Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Beyond Valentine's Day: Speaking to the Soul, February 15, 2017

Here we are, on the day after Valentine’s Day. If your house is like my house, there are chocolate wrappers stuffed in the trash; the scent of roses fills the kitchen; the remains of a wonderful dinner are in the fridge.

When I taught middle school, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. Some group in the school would fundraise by selling candy or flowers that would then be sent around the classrooms at the end of the day. Some kids came out on top on these transactions, and some kids ended up feeling lonely and forgotten. Lost in the shuffle was the idea that a day dedicated to celebrate love should not leave some people feeling more lonely than ever. Some of us teachers often plotted together to have “secret admirers” suddenly erupt with candygrams for all as a way of compensating. There were few tears shed when we finally did away with this particular kind of fundraising, I can tell you.

Even though this day supposedly is all about romantic love, the marketing gods have realized that simply making this day about people with significant others or spouses means that too many might slip through their net. Therefore I have also seen commercials about celebrating “Pal-entine’s Day,” and also seen female friends of mine giving thanks for their gal pals on “Gal-entine’s Day.”

So now, we’re in the “hangover” phase after this big, commercial holiday. Why not use this day, then, to celebrate the varied ties that bind us together? It is a good and right thing that no one feel excluded from a day in which love is celebrated. I sometimes think of February 15 as “Valentine’s Day Plus.” It’s a good reminder to me to think of the love I feel and receive from all the various corners in my life: my family, my fellow parishioners, my friends, my colleagues, those who so generously mentor me, and those I have been privileged to mentor. Too often we get hung up on official titles for the relationships that we hold the most dear. I made my peace long ago with the fact that there is family of the blood, and family of choice, and the heart will love members of each just the same. What’s important is not putting asterisks or qualifiers next to the names of those who are our brothers or sisters, whether of blood relationship or simply through love, care, and loyalty.

Love is love. I think that’s what Jesus keeps trying to get at as we wrap up our four week visit with the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday. Too often we focus on the prohibitions embedded in teachings like the ones we’ve been hearing, instead of seeing that at the bottom of it all is a call to be expansive in our relationships.

This Sunday, we will hear a selection from Leviticus that uses the word “neighbor” five times, defining a holy people as one who deals justly and generously with those around us, acting out of love for the other as well as love for God. Building upon the call to inclusion and justice in that reading, we will hear Jesus call us to choose to love even in the face of hatred or persecution. “Give to everyone who begs from you.” “Love your enemies, and pray for them.”

In direct counterpoint to the dominant strains of competition and striving that too often poisons our relationships with others, Jesus as the new Moses leads us into loving people rather than things. As we move beyond Valentine’s Day, we turn our faces toward the beautiful discipline of Lent, remembering our common bonds within creation. At the foundation of it all is a determination here within the Jesus Movement to build a new kind of community that seeks to exclude no one, but rather embraces everyone.

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