Deuteronomy 30:15-20 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Matthew 5:33-37
With Valentine just two days away, here is some wisdom from the mouth of babes regarding this day of celebration.
You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming." Alan, age 10
"No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with." Kirsten, age 10
" Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck." Ricky, age 10
Valentine’s Day: Over 18 billion dollars will be spent on greeting cards, candy and flowers, not to mention nights out on the town and jewelry. All this to demonstrate love both for partners and also for family and friends. Add todays Super Bowl activities and we have the makings of a three-day frenzied food fest.
While Valentine’s Day has pagan roots, the church has remembered an original 3rd Century Valentine, a priest or Bishop who was martyred on February 14 for marrying soldiers – an act which was illegal according to Roman law. He also wrote to prisoners and cared for their needs at the time. While we will enjoy the cards, chocolates, flowers and special dinners, let’s take in account the religious roots of the holiday. Our St. Valentine shows us different dimensions of love. A love that is our source of life and transcends ordinary giving and invites us into a love we are called to live day in and day out. While our lessons today do not mention love, love is the cornerstone of what Moses speaks during his final speech to the Israelites. Love is the cornerstone of what Jesus speaks of when he speaks of dealing with anger and reconciliation as well as about the roots of lust and divorce. Love is what Paul is aiming as he admonishes the squabbling in the church at Corinth.
As disciples, love must be our focus. Love like we have been learning about discipleship, however, is not easy. Whether in a relationship, a family, church community or a larger society, love is often challenged by conflict, misunderstandings, hurts, miscommunications. Conflict is simply a part of life. Even in love, hurts will arise. Misunderstandings and miscommunication threaten our connections of love. As disciples, our job is to create healthy relationships, even in the midst of conflict.
In our prayer of confession, we hear from Deuteronomy some of Moses’ last words before he died. The Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and were looking forward to entering the Promised Land. Moses knew he wouldn’t be able to go with them, so he delivered these words from God, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…”
According to Deuteronomy, we find life by walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments (vs. 16). It’s about choosing the “yes” to God. It’s about loving and being aware and connected to God and God’s creation, being aware and connected to our true selves, and being aware and connected to other human beings. It’s about practicing our faith, and walking mindfully through life, in harmony with God’s ways.
Love and blessings are a good and needed foundation for the hard sayings we heard today from Jesus. While Jesus speaks of the holiness to which disciples are called, his words here are not meant to be taken literally. Otherwise, the streets would be full of mangled faces and hacked off limbs.
Jesus said these things because he wants us to understand and fulfill the spirit of the law, which is love. Jesus wants us to live well in community. So, Jesus speaks in hyperbole, a common Semitic trait to get a point across. According to Jesus, God’s law goes beyond simply behaving well. It is more than a Valentine card. The purpose of the law is to guide us into the ways of God. And that involves more than behavior. It involves what’s in our hearts. At its root it’s about life that embraces the fullness of love.
So, Jesus gives some examples. The law says, “You shall not murder.” But if you are angry with someone and you insult them, aren’t you murdering them in spirit, shutting them out, and writing them off as worthless? The law teaches us not to kill. But in the Kingdom of God, discipleship is more than simply avoiding murder or physical harm to others. It’s about treating others with dignity and respect even if there is a difference of opinion.
The law also says, “You shall not commit adultery.” That was based on the idea that you shouldn’t steal something that belonged to another man -- in this case his wife. But Jesus asks more of us. When you lust after someone, you are looking at them as an object to be taken and used for your own pleasure or desire. Jesus asks us to honor people as real human beings with their own feelings and needs and honor their commitments as well as our own. That’s discipleship, living well in community.
Divorce is another example. Writing a certificate was legal, but it still allowed men to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons. Back then a divorce could ruin a woman’s life because women had no way to support themselves. They were dependent on men, and it was hard for a divorced woman to re-marry. So, Jesus says, consider the needs of women, and honor your commitments to care for others. That’s discipleship: living well in community.
Again, according to the law, a person’s oath or vow was binding depending on how closely it was associated with the name of God. Jesus said, skip the oath-taking and just tell the truth. If you say “yes,” mean yes. If you say “no,” mean no. It’s about whether or not people can trust you. Be trustworthy. That’s discipleship, living well in community.
Jesus took the law to a new level, beyond mere rules and rituals, to focus on relationships, our relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with God. Jesus is talking about life in community as the fullest expression of love. If you have integrity in yourself, honor and respect God and your neighbor, then you will naturally fulfill the law of Christ. It means we shall choose life and love to the fullest.
The Apostle Paul puts it to us this way: are we ready to be fed the solid food, to be mature Christ-followers? The jealousy and quarreling Paul witnessed among the Corinthians was unacceptable to the teachings of Jesus, and the law of life God transmitted to Moses. People in Corinthians were choosing factions. “I like elder X over Elder Y” “Apollo is so much nicer than Paul, and so on. Paul says all this favoritism is nonsense. We must work together, different tasks, all important in building up the kingdom of God – which Paul describes in these terms:” You are God’s field” “you are God’s building.” The directives show us how to work together for the greater good. That’s why rupture in connection – through anger, jealousy, quarreling – is a form of being cursed and causes catastrophes throughout all systems – with a partner, in a family, in a church, in our society, our planet, our every universe. Life is connected, at all levels.
Damar Hamlin the Buffalo Bills quarterback that suffered a cardiac arrest in the midst of the game on January 2 said recently as he looked back on the tragedy he faced: “Everyday I am amazed that my experiences could encourage so many others… encourage to pray, encourage to spread love, and encourage keep fighting no matter the circumstances…(in) .my vision I was about playing in the NFL and being the best player I could be. But God’s plan was to have a purpose greater than any game in this world.’ God who brought good out of a potential tragedy, acts in exactly the same way with us. In the hands of God, our difficulties, conflicts and troubles turn into blessings and reconciliation, stronger bonds than ever. If we only surrender to discipleship.
What conflicts are brewing in our hearts? What tensions tear at our church community? What problems plague our society? Conflicts are inevitable, disagreements are common, misunderstandings part and parcel of human life. The issue isn’t to ignore these situations, to hide them away, but live through and deal with such situations so that love prevails, forgiveness reigns, tolerance and forbearance forge the foundation of our communal life. That’s the task of discipleship for us. We find blessings in spite of struggle, we discover grace in the midst of disagreements when we seek to follow the principles of life and love that Moses, Paul and Jesus points us too.
So, friends, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let us choose to follow Jesus’ teaching and work to resolve the conflicts in our midst. Because when we choose love, we choose consciously to forgive, and to turn away from anger. Let us build the kind of relationships, although imperfect, can stand the test of love. Let us be disciples of love, and build communities of true love, that shine, warts and all, for all to see and be inspired. Amen