Scripture: John 15:9-17
Begotten by Love
Rev. Leanne Walt
According to Greek mythology Cassiopeia, the mythical queen of Ethiopia, angered Poseidon, the sea god, by claiming that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. As punishment, Poseidon placed her high in the sky near the North Pole, upside-down, no less, where the constellation Cassiopeia bears her name.
That the existence of motherly love and pride practically exceeded the history of time itself explains quite a bit about my childhood. My mother always seemed to believe that her children had absolutely no weaknesses or limitations in our abilities whatsoever.
The most shining example of this being that when it came time for me to apply to college, my mother took it upon herself to befriend the administrators who worked in every college admissions office throughout the continental United States so much so that after I had sent my application to Carleton College in Minnesota, one of the most competitive colleges in the country, I received a letter of acknowledgement in return stating (and I quote), “We are pleased to have received your application and understand that your mother highly recommends you for admission to Carleton College.” I saved this letter and needless to say, it has become a long running family joke so much so that when I applied for my very first job out of college at a Boston publishing house, I asked my mother to write me a letter of recommendation because surely a mother’s recommendation trumps all others in the business world.
It’s no surprise that my mother highly recommended me for admission to any college or university in the country. To this day my mother insists that I have a beautiful singing voice. I have explained to her time and time again that not only do I not have a beautiful singing voice, but that I don’t need to have a beautiful singing voice - but no, no, no, she insists that I do. She has yet to understand why I chose ministry over a lucrative recording contract.
Most recently, she reminded my husband Bill of this fact as he lightheartedly commented that it would be a real surprise if our son turned out to be a singer or musician of any kind given the nearly nonexistent musical talents of his parents.
“Bill, Leanne has a beautiful singing voice,” she emphatically reminded him.
Well, with my mother having highly recommended me, I did attend college and while there I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Sri Lanka where I lived at an all girls Christian orphanage called Evelyn Nurseries. Having labored, laughed, learned, and worshipped with the girls and young women there, I came to know the stories that had brought each of them to this place. Addiction, abandonment, and ambiguity marred their respective histories. Daughters of mothers who left them on the doorstep in the dead of the night. Children who had never ventured off the tropical island of their birth and yet had come to know the bitter cold of winter, as the poet remarks:
“My sorrow’s flower was so small a joy
It took a winter seeing to see it as such.”
But joy they saw indeed.
One night, toward the beginning of my stay at the Nurseries, after we had eaten supper, washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, swept all of the walkways on the grounds, and had evening worship and prayers, I walked by one of the bedrooms where I saw Shamalie and Anoma, two teenage girls, sitting on one of the beds. A large, open book sat on Anoma’s lap and Shamalie sat across from her. I knocked on the open door, not wanting to startle them, and I walked into the room. They looked up at me.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked them.
“I’m spelling,” Shamalie told me.
“What are you spelling?” I asked her, confused.
“Words from the dictionary. We’re on the Ds,” She explained, gesturing to the large book in Anoma’s lap, which I then noticed was a dictionary. Shamalie had won the spelling bee at her school and next month she was going to be competing in the regional spelling bee held at the University. In preparation, Anoma was going through the entire English dictionary and helping Shamalie learn to spell every single word. Shamalie and Anoma continued with this routine each night. After evening worship and prayers they would retire to their bedroom where they had a date with Webster, reciting letters and meanings.
Aristotle wrote that, “One of the best ways to habituate oneself in a particular virtue is to emulate those who already embody it.” As I witnessed Anoma’s dedication to helping her friend, I wondered where she had learned such virtuous love. I was always taught that the greatest example of Aristotle’s insight resided in the model of family - that parents embody love so that their children might learn to love; they embody trust so that their children might learn to trust, embody patience so that their children might learn patience, and charity so that their children might learn charity.
Yet, during my time at the Nurseries I came to understand that there is a greater, equally embodied love at work among the forsaken and among us all than that of parent to child. Each night at the orphanage, we would close our worship services by singing a familiar hymn:
Jesus loves me this I know/ for the bible tells me so/
little ones to Him belong/they are weak but He is strong
For these girls and young women, their point of reference for love came not by way of a parent’s example, but by way of Jesus. Jesus. Alive. Embodied. At the Nurseries, out of broken and imperfect beginnings came strong and perfect love. A love that had little to do with family of origin, genetics, or namesakes. A love that encouraged and supported, that guided and sustained. A love originating in and freely flowing from God, for Jesus explains: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). Speaking to his disciples here in John, Jesus calls upon them to model their love after his love for them. Yet, here Jesus is also emphasizing the power of God’s love and how it serves not only as the model for but as the motive for Jesus’ love for the disciples and our love for one another. In the words of 1 John, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
For, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to the world, incarnating his love in the person of Jesus Christ for all eternity. We have been begotten by a love-incarnate that has no beginning or end, created with a love that encompasses all that we are and encourages us in everything that we do. A love that washes out all of our flaws, deficiencies, and inadequacies. A love so powerful and pure that it sustains us, even and especially when we come into this world without a mother who’s wonderfully blind to all of our imperfections. A love that insists we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible, a love that encourages us to persist despite the greatest of challenges.
And if we allow God’s love to truly flourish within us, then we cannot help but to give it away, following Jesus’ commandment, “To love one another as I have loved you.” Christian love begets love begets love begets love.
I remember well that Saturday morning, boarding the overcrowded, smelly bus with Anoma and Shamalie, traveling hours to the University for the regional spelling bee. Anoma sat in the crowd, a mixture of nerves and pride, as her friend spelled her words on stage. Shamalie didn’t leave that day with the title of Paredynia’s Spelling Bee Champion, but she left unconditionally loved and encouraged.
True love moves through us – from mother to child, husband to wife, friend to friend – flowing from one person to another, as it seeks to find its way back to its origin in God.
 “By Love We Are Led to God,” by Christian Wiman in The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Winter/Spring 2012 (p. 33)