Did you have a good Valentine's Day? Did you celebrate the love of your life? I hope you did.
But now, the real question: Do you even know what love is?
Judging from the movies, I doubt it.
Let me put it this way. When you read the story of David's adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah in the Bible (2 Samuel 11 if you want to refresh that story), you probably don't think it's a real romantic story, or see David's actions as something commendable, do you?
But if Hollywood sold it as a "Classic Love Story" about the power of love to overcome all obstacles... I can hear the trailer now: "It was love at first sight. He was a man who had it all, power, fame, wealth, but he needed love, and when he found it, nothing could stop LOVE."
Throw in George Clooney as David and make Bathsheba someone likable like Sandra Bullock. And then if you can get Anthony Hopkins as Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, it's just a few romantic songs away from having you cheering when Uriah dies so that David and Bathsheba can be together.
Am I that far off?
We have become so trained to associate lust and selfishness with love that sometimes it surprises us when we step back and evaluate.
Enter Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:21-37, you'll notice that the word "love" isn't used, but the whole text is a description of how it is lived. Really, the whole thing shatters society's view of love so that we can see what love really is; in other words, so that we can see Jesus.
Four times in this text, Jesus starts a new topic and says, ‘You've heard that it has been said....but I tell you..." He breaks down the common perception of something and then tells us what God's view of it is. He covers everything from murder (being angry with someone makes us a murderer) to divorce (stop making your excuses and love); from worship (a grudge with someone else puts a grudge between you and God) to oaths (There are no "excuses" for lying regardless of what you swore on).
We tend to get caught up on the outward action. God is looking at the heart. That's why he summed up all the Commandments with his top two in Matthew 22: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' ... ‘Love your neighbor as yourself."
So love is not about just the words or actions. It's about the heart.
Look at it this way: Ladies, did you want your Valentine to give you the flowers, the restaurant, the kind words because he knew that if he did, you'd be good to him? Or because he feared that you would never let him live it down if he didn't? Or do you want the flowers because he truly sees you as the most beautiful thing he can imagine? And the nice restaurant because he so treasures time with you that he wants it to be at the best place possible?
You can usually tell the difference. God always can. So, he shows us what love is, not just actions, but the reason for the actions.
And that reason is love, not the lust and fear that drove David in his dealings with Bathsheba and Uriah, not the greed that so often drives us love... not just a matter of the actions but a matter of the heart and the actions.
Romans 5 gives a great definition of that love: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
He didn't act because we deserved it. He didn't act because he would get anything out of it. He acted because we needed it. He acted because that's what love is and that's who he is.
And the extent to which he went - death on a cross ...for murderers, adulterers, liars...for me, for us!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.