Saturday, May 09, 2009

Where is the Love?

Texts: 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-4

There’s good news for the economy – an upswing in spending has taken place this past week. And we can thank mothers for that. The National Retail Federation estimates that we Americans will spend an average of $124 this Mother's Day. In looking for ways to show Mom our love, nearly 67 percent of us will go the tried and true route – flowers – and thus pump the floral industry with about $2 billion dollars. Others of us will buy jewelry, gift cards, chocolate, and spa packages (these gifts, incidentally, work well for Pastors’ Appreciation day too). 50% of us will take Mom out to lunch and most of us are sending cards – all adding up to about $14 billion dollars spent to tell Mom we love her.[1]

Not to get on the bad side of all the moms who enjoy the flowers and the chocolates, but it seems to me that there might better ways to show Mom we love her than spending money on stuff.

The Mother of Mother’s Day had similar thoughts. Inspired by her own mother, Anna Jarvis spent almost a decade campaigning to get a day set aside to honor moms. Staunton’s own Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1914. We celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of the month because it coincides with the anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death. She wanted a holy day – not a holiday – set aside to honor the dedication and sacrifice of each individual mother with – at best – a single white carnation and a handwritten letter given as tokens of affection.

Over the years, white carnation have some how transformed into white diamond pendants the commercials tell us will really let Mom know we care. It broke Anna’s heart – among other things[2] – when Mother’s Day began to be the commercial holiday we know today. She wanted this day to be about love, not profit. And as far as all those Hallmark cards go, they are – according to her – “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

As a daughter who is hoping a phone call to her mom will be enough this year, those words of Anna’s strike a chord. Quite frankly, I don’t know of many moms who would rather have a box of chocolates over something heartfelt and time-consuming—like a hand-written letter, or your amateur painting, or (one of my mom’s favorites) a list of chores she does around the house that you’re taking over for awhile.

Those thoughtful things often get left behind on the “good idea” shelf while we take the easier option. Enter the diamond pendants and $2 billion spent on flowers. Showing someone you love them – whether that someone is your mother, father, sibling, partner, friend – can be a challenge. Especially when we’ve been taught that showing someone you love them means getting that perfect gift – that perfect thing. We’ve been taught this and many of us have come to believe it to be true, even though I doubt many of us would be able to say “I knew my husband loved me when he bought me a new car,” or “I knew my friend really cared when she bought me an iPod case.”

We can say “I love you, I love you, I love you,” but our actions need to match our words—after all, they speak louder. And that’s not as simple as treating Mom to dinner once a year. Showing those we love that we love them takes time, energy, and effort. The hand-written letter versus the greeting card. Love isn’t easy.

When it comes to the one who is Mother and Father to us all – it certainly doesn’t get any easier. Oh, some things are easier. We don’t have to wonder if sending God a card or a flower is a good enough way to show our love. Taking God out to dinner isn’t an option neither is that diamond pendant. We don’t have to guess about the ways in which God knows that we really care.

Our epistle lesson this morning tells us plainly, “those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or a 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.”

How do we show God our love? By loving one another. Not just a passive love – but an active one. Right before his crucifixion, Jesus tells us that those who show kindness to the least among us, offering food, water, shelter, clothes, compassion, are the ones who show our love to him. Right before his ascension, Jesus reinforces our ways of expressing love to God for when he asks Peter if he loves him, and the Rock replies “you know I do,” what does Jesus say back? “Then feed and tend my sheep.”

We show God’s love to the world – and our love to God – when we love one another.

No worries about the perfect present, no doubts about if God will understand what we’re trying to say when we mow the lawn or do the dishes without being asked – we know how to express our love. But just because we know how doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. It would be so much simpler to be able to love God by coming to church every Sunday, putting money in the offering plate, and leave it at that. While worshipping God and stewardship of resources are certainly part of loving God – they aren’t the totality.

God asks us to love the unlovable. I’m talking about those mean, nasty people that make you cry, make you angry, make you so frustrated. God asks us to take care of those who are in need – even if we may wonder just how they got themselves in such dire circumstances in the first place. God asks us to share the good news of the gospel in word and deed with all – not just our children here in the safety of our church walls - but all God’s children, just outside these walls and far beyond.

We do not do these things in order to earn God’s love – that would be impossible. For the only way we can love is because God first loved us. No, we do these things in response to God’s love – to show God our own love back.

It would be some much easier just to send God a greeting card. I don’t have to tell you how tough it is to love people you just don’t give you any reason to love them – in fact, give you every worldly reason to not. Nor how against the grain it can feel to go out of your way to help someone you’re not quite sure deserves to be helped. Nor how uncomfortable it can be to tell people about the love of God when you’re pretty sure they don’t want to hear it.

Yep, a greeting card or one of those edible fruit bouquets would be so much easier.

But love isn’t easy. Not even when it comes to the One who is love.

It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.


“If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”

Our epistle lesson reminds us that when do all of these things – love our enemies, take care of the poor, proclaim the good news and so much more – we do so with the aid of the One who loves us first. When we love, it is God’s love we are sharing and showing. When we love one another, we know God and are empowered by God to love back.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.”

Abide – not just stopping by for a cup of tea. But staying, dwelling, sinking in deep. When we let love dwell in us, God is there. God is in our heartbeat, our breath, our hands and our souls. As Jesus tells his disciples – we can only bear good fruit if we abide in him as he abides in us. And we can. We can show God our love by loving one another because God is in us, empowering us, strengthening us, perfecting love within us.

Loving God – expressing that love in true and faithful ways – is not an easy task. Much more challenging than any hand-written note. But it is so worth the time, effort, and energy. God’s love is so powerful it created the world, redeemed the world through the Son, and renews the world every single day. The love that flung the stars into the heavens, brought forth the rules of physics and beauty of music, gave creatures breath and imagination, is the same love that abides in us. This love can do anything – God can do anything – and do anything through us.

When we find it hard to love as God would have us love, we can remember how much we are loved and find strength in that. Turn to the perfect love in which we cannot fear. Draw on the source of love in order to bear good fruit of peace, justice, compassion, and mercy.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God – and love is for God. God is love. May we abide in the One who is love and may God abide in us. Amen.

[1] Mother’s Day Gifts. 5/9/099. <>

[2] Anna went broke with lawsuit after lawsuit, trying to bring Mother’s Day back to her original conception. She died penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.

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