Preface: At the conference I attended last week, Shauna Hannan challenged us with some new skills to involve the congregation in the preaching of the word. I decided to use one of her suggestions this morning. There is no title for this sermon in the bulletin. Your assignment, as you listen, is to let yourself give it a title. Perhaps as you leave you can tell me the title you gave, or write it on a bit of paper and give it to me, or send me an email, or write it as a response on the church’s Facebook Page. It is another way for us to listen, engage, and learn to speak the word ourselves. So, today, give this sermon a title.
Researching the Bible verses we read today, I came across a line of T-shirts – black T’s with bold white print saying: LOVE WARRIOR. It turned out to be the gear associated with a book by that title by Glennon Doyle Melton. Part of me squirms with this title. Associating love in any way with war seems just kind of… wrong. War is violence, an act of proving who is stronger. Love, on the other hand is service, even helping the other win. So “Love Warrior” seems like a wrong use of love.
But, while I would still not wear the T-shirt, I had to think about what it might mean. It caught my attention. A love warrior might see their life’s call as overpowering people or situations with love. Love and power. Hmmm. They don’t seem to belong together…. But maybe they do.
Today is Mother’s Day. More phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year. More lunches out. More flowers sent. It has become one of the biggest consumer holidays in the United States!
In churches, Proverbs 31 is often read on Mother’s Day. Popular blogger, Rachel Held Evans, talks freely about how guilty this passage of scripture makes her feel. Every time she heard a sermon or teaching on this hero poem, she felt like a failure! She felt beaten down by the pressure to be all the things this virtuous woman was. Why even try? I can’t possibly do it. You may have felt that way when it was read this morning.
Evans took on the literal living out of this poem in her book project, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” Her challenge to herself was to try to live out literally every biblical passage dealing with women. Wow! Now THAT is a challenge. When she came to Proverbs 31, she drooped with guilt, feeling completely overwhelmed. Moping in the pits of despair, her friend, Ahava, an Orthodox Jew, bent a listening ear and a bit of sound advice. Rachel, she said, this is a poem! Poems are never to be taken literally! She continued to describe how this poem makes her feel:
I get called an Aishet Chayil (virtuous woman) all the time. Make your own Challah instead of buying? Aishet Chayil! Do work to earn extra money for the family? Aishet Chayil! Make balloon animals for the kids on a holiday? Very Aishet Chayil!! … Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings Aishet Chayil (right after blessing the kids) and it’s special, because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he sees everything past the minimum needed to survive as me blessing the family with my energy and creativity.” – Ahava (https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-an-orthodox-jew-response]
The structure and diction of the poem more closely resemble that of a heroic poem celebrating the exploits of a warrior than a domestic to-do list. Like all good poems, it was intended to highlight the glory of the everyday. Never a domestic to-do list! “Eshet chayil” – woman of valor! – is invoked as a sort of spontaneous blessing in Jewish culture,” Ahava said. Think of it as the Hebrew equivalent of “you go girl,” or perhaps even better, “Carry on, Warrior.” [http://momastery.com/blog/2013/04/08/eshet-chayil-woman-of-valor-or-how-i-learned-the-hebrew-equivalent-of-carry-on-warrior/]
And so we return to “love warrior.” In the writings of John the Apostle, love is the opposite of fear. Specifically he says, “love drives away fear.” Those are warrior words.
Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation is a call to action:
Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
In 1968 Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of underprivileged women and children. In the 1970s women’s groups also used the holiday as a time to highlight the need for equal rights and access to childcare. Love warriors on the march. Eshet chayil! You go girl!
I remember Rob Bell’s controversial book, which started our book group reading together a number of years ago: Love Wins. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8), according to the Apostle Paul. I don’t think he means that one who loves never dies or does anything wrong; rather love lives through the worst that can be imagined.
Love is, perhaps, the most powerful action of which a human is capable – far greater than guns or swords. It outlasts death. Warriors may force change through fear, but love casts out fear, steps across enemy boundaries to stand with the human being on the other side. Fear separates. Love connects.
When Jesus knelt down and washed the disciples feet, I imagine that it was one of the most powerful experiences of love ever. Once in a while, I imagine myself as the nameless disciple. I sit on a bench, Jesus kneels down in front of me, glances into my face, and turns his attention to my feet. He takes my left foot into his hands. I feel the sensation of human touch on my feet. Pause. Cradling my foot, he checks the water as a mother might check the bath water for her baby, dipping her elbow into the water. And then he dips my feet in the warm water. Lets cascades of water run from his hands. Rubs my sore foot muscles. They relax. With the towel, he massages my foot again, and gently returns it to the floor, ready to walk again. And then, the other foot….
I imagine that the fear was washed away from their souls, my soul. At least for a moment. All fear was gone in the presence of perfect love. And then Jesus took it yet further during the meal.
The bread, broken… he said it was his body. Love, in this case was broken, defeated for them. Love. The cup… he said it was his blood, poured out. Love, in this case, was drained from his body. And more than his loss, it was his gift. His love-blood was drained, but not into emptiness, but into the waiting disciples. Into us. That the life-blood of love would fill us as well.
Just as Jesus’ love lived through his death. No one forgets that kind of love. And John reminds us today that God is that kind of love. Unforgettable. Continuing to give life and to drive out fear. May the bread and wine be that for us again today – unforgettable, love poured into us, love more than we can ask or imagine!