Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 9, 2021
6th Sunday of Easter
1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
buy isotretinoin for cheap If I had to choose one word to describe God, it would most likely be “love.” But as simple as that might sound, the word itself is rather complex, made even more so by such English renderings as “I love hotdogs and baseball; I love the azaleas in bloom; I love the rays of the morning sun; I love my Mother.” The Greek language, on the other hand, translates love in four different ways. Storge refers to affection between family members; Philia is the love between friends; Eros is romantic love; and Agapē is the highest form of love—demonstrated in the caring of another, no matter what. In our short reading from the Gospel of John, the word “agape” or its derivative is mentioned 9 times. One commentator notes that what is being expressed is “an excellence of character that God has by nature and in which we participate by grace. Such love is primarily interested in the good of the other person, rather than one’s own. It does not attempt to possess or dominate the other. Nor is it limited…by time and place…one can have agape for all.”[i]
When I think of agape love, I think of unconditional love—love beyond boundaries—love in spite of the circumstances. In my own life, it was my grandmother who first showed me agape love—taking on the role of mother when she already had a whole brood of children of her own. While traditional Hallmark Mother’s Day cards never really worked for me, I know of the kind of love such cards portray because of my grandmother and other women in my life—aunts, teachers, neighbors, church ladies, and my precious mother-in-law. From bearing four children of my own, I know a mother’s love is a strong bond. I am reminded of a story about a certain mother who had twelve children and was asked which one she loved best. She responded, “The one who is sick until he gets well; the one who is away until she returns home.”
On the front of today’s bulletin is artwork depicting the mother of St. Augustine kneeling in prayer by the couch of her wayward son. Augustine, who was born in North Africa in 354, has probably had more influence on Christianity than anyone, except the Apostle Paul. And like the Apostle Paul, the way in which Augustine behaved in his young adult years makes his story more dramatic. Augustine’s mother was a devout Christian, but his father was a pagan who was often annoyed by the good deeds and prayer life of his wife. Still, Augustine was brought up in a Christian home. As a young man, though, he renounced Christianity to live a rebellious, lazy life. In response, his mother, Monica, wept and prayed, and wept and prayed. She never stopped banging on the doors of heaven on behalf of her son’s soul. At one point, so the story goes, she visited a certain bishop who offered these consoling words, “The child of those tears shall never perish.” After 17 years of resistance, finally Augustine converted to Christianity—which brought him salvation and brought his godly mother peace and joy.
A godly mother like Monica loves her child with a deep agape love—a love something like the love that God has for each one of us— drawing us ever close—longing for our very best—and never abandoning us. For some of us, imagining God as a Father is easy, but thinking of God in maternal terms can be more challenging—even though Scripture offers ample examples of a mothering God. Yolanda Pierce is a professor of African American religion and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Having first experienced divine love at the hands of her mother and grandmother, she says that even as a child she knew if God was real, if God truly loved her as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.”[ii] She writes,
Scholars who oppose the notion of God as Mother often focus on the gender of Christ and his naming of God as “Abba” or Father. Others argue that God is beyond gender, all the while privileging masculine language to understand God. There are also scholars, myself among them, who support the naming of God as Mother along with God as Father, deriving their support from biblical passages which privilege more “feminine” metaphors and analogies, including the image of God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15; Numbers 11:12); God as a midwife (Psalm 22:8-10); and God as one who gives birth (Isaiah 42:14). We do not have to choose only one form of address. God is Creator and Sustainer. God is Protector and Defender. God is Mother and Father. If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is… I understand God as Mother because of all the mothers, aunties, grandmothers…and church mothers who were made in the image of God and who embody God’s loving care. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich eloquently summarized, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.[iii]
As a pastor, I recognize there’s a real need to embrace feminine characteristics of God—for myself and for others. Why? Because there is no greater love than the love God models for us—as both mother and father. And then there is the fact that I have heard too many stories of women who have been harmed by men—some by fathers or other male relatives—some by pastors, youth pastors, or other leaders of the church. Often, in such terrible situations, if a woman cannot find a place where God can be spoken of in something other than male terms, she abandons the church altogether. She needs a fuller, broader way of imagining God in order to fully receive acceptance, healing, and most of all, agape love from the God who loves her beyond measure.
Love, love, and love abounding—that’s the essence of God. It is the essence of Jesus, too. Recall how he looks down at the city in which he will soon meet his death. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says with such longing, “how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you are not willing.” Oh, the deep love Jesus has for those whom God called him to enter the world to save. To his disciples in our reading today Jesus proclaims his agape love saying, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” And then, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends.” Friends! We are friends of Jesus. We are accepted. We are loved. It sounds like a promotion, doesn’t it? No more sleeping in the lowly servant’s quarters. No more carry this, take care of that. Instead, we are invited into the family home to sit for a spell over chocolate chip scones and a spot of tea. Now, our days will be filled with long walks, lengthy phone conversations, emails, and texts because that is how friends behave toward one another. How did such a thing happen? Were we promoted because our impressive and polished application for friendship was accepted? Have we worked so hard; we are getting our just desserts? Hardly! Remember the words of Jesus: “You did not choose me. I chose you.” Only by the grace of God are we elevated from servants to friends—and Jesus wishes to make everything known to his friends.
But a word of caution is in order. Along with this new position comes incredible responsibility. With God’s love coursing through our veins, we may begin to see the world as God sees the world. We may worry about children that aren’t even ours and we may feel compelled to do what we can to make sure they have enough food to eat. We may feel an urge to pray for God to intervene in the lives of strangers. We may see news of domestic violence or sex trafficking, and tears may stream down our faces as we pray for protection and work for justice. We may begin to sacrifice more of our own resources—whatever they are—so that the gospel goes out into all the world.
If we are a friend of Jesus and love as Jesus loves, we will want to draw closer to him and become more like him. We will feel compelled to work on things in our character that keep us from acting like our new best friend. Anger and pride can’t have a home in our hearts any longer. Acting in ways that hurt others will have to stop. We may have to practice being truth-tellers even when the telling is hard. Instead of facing the new day with a list of complaints, we may begin to perceive each new day as a gift and an opportunity to share the agape love Christ has planted in our hearts. It could happen! With God as Mother and Father, Protector and Defender; with Jesus as Friend and Brother, Lord and Savior; with the Spirit as Comforter and Advocate, Teacher and Guide—who knows what great wonders might be in store for us—and for those whom God calls us to love. Who knows!
[i] Feasting on the Word, David S. Cunningham, 498.
[ii] Yolanda Pierce @ http://ideas.time.com/2013/05/11/why-god-is-a-mother-too/
*Cover Art in Public Domain