For the churches in the US, Mother’s Day is always a difficult day – not because there is any reason or reluctance to celebrate the mothers who exemplify the best of the faith, but because there are far too many whose experience of mother is not a positive one. To declare, directly or indirectly, that God is like your mother will bring a smile and joy to many faces, but also a knot in the stomach to others. This is why we need to tread carefully. Avoiding the issue altogether is not very satisfying for many, either. Perhaps providing a low-key recognition is appropriate along with the opportunity to say “thank you” to those mothers among us who do help us find our way into the grace of God, as well as prayers of support for those who struggle with motherhood – either because of their history or their present. Those who struggle with infertility might find this day difficult, for example.
It is not our intention to dampen the spirit of the day, but to remind worship teams of the delicate nature of recognition. By all means, find ways to give thanks and to give honor. That is one of the tasks of the followers of Jesus (Romans 12:10). At the same time, however, offer prayers of healing for those who are struggling on this day.
The emphasis of worship, we should be reminded, is not on any human being, whether a reality or an ideal, but on Jesus the Christ. Therefore, the emphasis of No Greater Love is on the person of Christ and the life he lived and gift he gave. If individuals can see that love reflected in their earthly parents, then they are blessed. Let them make those connections.
We are called this day to celebrate the love that has been poured out on us and then to strive to exemplify this love in our lives. Some of that loving is nurturing and supporting and caring, like the mother we describe at our best. Like the mother many of us had. So, how do we encourage acts of loving? How do we shape a life of loving in a difficult world? What has changed about signs of love in this new pandemic or (hopefully) post-pandemic world?
A real driving force for the worship team this week is to define this sacrificial love in real-world terms. The text tells us that this love of which there is none greater is a love that lays down one’s life for one’s friends. What does that mean? It is a rare occasion in the world that most of us live in where we are called upon to die in service to another. We can talk about those who willingly lay their lives on the line as a part of their calling: military, police, first responders of various kinds, and so on. But what about the rest of us? Do we need to look for risky opportunities to prove our commitment by throwing ourselves and looking for toddlers wandering into oncoming traffic? While that would be dramatic and certainly an example of self-sacrifice, the call for most of us most of the time is something both more mundane and yet more difficult.
Our sacrifice is daily, or even moment by moment. We set ourselves aside in order to be of service to others. Whether those others be in our household or in our community or in our church or around the world, we learn to give ourselves away, sometimes turning away from something we want in order to give to another. This is the countercultural message of the gospel. It is countercultural because we live in a society that values self above others; values individual rights over communal responsibilities or even duties.
What does a life of sacrificial love look like? That’s the image that you are casting this week. For many, it looks like a mother’s love. For others, it might need to be more personal, more individual. A part of our worship together might be a time of thankfulness for those who have loved us like that. The more we are able bring the example of this kind of love into the consciousness of the worshiper, the more it becomes possible to live into that kind of loving. The call to sacrificial love should be an encouraging call, rather than an impossible dream. We can do this; we can love like this. We know because we’ve been loved like this. The community should leave this moment of worship inspired to love, not worn down by failure or afraid of the challenge to reach this height.
The other secret to share is that the more we love, the more we are able to love. The more we surrender to others, the more we want to surrender. That is another dimension of this “greatest love.” It is greatest because it grows. It grows within us and it grows between us. Love begets love. This is what living the Resurrection is all about.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.