“The Gift Of Love”


I am at Monroe UMC (Monroe, NY) this morning; services are at 8:30 am and 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend. The message for Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday is based on the lectionary readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 16: 16 – 34; Revelation 22: 12 – 14, 16 – 17, 20 – 21; and John 17: 20 – 26.

Monroe UMC is contemplating a program similar to what we are doing at “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”. While the specifics of such a program are for another time and place, I felt that this message should provide a reason for doing the project. I hope I have achieved that goal.

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I could easily begin this message with a tribute to my mother and/or my grandmother as I have before; for that is what this day is about. But it would be much easier to speak about what my mother gave me and what that gift of love means to each one of us today.

When I was a sophomore in college back in 1969 I was very involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements on campus. Now, I thought that being involved in such things was the right thing to do and I also thought that doing the right things was what would get me into heaven. I still believe that my involvement in those activities was the right thing to do and I would do it again if presented with the opportunity (of course, if you read my blog you know that I never stopped being involved).

I would, however, find out that spring that simply doing the right thing would not get me into heaven and that it was only by God’s grace that the door to heaven would be opened. And perhaps the story could end there but I was also reminded that having said that I was a Methodist I was obligated to do the right thing.

Now, as Mother’s Day, 1969, approached, I sought to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift. What I found was a pendant with the words “War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things” engraved on it. It came from an organization known as “Another Mother For Peace”. Now, admittedly it was not the most elegant piece of jewelry one could conceive; in fact, it was rather clunky and probably very garish. But it expressed my thoughts and what I thought was right; so I bought one for my mother.

Now, you have to understand that my parents raised my two brothers, sister, and myself to be independent, to think for ourselves and to take responsibility for our actions. Our parents and especially our mother laid the foundation so that we could choose our own path, knowing that no matter where it might lead, we would be supported in our efforts.

Also, my mother was never one to get involved in politics and her guiding words to me on more than one occasion were to “not rock the boat”. So it was that this particular gift and my involvement in the on-campus civil rights and anti-war protests didn’t set well with her and she let me, in no uncertain terms, know that she (and my father) disapproved of my actions.

I probably have the letter she wrote to me somewhere in the various files I received when she died two years ago but I don’t really need a copy to remember what it is that she wrote. While she wrote that she did not approve of what I was doing I was still her son and she would still love me.

But I think that is what this day means and what love is about. It is the love that one expresses for another that goes beyond the moment and is unconditional and eternal. I know of too many parents and people today for whom love is very much conditional; people who put conditions on their love.

By the way, my mother would later tell her third granddaughter that she was glad that neither my two brothers or I were drafted and sent to Viet Nam. It should also be noted that the organization from which I bought that pendant in 1969 still exists and has its own website (Another Mother for Peace) and it still sells the same pendant. I guess we haven’t quite learned what the gift of love means on a broader, more global basis.

And as I was thinking about this idea of love on Mother’s Day and what is required of us in today’s world, I remembered Senator Edward Kennedy’s words when he eulogized his brother,

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. (from http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html)

Edward Kennedy closed his eulogy with the following words, a quote that I have always kept in my mind and my heart,

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”

These are the words that we remember, as perhaps we should. But in finding these words that so many of us remember, I also found words about love and our responsibility to others, words that I think we have forgotten or never remembered.

Senator Edward Kennedy, in speaking of the love he had for his brother said,

A few years back, Robert Kennedy wrote some words about his own father which expresses [sic] the way we in his family felt about him. He said of what his father meant to him, and I quote:

“What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.”

And he continued,

“Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”

In one sense, these words from a son about his father echo the words I expressed about my mother this day.

But in today’s society, such unconditional love is funny because it works so much against what we think this world is about and how it works. We expect something in return for what we give; we expect to put strings on our love and concern for others.

The Scriptures for each Sunday are compiled in what is called the lectionary and are designed so that over a three year period it is possible to read through the entire Bible. What this means is that for every three years you get the same set of readings for a particular Sunday in the church calendar.

This Sunday happens to be one of the Sundays where the preacher, pastor, or lay speaker has a choice of two sets of readings. This is the 7th Sunday of Easter; last Thursday, May 9th, was the 40th day after Easter and is the day on which Jesus ascended into Heaven. Next Sunday will be Pentecost Sunday and the day on which the Holy Spirit descended on all those gathered in Jerusalem.

As it happens, I picked the readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter because I felt they were more appropriate for Mother’s Day. And as it happened, these were the same three readings I used in preparing the message that I gave for this same sunday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, three years ago.

There is a certain degree of irony in all of this. Three years ago, I offered the following thought:

The reading from Acts today starts off with a young slave girl who offers visions for a price. There were a number of things in this piece that spoke of labor practices and their application to today’s society but I will save such a discussion for later. (from “Should We Explain This?”)

In light of what has transpired around the world these past few weeks, it would appear there is a need for that discussion today.

Let us review what transpires at the beginning of the reading from Acts. We have a young slave girl who sees visions for the benefit of her owners. She follows Paul and Silas around proclaiming that they are servants of God who can show the people the path to salvation.

Now, one would think that Paul and Silas would be greatful for such pronouncements; after all, that is what they have come to Philippi to do, preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer a path to salvation. And I would think that they were greatful.

But then again, the people came to this girl because they wanted to hear the truth and they were willing to pay her owners (not her, mind you) for the truth. Though she was speaking the truth, others were profitting from her skills, not her.

So Paul removes her ability to prophesize and then the trouble begins. This young slave girl must have been very good at what it was that she did because those owners go after Paul and Silas for taking away their livelihood. Yet, according to the laws and customs of that time, Paul and Silas did nothing wrong and the corresponding court action is not about the welfare of the girl but rather the loss of income for her owners.

And how can we not see, in light of the tragedies in Bangladesh and perhaps the financial problems of this country today, that our love of money is greater than our love and concern for people.

As a society we turn a blind eye on the working conditions in the 3rd world just along it does not interfere with the production of low cost goods for the people in 1st world. And how is that the rich have kept getting richer in today’s society while the rest of society struggles?

Some 1700 years later, John Wesley would put it this way – it is okay to earn as much as you can but don’t do it on the backs of others.

What happens when we put the love of money above and before our love and concern for others?

As I was re-reading Edward Kennedy’s eulogy I found other words of Robert Kennedy that speak to this time and this moment. They were spoken when Robert Kennedy was in South Africa in 1966 and speaking to a group of young people.

“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember — even if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek — as we do — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth — not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.

Robert Kennedy concluded his remarks in South Africa by saying,

*The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”

Those words of Robert Kennedy, spoken almost fifty years ago, seem so eerily prophetic when read again today.

Over the past few weeks, as we have concluded the season of Easter and approach the Day of Pentecost, we have journeyed through the Book of Revelation. For some, this book is the culmination of life, with victory in Heaven for a select few. But I have come to understand that this is not the end but only the beginning. The Good News is that God wins and evil is defeated. The vision of John the Seer is one of hope and promise for all, not just a select few. But it is also a call, a call to respond, a call to action.

Who will step forth? Who will answer the call from Christ to offer the drink from the Tree of Life that John the Seer foresaw in his visions recorded in the Book of Revelation?

Who will be the ones that prepare the table for the hungry, offer the medicine for the sick, and comfort for the needy? Who will be the ones to remind and show others the love of God that was expressed by Jesus?

Some fifty years ago, my mother told me that her love for me was unconditional. Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to this world to die for my sins because of His love for me, unconditional and with no questions asked. How can I not express that same unconditional love for others?

On this day when we express our love for our mothers, how will you show the gift of Love that God has given to you this day?

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