No Greater Love

May 09, 2021 homily on Psalm 98, John 15:9-17, 1 John 5:1-6 by Pastor Galen Zook

Celebrating the Love of Mothers

In 1 John 5, John the Evangelist tells us that “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” And Jesus says in John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

Today is Mother’s Day, a day when we celebrate motherly love, and we are grateful for all of the mothers in our midst, who so often demonstrate for us what it looks like to love others, as God has loved us. 

Now, we recognize that there are some here today who may have a complicated relationship with motherhood. Perhaps there are some who wanted to be mothers, but did not have the opportunity. There are others who perhaps are mothers, but who are mourning the loss of a child or children. Others here today perhaps never knew their mother, or their mother was unable to give them the type of love that they desired.

And yet, I pray that each of us has had the opportunity to know the love of someone in our lives who has been a mother to us – whether the mother who gave us birth, or someone who has been like a mother to us. 

And so today we are thankful for all the mothers, as well as the women of faith who have been mothers to us along our journey.

The Motherly love of God

It’s interesting to note how frequently in the Bible God is described with motherly language. Most obvious of course is the imagery of birth and new birth that we find throughout the Scriptures.

In Deuteronomy 32:18, for example, God says to the Israelites “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Sounds like something some of our mothers might say!

The psalmist uses the metaphor of a child nursing at his mother’s breast to describe his relationship with God in Psalm 131:2 saying, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

In Isaiah 49 God asks the question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Is. 49:15-16).

In Hosea chapter 11 verse 3 and 4 we see God take on the teaching, cuddling, and nourishing roles that are often associated with mothers. God says, 

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek,  and I bent down to feed them.

And in Isaiah 66:13 God promises the Israelites, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

And finally, Jesus continues this metaphor in Matthew 23:37 when He pronounces over Jerusalem,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

Friendship with God

Here in our text in John 15, Jesus uses the language of “friendship” to describe our relationship with God, saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

Although the image that Jesus uses here is that of “friendship” rather than “motherhood,” this love that he describes is a sacrificial love, the type of love that involves laying down one’s life for someone else. This is the type of love that often goes well beyond that of friendship, and indeed it is often indicative of the type of love that mothers have for their children. How often have mothers had to sacrifice their own needs and desires and wants for the sake of their children? How often do mothers put their children’s needs ahead of their own? Even the act of giving birth is one of self-sacrificial love.

Indeed, most often the first deep relational connection that of us have in our lives is with our mother. And so we could equate this type of sacrificial love that Jesus talks about with motherly love. 

Even though not everyone has had the opportunity to know firsthand the love of their biological mothers, we can all know and experience firsthand the love of God, who is both like a mother and a friend to us. Each and every one of us can experience the deep affection, nurture, and concern of a God who cares for us with tender affection, a love that was ultimately expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who loved us so much that he willingly gave his life for us.

Love God, Love Others

Knowing and experiencing this type of love firsthand can and should compel us to love others with this same type of love. 

That’s why John tells us in 1 John 5:1-2 that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

And what are Jesus’s commandments? That we love God, and love others. 

As a parent, there’s nothing that gives me greater joy than seeing my daughters playing and having fun and getting along together. And in the same way, God’s desire is that we get along with and love God’s other children! In fact, it’s impossible to love God, if at the same time we hate and hold animosity towards others. 

And so Jesus says,  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

History of Mother’s Day

Interestingly enough, this idea of loving God and loving one another relates to the history of Mother’s Day, and how Mother’s day came to be recognized as a national holiday here in the United States. I actually didn’t know until this week that Mother’s Day has its roots in the Methodist Church, as it was founded by two Methodist women – Ann Reeves Jarvis, and her daughter, Anna Jarvis.

The mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, was born in Culpeper, Virginia, on September 30, 1832, the daughter of a Methodist minister. At the age of 18 she married the son of a Baptist minister, and they moved to Webster, in what’s now West Virginia, where her husband established a mercantile business.

Like many families during the mid-1800s, Ann and her husband experienced frequent tragedy and loss. Jarvis bore somewhere between eleven and thirteen children, but only four survived to adulthood. The others died of diseases such as measles, typhoid fever, and diphtheria, epidemics of which were common in Appalachian communities in that day. These losses inspired Jarvis to take action to help her community combat childhood diseases and unsanitary conditions.

Jarvis was a dynamic woman who saw needs in her community and found ways to meet them. In 1858, while pregnant with her sixth child, Jarvis began Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in the nearby towns to improve health and sanitary conditions. She and other area women joined a growing public health movement in the United States. 

Jarvis’ Mothers’ Day Work clubs sought to provide assistance and education to families in order to reduce disease and infant mortality. The clubs raised money to buy medicine and to hire women to work in families where the mother suffered from tuberculosis or other health problems. They developed programs to inspect milk long before there were state requirements. Club members visited households to educate mothers and their families about improving sanitation and overall health. The clubs benefited from the advice of Jarvis’ brother, James Reeves, who was a physician known for his work in the typhoid fever epidemics in northwestern Virginia.

During the Civil War, Jarvis’ Mothers’ Day Work Clubs altered their mission to meet the changing demands brought about by war. Ann Jarvis urged the clubs to provide aid to both Confederate and Union soldiers. Under her guidance, the clubs fed and clothed soldiers from both sides who were stationed in the area. When typhoid fever and measles broke out in the military camps, Jarvis and her club members nursed the suffering soldiers from both sides.

Jarvis’ efforts to keep the community together continued after the Civil War ended. After the fighting concluded, public officials seeking ways to eliminate post-war strife called on Jarvis to help. She and her club members planned a “Mothers Friendship Day” for soldiers from both sides and their families at the Taylor County Courthouse in Pruntytown West Virginia to help the healing process. Despite threats of violence, Jarvis successfully staged an event in 1868 where she shared a message of unity and reconciliation with the veterans. This effective and emotional event reduced many to tears. It showed the community that old animosities were destructive and must end.

After the Civil War Jarvis continued her social activist work and served in her local church. Throughout her whole life, Jarvis taught Sunday School and was very involved with the Methodist church. She served as superintendent of the Primary Sunday School Department at  her for twenty-five years. Jarvis was also a popular speaker and often lectured on subjects ranging from religion, public health, and literature for audiences at local churches and organizations. Her lectures included, “Literature as a Source of Culture and Refinement,” “Great Mothers of the Bible,” “Great Value of Hygiene for Women and Children,” and “The Importance of Supervised Recreational Centers for Boys and Girls.” 

Throughout her whole life, Jarvis strove to honor and help mothers. Her daughter Anna recalled her praying for someone to start a day to memorialize and honor mothers during a Sunday school lesson in 1876. A few years after Jarvis’ death, her daugher Anna organized the first official observance of Mother’s Day, near the anniversary of her mother’s death. The first public service was held at Andrews Methodist Church on the morning of May 10, 1908. And that afternoon, 15,000 people attended another service that Anna organized in Philadelphia, held at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium.

Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.

By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

The Love of God

Ann Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis had experienced firsthand the sacrificial, motherly love of God, and because of that, they had a special care and concern to honor mothers, and to see all of God’s children live in peace.

And so today we honor the mothers in our midst and we remember and praise God for those mothers who have gone on before us. We celebrate the sacrificial love of God, who loves us with a tender love and affection, and we relish in the love of Jesus, who gave himself for us. May all of us live into the dream and vision of those who saintly Methodist women who founded Mothers Day, and may we too learn what it looks like to love all of God’s children. 

Let us pray:

God of all creation, in your goodness you have given us life. Like a mother who labors, you bear the pain of our sin to welcome your children into new life in your mercy. Bless mothers of all generations for their countless sacrifices and self-emptying love. May they savor the fulfillment that comes from giving life and love to their children, and to all who seek their care, for it is a participation in your abundant love. Sustain them in compassion, and entrust them with the power of your love that bears the fullness of life. 

God, may we who have received your deep love and compassion in turn share that love with those around us. On this Mother’s Day, as we honor our mothers and those who have been like a mother to us, may we live into the vision of those saintly women who founded mother’s day, who desired to see all of God’s children get along in peace and unity. May we be bearers of your peace, agents of reconciliation and love in a world that is torn apart with violence, greed, and animosity. May you use us to bring peace where there is violence, where there is sorrow, may we bring your joy, and where there is hatred may we bring your love. 

In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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