Ash Wednesday 2018

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This Valentine’s Day, love is in the air, spoken to the object of one’s affection, and proclaimed through gifts of every sort.

Romantics are singing “I Will Always Love You,” and “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and “Crazy in Love.” The less-traditional might be grooving to Robert Palmer’s fun “Addicted to Love.” Me? My all-time favorite pop song remains 10cc’s 1975 hit, “I’m Not In Love,” in which the singer does a lousy job of covering up his heart.

If anyone has chosen today to be united in marriage, there is a very good chance the following words will be part of the ceremony, regardless of the religious beliefs of the couple:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).”

And, since today is also Ash Wednesday, these would be perfect words to be heard in church.

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How do we know when we are in love? When we experience what love is? When love for another person has taken up residence in our heart?

Is it the same or different when that love is romantic, versus love for family, versus brotherly love, versus any other kind of love?

While love can be defined in many ways, when we get to the root of what love is, does it differ in how it affects us? And, if it does, then does one qualify as love and the other not? And, if it does not, then might we find that we are able to give a decisive definition to love?

Look again at the biblical citation. Consider the attributes of love. It IS patient and kind and hangs in there. It DOES NOT envy or boast or insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoing. It IS NOT arrogant or rude or irritable or resentful. It NEVER ends.

That’s a pretty stiff drink to swallow. What do you think? Shall I pass you the cup? Are you able to sip from it?

If you insist that you love a person—the one with whom you make a couple, your child, your friend, whomever you claim to love—but fall short of being able to claim even a single item from the Love List, can you truly claim that you love that person? If you need to remove one item—say, envy, or patience, or boasting—would it be okay for the other person to remove one, too? And, if you can remove one item, then why not two, or four, or however many you need to be able to create your own definition for love? And, if you do that, are you left with love, or have you now defined a different term, say “like” or “meh”?

Do we get to define things? Well, when it comes to thing which are our opinion—I think broccoli is the best vegetable; I love it—we get to define away. But, remember, it’s our opinion. It is subjected to how we feel, not any objective standard. I mean, some people actually like beets . . .

When an objective standard is used, all opinions stand mute. 2 + 2 = 4, no matter what you think about it. The earth is round, and arguing its shape will not flatten it. Broccoli and beets taste as they do based on their composition, it’s my taster that determines how I feel about them.

Can something such as love have an objective standard? I sure hope so. If not, by what do we measure love? If we are left to measure things by our opinions, then we will never have standards by which to measure them. Right, Democrats and Republicans?

I rather believe that the world needs standards. Rules. Reliable things. I’m glad that gravity works without how I feel about it at any given time.

When I was a pastor, I used a tool to teach the truth of things. When someone in class would say that what they believe about something determines what that thing is, I would pick up a chair and say, “In a moment, I am going to swing this chair at your head. You need to believe, with all of your heart, that the chair is a pillow, so that it won’t hurt. Can you do that?” I would then swing it halfway toward his or her head.

Everyone would laugh. Everyone got the point. No one decides the truth about something by what they believe about it. Things are what they are because of what they are. My opinion about something only affects how I view the thing, or will use the thing, or care about the thing.

So, what of love? Is it subjective or objective, an opinion question or a truth and a fact? If you can’t change a chair into a pillow, can you change what love is?

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In my mind, I have returned to the room in Port Hope, where I would pick up the chair in threat of pummeling one of our church members. Behind me is a concrete wall. When speaking of the cross on which Jesus Christ died, I was prone to turning and pounding the wall with my fist. Shaking the sting from my hand, I would say, “The cross was just as real as this wall. Whatever you or anyone believes about the cross doesn’t change the realness of it.”

Of course, it’s not the cross which is debated, but what occurred there. Only by faith does a person grasp the truth that love occurred there. That Jesus perfectly fulfilled the definition for love which He created. That He did it so that we might know what love really is. That we might know and possess His love. That we might return that love to Him and then extend it to our spouses and kids and friends and fellow citizens.

Love bears all things. It bears every last aspect of what it is. If it does not bear even one of them, then all of them are fair game to neglect, to toss out.

On the cross, Jesus bore all things, all sins, for all people, for all time, that we might be the bearers of true love. Ash Wednesday focuses our eyes on the Lord Jesus, walking us to His cross.

Whomever you are loving today, or any day, when you find yourself pressed to hold onto one or more of the items which comprise love, I hope you can rejoice that the Lord Jesus held onto every one of them for you, put to death the ones at which you have failed and will fail, rejoice that He was resurrected from the dead to ascend to heaven, and that from there He loves to grace you with His cleansing forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation from all things which are not love.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).”

The Lord Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).”

Love bears all things.

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