February 14, 2018

Celebrate Valentine's Day this Lent

Ash Wednesday

First Lesson:  2 Samuel 12:1-31 (selected verses)

Second Lesson:  Acts 5:1-10

Gospel Lesson:  Luke 18:9-14

Sermon Text:  John 15:9-17

25 years ago my grandpa died.  He had open heart surgery and never recovered. It wasn’t a surprise when he was called home. Still, a father, brother, friend, grandfather was gone and we mourned the loss. We met in Fremont for the funeral. Two things about the visitation stick in my mind. 1) My little sister and my cousin were going up to everyone and asking them for loose change. Don’t ask me why. The other was that my great aunt Violet had 50 copies of a sheet of paper loaded with random letters.  She went up to person after person and said, “I bet you can’t find all the letter Ps on this page!”

Does either seem inappropriate to you?  Mooching money at a funeral?  Playing games like nothing happened? I thought so at the time.  Looking back now, though, I see it completely differently.  We all knew grandpa was in heaven.  He knew and loved his Lord who loved him.  And while there was some sadness, did we really need to mope around and feel sorry for ourselves?  Why not smile that two little kids are having some fun?  Why not play along with Aunt Violet?  Grandpa was in heaven.  If I could go back in time, I would have celebrated more at his funeral. He was home.  That’s how the story ends.

Why mention that?  Our Lenten theme this year is, “Celebrate the Holidays During Lent.”  Does the word celebrate seem inappropriate? This time of the year we focus on Jesus’ passion – his anguish, pain, suffering, and, ultimately, his death. It’s the most somber time of the year.  How in the world could we celebrate?  Easy.  Because just like with my grandpa, we know how things turn out. The one who faced all we just mentioned is the one who rose victoriously and rules all things for the good of God’s people. That shouldn’t cause us to mope.  In reality, that should lead to the greatest celebration.

And why celebrate the holidays?  If you are dating someone or are married, I hope you know today is Valentine’s Day.  And this year, Easter, the end of Lent, is on April 1st – April Fool’s Day. Both days are holidays. So between now and then, we will look at different holidays throughout the year and tie them into Lent.  In doing so, I hope our appreciation for the season grows, and we find every reason to celebrate our way through it. Let’s get into it.

Yes, it is Valentine’s Day, and we all know what is expected from those who love someone today. I’m curious.  What did any of you get someone you care about this Valentine’s Day?  I want to hear your responses. But while those are all decent, acceptable gifts.  But listen to these gifts, a list of the most extravagant Valentine’s Day gifts you can give…

You could get your loved one a box of the world’s most expensive chocolates in Conn. Price? $2600/lb. You could get a Jean Schlumberger bracelet from Tiffany’s in New York for $65,000. You could get an excursion package to the South Pole… if you have $45,800/person to spare. You could go to Dubai, and for just $195,000, you could share a bottle of the world’s most expensive wine.  And for a mere $100,000, you could go diving for diamonds in the US Virgin Islands.

Whether you took your guy out to eat, got your lady some flowers, or broke the bank to make it the most amazing Valentine’s Day ever, there is one reason you did what you did. You love the person. And you want to show them how much you do love them.  That is what the simple card and the ridiculously extravagant vacation are meant to say: “I love you.”

But there is a love that shows itself in a way 1 million times greater than anything we can do for the people we care about.  You can probably guess what it is – the love our Savior has shown us.  Listen to our lesson – John 15:9-17. Did you catch it, the greatest way someone can show love? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  All the gifts we mentioned before are nice.  Some are fantastic and amazing.  But what do those gifts cost us? Some money, certainly. Maybe time is involved as we write a letter or shop for something.  But did it really hurt to do these things?  Are we now weeks behind on our schedule because we devoted so much time to making this day magical? Will we have to take out loans to make sure there is food on the table since we spent so much on a loved one? I think I’m safe in saying no.

But what did Jesus’ expression of love cost? How pricey was his gift? The answer to the first is simple.  He expressed his love in giving his life. The price of that?  It is truly priceless. We throw that word around a lot, but everything ultimately has a price, and that price is whatever someone is willing to pay.  Jesus’ gift is priceless because no one can pay for it – not even close. Along with being Valentine’s Day, it is also, of course, Ash Wednesday.  What is the emphasis on Ash Wednesday?  Repentance.  Confession.  Sorrow over sin.  Some even anoint themselves with ashes, an outward sign of inward sorrow.

I say that for this reason: How can someone repenting over sins – be they “big” or “little”, short term or long term – how can a sinner like that think he can in any way buy Jesus’ love?  How can she think she can purchase the gift of forgiveness?  How can anyone think they can come up with anything to rival the greatest gift ever given – that our Lord would sacrifice himself on the cross for us, sinners though we be? You know the answers.  He can’t.  She can’t.  We can’t.

But back to Valentine gifts.  Why do you give them?  Not to get something in return, but because you love the person.  Why did Jesus give us the greatest gift ever?  So we would owe him?  To shame us?  To guilt us into action?  No.  It all comes back to love.  Though we in no way deserved it (and again, I point you back to all the ways we addressed our sin thus far in the service), he showed the greatest love. The sinless one went to the cross. The perfect one died. The Author of Life let his life to be taken. Far from costing him time and money, his gift cost him everything. I mean that in every sense of the word.

But knowing what the gift means – forgiveness, life, hope, peace, joy – doesn’t that give us every reason to celebrate?  Yes, in humility we understand we caused Lent and Good Friday.  But the love of our Savior washes those sins that caused that away.  And instead of guilt, he gives us the reassuring peace of knowing all is well between him and us, that no debt needs to be paid, and that the love he had for us in the past will continue on into all eternity. Reason to celebrate indeed.

The rest of our text does say a lot about our response to this gift.  And while it is all good stuff, let’s save that for another day.  Instead, on this Valentine’s Day, let’s just let Jesus’ love dominate.  It is a love that knows no limits.  A love that sacrifices all.  A love that covers completely.  A love proven in life, in death, and in resurrection.  And by all of that, your Savior has one simple message he wants you to grasp: “I love you, now and always, for time and eternity.”  Knowing that, celebrate this Ash Wednesday.  Celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Celebrate Jesus’ Work.  Celebrate his love.  Amen.