"Whatís love got to do with it?"

May 14, 2000
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 1 John 3:16-24

"Whatís love got to do with it?" Tina Turner asked in a rock song from the 1980's. The words echoed her life story, which was made into a 1993 movie of the same title. Indeed, when looking back on her failed marriage to the abusive Ike Turner, itís not hard to wonder, as the song did, "whatís love got to do with it? Whatís love but a secondhand emotion? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?"

What a way to start out a sermon on "Motherís Day!" But you know, it was out of a similar sentiment that this day originally came into being. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, when many mothersí hearts were broken by the death of their sons in battle, Julia Ward Howe first made the suggestion that a special "Motherís Day" be dedicated to working toward peace, toward brother learning how to love brother, that fewer mothersí hearts would be broken in the future. In a similar way, thousands of women are gathered today in Washington, D.C. and in various cities around the country, for a "Million Mom March" to voice their concern over gun violence in our nation.

Another woman, a hundred years ago, gave voice to the needs of often neglected and forgotten mothers, that they be honored and cared for, especially as they grew older. Anna Jarvis started a campaign for an annual religious celebration which eventually paved the way for this holiday, first proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Ironically, as the ink from Wilsonís pen was drying upon the page of that resolution, yet another war was beginning to break more mothersí hearts across the Atlantic, the first of two terrifying "world wars."
                 *(check out how Ms. Jarvis later disowned the holiday she helped create) 

Yes, indeed, we continue to wonder, "whatís love got to do with it?" Both Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis envisioned an outbreak of love that would move beyond a "secondhand emotion" - for one of these women, a love that would empower all mothers to stand up and say, "no more war!;" for the other woman, a love that would lead children to literally take care of their elderly mothers. By the way, we sometimes nostalgically think that in "the good old days" families did right by one another, unlike today. Well, if that were the case, why would such a day as "Motherís Day" need to be proclaimed in the first place?

"Whatís love got to do with it?" Good question. In the New Testament letter we read earlier, John asked the same thing. Now, no doubt there were folks in the churches to which he was writing who could talk a fine line, waxing eloquent with beautiful sounding (Hallmark card worthy) words about highly spiritual matters. John, however, cut to the chase and said, "if it isnít put into action, it aint real love." He made that point over and over again, almost like a broken record, throughout his letter. Sometimes, youíve got to say something several times before it begins to sink in.

Love is known by what it does. For instance, how do we know that God loves us? By what God has done for us! Love in action. Like a mother whose heart is broken as she sends her son off to war, so God sent his own, saying, "No more sin, no more death!" To give to another what you love the most, and in so doing to release it from your grasp, isnít that at the heart of what real love is all about? Real love isnít a secondhand emotion.

Letís be honest, however. When love is true, when it is genuine and real, there is a breaking of the heart. That is one of the strange paradoxes of our faith. This paradox flows past the cross and out of the empty tomb. The risk of love is death, our faith tells us, and with that risk comes a broken heart. By the same token, the promise of Godís love is resurrection and, with it, the healing of the heart. Remember Jesus saying, "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it"? (Matthew 10:39, 16:35; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33, 9:24). He also said, "no one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) Jesus didnít just mouth those words. He lived them out, laying down his own life, giving himself fully - not just in word or speech, but in truth and action.

In his letter, John repeated what we already have heard over and over from our Lord. "We know love by this, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us." Going that extra paradoxical step further, John reiterated what we have already also learned, saying, "and we ought to lay down our lives for one another." (1 John 3:16) For many of the original disciples, as well as for countless others who suffered for their faith down through the centuries, those words became literally true, as they laid down their lives and, in so doing, took up the cross of Christ.

While such persecution may be a part of our lives at some point, thatís not necessarily what John, in his letter, called the followers of Jesus toward. Instead, he was writing about an every day kind of love. But this "every day love" was not / is not a secondhand, second-rate, say-it-but-donít-really-believe-it-or-live-it variety. Itís an "every day" kind of love, but not an "any-old-which-way" type. Sometimes we think that Godís love, and thatís what weíre talking about here (the Greek word is "agape"), is found only in grand gestures, in magnificent displays, in ways that seem very beyond our own abilities on a day-by-day basis. After all, itís "Godís" love, and God is so very big, and weíre not.

Well, Iím here to tell you that this kind of love is, in fact, best found in the little, ordinary, daily measures we each can make. Furthermore, itís in the simple, common acts of loving-kindness that Godís love abides in us. Itís the evidence of Godís presence in our lives, more than any grand effort. As we heard from the apostle Paul earlier, all our big stuff, our lofty or even highly spiritual speech, our prophetic actions, our great wisdom, our grand charitable efforts, even (heaven help us) our own martyrdom - dying for our faith, all this is nothing without the "every day love" of God living in us. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

"Whatís love got to do with it?" Well, nothing, if it isnít the every day variety, the kind that is willing to set aside "me first" and ask, "how about you?" and then act upon it. Might we witness this kind of love in a mother who places the needs of her family above her own on a daily basis? You betcha! Having said that, however, Godís love doesnít call us to become, in psychological terms, "enablers of abuse." There is a difference between loving and allowing another to abuse us. Whatís love got to do with abuse? Nothing! We need to be very clear about that. Thatís why we support ministries such as the Family Crisis Center. Thatís also why Motherís Day was first established, because elderly mothers were being neglected, a form of abuse.

We need to be up front about this because over the years many women have accepted abuse as their calling from God. Is that, however, what it means when it says, "we ought to lay down our lives for one another"? I donít believe so. In fact, Johnís next statements speak of believers (women and men alike) having the ability to help someone rather than just being a doormat for them, of living with dignity and calm assurance before the Lord rather than with constant condemnation and putdowns.

Isnít that the kind of homes we long to build? - places where each person grows to know that they have the God-given ability to help others, places where dignity and assurance in the Lord are front and center, not condemnation and put-downs. Children need such an environment if they are to become the persons God created them to be. Mothers play a huge role in building such nests. Fathers do also, but today we are celebrating and honoring motherhood. Allow the way, however, we recognize that parenting is a team effort.

By the way, some recent studies have been pointing out the obvious, that children actually do benefit more from homes with two parents. That finding belongs in the category of "Duh!" Another discovery (?) is that meals where the family is all together are important. Kids needs really need them at least once a day. The president recently quoted that one, another finding from the "Duh!" files. Then again, sometimes youíve got to say something several times before it begins to sink in. In order, though, for these "findings" to be put into action, something has to give. Call it, "laying down our lives for one another." Call it, saying "no" to something we really want to do in order to make time and space for the things we really need to do. Call it anything you like, we just need to do it, donít we? I often find that mothers are the conscience behind getting it done, behind moving love from word and speech to truth and action. Am I right?

Donít get me wrong when it comes to talk, though. Another recent study points out that while it is important for parents to model what they believe for their children, "parents (also) have to talk about those beliefs. They have to share their thoughts with their child." (Christian Century, 5/3/2000, p. 497) Maybe that finding belongs in the "Duh!" box as well, but how many of us are guilty of not doing it? Maybe if we combine the "eating at least one meal a day together" policy with the practice of "talking with our children about what we believe," weíll get somewhere in making our homes into places where the God-given ability to help others, and dignity and assurance in the Lord are developed. Doing it, though, involves some sacrifice.

In a recent country music hit, Martina McBride sings that "Loveís the only house big enough for all the pain in the world." Those words struck me this past week as I was driving down the beltway listening to the radio. "Yes," I thought, "real love is more like a house than a word." Some times it can be a real pain, but broken hearts are healed through the One who said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," by the One who was and is himself the very expression of Godís love for us, who laid down his life for us.

Yes, his love in us needs to be lived out each and every day, in small and simple ways. And it begins at home.

©2000Peter L. Haynes

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