Love Lore

I Cor. 13

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

By coincidence, Valentine’s Day occurs this year on a Sunday. So, on the same day that Christians gather to worship, restaurant owners and florists and candy stores are working overtime in order that romantic Americans will be able to express their love.

Of course, the origin of this holiday is religious. It commemorates the death of St. Valentine, an obscure Roman saint. But is it possible that St. Valentine’s feast day has become so popular because there remains a spiritual component in the holiday?

The commercialism doesn’t fully explain why people get so excited. After all, they don’t need an excuse to buy candy and flowers for their loved ones.

Nor can we account the enthusiasm for this holiday by a wish to give proper credit to people we love. As my late wife used to remark about Valentine’s Day: people ought to be expressing their love for each other all year long, not just on one day! If you love someone, you shouldn’t need advertisements with red hearts to remind you of the feelings in your own heart.

No, I suspect that people enjoy this holiday because it gently forces them to celebrate their relationships. They are reminded that these relationships–with all their complexities–are worth the effort!

Such complexities are the subject of today’s First Lesson—which, by another coincidence, was assigned for our worship today. The text is known as St. Paul’s “love chapter,” and it’s the longest passage in the Bible devoted to the topic of love.
The lesson is filled with wisdom about relationships that even the unreligious can appreciate. Paul contends, for example, that “love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” 
In other words, a passion that only demands to be satisfied is really selfish desire, not love. That’s why, Paul continues, love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

Unfortunately, couples in relationships often downplay this need. They don’t believe that they should “rejoice in the truth.” They think they can hide things from each other.

Look at the celebrities who believe that they will be able to keep their infidelities secret. They think their extracurricular affairs will be private even though legions of reporters track the moves of the rich and famous!

As the saying goes, “truth always comes out in the end.” Couples in denial about their problems are on the way to trouble.

So it’s all the more important for them to face the true nature of their relationship.

At the same time, though, couples can look at Paul’s words positively. When the couple is completely open with each other, they can rejoice together. They can delight in the truth of their mutual love and in all the gifts their love brings.
 Most important, they can benefit from the spiritual power of love. Paul highlights this power in perhaps the most challenging sentence in this chapter, when he writes that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Now Christians often compare human love to God’s love. We say that we have a “personal relationship” with God that is analogous to our human friendships and loves. What we learn about human love can by analogy teach us about God’s love for us.

It’s interesting, though, that the analogy can also be instructive when it goes in the reverse direction.

For example, God by definition is eternal and so God’s love for us is eternal. And while relationships in this world aren’t forever, and marriage vows are valid only “until death do us part”—still, there is an eternal quality to spiritual love.
As St. Paul says, “Love never ends.” Love that is rooted in the divine spirit participates in the nature of God himself. Love can “endure all things” because it has a power that is more than human.

Now I think that St. Paul would admit that he is being a bit idealistic here. After all, he’s talking about spiritual love!
But surely he is making a point of great interest to people today. For in the fast-paced world of speed dating and no-fault divorce, “endurance” seems elusive. “Relationships” by definition seem transient; the word, “relationship” itself seems to denote something that will eventually end.

So it’s not surprising that Valentine’s Day can acquire a note of desperation. Advertisements imply that if the husband forgets to buy flowers, the wife will be upset and the marriage will get shaky.

All the more reason, then, to recall how different relationships are when they are suffused with the Holy Spirit. Spiritual love endures the strains of shared living—in our society, for example, it can endure the confinement of small apartments and the stresses of the uncertain workplace.

So a love that “hopes all things” is less likely to be stymied by bad luck. A love that “believes all things” can believe that it can survive difficult times.
And as couples address their problems, they can draw on yet another aspect of spiritual love. This love is suggested by a third coincidence this year, that Valentine’s Day occurs just before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

Lent includes, as the Prayer Book says, “self-denial.” And while Valentine’s Day seems to portend excess rather than restraint, loving couples celebrating the feast would do well to remember that they can profit sometimes by holding back. 
For example, most people in relationships remember times when things were said that would better have been left unsaid. In the heat of the moment, you might have felt that you were being open and honest. You might have felt that you were revealing important truths about your relationship.

Yet, if your love is going to endure, you’ll need to choose your battles. If you “believe” and “hope all things” about your relationship, you’ll have to be willing to bite your tongue and forgive and forget.

And this insight reminds us that the love chapter of First Corinthians speaks to all of us, whether we are in a romantic relationship or not.

All human friendships and family ties also need to “bear all things and believe all things and hope all things and endure all things.” Non-romantic relationships, too must be founded on truth.

For every time love occurs, the human touches the divine. As Paul says in the famous conclusion to his “love chapter,”

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

St. Valentine, then, reminds us of more than hearts and flowers. In the deepest human love, time reaches out to eternity, and we encounter the God who is Love.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

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