Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2018

So today is the day that we celebrate L-O-V-E.

My first memory of Valentine’s Day goes back to my first-grade class.  Our assignment was to bring a valentine for our classmates.  All the valentines were put into a big rolling cage and we looked at the stampless mail like we were all going to get nuggets of gold.

We opened our mail and read them all and kept them for weeks.

Here are a few sample Valentines from the 1960’s.

Humpty Dumpty is sitting on a wall and the caption reads, “I’ll Crack Up if you Won’t Be My Valentine.”

Another shows a cute puppy trying to use a telephone and the caption reads, “This is No Phone –ey Line.  I Want You For My Valentine.”

How about Pooh Bear sitting on a pot of honey saying, “Bee-lieve Me, Valentine—You’re my Honey”?

So not only were we learning how to read, but we were learning socially appropriate skills.

For the first time, boys and girls were picking out valentines that were boy/girl appropriate because in our first grade, we gave valentines to everyone.

We didn’t always get boy to boy or girl to girl appropriate Valentines, but we certainly didn’t pay attention to that in the first grade in 1966.  What was more important was just getting Valentines, the more the better.

I wouldn’t say I was struck by love in the first grade but I did get in trouble because of a girl early in my educational life.

Since there was no preschool in my day, my mother and father sent me to summer school before the first grade to get me used to riding the bus and to experience what school was like.

That is when I first met Tracy.  Tracy was my classmate all the way through the eleventh grade before she transferred to a private school.   She had a mole on her left wrist and shoulder length brown hair.  I was always a bit smitten with her.  So when she challenged me to use the scissors to cut my hair, which was already close to a buzz cut, it was my first opportunity to make an impression.

My mother didn’t see anything chivalrous about my actions and I was promptly disciplined after my father came home.   They didn’t even see any humor in the situation.

I have no memory of whether Tracy was impressed.   She probably laughed at me.  However, part of my early education was learning that if love involved sacrifice, I might need to get my parents’ approval first.  Of course this wasn’t love or much of a sacrifice.

It does lead me an important question.  How much does love involve sacrifice?

Many times when we are attracted to someone, our attraction is based on how that person makes us feel or because of what that person can give to us in return for our love.

We want to spend more time with that person because that person makes us happy, because that person gives us things we want, because that person values who we are, or fills needs we have as a human being, the greatest is to be loved by someone else.

Sometimes, when we are gift-giving on Valentine’s Day, we are saying with our gift, “I love how you make me feel.  Thank you for being that person that meets my needs.  You make me happy.   Please keep giving yourself to me.”

However, if we only love because of what the other person can do for us or give to us, then our love is more selfish than if we love without conditions.

Many people stop showing love if love isn’t returned. But not everyone.

When we love without conditions, our love is not based on whether people are going to return our love or not.

If we have sacrificial love for others, this can be done without demanding a response before we express love to them again.

For example, if you give something away and then you hold a grudge against the person because her or she never came back and said, “Thank you,” then you need to question whether your gift was motivated by an unselfish love or if it was motivated by a desire to be loved in return.

All of us want to be loved.  We all want to be loved when we have loved others.  We especially want to be loved when we have sacrificed for others.  And It hurts if they do not appreciate or acknowledge the sacrifices we have made.

However, our love rises to a different level if we love unconditionally.

God’s love is unconditional.  God has reached out to us through his son Jesus and his love for us was so great that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Thankfully, Jesus’ love for us is not based on what we do for God, or whether we return God’s love or not.

God is still going to love us if we go about living life but it breaks His heart when we do .

If we live an ungrateful life, if we fail to acknowledge God’s love for all of us sinners, and fail to acknowledge the life of Jesus, who lived, died, and was raised to new life, the selfishness and the arrogance that we carry around inside of us will cause us to focus on things of this world and not things of God.

These things will not bring us peace.  They will cause worry and anxiety.  They will cause our relationships with people we know and love to break down.

If we become followers of Jesus and incorporate his standards of life into our own, He will teach us how to love, what to love, and who to love.  This is how we discover abundant life.

Today, we are applying ashes to our foreheads as a reminder that life is brief.  We don’t have a lot of time to love or figure out how to love before life is over.   Jesus doesn’t want us to waste time loving the wrong things.

Today, when the sign of the cross is applied to your forehead, remember that one of our jobs as disciples of Jesus is to die to self.  When we learn what dying to self is and what it means, love blossoms like the crocus in the desert.

This is a strange concept but it is the opposite of giving so that we will get.

Dying to self is the process of emptying ourselves because we love God and this process usually benefits someone else that is in more need than we are.

Dying to self involves loving others, without any guarantee that love isn’t coming back to us and sometimes knowing that it is not.

Dying to self is saying to God, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Dying to self gives us the freedom to live for God and to minister to others in ways that pleases God.  It leaves the results of our actions up to God.

Dying to self doesn’t mean we don’t love ourselves, but it means we love ourselves too much to waste our lives loving things that in the end will not matter.

Even if the people we seek to love never love us in return, because we are seeking to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we can step back from the situation enough and find our purpose for living and loving in God.   We might be crushed when someone else does not acknowledge our love.  However, that experience does not have to cause us to give up, stop ministering, or being an advocate for others before God.   It doesn’t have to decide our self-worth.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in me should not perish but have everlasting life.”

As we end our worship tonight, and the ashes are applied to your foreheads in the shape of a cross, meditate on this question:  What can you do to love others with a self-denying kind of love?

A life where we love that always seeks to get something is a life that tries to hold on too much to a world that is passing away.

Ash Wednesday is designed to remind us that life is brief.  Rather than focus on what we can get, we should be focusing on what we can give.

That’s the kind of life Jesus lived.  He gave his life away.  If we are his disciples, that’s the kind of life we should strive to live as well.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Matthew 16:24 NIIV).

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