Where Does Love Come From?

Where does love come from? What would you say if you were asked this question? In 1 Peter 3:15, we are told always to be ready to make our defence. Today, Mothers’ Day, the day on which we pay tribute to mothers, the ones through whom typically we first come to know love, is as good a time as any to start that process of readiness, a process that allows us to answer the question, ‘Where does love come from?’, the title of this week’s message.

The Cycle of Love

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My children are currently in the throes of preparing for a major series of exams. One of the subjects they’re preparing for is Biology. In Biology – the study of life or living organisms – there are many cycles. And, almost as if in a process of Biology, this week’s readings – the Lesson: Acts 17:22-31, the Response: Psalm 66:7-18, the Epistle: 1 Peter 3:13-22 and the Gospel: John 14:15-21 – describe the stages of what I want to label the Cycle of Love. How so? Let’s explore.

The Five Stages of Cycle of Love

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The Collect clues us into the fact that the cycle has something to do with love. It begins with an identification of ourselves as the ones who love God and recognises that that love emanates from the love which God pours into our hearts. The connection between the love which God pours into our hearts and the love for God that defines us is, as elaborated in the Collect, that which causes us to love God in all things and above all things. A successful cycle allows us to obtain God’s promises, which exceed all that we can desire. The Collect is the overview of the purpose of the cycle of love.

Next, there’s the Lesson, Acts 17:22-31, in which Paul addresses the people of Athens in front of the Areopagus. The Lesson is the first stage of the Cycle of Love, and that stage is life. As Paul says in verse 28, quoting, who it is sometimes thought to be the Cretan philosopher, Epimenides, ‘In him we live and move and have our being’. In other words, it is not possible for there to be life if there is no love. Therefore, if God is love, then life emanates from God. May I remind you here of the Creation accounts in Genesis in which, in an outpouring of love, God created, and in that creation, was life! In that creation, God, after blessing the man and woman, God instructed them to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).

In the Psalm, the second stage of the cycle of love, lies exultation – rejoicing, jubilation. The Psalm begins, ‘Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard; who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip’ (verses 7 and 8). If you read the psalm in the NRSV, it says, ‘Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.’  (verses 8 and 9). I want to highlight two things. The first is that the one who keeps us among the living, the one who holds our souls in life, is our God, not an unknown god as that of the people of Athens, but the only God, the Almighty, the Everlasting God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This is God in whom we live and move and have our being.

The second thing is this: the jubilant tone of the psalm, jubilation to the point of entering God’s house to offer burnt-offerings to pay his vows which he promised with his lips and spoke with his mouth. Indeed, the response, which is what the psalm is in our Eucharistic readings – a response to the Lesson – is a jubilant response to the gift of life, the gift of love from God whom we know to be love.

Let’s move on now to the Epistle, the third stage of the cycle, the cycle of hope. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are urged always to be ready to make our defence to anyone who demands from us an accounting for the hope that is kept in us. Permit me here to refer to Romans 5:5 which says ‘hope does not disappoint us for God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’. Beloveds in Christ, hope is a natural consequence of love. Let me go so far as to say that hope and love are inseparable, for the love of the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, a heart that is inseparable from us. And, while that heart is in us, we have love in us, and if we have love in us, we have life in us and, the knowledge of that, gives us hope. Dear ones, love begets hope. This hope is critical, for it is hope that helps us through our suffering, especially when we suffer, just as Jesus did, for doing what is right. This suffering is also necessary, for through that suffering are we purified to obtain, as we pray in the Collect, the promises of God which exceed all that we can desire.

The Gospel brings us to the last two stages in the Cycle of Love. That fourth stage is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth which the world will not receive for the world does not love God. The world is in opposition to God. Jesus says: ‘the world cannot receive [the Spirit] because it neither sees him nor knows him’. But we who love God do receive the Spirit and in receiving the Spirit we receive love. This love will not allow us to be orphaned. It is a love that reminds us that we too are God’s offspring. And, if we are God’s offspring, then, bringing us to the final stage of the Cycle of Love, is the promise that we prayed for in the Collect – to be reunited with our God. As Jesus assures in the Gospel: ‘I am coming to you; you will see me.’ On that note, the Cycle of Love is completed.

Mothers and the Cycle of Love

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But what has all this to do with Mothers’ Day which we celebrate today? Beloveds, under normal circumstances, it is not possible to speak of mother and not speak of love. Motherhood allows us to step into the cycle, and to have a foretaste of the love that produces life, of the life that leads to love. Motherhood allows us to witness first-hand the tremendous, humbling, disarming, and restorative power of God’s love. Motherhood allows us to understand how God can take someone who is nothing, who is only an earthen vessel and create something. I remember the first time I saw my children, the first thought that came to me was something good has come out of me. Prior to that whatever had come out of me was good only for the sewerage. Now, God had drawn me in, in no mean way, into that Cycle of Love. And in that Cycle of Love, He moves me to rejoice in the Lord. That rejoicing reminds me that there is hope, especially for one for whom pregnancy didn’t come easily. That hope reminds me that I shall never be disappointed and creates in me a ready defence, the defence of which Peter speaks in the Epistle. And, as I continue to hope, I like Stephen (not that I’m being stoned now), have that vision of God’s glory, a glory into which God will receive me when Jesus returns. That hope draws me into the love that obliges me to keep God’s commandments, proving the truth of Jesus’ words: in John 14:15, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

Now I invite you, my fellow mothers, to reflect on how God has drawn you into this Cycle of Love. And children, for we are all children of someone – biological, adopted, surrogate – how have we witnessed God’s love, how have we been drawn into this love through the mothers in our lives? Either the ones who bore us or the ones who nurtured us – at home, in our neighbourhoods, in school, even at work? How have we witnessed the life that is restored through the love of another, the love that is poured into them by the Father, and flows from them to us? How has that restoration of life moved us to rejoice in the Lord from whom all blessings flow? How has that rejoicing created hope in us, a hope that draws us into God’s love, the love that allows us to keep God’s commandment because we know that, in so doing we shall receive God’s promises?

How does that love poured into us flow from us to others? As individuals, what is our expression of love to our neighbours? What is our expression of love to those whom we find difficult to love? What is our expression of love to our enemies, those who have done us wrong? What is our expression of love in our church family? How do we nurture our young people? How do we provide for those who are less fortunate? How do we teach? How do we create the space for others to step into themselves – the self they were created to be? How do we create a sense of family in our households, in church, in our workplaces, in our schools, and in our communities? How does this love flow like a river from you and me, flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free?

So, to return to my opening question: Where does love come from? I hope by now you know. Love comes from God who so loved us that He gave His only Son for us to be reconciled to Him, to obtain His promise, should we believe in Him. This love is as deep as it is wide. This love has no beginning or end. This love is poured into the heart of a mother. This love flows from the heart of the mother to the heart of her children – biological and adopted. This love allows a mother to bear life. This love allows us all, male and female, to facilitate life. This love is the life of the Church. This love is the mother of the Church.

My beloved mothers, Happy Mothers’ Day to you.

Dear ones, I have shared with you in the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit. Amen.

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