Where Does Love Begin?

May 12, 1996 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Proverbs 31:10-31

Last week I asked what I considered an important question. What was it? {Is this home an ark?} Building upon Noah's story, we explored whether our homes (be they our individual families or this family of faith) are safe places for God's children of all ages to grow. With God's rainbow promise in mind, further developed by the prophet Isaiah, we wondered whether steadfast love and a covenant of peace were a part of our home, helping to make it an ark.

This morning I want to ask another question in relation to this love: where does it start? Where does love begin? Is that an appropriate question for Mother's Day? It's not as simple as it sounds. Real love is a catalyst, a motivation, a stimulant for growth, for change. All the knowledge in the world does not do a person any good if there is not that initial catalyst, that "umph," that push, to grow. It's interesting that when the Bible speaks of wisdom (which is different from knowledge), it calls her a woman. Now, we often consider "nurture" a motherly attribute. I believe "love" is that nurturing catalyst that transforms knowledge into wisdom. But where does love begin?

From this morning's scripture reading let me draw some hints to help us answer this question. In this poem describing love in action in the life of a "capable wife," what motivations stand behind her loving-kindness? What things contribute to her ability to live out love? Thus, where does love begin? Well, I observed 4 hints in this scripture toward answering this question. Perhaps you heard more. The 4 hints I saw are: self-worth, trust, humor, and the fear of God. Let's explore them in a bit more depth.

Hint #1: Self Worth. "A capable wife (NRSV), one of noble character (NIV), who can find such a woman? She is far more precious than jewels." Thus says Prov. 31:10. Value, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. What one person treats as trash is another's treasure. The same is true of people. If we treasure someone, value them, a strange thing happens, does it not? They become more valuable. But someone who is not considered valuable or worthy, does she begin to see herself in a similar way? Worthless... without value?

Does this lack of self-worth in a mother hinder her ability to love? Probably. Will she become a manipulative parent, raising her brood in such a way as to receive her worth and value through them? Possibly. I've seen this happen, though I've also seen such women flower with parenthood, as if the very act of becoming a mother transforms her into a precious jewel. However, is it motherhood that creates this treasure, or was that value there from the beginning? The question: "a capable wife, who can find?" belongs not to the prospective groom, but to the woman herself. Discovering her God given inner treasure, her worth and value, her noble character, contributes to her ability to love. But, does love begin with self-worth? At least it's a hint.

Hint # 2: Trust. "The heart of her husband trusts in her," says vs. 11. We could talk at length about trust, and only scrape the surface. After all, the kissing cousin of trust is the word faith. Briefly, tho', note that Proverbs 31:11 says: "the heart of her husband trusts in her..." The heart, not the head. There is a difference. Head trust is based on the facts of a situation. We can trust trust based on whether or not person demonstrates trustworthiness. Heart trust goes beyond demonstrations. It is a gut-level decision. While head trust does not leave much room for failure, trust from the heart does. It says, "I believe in you," even when you fall. Such trust elicits from us a desire to stand up and walk after we fall, for heart trust is in there for the long haul. While head trust awaits a show of trustworthiness before trust can begin, heart trust simply begins, and trust gives birth to trustworthiness. And love? Is it not a trust? A trust given from the heart? When there is trust, trustworthy love abounds. Where does love begin? With trust? It's a hint, at the least.

On to # 3--Humor. "Strength and dignity are her clothing," Prov. 31:25 states, and perhaps in those 2 words we should hear echos of trust and self-worth, for someone cannot be strong without trusting her abilities, or have a sense of dignity without a sense of self-worth. "Strength and dignity are her clothing," it rends and then goes on to say "and she can laugh at the days to come." Humor helps to put things into perspective - good humor, that is. Worry has its place, but too often it grows out of proportion and needs to be cut down to size. Humor does that--it allows us to laugh at ourselves.

Erma Bombeck, who died last month, was a down-to-earth columnist who helped us see comedy amid the daily drudgery of home life. Such laughter is redemptive. It puts our world into perspective, and thus makes love possible. Listen to "Mother" Bombeck in what may be a familiar quote to many of you:

"One of (my) favorite stories (is of) the Supermom who is perfection itself. She did everything right: kept a perfect home; kept her husband happy. Always had a copy of Bishop Fulton Sheen's latest book on the coffee table. And answered the door pregnant when the priest came by.

"One day, I asked her how she did it, and she said, "I emulate the Blessed Virgin Mary," and I said, "Marge, it's a little bit late for that." She said, "Very well, I'll tell you. Every evening, when the children are bathed and tucked into their clean little beds, and the lunches are lined up and labeled and packed in the refrigerator, and the little shoes are racked up, and the driveway is waxed, and I've heard all of the prayers of the children, I fall down on my knees and say, "Thank you, God, for not letting me kill one of them today."

Where does love begin? Self-worth, trust, humor are all hints. The final hint is fear of God, falling on our knees to the one who considers us worthy even though we may be worthless, who entrusts us with so much, even when we may be untrustworthy and who empowers us to let down our hair and come to him in prayer. "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain," says vs. 30, "but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."

"Fear of the Lord" is not so much fright, as it is an awesome awareness of God's presence. When prayer abounds, love flows easier. At least through prayer we don't strangle each other. Husbands, when was the last time you prayed, really prayed for your wives? Children of any age, when did you last take the time to pray for your mothers? Mothers... well, this is your day, I won't ask you. A world of difference happens when we pray for one another. Where does love begin? Well, it's tempting to say it begins in prayer. At least this is a hint. Self-worth, trust, humor, and prayer. Hints as to where love begins.

With these hints in mind, let us look at the most talked about mother in the Bible. Who else but Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary was a real person, not just an icon to hide behind. Consider her experience. Here was a young woman engaged to be married. During this time she was confronted by an angel. In this encounter, we find all the hints I have shared.

Self-worth - the angel greeted her saying, "Hail, O favored One, the Lord is with you." Consistantly Gabriel spoke of God seeing value and worth in this particular woman. She found favor with God. She was not worthless.

Trust - the fact that God would entrust with a young woman his only son, is hardly short of a miracle. One might call God's act a great gamble - but God's faith in her and his estimation of her brought out in Mary what it took to be the mother of Jesus - perhaps the most difficult job in human history. God must've known the trials that awaited her, but still she had his trust.

Humor--"Hail, O favored One, the Lord is with you" the angel said. "And Mary considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be." "What on earth?..." Guess again, Gabriel. And when the angel proclaimed how great this child was going to be, Mary was not overwhelmed. "Come on Gabe," she asked, "in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not even married yet. Virgins don't have babies." ...Guess again. Later on, Mary would definitely need a sense of humor to succed.

Fear of God - Mary was also troubled by the angel's words, "Do not be afraid," he responded and her fear became faith. What better description of a life of prayer is there than this: "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart."

Self-worth, trust, humor, and prayer all helped this woman to continue loving down through the years, when she became a single parent; when she released her son as a grown-up; when he spoke words she did not yet understand, words that must've hurt, like "Who are my mother and my brothers? ...however does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" [Mk 3:31-35; Lk 8:19-21; Mt 12:46-50];

and then when he was hung upon the cross - she was there.

The last picture in the Bible we have of Mary is in the upper room after Jesus ascended to the Father (Acts 1:14). The implication is that she was there at Pentecost as well. It's appropriate that the person who gave birth to Jesus Christ should be present at the birth of his church. Certainly for the body of Christ to be an expression of God's love in this world it also needs a sense of self-worth given by God, trust in God and one another, humor to spread the joy, and prayer. But where does love begin?

Did you know that the word for "Mother" in both languages of the Bible is derived from the word for "womb?" It is from the Greek "Meter" that we get our word "Mother." Pregnancy and birth are important for motherhood. A special bond of love begins as a child grows within. We experience love beginning in the womb.

I think this image helps us understand where love begins in other situations. Even in the worst of times, I believe there is a seed of love growing within that, if we allow it, can come to birth and grow in our relationships. This seed of love is from God and God alone. To me, this gets at the real meaning of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of our Lord. Jesus was God's expression of love. The belief that such love could begin anywhere else than with God was precisely what this teaching was intended to counter.

Love begins within as we allow God to consider us worthy in spite of our unworthiness, as we step forward and claim that sense of self-worth and allow others to do likewise. "I am somebody... and so are you."

Love begins within as we trust God with our lives and in return realize how much God has entrusted to each of us. "I believe in you" we say to God, he says to us, we say to ourselves, and then we say to others.

Love begins within as humor allows us not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, why would God choose such bumbling, nutty, confused characters as we are to be his children, his people? But with a wink in his eye and a smile on his face, God says to us, "I chose you."

Love begins within as we allow God room to move within our lives through prayer. Need I say more?

Where does love begin? It starts when we allow that seed God has already planted, and watered, and nurtured, to grow within us, and take root, and sprout. So the question for us to take home is not really "where does love begin?" Rather, given these hints of self-worth, trust, humor and prayer, how will we continue that love? Such is a question for us all, not just for mothers. How will you continue that love?

1996Peter L. Haynes

return to "Messages" page

return to Long Green Valley Church page