Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 13, 2011
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days… Deuteronomy 30:19-20a
The appointed readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany all speak to a way of living, being, and loving that is pleasing to God and cognizant of neighbor. It is a way of life that is sacrificial, countercultural, and outwardly focused. These words of Moses, Paul, and Jesus remind us that loving God is a costly love; we are not talking cheap paper hearts and penny candy here. Such love is not focused on self and the elusive state of happiness we humans so often and futilely chase.
These are not wimpy texts, and I really do not see any way of glossing over them and preaching some sort of generic Christianity “light” this Sunday. The focus is on justice and right relationships with one another, on following God’s commandments, and on serving together in God’s empire. It’s “rubber meets the road” sort of stuff, hard teachings for real life.
If that isn’t tough enough, contrast the challenge of the texts to radical love of God and neighbor with the reality of Monday’s celebration of romantic “love,” i.e. Valentine’s Day. According to National Geographic, the average U.S. consumer will spend somewhere around $103 on gifts, meals, and entertainment for Valentine’s Day. Just think if that average expenditure was placed in offering plates on Sunday! 55% of Americans will venture out to buy and send greeting cards while only about 25-40% claim weekly or almost weekly church attendance (Nancy Ammerman, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and their Partners, University of California Press, 2005). About $1 billion will be spent on candy by 47% of U.S. Consumers, and eight billion little candy hearts will be exchanged. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Association (FAO) estimates that $30 billion would solve global food insecurity.
Is real love measured by the size of the red velvet candy box one receives or the beauty of a Hallmark card? Sure, it is all well and good to celebrate love, but do we truly understand the high cost of the eternal version? It seems there is a huge disconnect in the 24 hours between Sunday, February 13 and Monday, February 14. Does God get the eternal love equivalent of a box of candy and a card? Do our congregational missions get $103 as an expression of love? Will they know we are Christians by our love or by an excessive dinner out and a dozen red roses? What does the eternal sort of Christian love even look like?
Dr. Cornel West admonishes us to “never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” If that is true, then how we treat each other both in private and in public says a lot more about love than a box of Godiva Chocolates. How we treat the widow, the orphan, and the spouse are reflections of how we actively show our love for God. Whether we keep the commandments and serve one another in the name of Christ speak more eloquently about love than any fancy greeting card does.
Lest you think I’m simply being a holidy spoil-sport, let me remind you that we have really good news to share. Choosing to love God and neighbor is more life-giving and fulfilling than any trinket or token of affection we can purchase. Not only does holding fast to God come with an eternal life guarantee, it also leads us to live out that public face of love in ways that are much more satisfying than the finest box of chocolates–excellent stewardship and completely calorie free.
Why not consider challenging one another to a new way of showing love by serving one another and finding ways to be the hands, feet, and eyes of Christ in the world?
In Image and Song
The band Big Tent Revival’s song “Choose Life” makes reference to Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Their music video is posted on YouTube here.
With Children and Youth
Why not host a fair trade Valentine’s shop? If your parish regularly stocks fair trade coffee, chocolate, and tea, consider making gift bags and baskets as a fund raiser for a ministry of your choosing. Consider making lovely handmade cards with greetings like this one: “I love you so much that I’m giving the gift of hope in your honor.” Then explain the gift. Consider supporting the ELCA Global Barnyard and Good Gifts, Bread for the World, Food for the Poor, or Heifer International.
Children’s Sermon Idea
Bring the biggest empty heart shaped Valentine’s candy box you can find. Instead of candy, fill the empty candy papers with folded or rolled ideas for how to show love to God and neighbor. Talk to the children about what love looks like when we are the hands, feet, and eyes of Christ in the world. Tell them what it means to choose to love and serve God. Too much candy is bad for your health. One cannot love God too much! Loving God lasts forever.