Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Mother's Love, God's Love"

Selections from Luke 15

Romans 8: 35-39

 

      Their small home was simple, but adequate.  It consisted of one large room situated on a dusty

street.  Its red-tiled roof was one of many in this poor neighborhood on the outskirts of a Brazilian

village.  Yet it was a comfortable home.  Maria and her daughter Christina had done what they

could to add color to the grey walls and warmth to the hard earthen floor – a woven mat; an old

calendar; a faded photograph of a relative; a wooden crucifix.  The furnishings were modest; only

straw-filled beds on either side of the room; a washbasin; a small table; a wood-burning stove.

      Maria’s husband had died when Christina was just a baby.  The young mother, stubbornly refusing opportunities

to remarry, got a job as a housekeeper and set out to raise her young daughter as best she could. 

Although her wages afforded few luxuries, it was reliable, and it did provide food and clothing.  Now Christina

was old enough to get a job to help out. 

      Some said Christina had gotten her independent streak from her mother.  She recoiled at the

tradition of marrying young and raising a family;  not that she couldn’t have had her pick of husbands. 

Her olive skin, deep brown eyes, and flowing raven hair kept a steady stream of suitors at her door. 

She had an infectious way of throwing her head back and filling a room with laughter. 

She also had that rare magic that made every man feel like a king just being around her.  But it was

her spirited curiosity that made her keep all men at arm’s length.

      Christina spoke often of going to the city.  She dreamed of trading her dusty neighborhood for

exciting avenues and city life.  Just the thought of this horrified her mother.  Maria was always

quick to remind Christina of the harshness of the streets.  “People don’t know you there.  Jobs are

scarce and life is cruel.  And besides, if you went there, what would you do for a living?”  Maria

knew exactly what Christina would do, or would have to do, to make a living.  That’s why her heart

sank when she awoke one morning to find her daughter’s bed empty.  Maria knew immediately

where her daughter had gone.  She also knew immediately what she must do to find her.

      Rhonda is a sixteen year-old high school junior in an affluent suburb of Jacksonville, Florida.  She

was the only one of Nancy’s three children who was a problem child.  She would rebel against her

parents’ rules every chance she got; arguing, and debating, and generally keeping things in a uproar

when she was home; once even having a brush with the law.

      One Friday night, she didn’t come home following the football game, and it was way past her

curfew.  Nancy called the home of the girlfriend who had picked Rhonda up that evening.  The girls

weren’t there, causing both sets of parents to spend a sleepless night. 

      Early Saturday morning, they called the police to report the girls missing and the car stolen.  For

two days and two nights, Nancy and her husband Rick barely slept.  In the daytime, Rick drove

around town searching while Nancy stayed close to the phone waiting for some news; hoping;

praying, chain smoking cigarettes and drinking dozens of cups of coffee.

      On the third day, Rhonda called.  “Mom, I’m coming home.  Okay?”  “Yes, yes, come home!”

Nancy cried.  “Where are you?”  “In Pensacola.”  “Are you all right?”  “Oh yeah, we’re fine.  We’ve

been sleeping in the car.”  “Please be careful.  I’ll be waiting for you.”

      Several hours later, Rhonda came in the front door.  Nancy gasped when she saw her; matted

hair; wrinkled clothes; bleary eyes.  “Honey, we were so worried about you!”  It was all she could

manage to say as she grabbed her daughter and hugged her.  But Nancy fought the anger boiling up

within her.  “I should be glad she’s home, but she doesn’t act as if she’s done anything wrong,” she

 

silently fumed.

      That evening, Nancy saw on the news that a man by the name of Theodore Bundy, suspected of

murdering several Florida coeds, had been arrested just two blocks from where Rhonda and her

girlfriend had been sleeping in their car the previous night.  Nancy’s anger was tempered by this bit

of news.  And she rejoiced in God’s protection over her daughter.

      Meanwhile, Maria knew immediately where her daughter had gone, and she knew what she

must do. She quickly threw together some clothes in a bag, scraped up what little money she could,

and ran out of their simple one-room house.  On her way to the bus stop, Maria entered a drug-

store to get one last thing: pictures.  She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent

all she could on selfies.  With her purse filled with small black and white photos, she boarded the

next bus to Rio de Janeiro.

      She knew Christina had no way of earning money.  She also knew that her daughter was too

stubborn to give up.  When pride meets hunger, a person will do things that before were unthinkable. 

Knowing this, Maria began her search – bars; hotels; nightclubs; any place with a reputation for streetwalkers

and prostitutes.  She went to them all.  And at each place, she left her photo; taped on a bathroom mirror;

tacked to a hotel bulletin board; fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each picture, she wrote a note.

      It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home.

The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.  Her handbag –

once full of photos – was now empty except for a few personal items, and the dog-eared pocket

Bible she always carried with her.  She opened it, and through tear-filled eyes, read from the page

to which she had randomly turned:  “So Jesus told them this parable: ‘Who of you, having a

hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and

go after the one that is lost until he finds it.’”  As Maria’s tears wet the page, she closed her eyes

to pray……

     The next Sunday morning in an Avondale, Florida church, Nancy talked to God about her feelings

toward Rhonda.  How could she get past this?  “I don’t even like Rhonda,” her mother confessed to

the Lord.  “She’s not pleasant to be around.  The house is always in turmoil when she’s home.  She

doesn’t seem to care that she put us through so much anxiety by running away from home.  Lord,

how do I love her, let alone forgive her?”

      The Holy Spirit’s response was almost instant.  In her honest desperation, Nancy opened her

heart to God, and God turned back the clock in her mind to see Rhonda --- apron wrapped around

her little waist, standing on a chair to dry dishes.  Then she saw a flash of Rhonda bundled up with

coat and mittens on a winter day, waiting for her school bus; then another image of Rhonda in her

Minnie Mouse dress beside the laundry basket, handing mom her brother’s diapers to hang on the

clothesline.  She was so loveable then!  She saw Rhonda in the second grade bringing home a

Mother’s Day card with her photograph on it that showed her grin with a missing front tooth.  As

the memories paraded through her mind, her heart softened.  She remembered how much she

loved her little girl.  At that very moment, Nancy felt moved to open the pew Bible in the rack in

front of her.  It fell open to a passage in Luke, and she began to read:  “Bring quickly the best robe,

and put it on him [but it read “her”], and put a ring on [her] hand, and shoes on [her] feet; and

bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my [daughter] was dead,

and is alive again; [she] was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”

 

      A few weeks later in Rio de Janeiro, Christina descended the hotel stairs.  Her young face was

tired.  Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth, but spoke of pain and fear.  Her laughter was

broken.  Her dream had become a nightmare.  A thousand times over, she had longed to trade

these countless beds for her secure, straw-filled mat.  Yet the little village was now too far away.

      As Christina reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes happened upon a tiny, familiar face next

to hers.  She looked again, and there in the bottom corner of the lobby mirror was a photo of her

mother.  Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she removed the photograph. Written

on the back was this invitation:  Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t

matter.  Please come home.”  Christina did. 

      Every night, Nancy prayed in her bed:  “Lord, restore my love for Rhonda.  In the restoring of

that love, I know forgiveness will come.”  Then one night as she prayed, God flooded her heart with

a renewed love for her daughter; instant love, almost more than she could contain.  Later, Nancy

told her pastor:  “Not only did I love her.  I even liked her again.  I forgave her at once, and asked

God to forgive me too.”

      Rhonda continued to do crazy things that kept Nancy and Rick anxious all through her senior

year.  She went away to college where she changed majors three times.  Eventually, she graduated

and moved to another city where she has a well-paying job.  “I look back to that Sunday in church

when I asked God to renew my love for her,” Nancy recalls.  “From that day, I was able to respond

to her with genuine love and forgiveness.  Somewhere along the way, that love melted my heart.

Now when she comes to visit us, she is a loving, caring, appreciative daughter.  During one visit, she

said, ‘Mom, I really put you and dad through a lot in my teenage years, didn’t I?  And I never said I

was sorry.  Please forgive me.’”  I already had.

      Rhonda and Christina – two daughters from two entirely different worlds.  Nancy and Maria

two mothers from two entirely different worlds.  Yet one mother-love for the child, which is the

most universal of languages.  God, whom we call “Father,” teaches us the language of mother-love.

It is love which provides the best possible, even in the worst of circumstances.  It is love which stays

awake all night – hoping; praying; drinking deeply of the cup of frustration.  It is love which, in the

midst of righteous anger, grabs us and hugs us, even when we don’t respond.  It is love which

expends every last resource just to find us when we stray.  It is love which loves us when we’re not

so loveable; not even likeable.  It is love which forgives us when we’re not so forgivable.  It is love

which sends a compelling invitation:  “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it

doesn’t matter.  Please come home.”  It is love which somewhere along the way melts our hearts,

and turns us around.  That’s mother-love in any language.  That’s God’s love in any language.

Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102