So we need a little help. The Gospel reading this morning uses the word love eight times in five sentences: what exactly does God have in mind with that word? There's probably a little more to it than when boyfriends and girlfriends say it to each other during their high school years or when sports fans say they "love" how a certain athlete plays the game. But on this holiday when we celebrate the mothers who after seemingly countless hours of agonizing child birth can still say, "I love you" to the baby, or after a trip to the grocery store with shrieking cries at the top of their lungs still mustering the strength to say, "I love you" to that problem child on the car ride home, or piercing cries throughout the night never allowing a moment's sleep, still managing to say, "I love you" as the helpless one is cradled in the mother's arms. Is it possible that the mothers surrounding us might be the very help the world needs to better understand what God has in mind when that four letter l-word is used over and over and over again?
The scholars who spend their entire careers diving into the original Greek language of the New Testament, attempting to help better understand what God, Jesus, and the apostles had in mind thousands of years ago say that that four letter l-word is supposed to be about a love that expects nothing in return. It is about intentional sacrifice, an unconditional love, something that becomes more and more difficult to accept as each generation passes by; because now we're programmed by the culture to only do certain things that will end up gaining us something in return. We'll only help out if we're paid either by financial means or sometimes through manipulative guilt: if we help them out around the house, they'll owe us something in return. But that's not how it works with God, and it often never does with the mothers around us in this life, whether they are our own or not.
You will never receive a thank you from the baby you take home from the hospital into a place with warmth and a seemingly endless food supply at all hours of the day or night. You may never receive the thanks you deserve after your constant encouragement while they endure frustration with school, or all the rides given to friends' houses and extra-curricular activities, or all the "I love you's," even after they deliberately come home past curfew, talk back to you, or try their best to never spend any time with you. The mothers around us, whether they are our own or not, who more than help us experience that unconditional, sacrificial love,will never receive the recognition they deserve, not even enough on this Mother's Day. However, they're not in it for that, and neither is God.
That isn't to say God hopes for that same love to be lived out by all God's children, not just the mothers. God craves for the moments when human beings actually perform acts of selfless charity not expecting even a "thank you" in return, but God has never and will never ask to be paid back in return, because, after all, we can't. We cannot pay God back for the unconditional sacrifice of the only Son on the cross. We cannot get anywhere near that encapsulation of that four letter l-word on Calvary. We cannot help to save ourselves, our family, our children, let alone the whole world for eternity, but God doesn't expect us to. Jesus already took care of that: not even the mothers have to save their own children beyond this life. Jesus loved them even more to have them in mind on the cross as well.
But we also must keep in mind those overlooked on this emotionally-charged holiday, who need their fair share of help as well to appreciate that four letter l-word that we use so haphazardly. There are those children who never knew their mother. There are those who became physically and emotionally distant over the years for whatever the reason, and never speak to one another. There are those whose mother died in recent years. And lest we forget the women in this world who wish to bear children, but cannot. Let us not forget all of them on this Mother's Day. And God most certainly does not.
Because the intentional sacrificial, never expecting anything in return, unconditional love is not reserved for the members of the perfectly happy families who will gather around a dinner table this evening in a house filled with parents and children and grandchildren. The love of God cannot be limited to the picturesque home. It reaches to all the children of God in all the possible circumstances on this Mother's Day. Regardless of what is faced, God gathers all of us into one ultimate family of God, providing the love that will not only get us through this day, or any night ahead, but help us throughout this entire life and beyond. And that can never be taken for any mother, any child, any woman who wishes to be a mother on this Mother's Day. God's unconditional love not only helps, but triumphs this day and forevermore. And for that, we give thanks be to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon