May 10, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
A MOTHER’S LOVE
Churches were closed on Easter and now churches are closed on Mother’s Day. Unbelievable. I’m afraid I was engaging in some magical thinking way back on that first Sunday we were closed. I figured a couple of Sundays at home and the coronavirus would go away. Then life would quickly return to normal. It has taken longer than that.
I think of Dan Quisenberry, relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals a few years back. He said, “The future is much like the present, only longer.” Things are opening back up, gradually. But for about two months now the future has been very much like the present. And it’s been way longer than any of us would like.
I felt terrible about being closed for Easter, but I think I feel even worse about being closed for Mother’s Day. I also feel guilty, because the restaurants are also closed. I would gladly cook the Mother’s Day dinner for Helen this afternoon, but I’m not sure she would gladly eat it. Top Ramen is still my specialty.
I’ve been spoiled with two great cooks all my life – first my mom, then my wife. Here is my mom, by the way.
I have a great mom. And I’m not just saying that because I’m pretty sure she’s watching. Hi Mom!
I realize not everyone is as fortunate as me. I have a great mom and a great dad. My dad died seven years ago last Tuesday. I miss him a lot. My parents were about as different as two people could possibly be. I think that’s pretty common. And I think that’s a good thing.
The Bible begins with the story of God creating the first mom and the first dad. It’s interesting how the story is told. God creates different things on different days. It’s all good. We know that because God tells us that, again and again. “It is good . . . it is good . . . it is very good.” God is obviously pleased with his work. Then God creates a man. This one man is given responsibility for everything, all by himself. He doesn’t need any help. That’s when God says, “This is not good” (Genesis 2:18). Quickly God solves the problem by creating a woman.
The world needs both. Men and women. Moms and dads. Our scripture from Galatians today includes the verse that says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). Not that the two sexes are the same. Obviously they are not, but they are equally valued, equally needed, equally loved.
It’s interesting that Paul is the author of this verse that elevates the role of women. Because this is the same Paul who also wrote those passages in the Bible we’d rather pretend aren’t there – the ones telling women to be silent in church, and that if they have a question, they should hold onto that question until they get home and then they can ask their husband.
But the truth is the entire Bible struggles with these two very different views of women. They are second-class citizens. Men are in charge. Women are subservient. The biblical world was patriarchal, and in many ways not a whole lot has changed, even today. But all through the Bible also, we find a very different understanding.
Deborah, Ruth, and Esther are three of the greatest paragons of faith and courage. The book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings and it concludes with praise for a particularly wise and godly person who happens to be a woman. Mary, mother of Jesus, is one of the most highly revered individuals in the entire Bible. Jesus treated women with dignity. He included women in his inner circle. Women were the first to discover the empty tomb.
You might even say the Bible anticipates some of the big changes we have seen in recent years. A few short years before my parents were born, women did not have the right to vote in this country. That right was granted in 1920, one-hundred years ago.
When I was born, women did not have full clergy rights in the Methodist Church. Now our district superintendent and our bishop both are women. When I was born, Joanne Blanton’s aunt, Gracie Pfost was just starting her first term in the United States House of Representatives, one of the first women ever elected. Four years ago we almost elected a woman president.
When I was born, this was included in high school home economics textbooks:
How to Be a Good Wife
Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting [your husband] know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed. Prepare yourself. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair, and be fresh looking. Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first. Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other pleasant entertainment. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to unwind and relax. The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax in body and spirit.
When I was born, it was pretty much unheard of for a woman to be a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist or a business owner, or even to work at all outside the home. The roles of women and of men were clearly defined and this was not to be questioned. Question it and you might be given a Bible verse. Maybe one of Paul’s.
But there are other Bible verses. There’s a whole new understanding in the Bible of the role and status of women. When the women’s liberation movement got underway in the 1960’s, it was ridiculed from many church pulpits. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan may have been a little extreme, but we look back now and we can see that for the most part, they were right.
It’s interesting how that works. When something new comes along it’s usually dismissed as a fad. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. In the case of women’s rights, it wasn’t. As has been said about women’s suffrage, it’s not something they were given. It’s something they took. Because it rightfully belonged to them all along.
Today on this Mother’s Day I want to talk about a mother’s love. And I’m going to sound real old-fashioned as I do so. Because I’m going to take us back to some of those gender role assumptions that are widely challenged today.
Erich Fromm was a Jew born in Germany. He got out just in time, just as Hitler was coming into power and the Holocaust was looming on the horizon. He was a psychotherapist and author. He had a lot to say about the family. One thing he said was that children need two very different kinds of love. A mother’s love and a father’s love.
A father’s love is conditional. You have to earn it. You have to meet certain standards. The father’s role is to toughen you up and prepare you for life as an adult where you won’t have someone to coddle you and take care of you.
A mother’s love is unconditional. You can’t earn it. You can’t lose it. It’s just there. It’s always there. It provides that inner confidence when life gets tough that things are going to be OK.
Here’s the way he put it in The Art of Loving:
The mother’s and father’s attitudes toward the child correspond to the child’s own needs. Mother has the function of making him secure in life; father has the function of teaching him, guiding him to cope with those problems with which the particular society the child has been born into confronts him.
Now of course, fathers are also perfectly capable of loving unconditionally. And mothers also can have high expectations of their children and let them know when they have fallen short. There are those twin sayings, “God could not be everywhere so he made mothers.” And, “Mothers could not be everywhere, so God made guilt.” So it’s an oversimplification to say that mothers love us in one way and fathers love us in another. My father and my mother very much assumed both roles. I grew up with high expectations and unconditional love from both.
One of my seminal memories of my dad is a camping trip when I was small. I had rolled up my sleeping bag, but I hadn’t done a very good job. I was in a hurry. It was about three times bigger than it should have been. My dad made me do it again, the right way. “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” I got that from my dad.
And one of my seminal memories of my mom is when I was too sick to go to school. And how patient and caring she was. It was a lot of extra work for her, but she didn’t seem to mind. And so even though I felt miserable, I actually felt really good inside because I knew how much I was loved.
Erich Fromm said, “Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired; it need not be deserved.” I got that from both my parents, but especially from my mom.
In that passage where Paul tells us that, male and female, we are all one in Christ, he also gives us a quick survey of the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He says:
Before this faith came [faith in Jesus Christ], we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:23-25).
Paul was raised a Jew before there was a New Testament. All he knew was the law. The Ten Commandments. And all the other commandments that add up to 613. That was how you pleased God. By doing what God commanded you to do.
Then came Jesus. Paul was a little slow in warming up to Jesus, but eventually he did. And he came to understand that Jesus put the emphasis on something that had been in the Old Testament all along but that most of the teachers of the law had missed. God loves us not because we do what God commands. God loves us even though we often don’t do what God commands.
So as Paul puts it here, we’re no longer in jail. “We were held prisoners of the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” We are no longer locked up. We have now been set free. Not free to do whatever we want, but free of the burden of thinking that God only loves perfect people. Which means God can never love us. Because we aren’t perfect.
I know there are parents, moms and dads both, who give their children that impression. The message might be softened a little. “I love you no matter what, but if you were maybe a little more like your big sister or big brother, I might love you a little more.” That’s not God’s message. That’s not the God revealed by Jesus. And that’s not even the God revealed in the best and truest parts of the Old Testament. For example:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing patience.” Jeremiah 31:3
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” Psalm 103:10-11
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
As I read the Bible, here is what I think. I think God loves us as a father and a mother. Erich Fromm said fathers have high standards and high expectations. Fathers toughen us up because it’s a tough world out there. I think God is like that. And Erich Fromm said mothers will love you no matter what. No matter what a mess you make of your life, your mother will be there for you. A mother’s love is peace. That inner peace that becomes inner strength when things get tough. I think God is like that.
Love INC sent out their May newsletter a few days ago. It included an unbelievably candid story from a mom who had really screwed up her life big time. As I was reading her story, I was thinking that, if I had been through a fraction of what she had been through, I certainly would not be sharing my story in such a public way.
She told of her drug addiction. Therefore she couldn’t hold a job. And she spent time in jail. And she lost custody of her children. She and her husband were evicted from their apartment. Her life was a total dumpster fire. And she was sharing all this, using her real name, with her real picture at the bottom of the article.
Early on in this whole downward spiral, she and her husband had tried Love INC’s New Hope program, but they dropped out. It was too hard. They weren’t ready. They had not crashed far enough yet.
They tried the New Hope program again after things got desperately bad. This time it took. Now they have a place to live. They have a church. They have a faith. They have their kids back. They have a life, clean and sober one day at a time, but for a long time now.
And at the end of the article she told about her new job. She now works for Love INC. Then I put two and two together. There was a color picture of a smiling young woman on the front of the newsletter. I compared it with the black and white of her under her article. It was the same person.
She was being introduced on the front as Love INC’s newest hire. She looked so happy. She had reason to be happy. Today has to be her happiest Mother’s Day ever. All because of God and a few of God’s helpers. God who loved her unconditionally. And God who also expected something of her. A mother’s love. A father’s love. Let’s just call it love.
God, I want to thank you for my mother on this special day. And I want to offer a special prayer for every mother, every woman, every little girl. Thank you God that in the beginning you made us male and female. And thank you for loving us, all of us, as only you can. Parents try. Some do it better than others, but you are the best. Thank you for a love we don’t have to earn. Thank you for a love that makes us better. And now help us dads and husbands to figure out how we are going to spoil these special women in our lives with all the restaurants closed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.