Monday, May 11, 2009


1 John 4: 7-21; John 15: 1-8, 16-17
******** United Church of Christ
May 10, 2009

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I had vivid dreams about what being a mother was going to be like. The dream I remember most clearly took place underwater, in a vast ocean. I was in an undersea residential research station, like something out of “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”. I could sense a collective intelligence in my surroundings as hundreds of scientists and researchers buzzed about me discussing data and research options. Suddenly the atmosphere became charged with fear as the research station came under attack. A giant alien creature with far-reaching tentacles seized the research station and wound itself around and through the structure, sending millions of gallons of water rushing into the research station, instantly drowning all personnel.

So one could say I had some feelings of being overwhelmed as a new mother. Who was this creature growing inside me, alien and unknown, with her far-reaching effects that would reverberate throughout my life? In Fruitful, a feminist memoir about motherhood, author Anne Roiphe recalled these thoughts as she went into labor: “I felt a moment’s mourning. This was the end of self as I had always known it. This was the beginning of my destiny.”

After her daughter was born she experienced a temporary state of bliss, transcended by reality: “…I hardly noticed…that I would soon lose…my time for myself, my ambition, my freedom to go wherever the mood took me and stay as long as I liked. I was no longer the subject of my own days. …I had given up my boundary, the wall of self, and in return had received obligation and love, a love mingled with its opposite, a love that grabbed me by the throat and has still not let me go.”

In my experience, the complex feelings of becoming a mother, becoming a parent, are not unlike those emotions we might experience as a follower of Jesus. As followers of Jesus we arrive at the end of self as we had always known it and begin as a new creation. We are no longer the only subject of our days; our days are not our own but God’s. The developing relationship between mother and child is very similar to the vine and the branches, this intertwining umbilical cord, this irrevocable heartstring, this dwelling within one another. I am told that even if mother and child come to each other by way of adoption or foster care, this mystical union still weaves its way into spirits and hearts, even as we have been adopted and fostered into the heart of God.

I heard my mother say,
I heard my mother say,
I heard my mother say
Give me Jesus.

And like all relationships, our love for Jesus can often ‘mingle with its opposite’ especially when we hear him say things like “Love your enemies and pray for them”, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor”, “Forgive one another as I have forgiven you”, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Even with all his love for us and our love for him, Jesus still has the ability to grab us by the throat and not let us go.

I do not have many romantic sentiments about the mother/child relationship or about following Jesus. As wonderful and life-giving and enriching as both can be, they also come with their fair share of heartache and pain. As much as we would like to be close in either relationship, sometimes we find ourselves estranged and distant, unable to disclose what is in our hearts, fearful that our desire to trust just might be the path toward our destruction. Sometimes it seems as though it would be easier to live without either of them than with either of them because of the work both relationships require. Yet once they are a part of our lives, once that vine has given of itself to the branches, once the earthy fruit begins to grow, we find within us that irrevocable heartstring, and we pluck it even if it hurts, even if the note it sings is sad. In both mother/child relationships and in our relationship with Jesus, we discover a yearning…a yearning for wholeness.

I heard my mother say,
I heard my mother say,
I heard my mother say
Give me Jesus.

In the first letter of John we read that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” We know that children who experience authentic, genuine love from their parents do not fear punishment but those who live in constant fear of parental judgment and punishment often have difficulty learning how to love and how to express love in ways that are healthy. When we learn to love authentically, fear’s grip on our lives is lessened. When we are able to give of ourselves with love we increase our God-given ability to affirm life in all its complexities and imperfections, with joy and expectancy.

The perfection in love that John speaks of is not a love without any room for improvement; it is not a love that has learned all its lessons. The Greek root for the word ‘perfect’ is telos, which means ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ or ‘maturity’, and it includes a reaching, a striving toward that completeness or wholeness or maturity, as fruit that ripens on a branch. Perfect love that casts out fear is one that strives for maturity, for wholeness, that seeks to grow in fullness as fruit that ripens on a branch.

Both of my daughters were born in the fall, when ripened fruit makes the branches grow heavy, pulling the branches toward the earth with the inexorable force of gravity that ultimately pulls us all back into Mother Earth from which we came. Every year our family honors their birthdays by going apple picking. Sometimes my mother will be visiting when we make this trip to the orchard. And there we are, three imperfect generations slogging through mud or sweltering under the Indian summer sun, competing with the honeybees for some Ida Reds or Jona-Golds; picking apples I don’t always have a plan for except that we pick them together, snack on one apple as we go, and help each other carry the heavy sacks on the way back to the car.

Maybe they’ll turn into a pie. Perhaps an apple crisp or cobbler. Maybe a few will rot on the kitchen counter. But by making an effort to abide with one another, to strive with each other, God promises to complete something wonderful, in us and through us. By seeking to mature in love, by endeavoring to follow those difficult sayings of Jesus, by remaining close to Jesus, God promises to reveal the fruitfulness that lives within us. God discloses all of the holy heart and trusts us with Jesus, the Child of ultimate love that lays down life for the sake of love, this love that calls us to be friends, disciples, servants, children of God. And the fruit of this love is even more love: complete, whole, mature love, ripened in closeness to Christ.
This is a Mother’s Day poem that had been entitled “Before I was a Mom”, that was sent to me via email, that I have altered to reflect how knowing Jesus changes our lives much in the same way becoming a parent changes our lives:

Before I knew Jesus,
I never thought of bread and juice as something other than a snack
or remembered all the words to a cherished hymn.
I didn't worry whether or not my personality was a problem.
I never thought about infecting others with love.

Before I knew Jesus,
I had never been asked to wash 75 sets of silverware, plates and glasses.
Or form an opinion on glass or plastic cups.
I had complete control of my time
and what I thought was important.
I slept all night.

Before I knew Jesus,
I never sat next to a screaming child
in order to give comfort to its mother.
Or father.
I never looked into teary eyes and cried.
I never got gloriously happy over a simple thank-you.
I never gave money away without wondering if I’d done the right thing.
I never sat up late hours at night
praying for a friend to make it to the next morning.

Before I knew Jesus,
I never held a child in my heart that lived several thousand miles away.
Or right next door. Or on the streets of my town.
I never felt my heart break into a million pieces
when I couldn't stop the hurt.
I never knew that something so invisible, so unreal, so mysterious
could become visible through me.
I never knew that I could love someone so much.
I never knew I could pray for my enemies and love them too.

Before I knew Jesus,
I didn't know the feeling
of having my heart outside my body.
I didn't know how special it could feel
to feed a hungry person.
I didn't know that bond
between the vine and the branches,
between my heart and the holy.
I didn't know that something as simple as forgiveness
could make me feel so good and joyful.

Before I knew Jesus,
I had never gotten up in the middle of the night
because I felt like God was speaking to me.
I had never known the warmth,
the joy,
the love,
the heartache,
the wonderment
or the fulfillment of knowing Jesus.
I didn't know I was capable of feeling or being so much.
I didn’t know what it meant to be fruitful
before I knew Jesus.

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You may have all of this world,
You may have all of this world,
You may have all of this world.
Give me Jesus.


[i] Roiphe, Anne. Fruitful (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), pp. 3-4.

"Give Me Jesus", African-American traditional.

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