Then there are the stories of the daughter in her early sixties or seventies, who moves in with her Mom, to help her out, or has her mom move in with her. You know, it’s hard to do that because you have to keep track of your mother’s medication, and take her to the many doctor’s visits, and make sure she eats enough of the right kind of food, and you have to argue with her about the fact that she can’t go outside when it’s snowy or when it’s dark because she might slip or trip and fall and the last thing anybody needs is a broken hip.
So she gets tired, the daughter, and lays down on the couch to rest, pulls a wool afghan up over her shoulders to keep warm. Falls asleep. Her arm twitches and the afghan falls down off her shoulder. Then her mom, in her late eighties or early nineties, makes her slow way up to the couch where her daughter sleeps, with one hand holding firmly to her black cane, she reaches out the other hand, an old hand now, how did it get that old? fingers almost look like twigs, but still strong enough to grasp the edge of the afghan, and pull it back up over her daughter’s shoulder, as she has done a thousand times before, so that her daughter can keep warm and sleep.
“This is my command for you, that you love one another,” says Jesus in the gospel lesson for today. That’s the point. That’s the bearing of fruit which Jesus talked about in last week’s Gospel lesson, the verses immediately before these which we read today. “Love one another.”
Mothers are not perfect. They can be the most annoying force in the universe. “Did you make an appointment with the dentist yet?” “No, Mom, I didn't make an appointment with the dentist.” “You need to make an appointment with the dentist.” “I know, mom.” “You know what happened to your father, don’t you.” “Yes, Mom, I know what happened with dad.” “His teeth fell out. Every one of them.” “Yes, mom, I know, you've told me.” “So when are you going to make your appointment with the dentist?” “Ah, probably tomorrow, mom.” “You should do it today. Right after we finish talking, okay?” “Okay, mom.”
Mothers can be self-centered and dependent and aloof and foolish and controlling, and sometimes even abusive. And those are real issues to be dealt with. But the vast majority of mothers love.
You don’t have to physically give birth in order to be a mother. A woman named “Agnes” in her native language decided at an early age that she didn't want to have any children at all. She wanted to a nun, and work in India. She became a teacher in Calcutta and eventually headmistress of the school, but was always haunted by the terrible poverty around her. In her forties, on a trip through the mountains on a train, she received what she called her “Call within a call,” to care for people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta.
She started, by herself to carry people back to her rooms and care for them. Then she was joined by several of her former students from the school, and eventually by over 4,000 people running hospitals, orphanages, Aid Hospices and other ministries of compassion. They call her Mother Theresa.
Reminds me of a fellow I met at a writer’s conference one time. He had a doctorate in Psychology and managed a home for middle school boys who had behavioral disorders of various sorts. You know, yelling and running away and throwing things and attacking people and starting fires and stuff like that.
We talked about why he had spent his whole life in this line of work. I said “some people do this sort of thing because they want to make the world a better place.”
He said “I have no idea if I have made the world a better place.”
Some people do this sort of thing because they feel good when they see they have helped someone overcome their behaviors and go on to live a productive life.
He said “I’m glad when one of my kids does well, but that’s not enough to keep me going.” So I asked him “Why do you do what you do, then?”
He said, “Because I love the little buggers.”
Every time we conceive of an act of mercy, every time we come up with an idea towards integrity and justice, every time we come up with something just because we love the little buggers, we are pregnant with expressions of the presence of Christ in the world. Every time we bring those acts and ideas into reality, we give birth. It takes work to give birth. It takes sweat and labor and danger and messiness and pain. It takes work and sweat and labor and danger and messiness and pain to show God’s love to. Like birth, it also leads to joy.
“This is my command to you, that you love one another,” says Jesus. He says this at the Last supper, the night he is betrayed. He knows he is going to die, and he has no evidence, only trust that God will raise him back again. He calls us to do the same when we love. We will give something of our selves: our time, our energy, our heart, often with only trust that God will raise it back again and make it worthy.
Why do we try to show mercy, uphold justice, keep the peace, serve the people and creation?
Is it because we think we’ll get a return, we’ll make the world a better place, really?
Is it because we think we’ll improve enough people’s lives to make it all worthwhile? Or is it because we love the little buggers, all of them.
Maybe because God loves the little buggers, all of them, every single one of us?
I believe God’s love is like a good mother’s love. Surrounding and nurturing and annoying and challenging and filling us.
I believe it takes sweat and labor and danger and messiness and pain. It acts for no other reason than that it loves us little buggers, every one.
It moves in us that we might do the same.