery we call the holy Trinity.

But John's logic isn't finished: if God the Father is the Parent and Jesus is the Child, and if everyone who loves the Parent loves the Child, John's gospel won't let us miss this important, climactic point: that in the person of Jesus, we worship the Child who makes us God's children.

We worship the Child who makes us children of God. From now on, when we hear the words, "everyone who loves the parent loves the child," we are moved toward one another. We become a people in the process of learning that love of God and love of each other have become inextricably united in the person of Jesus: the Child who makes us God's children. So now all who love God are given the privilege of loving one another.

This is how the author of 1st John can say elsewhere, "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their
brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."

So you can't have the Father without the Son; neither can you love - and this has been a great disappointment to many people for more than 2,000 years now - neither can you love the Father and/or the Son without the tawdry group of sinners called the Church, even priests; and the Church in turn cannot truly love the Triune God without relationship with the ones outside her walls for whom Christ also died.

Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. And this room and the world are filled with the children of God.

That we are called to love one another may seem obvious. But then, that we struggle with the call to love one another should be equally obvious. As one humorous example, the 17th century French physicist, mathematician, and Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal once wryly observed that "if everyone knew what others said about him (in his absence), there would not be four friends in the world." We can fail quite cruelly in our love for one another.  There is always room for each of us and all of us to grow more deeply into the simple call to love one another as children of the God we love.

So John's epistle reminds us that God's Child has made us God's children and we as God's children have been given the holy privilege of loving all the children of God; our participation in God's love for his children is an extension of our love for the Parent. More pointedly, our participation in God's love for his children is evidence of our love for the Parent.

Having established on what grounds we ARE to love, Jesus goes on in John's gospel to describe the shape of the love we are to share with one another, and Jesus is the shape and source of the love we are called to share: "no one has greater love has this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." These words are a clear reference to what God in Jesus does for us on the cross: laying down God's own life, making us friends of God. But what can it possibly mean for us to love one another like this? To lay down one's life? And here, in these words, I think of mothers again.

I am thinking especially of the routine sacrifices that mothers learn to make like instinct in ways that leave scars and marks and wounds on their bodies, the results of loving vulnerably, even - maybe especially - when no one else notices the sacrifice or cost.

I think of Glennon Melton (no relation), an online blogger who writes hilariously and from a faith perspective about her life as a mom. Not too long ago she shared this experience - she writes:

"...last week, a woman approached me in the Target line and said the following: 'Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.'

"At that particular moment, Amma had arranged one of the new bras I was buying on top of her sweater and was sucking a lollipop that she must have found on the ground. She also had three shop-lifted clip-on neon feathers stuck in her hair. She looked exactly like a contestant from Toddlers and Tiaras. I couldn't find Chase anywhere, and Tish was grabbing the pen on the credit card swiper thing WHILE the woman in front of me was trying to use it. And so I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, 'Thank you. Yes. Me too. I am enjoying every single moment. Especially this one. Yes. Thank you.'

"That's not exactly what I wanted to say, though.

"There was a famous writer who, when asked if he loved writing, replied, 'No. but I love having written.' What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, 'Are you sure? Are you sure you don't mean you love having parented?'

"I love having written. And I love having parented. My favorite part of each day is when the kids are put to sleep (to bed) and Craig and I sink into the couch to watch some quality TV, like Celebrity Wife Swap, and congratulate each other on a job well done. Or a job done, at least."

Later she adds, "But the fact remains that (one day) I will be that nostalgic lady. I just hope to be one with a clear memory. And here's what I hope to say to the younger mama gritting her teeth in line:

"'It's (hard as heck), isn't it? You're a good mom, I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She's my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime.' And hopefully, every once in a while, I'll add -- 'Let me pick up that grocery bill for ya, sister. Go put those kids in the van and pull on up -- I'll have them bring your groceries out.'"

Love that lays down its life. Kind of like mothers. Even when others don't see it, appreciate it, how hard it is, how much it costs. And John's gospel is thinking especially of the routine sacrifices that all followers of Jesus are asked to learn like instinct in ways that leave scars and marks and wounds on our bodies, resulting from the vulnerability of Christian love and mission, life in community, even - maybe especially - when no one else notices or appreciates the sacrifice.

It is not uncommon to hear people in the church talk about their desire for their church to feel like family. This is good news because, as we discover in John's gospel, God in Christ has loved us into God's family. That we have been made one family is also hard news because the love that has made us God's family is the love that lays down life. This is a difficult and humbling gift to receive, much less want to learn how to do. For us to learn to act in this love without sowing seeds of entitlement, self-righteousness, or resentment cannot be easy, if it is possible at all. If it is possible, it is surely and only because we know that God has become like a mother to us, that we have been reborn in Christ as daughters and sons in the Kingdom of God, where love without condition begets love without condition as we are miraculously swept up into the love that moves the sun and the stars, even the greater love of the Son. So found in the love of this Child whose Parent we love, we can seemingly do no other than seek, serve, and love the image of the Child who makes us God's children in every member of God's family. What a marvelous and unexpected gift.


Sermon preacher on Easter 6, also Mother's Day, May 13, 2012.

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