If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Treva came into my office last week to say that she needed a newsletter article from the pastor for
February. I asked her, “So, what’s going on in February that I might write about? What kind of theme?”
Without hesitation, Treva answered definitively, “Well, Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, yeah,” says I. “I guess that’s right.”
Hence the essential difference between men and women.
Take note, fellas: Tuesday, February 14. Be aware or beware.
Oh, yeah . . . Now I remember . . . Valentines’ Day: Those elementary days of exchanging Valentine cards, handmade with too much glue and glitter; then placed in decorated shoe boxes set on the classroom
windowsill; waiting to see how the little girl with the red curls reacts to your heartfelt offering; kids
counting their number of cards to see where they rank on the class popularity scale. Oh, yeah . . .
Valentine’s Day. Hearts, red roses and cupid. Love . . . right?
Taking your high school sweetie to an expensive restaurant and dropping a C-note on dinner. Plus another ten-spot on flowers and chocolates. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
The thing is, from the time we’re children, we are raised on a steady diet of romanticized ideas of what love is. It has, for eons, been the favored subject of poets, painters and songsters. In fact, probably no
subject is heralded more in song by those who have the least real understanding of it than: Love.
In the 1970s, cute little books informed us that: “Love is…a warm blanket.” “Love is…a fuzzy puppy.”
And we are fed steady Hollywood fare of that kind of head-over-heels notion of love: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Really? Give me a break.
In fact, the kind of romantic `love’ that we say we `fall into,’ that so often becomes the sole impulse upon which people base their decision to marry, psychologists and sociologists define as a sort of mild form of temporary psychosis.
But that state of emotional euphoria which creates a momentary delusion of the world as a `totally glorious and happy place’ in which to live, and which leads the individual to view their partner of choice as a `perfectly wonderful and beautiful person’ will eventually wear off. And for some Hollywood types in less time than it takes to get unpacked from the honeymoon.
So, let’s be clear here: The truth is that warm blankets get holes in them. And fuzzy puppies poop on the rug. And, it so happens – as I’ve discovered after nearly 30 years of marriage – that love does, indeed, mean having to say you’re sorry . . . a whole lot.
For those of us long steeped in such mushy, warm and fuzzy, romanticized ideals of love, Jesus comes at us with a radically counter-cultural definition of love. A revolutionarily pragmatic form of love.
Love, as Jesus tells it, is not something we fall into or stumble over. It is not just some vague feeling, like drunken butterflies in the pit of our stomach. You cannot command a feeling.
You can’t order someone to “Be happy” . . . can you?
But, in the strange logic of the Gospel, you can apparently command someone to: “Love!” and that’s just what Jesus does.
He totally surprises us hopeless-romantic-movie-goer-types by declaring, “If you really love me, you will keep my commandments. Because those who love me are those who are obedient to me.”
As Jesus defines it Love is Covenant. Not based on emotion, but rather on commitment.
One of the most important things that most of us learn, the longer we are married, is that love—truly deep and enduring love—happens as the result of marriage, rather than its cause.
It’s for good reason that, starting with those first disciples and throughout the ages, the Church has spoken of itself as the bride of Christ. Because out of full obedience Jesus walked in complete fidelity to the object of his love—faithless those she may sometimes be.*
I will love you “until death do us part,” Jesus, in essence, proclaimed. And then beyond.
Being in a state of such covenantal love is a virtue which can be expressed towards anyone: spouse, lover, friend, or enemy. As well as with that person in your life who can, at time, seem like all four rolled up into one.
“God is love,” declares 1 John 4:16, “and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them…We love each other because he loved us first.” [1 John 4:19]
So, on February 14th, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s remember what true love is really all about. For Love is…obedience. Obedience to Love. Obedience in Love.
Obedience for the enduring sake of Love.
(Excerpts from my sermon “Love is . . .” with grateful acknowledgement to William Willimon for much inspiration.)