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No Law But Love

Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church
Eugene, Oregon
Mother's Day, 2000

1 John 4:17 - 5:1

Last Sunday we took a look at the first phrase from the old motto of our ancestors in the Christian Church, No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.  On this Mother's Day I would like to reflect with you a little on the third phrase of that motto, no law but love.  If the first phrase, as I suggested last week, is at the core of our beliefs as a church, then the third is at the core of our actions and relationships, or so we hope.

When speaking of love, the beginning point for us as Christians is the character of God, as affirmed in this text from 1 John, God is love.  Our love is not only rooted in God's actions, it is rooted in God's very being.  To know God is to know love.  In a very real sense, therefore, love is the only law we need--love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as your self.  Love is the essence of both God's being and God's law.

As followers of Jesus, we are also commanded to love one another after the example of Jesus.  Jesus said, 'Love one another as I have loved you.'  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, went so far as to say that  'God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.' (Romans 5:8)  Such love, that is, love for sinners, is hardly rational.  When you look at this world and the state it is in, it hardly makes sense that God would continue to love us, in spite of everything.  But that is precisely the point, love is not rational.  You don't fall in love with someone because it makes sense.  Ask my wife, she can tell you.  Love doesn't have to make sense.

If we look at the way God is portrayed in the Christian scriptures, we see that the predominant image for God is that of a parent, as stated in this text for this morning, 'we have seen... that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world'--very much a paternal image.  We also remember that Jesus spoke of God as 'Abba', a very intimate term for Father, much like 'Papa'.  The text, in 1 John however, tells us that everyone who loves is born of God, a decidedly maternal image, which is one reason why I am inclined to use the feminine pronoun for God from time to time.  Another reason is simply because I experience God as much as a Mother as I do a Father.

Lastly, I use both Mother and Father as an image for God because I want my children to not only see their relationship with me as an image of their relationship with God, but also their relationship with their mother as an image of that relationship with God.  Indeed, I would hope that the love they see between their parents is also a model for their understanding of God's love.  That may put a big responsibility on us as parents, but it is a responsibility that is greatly needed in this world.

I use parental love as an image of God's love with some reservation.  I am all to aware that there are many in this world, including many in this congregation, for whom the image of their parents is anything but loving.  I would hope, if you are one of those, that you can identify perhaps with the love you have felt from a surrogate parent or the love you feel for your own children, or maybe the love you have experience in your marriage or some other love you have experienced in your life and then make the appropriate translation as I speak of parental love.

What is parental love?  It is that place where you can crawl into bed late night after a scary dream or a thunderstorm and you know you are safe as you cuddle up next to Mom or Dad, and you can fall asleep again.  It is getting the hug that you need when you need it, not when someone else wants to give it.  It is living in Europe, 8000 miles away from home and receiving a care package filled with nothing but chocolate chip cookies, pictures of home  and a tape of Mom, Dad and family, laughing and crying as you listen to that tape, to those voices you have not heard in so long.  It is the story of the prodigal son, knowing that there is always a place where you are welcome to come back.  It is being valued, not for what you do or how you look or what you make but for who you are.  It is the mother, who, when watching the marching band go by says, 'Oh look,  everyone is out of step except for my little Johnny.'

Last night America's Funniest Home Videos dedicated their show to Moms.  My favorite clip was the one of the two year-old outside with a hose and a spray gun, playing with the water.  Mom opens up the sliding glass door to tell her daughter not to spray the door, and of course what does the little girl do?  She reflexively turns toward Mom, little hand gripping that spray gun tight as she unintentionally douses her mother.  Mom quickly closes the door behind her and begins to fight against the stream of water to take the hose away from her daughter.  The little girl, seeing her Mom soaking wet and instinctively knowing she did something wrong, begins to cry.  Mom's anger is immediately melted away by her daughter's tears and, laughing, she gives her daughter a big, comforting, hug.

What is parental love?  True story.  When I was about 12 and we lived in Albany and Dad invited me to be his caddy in a golf game, to carry his bag.  I so much looked forward to any opportunity to spend time with my Father that I was glad to carry that heavy bag in the hot afternoon, sweating under the sun, anything to be with Dad.  We were on the back side of the course where the course parallels a field.  Dad hit a low-flying hook that curved nicely right into the field.  One of the jobs of the caddy is to retrieve wayward balls so Dad said, 'Go and get that ball and I will meet you back in the fairway.  So I jumped over the fence only too glad to perform my duty for my Father and headed straight for it.  I kept my eye right on the spot where it went and I was determined that I was going to find that ball.  Dad teed up another ball, right in the same spot as the last one.  He took another swing, just the same as the last one.  Hit another line drive hook, just the same as the last one.  It hit me in the back of the leg.  I went down like I had been shot.  There was a welt and you could read right on it, 'Titleist' in reverse print.  I remember two things from that experience.  One the pain.  And two, my father carrying me home, saying over and over again, 'I'm sorry', tears running down his face.  That is parental love.

There are two unique characteristics of parental love.  It is unconditional and it is unending.  It is unconditional.  You don't love your children so that they will love you back.  One of the worst motives for having children, and we see this especially among so many teenage Moms, is so you will have someone who will love you.

A woman came into my office, a woman I did not know, not a member of the church or any other church, seeking help with some problems in her family.  Her daughter had moved out on her and she wanted me to go and to persuade her daughter to come back home.  I asked her, tell me, how old is your daughter.  She said, 18.  I said, well, at 18 she is entitled to make her own decisions.  The woman said, yes, but she owes me.  I raised her for 18 years, I took care of her, she owes me.  I said tell me a little bit about your relationship with your daughter.  She said, Oh she is nothing but a no-good bum, she is lazy, she is a slob.  She had nothing good to say about her daughter.  I asked, Why do you want her to come back home.  Most parents I know would be glad to see such a teenager move out.  She said, when welfare finds out, they will take $200 out of my check.  I said to her, I am sorry, but your daughter owes you nothing.  She did not bring you into the world, you brought her into the world.  It was your responsibility to care for her until she was able to care for herself.  It is not her job to care for you, or even to love you.  Love is not a responsibility, it is a gift.  If you lay your expectations and demands on your children, you will get nothing but resentment back.  But if you give them your love, your unconditional love, your love will be your reward.

Our love for our children is unconditional.  It is also unending.  We don't cease to love our children when they turn 18.  We may postpone that love for a while while they are teenagers.  Paul Wilkes, a Benedictine monk, left the monastic life to marry and raise a family.  He commented on his experience.  'I discover true disciple when I had not the mandates of Holy Benedict ruling my life. but those of Holy Noah and Holy Daniel, now nearing ages four and two. Nap time, meal time, the thickness and absorbency of a diaper, Benedict should have only known such parameters... I have the same faces all day, every day, faces dirty and smiling, defiant and pliant, demanding and acceding.  And I must love them in all their mutations.  Not like them, be mindful, you can like a dog or even a fellow monk, but you must continually love your children... This is a lifelong commitment.'

Our Thursday morning Spiritual Formation Group has a member who lives in Sweet Home and teaches at the University of Oregon.  He is a graduate of the University of Washington but we have forgiven him of his sins and welcomed into the fold.  A wonderful man.  He gave me permission to share this story with you which he shared with us this week.  Steve's parents had saved up money to send him to college, but when Steve was not ready to go to college when he graduated from high school.  He decided instead that he wanted to see the world.  He took the money his parents had saved and traveled through Asia.  Had the experience of a lifetime. When he ran out of money, he came home.  It was a Sunday night.  The next morning he came down for breakfast.  His father was there.  He asked his son what he was planning to do that day.  Steve thought to himself, here it comes.  If he starts getting on my case about how I have wasted his money or when am I going to start earning my own way, I'm out the door.  I don't have to take any gruff from this man.  He told his father that he was planning to go down the the union hall to see about getting a job.  His father said, that shouldn't take too long should it?  Steve said, no, maybe an hour or two.  So you will be free by noon.  Sure, no problem.  Good, because I would like to take you with me to Rotary and show you off my son to my friends.  There is not a person there who has the guts to do what you have done.

It is this unconditional and unending quality of parental love that makes it divine.  Now that our children are growing older, Judy and I have enjoyed sharing with them some of our favorite movies, the all-time classics like Mrs. Doubtfire.  Have you seen it?  It is truly classic Robin Williams, a wonderful and delightful movie.  Williams plays the recently divorced father who can't stand to spend a day without his children so he dons the disguise of an older, British woman, to be the domestic help who is there to welcome the children when they come home from school, prepare their meals, clean the house and the like.  Very delightful movie.  You know how I am one to always look for theological themes in movies.  I admit that Mrs. Doubtfire is not one that has profound, deep, theological themes.  But, it occurred to me, what a wonderful image for God.  The parent who takes on flesh, in a new form, becomes servant for his or her children.

Remember those words from the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself ...

I can think of no better description of mothers, fathers too, but rightly or wrongly mainly mothers, those who empty themselves for their children, who rise in the middle of the night to attend to their needs, who become their children's transportation service and rearrange their schedules to attend their games and concerts, who forego a new car for braces, and yes, who even take the form of a slave, for a time.  Mothers, and sometimes fathers, who humble themselves, become like a child to play with their children, who postpone or even forego careers to stay at home and sometimes, sometimes, humble themselves to the point of death for those they love, reveal to us the depth and power of divine love.  Lest anyone should lose loved ones prematurely in a mistaken belief that the ultimate sacrifice is God's will, I want to be clear that it is not the sacrifice that is divine, but the love.  And because it is God's love, it will be raised above every other.  It is the law of love, the law that will not disappoint, the one law we need to live by.

Love one another as your Mother or Father in heaven loves you, and I hope, your parents on earth.  May we share that love with one another.


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