OK guys, we’ve got a problem, it’s Valentine’s Day. If there was ever a day the pressure is on to prove your love, this is it. And there are countless ideas out there, but every one of them could just as easily backfire, since one woman might love what another would not. And if you ask your special someone how you can show your love, well, then you run the risk of her saying that if you really loved her you’d know.
You need some help being able to show real love? Let’s check with the guy who invented the concept. All this month, we’ll be studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches us on a variety of subjects. In Matthew 5:38-48, the subject is love.
What he does is really just correcting a bunch of misunderstandings. In verse 38, he says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40) And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well."
What’s he saying? Repay evil with good. Understand the power of that. If you strike back instead of turning the other cheek, whether physically or just with your words - what happens? Nothing good. You’re asking for more pain as things escalate – and you’re bringing on yourself the guilt of doing what you shouldn’t be doing – with all the shame and regret that brings. But if you turn the other cheek, and even if you are struck again – the only real harm there is for the one doing the striking. God will take care of that. In fact, he doesn’t just say – don’t get even. He says to go above and beyond to act for the benefit of the other, giving more than they’re even trying to take.
That is love. But let’s be real here. Does that actually work? Is that even possible – turning the other cheek, giving, sacrificing. How does that even make sense? We’d be taken advantage of. We’d be miserable, right?
Before we go there – let’s be honest. We probably aren’t the ones to talk about what "works" with love. How has it worked the way we as a society have been loving? Think about the epitome of love – marriage.
The last year I could find complete numbers on the US Census Bureau website, 2,384,000 couples got married and 1,163,000 couples got divorced. In other words, a lot of people think they know what love is.; 2,384,000 couples a year are so sure they vow to it. And 1,163,000 couples each year admit they were wrong – and that’s only the ones who actually get a divorce. Think about how many marriages you know that are hanging on, but you wouldn’t necessarily call a living, breathing exposition of love. And now add to that all the relationships that aren’t even strong enough to take the leap to marriage yet.
And even if you aren’t divorced, just think through your life to the last argument with your spouse, the most recent broken relationship, the friend you aren’t talking to so much anymore, the relative you avoid. Truth is, we stink at love because we don’t get what it is – or, if we do know, we just don’t have the strength to do it.
Instead of turning the other cheek, we attack back – maybe not in the same way, but through the gossip or the grudge, we do our best to get even. Even when things are going well, too often, we love selfishly. Ladies, if you’ve ever held up a bar and measured your man’s Valentine’s efforts by it and adjusted your reaction to how well he meets your Feb. 14 expectations – you’re doing it.
Or guys, think of why you want to succeed at Valentine’s Day – is it really for her, or so that she stays with you or treats you the way you want to be treated? If you go all out on your romantic gesture and give your whole paycheck to make it happen…what happens if she doesn’t say "thank you" the way you thought she would? What happens if the night ends without the "goodnight kiss" you thought you earned? Would you be upset? Well, then, you’re doing the same thing Jesus is talking about here. You’re trying to make things even. You want love to be fair.
But friends, Jesus makes it clear. Real love is not fair. And whether we’re talking romance or friendship, giving to charity or helping your family – the truth remains. Real love is not "fair." It’s not deserved. Read the rest of Jesus’ sermon on love in Matthew 5:38-48 and you’ll see it.
It isn’t fair. And we see that best of all when we see how God showed us what love is. Romans 5:8 - "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." It wasn’t fair that Jesus should suffer for sinners who rebel with every selfish action. It wasn’t fair that he be killed because our failures deserved death. But that’s what he did. He sacrificed, not because we were good enough to him, not because he expected something from us. He sacrificed because that is what love is.
And that’s the love he’s filled us with to be able to share. So tonight (and every day), no matter how you choose to show love – remember the why. That makes all the difference.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.