February 12, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalm 100; John 13: 34-35
A young, nervous boy asked the girl, “Do you have a date for Valentine’s Day?”
Hoping to be helpful she answered, “Yes, February 14th.” Well, this is not February 14th, but my hope is that today’s message will help you to have the best Valentine’s Day ever. Though a secular holiday, since Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love, I see it also as a Christian feast.
Today’s second reading is from the Gospel of John, possibly the last of the Gospels to be produced. And to get a good understanding of this gospel, it’s helpful, like with most books to start at the beginning. This Gospel, written by the disciple that experienced such love from Jesus that he identified himself as the one loved by Jesus, begins with his narrative of the birth of Jesus. But unlike the gospels of Matthew and Luke who tell of the birth of a baby, for John, this birth started in Heaven: Jesus, the Word was in the beginning and was God. All that is created was created through Him. For John, this is a second “Genesis account”. John describes the birth of Jesus with powerful language: “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”. John writing to Greek-speaking Gentiles across the Roman Empire explains that in Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and chooses to dwell with us.
John’s account of Jesus’s birth into the world taught that the power behind the universe was not an impersonal cosmic principle but a real person who could be known and loved. This scandalized the Greek and Roman philosophers and was revolutionary in the history of human thought. It led to a new emphasis on the importance of the individual person and on love as the supreme virtue.
Cynthia Bourgeault describes this event in other words in her book Cosmic Intimacy. “I have come to see”, she says, “ that our yearning for intimacy is the way in which we human beings show ourselves to be most profoundly made in the image of God. Too often our pictures of God distort the essential point . . . what our hearts know so indelibly: that God’s yearning for intimacy is the real cause of everything, and the only reality in which our hearts can ultimately find refuge. The old Islamic saying puts it well when it depicts God speaking these words: “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known. And so I created the worlds visible and invisible.”
So that’s the backstory for our readings today. We can sing with joy the words of Psalm 100, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
We can sing these words knowing that we are wanted, longed for, sought after.
The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. And the way that we most usually experience God’s steadfast, unending love is through others. That’s why Jesus doesn’t just teach a lesson or offer a guiding principle about love. He gives us a new commandment, that we love one another in the same way that God has loved us.
I think that I’ve shared this with you before, but I’d like to tell it again. (So Bob, this gives you ammunition to talk about my sermons as repetitive.) My grandfather, who lived with us from the time that I was two years old, always made me feel special, enjoyed, valued. Though I knew that my parents loved me, it was my grandfather that warmed my heart and gave me a sense of worth. Then in junior high, when I was going through a tough time, a teacher took me under her wings. She saw something special in me and made me believe it. In high school there was another teacher who supported and affirmed me. Then there was my best friend. Throughout my life there has always been at least one person who made me experience that I am precious, valued. And so, in living out the commandment, “Love others as I have loved you”, I truly believe that my mission in life is to help others recognize their preciousness. As a teacher, counselor, spouse, parent, friend, pastor, whatever; whatever my role or occupation, I’m called to love others as God, through others, has loved me.
How has God loved you? How does God love you? I’d like to invite you to join in a guided reflection.
First, please take a few cleansing breaths. Relax your body, and consider the following:
Think of the person closest to you now; a spouse, a close friend – How does that person show you love? Try to be a specific as you can.
Now think of other people in your lives that are particularly special to you; parents, children, and close friends. How do they love you? How do they make you feel?
Now let’s take a little journey into the past. Who in your adulthood stand out as people who have loved you in a special way? How did they express their love and care for you?
How about in your adolescence? Who was there for you? How did they love you?
And what about your childhood?
Are there any patterns to the way you were loved? Affirmed? Encouraged? Given opportunities? Comforted?
I invite you to take a moment and let these precious memories nurture you now.
Again, take some time to experience gratitude for these people who loved you so.
Do these experiences of love provide guidance for you as to how you are called to love others?
When you are ready, I invite you to open your eyes.
In Matthew’s and in Mark’s gospels Jesus teaches, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, however, sometimes that isn’t a very high bar. I’d like to share a reading with you, “The Secret of the Human Heart: A Valentine’s Day Meditation for One” by Cynthia G. Piano
Again, I invite you to close your eyes and take in the words of this meditation; an act of love for yourselves.
“The miracle of the healing heart leads us into the month of February, the month of love, in all its forms. In the middle of the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day. It is Our Day, Oneness Day, really. It is the day of all days of the year to relish ourselves, honor ourselves, and seek deep the limitless, guiltless love we have for ourselves. It is the infinite search to unite the divine masculine and divine feminine in ourselves: to discover the magic and satiable life of one.
“We capture the sweet scent of truth as it whiffs gently under our noses, wafting up from our hearts. We know it instinctively. It is nurturing, nourishing and forgiving. It allows us to relax, take a deep breath, and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It is the ahh of aloha, and the aha of divine revelation.
“The divine revelation, of course, is that we are divine. We are the whole, sacred, essence of love in a walking, talking miracle of a being. Whether we believe it, or not, it IS true. Acceptance of that fact is sometimes difficult to swallow. With all that is mirrored to us in antithesis of it, we may miss it, or misinterpret it.
“So today, we receive it. The truth of our being, the truth of our loving self. We stand open-eyed, open-armed, open-hearted, and open-willed to accept it–for ourselves, from ourselves, with ourselves. We are immersed in it, snuggled and safe within it. It is really, really us!
“This is the relationship we desire, attempt to create so many times with external inventions and interventions. All we have to do, or think, or feel, or dream, is to just BE. No cards, flowers or candy necessary. We are in love with our naked selves, with all our “faults” and “not-enoughs,” our “too this’s or that’s.” We are perfect the way we are THIS VERY MOMENT!
“Our human hearts have four chambers, love, peace, harmony and oneness. All are sacred spaces of joy, kindness, generosity, beauty and abundance. All refract and reflect the diamond light that we are. The rainbow colors and bejeweled tones of the cosmos reverberate within, soothing the hiccups of life on the un-sensed earth plane. We see them now plainly, vibrant, glistening and sparkling with angelic pixie dust–an innate gift of the stars. We hear them, singing soulfully the unspoken untranslatable words of life as it really is: Our heaven on earth.
“We are overcome with glee, nearly jumping out of our skin, floating in the ether of our knowingness, with ecstasy and appreciation of all that we are and have. We have more than enough for ourselves, many times over.
“This is the relationship we dream of or wish for, but we rarely, if ever, see them in movies or read about them in books.
“THIS is the year WE create this feeling for ourselves. THIS is it!
“We have it! It is our simple secret truth–love IS us!
“We have so much of it ourselves, we can share it freely with all that is. For it ALL IS our creation, every bit of it. Our senses hear it, see it, smell it, feel it, taste it, and know it!
“It is our choice, this day, to fully accept our love for ourselves and our sacred divinity.
“We declare it, claim it, and own it.
This is the secret of every human heart.
Thus we create THE BEST Valentine’s Day EVER!”
Cynthia G. Piano
Now before you open your eyes, I invite you to give yourself a message that you need to take in so that you have permission to really and fully love yourselves. Maybe it’s “I am enough”, or “I deserve to be happy” or “I have the right to love myself” or “I forgive myself”. Take a moment to give yourself that message. Allow yourself to really take it in and own it.
When you are ready, you can open your eyes.
By remembering how God has loved us, and recognizing how we are loved now, we dare love ourselves and are shown how to love others. And so we can join in with the psalmist making a joyful noise to the Lord, worshiping the Lord with gladness; and entering his gates with thanksgiving. And we are prepared to have THE BEST Valentine’s Day EVER!