Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
Trinitarian Congregational Church
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Anthony S. Kill May 13, 2018
Texts: Texts: I John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
My own mother passed away one day before Mother’s Day ten years ago, in 2008, at the age of 84. So every year, I get to preach a Mother’s Day sermon during the anniversary week of my Mom’s passing. Obviously, my siblings and I have been thinking about our mother a lot during this week. Now, it happens that one of Mom’s favorite sayings was “Have I told you lately that I love you?”
There have been a couple of popular songs by that title, but Mom picked up this slogan long before the one by Van Morrison that Rod Stewart popularized in the 1990’s. Mom was familiar with the much earlier country music song, written by Scott Wiseman and recorded by Jim Reeves and Gene Autry & Hank Williams & Red Foley & Bing Crosby & even Elvis Presley as well as many other well-known singers over the years, in both country and popular music styles. It was written in 1945, when my mother was a young bride, a year before her first child (moi) was born. And that refrain, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” was her favorite way of expressing her love for each of her nine children.
So much so that in 1998, we had about 40 T-shirts printed with that slogan, and all her children, grandchildren and children-in-law showed up wearing them for Mom’s 75th birthday party. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”
But the family joke was that, by the time each of us kids was old enough to pitch in on family chores, (and that was pretty young on the family farm!) that statement was always just the first half of a two-part declaration by Mom. It was always the prelude. “Tony, have I told you lately that I love you? The lawn needs mowing today.” “Mary, have I told you lately that I love you? It’s your turn gather eggs in the henhouse.” “Nicky, have I told you lately that I love you? Someone has to pick sweet corn for supper.”
And we knew that both halves were true. Mom loved us tenderly and fiercely, and we loved her back, and so we would do our best to do what she asked – or at least try to trick one of our siblings into doing it for us. (If you’ve got siblings, you probably know the routine: Nicky would go find Timmy and say, “Mom says someone has to pick sweet corn for supper”)
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” We showed our love for Mom, and our appreciation of her love for us, by our giving back what we could, by our taking care of each other, us children whom she loved so much, and for whom she gave so much.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Have I told you lately that I love you? Now go and love one another.”
And John said, “Have I told you lately that God loves you? So you should love your brothers and sisters also.”
Aren’t they saying the same thing as my mother was saying? You have been enfolded by this love. How could you not extend it out to others and pass it around? This love is too big to hold in yourself.
But Jesus and John are saying something more than that also. In John’s words, “We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
Jesus meant the same thing in Matthew’s Gospel when he said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do to me. Whatever you don’t do for the least of these, you don’t do for me”.
Have you told God lately that you love her? Have you told Christ lately that you love him?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said it this way: “Because we cannot see Christ, we cannot express our love to him; but our neighbors we can always see, and we can do to them what, if we saw him, we would like to do to Christ. Here in the slums, in the broken body, in the children, we see Christ and we touch him.”
Now, that may sound like a hard commandment – how on earth are we supposed to treat everyone as if they were Jesus Christ himself Everyone? Friend and enemy, neighbor and stranger, saint and sinner, virtuous and villainous, sweetheart and sociopath? Everyone?
God knows, it’s hard to say you love the stranger – but maybe even harder to love someone who’s not a stranger – someone we know but don’t like (or maybe even know and loathe, or don’t trust, or resent because of something they’ve done to us.) How do we “love” such a one?
Jesus tells us how! Jesus isn’t just giving a command, he’s also showing us the way – the secret of how it can be done. To love someone in this Christian sense isn’t saying that we like them, or agree with them, or even trust their motives. But to love them because we see the face of Christ in them, is to honor the truth that they are a beloved child of God, and somehow, somewhere, the image of God is in them, much as we may find that a mystery. As my former pastor, William Sloane Coffin, was fond of reminding us “Just because you have to love your enemies, doesn’t mean you don’t have any!”
One of my favorite 20th century saints is Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933, to serve the poor and homeless in NYC during the Great Depression. Dorothy Day lived by the principle that in serving the poorest of the poor, she was serving Christ directly.
In one of her articles in the Catholic Worker, she wrote, “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.
“But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that He speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that He gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that He walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that He longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.”
Not that Dorothy Day or Mother Teresa found this task any easier than the rest of us do. In her private memoirs, published after her death, Mother Teresa reveals how she wrestled for years with doubt and darkness and no sense of connection with God, yet through it all she continued with her ministry to the destitute and the dying in the streets of Calcutta convinced that she was serving Christ there, even when she couldn’t feel the presence of Christ herself.
And Dorothy Day also struggled with the hard challenge of seeing the face of Christ in everyone who crossed her path, however disgusting or difficult they may be on the surface. In the cinematic biography of her life, “Entertaining Angels” Dorothy kneels before the cross and prays, “Where are You? Why don’t You answer me? I need You! These brothers and sisters of Yours -the ones that You want me to love? Let me tell You something: They smell! They have lice and tuberculosis. Am I to find You in them? Well, You’re ugly. You drink and You wet Your pants and You vomit. How could anyone ever love You? I need You. But You’re not here. You’ve deserted me too, haven’t You? I’m not who You thought I was. I’m sorry.”
But then later, back at the Catholic Worker House, she says to her colleagues & staff: “I was intent on doing everything myself instead of letting God work through me ––through us. And I’m sorry about all that. And I’ve been thinking about what it is that God wants me to do. Now I see it begins with these people that nobody else wants. The ones that hurt and are angry and have nothing left to give. They are my meeting place with God. And if I will just give him a chance, I know God will fill me with love — fill me through these people. And I hope I don’t have to do it alone.”
Sometimes, parenting is hard work too. Precious as our children are for us, mothering is hard work. Fathering is hard work. Sometimes the ones we are called to love wet their pants and smell bad. Sometimes they’re angels, but sometimes they’re demanding and unreasonable. Yet mothers (and fathers) are called to love them all ways, anyway, to love them tenderly and fiercely, and we do. I think all of us can be strengthened by Dorothy Day’s statement of faith, if we apply it to our own families, our own children, whatever age they are: “They are my meeting place with God. And if I will just give God a chance, I know God will fill me with love — fill me through these people. And I hope I don’t have to do it alone.”
Maybe that’s why we have Mother’s Day. So we don’t have to do it alone!
Have I told you lately that I love you?