Friday, May 18, 2018


In 1850, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, grieving from the loss of eight of her twelve children, all before the age of seven, began organizing something called Mother’s Day Work Clubs near her home in West Virginia.  She wanted to combat the poor health and sanitation issues that contributed to such a high child mortality rate.  She organized these groups to provide care for the sick and medicine for the poor.    
As the Civil War began, these women grew to understand the harsh reality, that many of the children they worked so hard to help simply survive, were now going off to war.  Ann Marie took these groups of women and organized them to provide medical care to injured soldiers on both sides of the fighting.  These soldiers were someone’s son whether they fought for the North or the South. 
After the war was over, she began working for peace.  She knew the devastation and death caused by war and the residual fear, hurt and anger which remained after the war was technically over.  She began working to bridge the divide war had caused and worked to help families and neighbors, those who had fought on opposite sides of the war, heal relationships and restore family and community ties.
After her death in 1905, Ann Marie’s daughter Anna wanted to recognize her mother for the testimony of her life.  On the second anniversary of Ann Marie’s death, a celebration of her, and all mothers was held at her church, a Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Anna envisioned a day to celebrate mothers and to encourage and support those women who fought for justice, care for the poor and the rights of all children, not just those in their own homes, but throughout the nation and the world. 
About the same time, in the 1870’s Julie Ward Howe, a suffragette, abolitionist and author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” urged women to join forces to promote peace and commemorate that with a Mother’s Peace Day in June. 
With the efforts of Julie Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day was officially added to the national calendar in 1914.  (
These women testified to the love of God through their love, actions and activism.  And today we commemorate their testimony and the testimony of our mothers, grandmothers and those who love us like mothers.  We give thanks to God, this day that these women have given us an example of the love of God in Jesus Christ; a self-less, unending and never-failing love.    
If the love of a caring and compassionate mother can mean this much, then how much more so is the ultimate love of Jesus Christ.  Whose life, death and resurrection testify to the true and ultimate love of God the Father, and which allows us the opportunity to experience eternal life through him. 
We see in Jesus, God incarnate.  God who walks among us, lives with us, hungers with us, grieves with us, celebrates with us, challenges us to seek peace and care for the oppressed and provides us a way to live an abundant life that we cannot experience without faith in him. 
It is this faith and this desire to live like Jesus that makes our lives a testimony to the one who created us, loves us and saves us.  It isn’t just our family legacy we strive to honor but more so, the legacy of our faith.
The problem is this, there are many who claim to testify to God.  There are many whom we look up to, whose lives do not testify to Jesus.  Unfortunately, there are those among us who’s mothers did not testify to the ultimate love of God in Jesus Christ.  There are those who were led astray, and who’s legacy is not one of peace, compassion and self-lessness.  God tells us to honor our parents.  How do we do this when not everything we, or our parents do is honorable? 
How do we know?  How do we look at a person’s life, listen to a person’s words and know if they are worthy of imitation and honor?  How do we know if they testify to the One true God, or to some other false god who leads us not to life, but to death?
When I first tread the story of Ann Marie Jarvis and Julie Ward Howe, I knew immediately of their faith. None of the articles I read said they were Christian.  The only hint to their faith was mentioned was the authorship of a hymn and a brief blurb about the location of the first Mother’s Day celebration. 
What testifies to their faith, was how they lived their lives.  They fought for peace and justice.  They lived out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how they cared for the poor, healed the sick, provided healing to broken relationships, saw those created in God’s image as children of God, as their own children.  They showed the love of God, not only to their own families, but they allowed God to bless the grief and loss of their own children and turn it into action. 
They understood that no matter a person’s color, age, wealth, or even their political affiliation, prevented them from being loved by God, worthy of the sacrifice and eternal life God promised.  They fought, they sacrificed, they struggled, so that others could experience the abundant life Jesus desires all of us to have. 
We are surrounded by people who profess to testify to the will of God.  They profess to know the desires of God’s heart.  They proclaim God’s blessing on whatever cause they want to justify, and some will claim the name of Jesus, professing with their lips a belief in God and the eternal life offered by the blood of Christ. 
So I want to propose a way, to clear out the static and noise which threatens to drown out the true voice of God. 
All around us are voices of division and fear.  Voices that desire to be the best, the greatest, the richest.  Those who tell you that you deserve what you have and to be afraid of those who want to take it from you.
There are voices that tell us war is a negotiation tactic, and violence is the solution to hold power over others and solve disagreements.  There are voices that tell us the poor deserve to be poor, people of color deserve to be feared and treated as less than, and those who speak other languages are manipulating your good intentions. 
These are not the words of Jesus.  This is opposite to what the life of Jesus and word of God proclaim and teach. 
Instead, look and listen for those voices that testify to love, peace, equality, and abundant life for everyone.  Listen to the voice of those who advocate for the same things the life of Jesus testified about.
Listen for the voice that cries out and seeks to lift the oppressed out of the margins.  Listen for those who seek the health and well-being of all, regardless of their color, religion, language or nationality.  Listen to those who sacrifice comfort, security, wealth and power in favor of those who have less.
It is these lives that testify to the love of God and life of Christ.  It is God in Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for those in the margins, who slept on the ground, walked dusty roads, and ate with sinners and embraced those considered unclean and unworthy. 
It is Jesus who healed those with a broken body, broken heart and broken spirit.  It is Jesus who relinquished his life and power on the cross so that ultimate power could be seen in the resurrection and so that you and I, sinful, unworthy, dirty and undeserving could experience true love and life. 
The life of Jesus testified to the heart of God.  Resurrection and eternal life testify to the power of God and gives us the life Jesus testifies to. 
And the life of those who truly love God and believe in Jesus, will testify to God as well.  This is the life we have in Christ.  The eternal life that begins now, for those who profess the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ.  It is our lives, how we chose to live in the shadow of the cross that witness to our faith, that show to whom we pledge allegiance, and provide an example for others to follow. 
Our testimony isn’t just the words we say, but how we live our life.  This is a call and a challenge for all of us, not just mothers.
Our children, God’s children, are watching.  Do our lives testify to the values of God and to those women who were honored at the inception of Mother’s Day? 

Do we work for justice, peace, and reconciliation or do we work for division, hate and fear?  To whom will our lives testify?  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Afraid to Love

1 John 4:7-21

What are you afraid of?  Intellectually I’m not afraid of much. I don’t like scary movies, but, sitting in this room with people I know and love, I can say:  I am not afraid.  All my life I have enjoyed doing stuff this side of dangerous.  I love roller coasters and motorcycle rides.  I love to travel and most places in this world do not scare me.  I’ve even traveled to Venezuela by myself.  I’m not afraid of spiders or bugs.  I am not afraid of heights or tight spaces.  I am the one who is typically willing to try anything. 

Except that I’m not.  I thought I was a reasonable person.  I thought I was fearless… until Jay and I took the girls ziplining.  Here I am, the girl who always wanted to hang-glide, wanted to soar like the birds…. And standing on that platform, I was terrified.  I finished the course, screaming, miserable, holding on for dear life.  Not that holding on would have done any good…. If I was on a platform I was fine but the minute it was my turn to trust this wire to hold me, my knees went weak, my hands grew clammy, and my heart raced. 
Maybe hang-gliding sounds better if I watch someone else do it. 
Our scripture says that perfect love casts out fear.  Well, clearly, I don’t have perfect love. 

Fear is one of those things that God gave us to protect us.  We fear the dark, scared of a person with a gun, scared of eating certain foods, scared of going places we perceive to be dangerous, scared of heights, scared of snakes.  All these things protect us from potential danger.  If we didn’t fear we would have all walked off the edge of cliff or tried to pick up poisonous snakes a long time ago and our species would be extinct. 
So then, what is 1st John telling us?  Is John telling us if we love God enough we won’t be afraid?  No, what he’s saying is that a relationship with God changes how we perceive fear.  He is telling us because God is love.  Because God loves you, you don’t have to be afraid.  You don’t have to worry about the decisions you made as a youth.  You don’t have to worry that you don’t pray enough or read the Bible enough or work hard enough.  That type of fear is a perversion of God’s love used to manipulate others into specific behaviors.  

Many of you may have heard of “scared straight”.  It was a program designed to take teenagers who were in the court system and give them tours of adult prisons and have adult inmates talk about their crimes and how horrible prison is.  The idea is that if kids saw what the consequences would be, they would be less likely to commit a crime. The interesting thing about this theory is that they were wrong.  Kids who went through “scared straight” were significantly more likely to end up in the prison system.  You see, fear is only a temporary protective factor.

Fear may prevent me from Bunge jumping but after I watch enough people do it, after I have done it once, and survived, the fear response gets diminished.  God created us this way too because some fears are irrational. Some fears need to be overcome.  1st John tells us over and over, God is love. Scripture tells us over and over, God loves you.  For God so loved the world.  This perfect love is a perfect gift from God and is given to those who trust God and accept that love so that we can follow God without fear.  Lasting positive behaviors and choices stem from love, not fear.  God does not want us to be afraid of him. 

The thing about fear is that most of the time when we do what God is calling us to do, even if we are afraid, it doesn’t turn out nearly as bad as we thought it would.  Now, I haven't counted them myself, but someone once said at a Lay Witness weekend that the there are 365 places in the Bible when scripture tells us “do not be afraid”.  If we live our lives out of love for God, if we love people with the same love that we have been given, we don’t need to be afraid.  God has promised to go with us into whatever situation we are being called.  God has given us an abundance of love so that we can love others.  And when we think of the love God has for us, we realize the love we are called to give is the same undeserved, unconditional, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, love God gives to us. 

This isn’t an easy love to offer.  We have been conditioned by society that there are some who deserve our fear, our hostility, and our contempt.  The illegal immigrant we have been told is here to steal, rape and kill or at least take our jobs.  The Muslim whom we have been told are all terrorists.  The gang member, the homeless person, the used car dealer, the door-to-door salesman or the shady construction worker who comes by after a storm.  We are told to put up our guard, they want to take advantage of your generosity and your vulnerability. 

Fear has gotten so prevalent that we fear anyone we don’t already know and trust.  And our fear prevents us from getting to know some really great people. Our fear prevents us from seeing the God we profess to love because we never get to know the wide variety of people whom God loves.  Our fear we actually prevent us from knowing God.  Verse 8 tells us the person who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 5: if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?  And if you greet only those whom you already know what more are you doing?  Don’t even non-believers do these things? Therefore love with the Love of God, showing love to everyone. 

Our scripture from today expands on this by telling us that it is in our love for others that people see God in us and it is in the love that we receive from others that we experience God’s love for us.   
When we look around this room, when we show love to one another, we see the face of God.  But God desires for us to know love even more than this.  Our ability to experience the love of God is limited if we limit those we love.  And it is only in our willingness to put aside our fears, to trust in the love of God, that we can enter new, loving and rewarding relationships.  When we enter relationships and conversations with an attitude of love, even when we fear them or vehemently disagree with a person, we can still love them.  This isn’t easy.  

When we disagree with someone on deep moral and emotional levels, when we fear them, it is hard to remember that they are a beloved and valued child of God.  But when we remember that we are loved and valued by God, even when we do things that God dislikes, when we do and say things that break God’s heart, when we fail to love others, God still loves us.  Then we can continue to grow in that love.  The more we accept God’s love for us when we are unlovable the more we can extend that love to others when they are unlovable to us. This is not something that is instant, without consequence or something we will do perfectly.  Just like we often reject God’s love for us, just as we resist the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus in the cross, just as we betray God’s love for us, others will reject, resist and betray our love for them.  But it is still worth striving for. 

Because the reward of patient persistence is one that is worth the work.  It is a love beyond our imagination, a love that comes with rewards in this life as well as a growing reminder of God’s unlimited and eternal love.  This is an infinite cycle of love.  The more we experience God’s love, the more we seek to love others, the more we experience God’s love.  This cycle of Love, when multiplied into more and more relationships is a force that cannot be stopped. It is a force that can change our families, a force that can change our community and a force that can even change the world. It is a force that overcomes all fear and initiates changes that will outlast any fear mongering motive. 

It is in this love, not fear, that we will see the face of God.  What better reward could we want?  

True Love

1 John 3:16-24

The musical “Fiddler on the Roof” is about a Jewish family in turn of the century Russia, coming to terms with how their life is changing.  Their culture is changing, the world is changing, and they are struggling to hold on to traditions that seem central to their life.  As the three daughters reach the age of marriage the tradition of matchmaking and arranged marriages seem to be disappearing before their eyes. As Tevya and Golde the Patriarch and Matriarch of this family are watching their children fall in love and seek marriage, they begin to get sentimental about their own marriage.  In one of the songs.  Tevya asks Golde “Do you love me?”  Golde has never given it much thought. They were told when they met on their wedding day that one day they would, but did they?  As Tevya continues to ask, Golde’s response is a list of actions.  For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, milked your cows, raised your children, lived with him, fought with him, starved with him.  If that’s not love, what is? They lived their love for one another but had never said the words.  In the closing line of the song they sing together:  “After 25 years, it’s nice to know.”  (

It seems over the past several decades we’ve forgotten what love is.  We equate love to a feeling, the warm and fuzzy, butterflies in your stomach, heart racing sexual tension of a new relationship.  A feeling that often goes away, almost as quickly as it arrives. Or it is a word devoid of much meaning at all.  A phrase of endearment that simply means- I think fondly of you at this moment.  As soon as you do something I disapprove of then I won’t love you anymore.  And at its worst, itis transactional.  I’ll love you if you do ___ for me.  None of these images of love which the world offers captures what God intended love to be.  It isn’t just actions, nor is it just words, nor it is a feeling that passes. 
Our reading from 1st John tells us if we want to know what love is.  If we want to know how to love:  Look at Jesus. How do we know God loves us?  Every story, every word from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is a love story.  Telling us and showing us evidence of God’s love for us and for creation.  Even the times of punishment are all signs of God’s love.  God loves us too much to leave us the way we are, nor does God ever leave us in the depths. 
God loves us so much that God became human in Jesus Christ.  God became like us, lived through every emotion, struggle, pain, and loss we experience.  God loves us so much that Jesus willingly sacrificed his own life, laid down his life for us.  The love we see in God through Jesus is a love of action; sacrificial love.  Jesus’ words and actions tell us just how much we are loved; flaws and all.  When Jesus eats with sinners, spares the life of an adulterous woman, gives the good news of living water to the woman at the well who had 5 husbands, when he touches lepers and heals those possessed by demons and forgives the criminal on the cross beside him, we see God’s love for even the worst of the worst. 

God’s love is shown through the abundant mercy, compassion, forgiveness, second chances and covenant promises.  God’s love is seen in rainbows and sunsets, the whisper of the wind, the warmth of the sun, and the kiss of raindrops.  God’s love is experienced in our hearts as we fail time and time again and yet even when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and makes us worthy to be in the presence of the Holy.  God’s love is experienced in our greatest joys and deepest sadness. 
How do we repay a love like this?  1st John tells us.  Obey God’s command to believe in the name of Jesus and love one another.  We are to be imitators of Christ.  It isn’t just enough to say we believe in Jesus.  Nor is it enough to do good deeds.  The life we are called to live is one of word and deed, thought and action.  Belief in the name of Jesus means not just an intellectual assent it means we have faith and trust in the character and nature of a person and everything that name represents.

If we truly believe in Jesus and love Jesus, if we have truly welcomed the Holy Spirit into our lives.  If we fully accept the unconditional, never-ending, overflowing love of Jesus Christ in our lives then we cannot help but be transformed into lovers ourselves. This love changes us, and we embody the one in whom we put our hope and trust.  The love of Christ should ooze from our pours, into every action we take.   It cannot be contained.  We don’t simply obey God because we are told to.  We don’t obey to avoid the consequences.  We don’t love so that we will be loved in return.  It isn’t transactional at all.  Love is a one-way valve from God, through Christ, to all those who believe and into the world.  It’s like one of those fancy champagne fountains at weddings. 

Psalm 23 says my cup overflows, surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. Our obedience and the obedience of Jesus takes the form of sacrificial love.  We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  This sacrificial love doesn’t necessarily mean laying down your physical life.  Although for some it does.  For the person of faith living in a foreign land or protesting to advocate for those whom the world has forgotten, for the fireman or police officer who put themselves in harm's way to protect an innocent life, maybe this is what God calls them to do.  

For the rest of us, John puts it this way “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”  “It is the willingness to surrender that which has value for our own life to enrich the life of another.” (CH Dodd FOW). 
What goods of the world do we possess?  What do I have that can make someone else’s life better?  For some of us, it is a physical skill or knowledge we can teach others.  For some it is financial resources, for others it is time, just being present with someone in need.  In what ways does your cup overflow?  God has a way of refilling our cups, even as we give away what we have and what we value.  The blessings of God don’t decrease the more we give.  Instead of giving multiplies our blessings. 
And even when it feels like obeying God’s command to love is a chore or inconvenient, when we don’t “feel the Love” in return for our generosity.  It is important to remember it’s not about us.  It is about loving God by the way we show love to others.

It isn’t about being appreciated because what we offer isn’t really ours anyway- it is God’s.  And any thanks or appreciation should go to God- by the one who has it to give and the one fortunate enough to receive.
It is about giving glory and honor to the one who loves us simply because it is God’ nature to love, to give good gifts to those created in God’s image; even when we don’t deserve it.  Because Jesus loves us even when we don’t love him back.  God is generous to us whether we repay that generosity or not. 

In these moments, our hearts condemn us.  It is not possible for us to love perfectly, despite the fact that we are loved perfectly.  Sometimes it will seem like glasses on the other side of the champagne fountain are getting more than their fair share or our cup isn’t overflowing as quickly as we’d like.  Sometimes, we will just not feel like being charitable.  There will be times when we feel our tanks are running low.  In these moments of failure, guilt and shame, we can rejoice in God even more.  Because God sees our hearts.  God sees our shortcomings. God sees our love. God sees our desire to do what is right and to love more fully.  This is when we can humbly enter into the presence of God as people who are loved and valued because of who God created us to be, and because of the unconditional, sacrificial love of Jesus; not for anything we have done to try to earn God’s affection. 
True love isn’t a feeling.  God’s love is consistent and never changing.  God’s love isn’t transactional.  God’s love is unconditionally and freely given and never-ending. 

True love means saying you're sorry when you mess up.  True love means saying I love you.  True love is believing with our hearts, minds, and soul in the unfathomable love of God in Jesus Christ.  And it means putting our faith, hope and love into action in real and tangible ways towards others- those whom we know and the stranger alike, following the sacrificial example of Christ- whether you are loved in return or not.  This is love that Jesus willingly laid down his life for us; in the way, he lived his life with mercy and compassion and the way he surrendered his physical life as the ultimate sacrifice of love. 

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.