This is my post for Mother’s Day – we had computer problems and could get the piece up in time. Hope that it is still meaningful.
When I first read the Gospel reading for today (1) in preparation to write this piece, my thoughts turned to my Grandmother and her house on Union Road in St. Louis, Missouri. With my father in the Air Force and duty stations changing almost year to year, this house in the southern portion of St. Louis County was the central focus of our lives; it was a place that we came to almost yearly. When I was in college in Missouri and during the early years of my professional career, it was a place where I could stay for the weekend when I wanted to get away. It was a place that I could bring my family so that they could share the same things that I had shared when I was growing up. My two daughters were able to share time with their great-grandmother.
The one thing that I remember more than anything else, especially when I was definitely old enough to remember, was the garden that my grandmother began when she and my grandfather moved into the house back around 1947. This was a flower garden that extended along both sides of the yard. When you see pictures of the yard, you are looking at least ½ of an acre of land, so this was not just a garden but rather “A Garden”. Along the back line of the property were a line of trees and a grape arbor. While I never recall enjoying any grapes from these vines, I have been told that my grandmother used to make her own grape jelly with the fruit of her vineyard. What I do remember is the adventures one could have hiding and walking about the trees that make up the dividing line between her house and the neighbor behind her.
My memories are also from the later days, when I was old enough to do the yard work on those summer days when I would come to visit. My parents were always reminding me to help my grandmother and make sure that I, rather than she, cut the grass for that large lawn. But many times, when I would prepare to do just that, she would have already been out in the yard cutting the grass. Before anyone gets upset, if I was there I would finish the task. But my grandmother lived alone and if neither of her grandsons or granddaughters were available she would cut the grass herself; she just wouldn’t do it all in one setting. Normally, she would start the grass cutting about 6 or 7 in the morning and cut the grass for about one hour, stopping before the heat and humidity of the St. Louis summer began to make their presence known. In four or five days, she would have the yard cut and it would be okay for a couple of weeks. The rest of the time was focused on the care of the flowers in her garden.
What I came to know from that house on Union Road in St. Louis and the times we spent there was that love came in many forms. There was the love that existed between a grandmother and her sons, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. There was also the love that a grandmother had for her garden and the enjoyment that she gained from the work and labor that was put into the garden.
The house is no longer ours, though the garden still remains. The trees planted many years ago were still there the last time I visited St. Louis, though, of course, much taller and more mature than the little saplings that were planted when I was two and the area around the house was still rural in nature. The love that grew in that house is still around as well, as plants from my grandmother’s garden have been transplanted to gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia. We remember the love that our grandmother gave us every time we see and smell the flowers and plants that came from that garden in St. Louis.
The problem for many people today is that they do not have such memories. And without such memories, it is very difficult to understand what love is or about. Now, I am not going to get into some sort of philosophical discussion on the nature of love and the three types of love. Too many people do that and one should be able to find such discussions.
It seems to me that the meaning of love, in whatever form you wish to discuss, has become trivialized. When one speaks of the love of one’s country, it is assumed that you will blindly follow the dictates of the country’s leaders and not question their actions or thoughts. But to love one’s country also means to fight for what the country should be, not what it has become. During my college days and the trips to the house on Union Road, the “battle cry” of the political right was always “my country, right or wrong.” But those who so loudly claimed this as their motto and claimed to love their country forgot that this quote also held that if my country was wrong, then I should endeavor to make it right.
In this time, when this country is engaged in a questionable war that was started under questionable circumstances, there are those who criticize and vilify a mother who only wants to know why her son died in Iraq. Many of these critics claim that she, a mother, has no right to question why her child died because her child choose that path that lead to his death in Iraq. But are not parents entitled to know why their children die, even if they did not want them to.
And while we vilify and criticize those who ask why, we see others who fight about the proper expression of how one memorializes the loss of a love one. We have trivialized the love for lost loved ones in the pursuit of the proper memorial. And we confuse love with sex, not understanding either one of them. And those who don’t seem to understand either love or sex have sought to criminalize love or at least try to control who may love whom. As Tina Turner once sang, we have made love “a second-hand emotion.”
We walk by the homeless and needy of our cities and countryside, hoping that we do not have to look into their eyes. We allow our representatives in state legislatures and the Congress to pass budgets that ignore the needy, the homeless, the sick, and those forgotten by society. We allow corporate interests, the rich and powerful to dictate the outcome of legislation. We allow the rich to get richer in hopes that the poor will go away.
What does love have to do with it? As John wrote in his first letter (2), it is all about love, for love comes from God. God’s love was revealed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. If we say that we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, then our actions will reflect the love that God has for us, for we will have that love in us.
Our problem is like that of the Ethiopian who Philip encountered that day described in Acts. (3) In a world where love is trivialized and diminished, we cannot understand the ultimate act of love, the death of Christ on the Cross so that we can live. We cannot understand that when we say that we love Christ, we are expected to give that love away. John wrote in his letter that because love has been perfected in us we have the boldness to act in this world. If we say that we love God but act against our brothers and sisters in this world, we are liars.
In the Gospel reading for today, we are reminded that we are branches of the vine that starts with Christ. But some branches of the vine do not produce fruit and are cut away, in order that the other branches, the ones that produce fruit, can grow.
Love must be more than a second hand emotion; it must be the basis for our actions, our thoughts, and our deeds. When we go out into the world outside the church, we must be prepared to act in ways that reflect the love that was first expressed with the birth of Christ some two thousand years ago and which was maximized with His death on the Cross so that we may live. What does love have to do with it? It has everything to do with it because it is the love from God that allows us to live today and it is our love through Christ that will allow others to come and know Christ in this world.
John 15: 1 – 8
(2) 1 John 4: 7 – 21
(3) Acts 8: 26 – 40