Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sermon: St. Valentine's Day

14 February 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 10:26-42 (2 Tim 2:8-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Red is the color of Valentine’s Day, but I suspect most people don’t know why. Valentine’s Day is a time of celebrating love – especially married love – but once again, I suspect most people don’t realize that this is an ancient commemoration of the Christian Church.

When it comes to the real reason for St. Valentine’s Day, red is not symbolic of hearts, roses, and little cinnamon candies. The red in this sanctuary is both festive and somber – for it is the red of flowing blood, blood spilled for the sake of the Gospel. For St. Valentine, or in the original Latin, Valentinus, was a Christian martyr.

He was a 3rd century priest in Rome who gave his life for the Christian faith. Part of his priestly duties, of course, involved consecrating the holy estate of marriage among his parishioners. And in the 3rd century Roman Empire, just like today, the government was interfering with God’s sanctified state of matrimony, trying to mandate something unnatural and unbiblical over and against what is proper and in accordance with God’s mandate in Scripture.

Emperor Claudius II felt that single men made better soldiers – so he forbade the marriage of his military. Of course, it is not sinful for a person who is called to live a celibate life to remain single, but this takes a special gift. Most people are suited to marriage and parenthood in the context of Christian marriage. As our Lord said: “What God has put together let no-one rend asunder.” It was Valentine’s sacred pastoral duty to continue to bless marriages – and couples continued to come to him in defiance of the imperial order. Valentine was eventually caught, was imprisoned, and was beheaded on February 14th.

Valentine is a reminder to us that love and marriage are not trite things, not merely warm fuzzy feelings, or forced sentimentality. Rather true love is exactly what our Lord tells us it is: a willingness of the lover to die for the beloved. The beloved is held more dear even than life itself. St. Valentine could have loved his own life more than his calling, he could have loved himself more than his flock. He could have loved his own comfort more than he loved our Lord. But he didn’t.

St. Valentine knew what our Blessed Lord said in our Gospel text: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He also knew the words of another faithful priest and martyr who was likewise beheaded by a hostile emperor in RomeSt. Paul – who wrote to Timothy (per our epistle reading): “If we have died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him.”

For the perfect lover is our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives his very life for his beloved bride, the Church. Jesus sheds his ruby-red lifeblood to save the people whom he loves, and in turn, Christians are called upon to bear their own cross in this life, to serve others the way Christ served us. Our beloved martyrs, like St. Valentine, are the living embodiment of this divine love: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Valentine acted out of love for his people and in service of matrimonial love ordained by God. He suffered imprisonment and execution for the sake of the Lord Jesus who Himself suffered death for him and for all people nearly three centuries earlier. For we Christians can love because we were first loved. “God so loved the world,” God loved the world in this way, “that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” “God is love” St. John tells us. He loves us enough to become incarnate and to suffer and die for us and for the “life of the world.” He loves us enough to save us though we don’t deserve it. He loves us though we typically do not love him in return. He loves us not because we are lovable, but in spite of our un-lovability. He loves us because He is love, and He is merciful.

St. Valentine is a Christian hero, a pastor who lays down his life for his sheep just as the Good Pastor, the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, lays down His life for His sheep. It’s time we put the “Saint” back in ‘Valentine’s Day.” It’s time the Church take back this holy day from the Hallmark people. For we Christians know what true love is. Love’s color is red because it is sealed in blood. True love is what awaits you here at this altar, as we poor miserable sinners, the Lord’s beloved, eat the flesh of the one who loves us, and we imbibe the blood of him who lays down his life for his friends unto the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

True love is not theoretical, but fleshly. It is not philosophical, but carnal. The married life is a beautiful picture of the incarnation. For husband and wife do not merely cooperate, work together, form an economic union, or assume one of many equal lifestyle choices. No indeed. The marital union is fleshly. Our Lord tells us the two become one flesh. Just like our Lord’s love for us is not mythological, but incarnational. We don’t worship an epic hero from a storybook, but rather a historic, fleshly Man who bleeds, forgives, dies, overcomes, and rises again to claim us as his beloved.

True love is not abstract. It is acted out in the flesh, in the real world. It is not about merely holding forth the right doctrine, but it is lived out in deeds of service. Love is manifested in every act of mercy from giving “one of these little ones even a cup of cold water,” right up to dying for one’s beloved.

Today, we take a moment in time to honor St. Valentine, whose love was not merely expressed with a clever verse in a greeting card, but rather by virtue of his deeds and by his blood. May we follow in the footsteps of this faithful servant of the Word, this humble martyr of the Church, whose name is synonymous with love itself. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Latif Haki Gaba said...

You write and preach as if you actually believed that the commemoration of Christ's holy ones were something worthy of a Church that desires to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. How very odd! Of course, you are right on, and I pray, for the sake of Christ's dear Church, that you keep it up. The commemoration of the saints is in perfect harmony with the christocentricity of the gospel, for as the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins writes:
"For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces."