“How We Are Loved”

May 10, 2015
Jonathan Rumburg
John 15:12-17

Mother’s Day Sermon Intro.

          Mother’s Day for a preacher can be, and ought to be, a challenge.

It’s a challenge because first it’s not a religious holiday, but the church and our culture has morphed it in such a way that there is now more than reasonable expectation of it being a focal point in worship come the second Sunday of May.

However, because of such an understanding the preacher can be challenged to seize the opportunity to invoke a female/mothering image of God that is not often considered or used.

But within it all there is the often missed and forgotten aspect of Mother’s Day that is this—Today can be a difficult day for many people.

For some, Mother’s Day is a reminder that one’s mother is no longer with them, or even that a child who they were mother to is no longer with them.

For some, Mother’s Day is a reminder that they are not a mother, and perhaps cannot be a mother.

For some, Mother’s Day is a reminder that their mother failed at being a mother, or maybe even they themselves failed at such.

These examples, and no doubt others, make today a challenge because today for some is painful, but at the same time it is a good thing to celebrate mothers and those who have been like mothers to us.

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          Amy Young, in a blog posting entitled, “An Open Letter to Pastors (A-non Mom Speaks About Mother’s Day)” writes an insightful perspective, part of which I want to share with you right now.

Young writes, encouraging us all to…

Acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering.

          To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

          To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

          To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of
food stains – we appreciate you

          To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

          To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

          To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.

          To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.

          To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.

          To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.

          To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.

          To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.

          To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.

          To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths.

          To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.

          To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.

          To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.

          And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you.

          This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

*******

          Powerful words for us to hear and take to heart as we celebrate today.  For truly, all women who have a heart of love, compassion, sacrifice, and generosity are worthy of celebration.

So may we, in our heightened awareness, and broadened perspective, look toward our source of life as we celebrate all the women who have been a conduit and encourager of life for us.  And to do so, we turn now to the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verses 12-17.

 

“How We Are Loved”

John 15:12-17

Introduction

An enthusiastic young mother, brimming with pride, writes…

“I just checked in on my daughter in school via webcam.  There was a little girl sitting in the corner, by herself.  I watched my daughter get up from the group she was playing with, and walk over to the little girl.  She talked to her, gave her a hug, then took her over to the group of kids, and encouraged her to play with everyone.  If that’s not a ‘Proud Mommy Moment,’ I don’t know what is!

Her parenting experience is not new.  Generations of mothers before her have marveled at their children’s emerging personalities and their growing capacity for caring.

What is new about this mother’s experience is the particular way she observed her daughter’s behavior.  She simply turned on her computer and watched the live feed from the classroom via webcam.

Electronic technology has rendered classroom walls strangely transparent.  Gone are the days when, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., parents entrusted their children’s education exclusively to their teachers.

A new generation of parents can now use technology to shadow their offspring, venturing across the once-sanctified boundary between home and school.

This particular technology is not yet widespread, but it’s there, and it’s becoming more common.

The question is, is this a loving gesture, or a hovering gesture—or both?

Such technology can be yet another tool in the hands of what we’ve come to call a “helicopter parent.”  This is the mom or dad who’s always hovering and buzzing the child— controlling, manipulating, directing, and micro-managing the child’s life.

But this is not just a term for today’s parent, but also for how God is perceived today.  Some people think of God as a “helicopter God”—always buzzing around, controlling and interfering.

As we consider and celebrate today how we are loved by mothers and those who are like mothers, let us consider how we are loved by our God.  Is it a love that seeks to hover and control?  Or are we loved another way?

Move 1

Reflecting on the expression “Helicopter Parent,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple proposes a new variation: “Helium Parenting.”

In his words: “We should hold on to our children as a child holds a balloon.  Let them rise, float on their own, but keep a grasp on the string so that they do not float away to unknown parts.  The time will come when we need to release the balloon, but, in the meantime, instead of hovering from above, we should be holding lightly from below.”

Wolpe believes the outcome of this style of child raising and mentoring is vastly different from that of helicopter parents.

Wolpe continues saying, “So often we forget that we are not trying to create ‘good kids,’ but competent, kind adults.  Self-reliance is the fruit of practice, nurtured by failure, encouraged by appropriate risk.  Coddle a kid and you get a coddled kid.  Let them soar and you get an adult.”

This sounds like sound advice when it comes to the nurturing of children be it as a parent, a grandparent, an Aunt or Uncle, or what have you.  But not only is it sound advice for child raising and mentoring, it offers a healthy and constructive theological perspective for God.

Consider this for a moment…

What if, instead of talking about kids in schools or homes, we were talking about ourselves?  And what if the educator or nurturer were not our teachers, parents, or family members, but instead it was God?

What sort of maternal oversight do we prefer God to exercise over us?

Some of us are inclined to visualize God as the consummate helicopter parent: always hovering overhead, training a spotlight on us to highlight our misdeeds.  This is a stern, judgmental ruler, the ultimate micromanager; surveying our lives with disapproval, swift to administer punishment.

Yet, what if God relates to us in a very different way?  What if God is more like Wolpe’s concept of a helium parent, holding gently to the end of a string as we dance on the wind-currents?

*******

          Thankfully, God doesn’t seem all that interested in micromanaging our lives.

To the contrary, God is content to let us make our own way for long periods of time, with only the lightest of tugs on the balloon string.

Sometimes that touch is imperceptible, barely there.  At other times— during episodes of trouble or temptation, in particular—we may feel a strong pull on the line, calling us back into closer relationship.

Whatever the case, the truth is, our gospel text tells us how we want God to parent us.  It tells us how we want God to take care of us and be present to us.  With love.

Move 2

So what does our text say about how we are loved?

First, it’s a love that is specific to you.  “You did not choose me but I chose you” (v.  16).  We love it when mom or a parental figure chooses us, singles us out for some love and praise.  Jesus says that we, too, were chosen by him, even as God chose Jesus.  Being chosen emphasizes confidence and love.

*******

          Next, it’s a love that gives us a job.  We loved it when our mom or parental figure gave us a job, didn’t we?  We loved it when she asked us to help her, to work side by side with her— whether it was helping to bake some cookies, or to put our finger on the string when she was tying a bow on a gift, it didn’t matter.  We loved it.

God loves us this way, too.  We are tasked with helping God with the chores of the Gospel.  We are called to “bear fruit—fruit that will last” (v.  16).

*******

          God’s love is a love that asks us to play nice and share.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v.  12).  At the end of our reading, Jesus says it again: This is my command, “…that you love one another.”

Can’t you hear mom telling us to play nice? “Be nice to your brother!” “Take your sister with you.”  God loves us this way, too.  God loves us enough to ask us to share love with others.

*******

          And lastly, it’s a love that is sacrificial.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life” (v.  13).  When we think about all that our parents did for us, well… it’s amazing.  Is God’s love any less?  Did not God in Jesus Christ lay down God’s life for us?

*******

          All of this is suggestive of, not a helicopter God, but a helium God, a God whose hand is on the string. We feel the tug at times.  We sense the slack.  But we always know the hand is there.

Conclusion

The relationship we have, or have had, with our moms, our dads, or to any parental figure in our lives are, or were, hopefully relationships based on love, requiring a firm, but gentle hand on the balloon string.  This is no less true of our relationship with God, and our spiritual relationship with God is often experienced in similar ways.

At times we may feel God hovering, and at other times we feel the hand on the string, gently letting us rise—but in it all is love.  Unconditional love.  This is our God, who is worthy of our thanks and our praise.

And if you have had a person in your life, who embodied such for you, and loved you in such a way—be it your mother, a woman who was like a mother, your father, a father figure, teacher, mentor, or friend, then use today to remember them and celebrate them.

For truly, how we are loved, by who loves us, is always something to honor and celebrate.  Amen.

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