As January gives way to February, I think of Valentine’s Day. And of course, Valentine’s Day makes me think of love.
The word love has many meanings. This celebrated mid-winter holiday brings to mind the exciting I love you of a young couple discovering romance and new love in each other, as well as the mature love experienced by a couple whose relationship of love has grown and deepened through the ups and downs of a long life together.
As a Christian, I am also reminded of God’s love for the world and for humanity, most fully expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the implications of such love for us in this life and the next. Just as I am reminded of Jesus’ double love commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27]
Likewise, I am reminded of St. Paul’s beautiful words to the Christian community in Corinth: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV]
It strikes me that most of us want to be loved, just as we want to be people who love and love well. Therefore, I think most of us strive to practice what I call St. Paul’s bullet points of love by doing our best to offer others patience, kindness and forgiveness as needed.
Toward that end, perhaps one role of the church is to serve as a rehearsal space where we can learn and practice and finetune the art of loving others.
I am reminded of a cartoon that pictures a preacher at the pulpit and a deacon sitting behind him with a grumpy expression on his face. The preacher says, "So until next Sunday, remember that God loves you, I love you, and Brother Al here is working on it."
The reality is that loving one another does require some work, some effort, some practice. Doing our best, sometimes falling short, then trying again. And it’s not always easy. Yet, loving one another is precisely what Jesus, on the night before he died, commanded his disciples and therefore also members of the church to do: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” [John 15:12]
As William Sloane Coffin once wrote: “If Christ is God's love in person on earth, churches ought to be God's love in an organization on earth. If love is what it's all about, where are we going to celebrate this love unless in community with loving people? Essentially what a church or temple ought to be is a community of loving people who believe that our lives consist of an abundance of love - not of an abundance of possessions.” [William Sloane Coffin, "Who Needs Organized Religion?" Questions of Faith (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), 31]
Friends, may we be that kind of church. May we love one another abundantly! Happy Valentine’s Day!