Love the Parent, Love the Child

May 13, 2015

May 10, 2015

The Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, DeKalb, Illinois
The texts for the day included John 15: 9-17, and 1 John 5:1-6. 

 
This morning of Eastertide we are invited to travel back to the other side of the cross--to the night of the arrest of Jesus. In the fifteenth chapter of John after the meal is finished, Jesus begins to speak.  He is reminding the disciples about who he is, so that they can remember to abide in him--to abide in his love--when things take a turn for the worse (crucifixion). What does the abiding love of Jesus look like?  Jesus says it looks like laying down one's life for one's friends. Jesus does this not as an automatic act of obedience to a displeased God (the Father).  He lays down his life because he loves them.  He loves us.  His love is the same love that God the Father has for God the Son.  It is complete and has no lack, and so it is shared freely with others. Freely with the world, for anyone who has ears to hear. 
 
What does it look like to love in a way that reflects/imitates the love of Jesus? Many, many years ago I remember sitting in a church basement hearing a lay person give their testimony about loving one's neighbor.  She reminded us that Jesus wants us to love the one who deserves it the least. God wants us to love one another, even when we don't like one another. Love is never to be confused with like.  This love Jesus is talking about isn't romantic.  It's a deeper commitment to serve the other as if we were serving Jesus himself.   (Image from Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town)
 
 
The first letter of John takes this love of the friends of Jesus one step further: "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" (1 John 5:1-2).
 
Commentator Judith Jones writes: "Jesus is born of God, but everyone who believes in him becomes his brother or sister. Whoever loves the parent loves not just one of the parent’s children but all of them. The consequences of this conclusion are enormous: every child of God is linked to Jesus. Every injustice done to a child of God echoes the injustice done to him. Every act of violence committed against a child of God recalls the violence committed against Jesus." (Judith Jones, workingpreacher.org )
 
Lately, I've been thinking about that mother in Baltimore the twitter-verse named "#MotheroftheYear" for slapping her teenage son and screaming and cursing at him for looting (or preparing to loot).  In the video of the event and in her comments later to media outlets it is clear that Toya Graham was not only angry, but afraid. She was afraid, she didn't want her son to become "another Freddie Gray".  Media outlets and social media has been lapping this up.  But in light of 1 John I ask, If we love the mother, do we also love her son?  Michael--his name is Michael.  Did you know that?  You should, because Toya loves Michael.  She loves him as desperately as we love our own children; our own beloved vulnerable ones. 
 
And yet, to quote a recent opinion piece written by Stacey Patton in the Washington Post, "Why are we celebrating the beating of a black child?"  Patton writes: "Graham’s message to America is this: I will teach my black son not to resist a system of oppression, so he can live...This celebration of Toya Graham reflects a belief that black youths are inherently problematic, criminal and out of control. The video also supports the idea that black fathers are always absent, and that everything will be fine if an angry black mom just beats the “thug” out of an angry young man." Ms. Patton has a point as well.  Violence is not the answer. Hating on the youth of this country (particularly the not-white youth of this country) and blaming them solely for racial divisions and civil unrest is certainly not the answer.  
 
Tamir Rice.  Do you remember his name? The twelve year old boy from Cleveland who was shoot and killed this past November by a police officer while playing at his neighborhood park with a toy gun. His mother was reported living in a homeless shelter earlier this week because she couldn't bear to stay in the family home that was so close to where her son died.  Her name is Samaria.  Did you know her name is Samaria?  This weekend Samaria's family and supporters helped her move out of the homeless shelter and into a new home.  This little boy of twelve has still yet to be laid to rest, pending any need for future medical examination a trial. Can you even imagine? What do you say to comfort the mother who's son is brutally murdered?  That's one challenge.  But then what do you say to that mother who has waited these many months for justice, and still she waits to lay her baby boy to rest?  I'm at a loss for words.  
 
Pointing fingers. Appointing heroes.  The media and social media manipulating the personal stories of others for our entertainment.  When is this going to end?  It makes me tired.  I am so very tired. I am heartsick. My heart breaks for our country.  I can scarcely imagine how tired the people of Baltimore are. The people of Cleveland. Ferguson. Oakland. And all those places where protests haven't happened yet. not yet anyway. How tired must all the mothers and sons (not to mention fathers and daughters) be who wish they didn't have to say #blacklivesmatter , and yet know if they don't go out and proclaim it in peaceful demonstrations on the streets no one else will?
 
When are we going to abide in love as God-the-Parent and God-the-Son abide in their love for one another? When are we going to be honest with one another and stop shifting the blame for the mess race relations is in our country to someone else? When will we love the son as much as we love the mother? Because it's time.  It's time that we love the son as much as we love the mother. And it's time to love the mother as much as the son.  Every act of violence (be it physical, emotional, or virtual--yes, even the violence of a key stroke) is an echo of the act of violence wrought against Jesus the Son on the cross.  Conversely, every act of love is an illumination of the hope of the resurrection of the Son by the great Love of God our Heavenly Parent: Our Mother; Our Father. It is through this great abiding love of the Parent and the Child that Jesus holds in his heart grace and justice and liberation and healing.  And Jesus freely shares this great Love with his brothers and sisters--you, and me, and every beloved child God has witnessed the birth of on this precious planet.  
 
When we truly abide in the wondrous love of Jesus the Son, we can see that he is our brother. One of the questions we are asked in our Baptismal Covenant at our baptism and the renewal of our baptism is "Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons loving your neighbor as yourself?" The priest or bishop asks this question. Do you remember what our response is? "I will with God's help."  (Book of Common Prayer, 305). Seek and serve Christ in ALL people. Not some people.  Not the people I like.  Not the people who deserve it. No.  We are to seek our brother Christ Jesus in everyone we meet: the mother slapping her son, the son throwing a rock, the little black boy playing with a toy gun in the park, the police officer who shoots an innocent child, the devastated mother falling apart in a homeless shelter, the one who annoys us, the one who disturbs us, the one who we think deserves our love the least.  In the ones we like and the ones we don't, we are asked to see our sister. Our brother. Our Lord Jesus. 
 
Jesus said to his followers on the eve of his crucifixion, "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you." (John 15:5-6a).How might our interior lives, and our communities be different if we knew in every fiber of our being that we are the beloved friends--the brothers and sisters--of Jesus?  And what might happen if we approached every person as our brother or sister? As Christ embodied before our very eyes?  I know we are tired, friends.  We are tired, fed up, and often not feeling "the love".  But we do not live this post-resurrection life in Christ on our own. We can embrace our weary brothers and sisters we meet along the way and seek to serve Christ in ALL of them with God's help.  Always, always, may we remember to ask for and accept and deliver God's help.
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