Love Is Popular and Confusing
Well, today is Valentine’s Day, and hopefully those of you who should know that do know that. And because it’s Valentine’s Day, for today’s exhortation I want to just take a minute to talk about love. Now for adults, Valentine’s Day in mainly about romantic love, but I want to step back and talk more about love in general, because it’s really love in general that has fallen on hard times in our society. And when I say hard times, this is what I have in mind. In America, there is an increase in the popularity of love, and a simultaneous increase in the confusion of what love is. Love has never been more popular, and that love has never been more confusing.
For example, love was the theme of last week’s Super Bowl halftime show, I think. At the end of the show, [some of you may have seen this], they zoomed out of the stadium, over half of the fans had different signs that spelled the words “Believe in Love.” Now, the funny thing is that nobody knows what that means. Believe in love?
Love is a hot topic; it’s popular. But its meaning has been bleached to refer to, I think in many cases, tolerance. Most people use love to mean: “I’m cool with you if you’re cool with me.” (I think actually they would have spelled “tolerance” at the Super Bowl, but they realized four letters would be a lot easier.) But if love is mainly about tolerance, then it means that love is mainly has to do with reciprocity. It means that love has less to do with acts of love, and even the object of love, and instead love becomes strictly functional. It is used to create a bubble-like reality where everyone is accepting of everything.
Love offers us more than that. There is a truer vision of love that the Bible shows us and that Jesus modeled for us, but it’s a truer vision of love that I think will never become popular. And that’s because it’s hard. Love that is true is love that is grounded first in the unshakable love of God, and then from there moves out to meet the needs of others at a loss to yourself. And the very unpopular word here is “loss.” Love, Christian love, is sacrificial love. It means that we love others at a loss to ourselves — it costs us something — and our reward in loving someone is not what that person does for me, but it’s me seeing that person happy in God.
That’s what we want. We want one another, our community, to be happy in God, and we want to love others to that end. And that means that love is dangerous. Because sometimes love will hurt. It will hurt to love someone, to invest in someone, that doesn’t bring much return. He hurts to love someone who walks away from Jesus, who walks away from community. It’s not easy to love someone who doesn’t love you back, but that is what true love does. That’s what Christian love is — it’s the kind of love that comes to us even when we are sinners. It’s the kind of love that dies on a cross to save rebels. It’s the kind of love that means we give ourselves. And here’s the thing: whatever loss we feel from loving others in this life, whatever kind of sacrifice it takes, one day we will look back and we’ll see more clearly that it’s all worth it.
Prayer of Confession
Father, you are the most lovable person in the universe, and you have loved the most unloveable people in the universe who did not love you. That is the love that you have shown us, that even when we were sinners, Jesus died for us. Even when we were far from you, Jesus came to bring us near. Even when we were hostile to you and your glory, Jesus made peace and by his Spirit transforms our hearts to care about what you care about.
We want so badly to be that kind of people, Father — the kind of people who care about what you care about. We want to love others the way that you love others, the way that Jesus shows us in his life and death. Forgive us for how constantly we make love all about ourselves, about our desires and demands. Forgive us for the selfishness so deep in our bones. Forgive us and change us. Wash us with your mercy this morning, and lead us in your praise. In Jesus’s name, amen. . . .