Finding the Meaning of Love on Valentine's Day

The Rev. Durwood "Durk" Steed delivers a Middle School chapel service about love and the role it plays in bringing our community together. 
On this Valentine’s Day, I have a Scripture reading about love. A reading from the Old Testament that reminds us of the constancy and steadfastness of God’s love. 
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,”  says the Lord, who has compassion on you. 

Isaiah 54:10 

The Word of the Lord
(Thanks be to God)

Jan 11, 1995. Just after midnight, an airplane streaks through the cloudy night over the north Pacific Ocean. Destination Graham Island, 50 miles west of mainland British Columbia. Sweat forms on the pilot’s brow. With the limited visibility, he knows he will have to do an instrument landing. But why should he worry? He’s flying an excellent aircraft. The Learjet 35, many a pilot’s dream. He has thousands of hours of flight experience and so does the co-pilot beside him. The avionics on the instrument panel in front of him are the best money can buy. He has plenty of fuel, enough to fly to an alternate airfield if necessary, plenty to do a go around and second or third landing attempt if needed. He’s set. So, he double checks the navigation frequency and settles in for a descent. Nothing left to do but fly the radio wave down through the clouds to the safety of the airfield. Something he’s done hundreds of times before. Ten nautical miles out from the airfield, disaster strikes. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Learjet 35 flies into the North Pacific Ocean. All aboard are killed. What went wrong?    

Investigators never doubted one thing. An experienced pilot and co-pilot were flying the plane. But what caused the seasoned aviators to fly their plane into the ocean? Investigators determined it was the result of not resetting the altimeter. Student pilots and experienced pilots alike must constantly reset the aircraft’s altimeter. The altimeter is the instrument that tells the altitude of the aircraft, and it works off barometric pressure, which constantly changes. So pilots must regularly reset the altimeter to the new barometric pressure. Air traffic control regularly provides pilots the accurate barometric pressure. Graham Island did not change location. Its safe landing strip and the terrain around were right where they had always been. The barometric pressures changed, and the pilot’s allowed their altimeter to change with it. Costly mistake.

We are surrounded by a fast changing culture. But God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow; it’s our surrounding culture that changes. We must stay set and calibrated to God. God is our constant amidst the swirling agitation that surrounds us. And, of all the elements that the surrounding culture constantly reinterprets and redefines, most of all it is the object of this 14th day of February: love.

We all long to love and be loved. God’s plan is for every person to experience His love flowing to and through him or her—so fully that each of His children can honestly say, “My cup runneth over with love.”

God gives a beautiful word description of love in 1 Corinthians, and in that description more attention is given to describing what love is not, than what love is. Because sham love is all around. 

In the short term, sham love is thrilling, entertaining, and costs us nothing. But ultimately, unlike the constancy and steadfastness of God’s love, sham love will fail us. 

One form of sham love is exemplified in the television show The Bachelor. The Bachelor is in its 18th season and has been so successful it's spawned at least eight spin-offs. The Bachelor is an American dating and relationshipreality televisionseries in which 25 contestants, by way of beautiful locations, romantic settings, shopping sprees and luxurious clothes, compete to make a single bachelor fall in love and propose in marriage. Along the way, the bachelor eliminates various contestants.  During the whole process everyone lives glamorous and comfortable lives. 

Where does God say that love gets to eliminate people not deemed worthy and send them packing? Where does God say we get to love people without any personal cost? Where does God say we have to compete for his love?

This is sham love. The Bachelor show is not satire where vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule with the intent of shaming individuals or society itself into improvement; The Bachelor show is a parody and a mockery of Godly love. 

There is a beautiful word description of Godly love in the New Testament’s 1 Corinthians chapter 13. It’s often read at weddings, but it was not given during a moment of surging emotions of love. The setting is not a beautiful tropical beach or poolside of a luxurious mansion. It was not written as a wedding vow from one adoring lover to another, to be read aloud as warm hands cling to each other, eyelids flash, and hearts throb. 

It was given during a period of divisiveness among the church at Corinth, to be read aloud when one party stood with clenched fists, a dismissive wave of the hand, and a tossing of the head on one side of the room. A secondparty stood with clenched fists and a scowl of the face glaring back from the other side of the room. And a third party with noses and chins held high in contempt huddled against the wall on another side of the room whispering, “We are so above all that.” A situation in which anger, tension, and arrogance were so high they could be cut with a knife. When one side stood proud in their works and the other side stood arrogant in their faith. A posture where one side boasted that they gave more money to the recent fundraising project than both the other groups combined. 

Christ says to all sides, without taking sides, “Listen. Love is the permanent priority in following me and this is how it works: You on that side of the room who are proud in your faith but do not have love for the people to your right and left, people right here in front of you, you are only only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 

He turns to the other side of the room. “You on the other side of the room who are proud in your theology and you’re ability to forecast what God might do, if you have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if you have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love for the people on your right and your left, people right here in front of you, your contribution to the work of the Kingdom of God is nothing.”

And then, “You on the other side of the room who are proud in your generosity, who feel you are above it all, if you give all you possess to the poor but do not have love but only condescension for the people on your right and left, people right here in front of you, you gain nothing.”
Christ motions for all three opposing sides to move away from the walls and come to the center of the room. Nobody budges.
So he continues. “The Kingdom of God operates on love. Love that is patient, love that is kind. Love that does not envy, love that does not boast, love that is not proud.”
Someone takes a tentative step away from the wall. 
“Love that does not dishonor others. Love that is not self-seeking.” 
A few more allow their love barometers to reset and move away from their sham love enclaves.  
Christ continues. “Love that is not easily angered . . .”
“But I am angry,” shouts someone. “I’m angry at that group. What that group has done, what they think and believe, it’s wrong, evil! I can never forgive, and I will never let people forget what they have done.”
Christ immediately replies, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.Love always protects.”
“Protects what?” Someone asks. 
“Protects each other!” Christ answers. He spreads out his arms in invitation to include all in the room.
“Love that always trusts.”
“Trusts what?” another asks mockingly. “If you are going to give that group a free pass, I don’t know what or who to trust.”
Christ holds up his nail-scarred hands.
“Trusts the Father’s grace. Trusts the Father’s love. Love that always hopes. Love that always perseveres. Love that reflects the Father’s love, never fails.”
The three once-divided groups slowly edge closer to each other, their dividing walls of hostility crumbling in the face of God’s grace.  
I know Valentine’s Day is not about that kind of love, but we need to be aware of that kind of love, and make sure our love barometers are set to that kind of love.
God’s love cares nothing for the platforms of self-importance we have created around status, education, appearance, merit, finance, social background, and here in the middle school around athletic ability. God’s love dismantles and neutralizes these. God’s lavish love to us is meant to lavishly flow through us to others. More than our words, our love for humans around us, our love of those to the right, to the left, and in front of us is our validation for our love for God. 

On this Valentine’s Day, let there be this kind of love among us in the Middle School, in our families, and in our friendships.

Let’s close with a word of prayer:
Lord God,
We pray that we would treat others with the same royal love and care with which You treat us. Love that takes the initiative in forgiveness. Love that is characterized by constancy and steadfastness. Let this be our kind of love too.

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