On this First Sunday in Lent we just heard the Gospel story that seems to be the wrong thing to read today, Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day which is all about love. But, listen carefully to the conversation in the Gospel story and hear two people talking about love, two very different kinds of love.
The first to speak is called “the devil” – often pictured as a man dressed in a red suit, with two red horns sprouting from the top of his head, and a long red tail ending in a point. Other times he is pictured as a figure sitting on our shoulder to show that the “devil” is not an evil force determined to destroy God, but our own inner drive to become our own god.
Listen to the first voice and hear him speaking of “love” as power, to turn others into beggars begging for bread;
to demand others answer to you, treating them as slaves forced to submit to an owner; to make others join with you, making them into game players out gaming God; the power of love and the love of power.
In the mid 1800’s to mid 1900’s American companies made cards that expressed this kind of love. They were usually one flat sheet, 8 12 x 11 with pictures and poems that were meant to insult, belittle, humiliate, and were
usually sent without a signature. Because they were so demeaning and caustic they were called “vinegar” Valentines. Sometimes they pictured red hearts and a red devil with a look on his face that showed his love of power, and Valentine’s Day as the time to use it.
listen to the second Voice Whose name is Jesus. Hear how He turns the conversation in the opposite direction.
It’s the “Valentine’s Day card” that comes to us today; the words are what the devil used; now hear them coming from Jesus: ’One does not live by bread alone.’ and Matthew’s Gospel adds: “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The “bread” tasted in Scripture and savored in Jesus, the Living Bread of God’s Word.
George Frederick Handel suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that paralyzed his right side; he couldn’t walk or write.
In debt and in despair, a friend challenged him to write a sacred oratorio and that meant he had to read the Bible and have a friend write down parts he wanted to save. Then, for 24 days, with no time taken for food, he worked at composing a piece to perform titled “The Messiah,” which, to this day, is considered the greatest oratorio written.
Its lines carry Scripture’s words from the page into the heart where they implant the word: “Love” –
the Love of God read and seen in Jesus.
It’s the “Valentine’s Day card” that comes to us today with words the devil used, now hear them coming from Jesus:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’
Christopher Girate, rector at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN, tells of his grandparents who lost a teenage daughter when a car flipped over in an accident, landed on her and they had to make the decision to cut off life-support because she was brain dead,
After that, the grandfather could not go to church; he was
done with God.
But then he confessed to his rector-grandson, “he could either ignore God’s presence in his life and let anger control him, or he could accept that God was there, that God was always there, and trust that God’s presence with him was all he needed.” (Quoted from Day1.org for Feb. 14, 2016)
As he turned to worship and serve God, he felt God’s presence over powering his grief and anger with love.
It’s the “Valentine’s Day card” that comes to us today with the wprds the devil used, now hear them coming from Jesus:
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The African deer, the Impala, can out jump Michael Jordan and other athletes since him; as it leaps 10’ into the air and has a forward span of 30’. Yet impala can be caged in a zoo by 6’ high walls, because they won’t leap if they can’t see where that jump will take them.
The love which Jesus taught and lived and promised to His
followers is not an imprisoning wall but a focusing fence
that turns us to look in and around and find God’s
love in our midst and in one another.
and puts an end to the devilish impulse to live outside that love.
It is also a sheltering wall that sustains and protects us from
all the threats on the other side waiting to destroy us.
Within that wall we sing the Psalm that called us to worship:
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in
the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,
“My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
sheltered in God’s promise, Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
In the last months of World War II while our US Navy was shelling the Micronesian Japanese High Command on the island then called Truk, Christian missionaries, imprisoned in a cave received the full impact of the explosions.
One was our dear friend, Rev. Anna Dederer.
When our Naval forces landed they could not believe she and the others were alive. The blasts were enough to deafen them, drive them mad and kill them.
“How,” they asked Anna, “did you survive?” and Anna answered, “We repeated Psalm 91 day and night” (repeat Ps)
They entrusted themselves to God’s encircling love.
This February 14th Sunday has us listening in on two conversations:
one is motivated by the human love of power,
giving a devilish twist to the word “love”;
the second is motivated by the God-given power of love,
giving a Christ-like twist to the word “love.”
Years ago the first twist showed in cards called “vinegar” Valentines which the art historian Annebella Pollen points out were often produced by the same companies that made the frilly, beautiful valentine cards adorned with hearts and flowers, but they cost much less. (“Vinegar” Valentine cards www.slate.com),
Yes, much much less than what is paid for the contrasting cards sold in stores or hand-crafted to be a one-of-a-kind gift.
And then there is God’s Valentine which is beyond price and only God can make. It is the card that shows a cross imprinted with the words:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”
signed with God’s indelible signature of love that reads, “ Jesus.”
and sealed with the mark of His Cross. Amen.