Happy Valentin’s Day! It’s not very often that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday but since it does today, we’re going to have do a special Valentine’s Day service. Valentine’s Day has become a very secular holiday that focuses on romantic love, but we seem to forget that that is not how it started. Valentine’s Day or the feast of St. Valentine, was a celebration of the life of an early saint of the Christian church. So today as we celebrate this special day, we prepare to worship.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather this morning let us remember that we gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully acknowledge this and respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time. Allow the care and concerns that you have brought with you this morning to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of gathering in the presence of the Divine, to wash over you.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to taking that light with us and sharing it with everyone we meet.
Here today there is love, freely available to all. Not our human loving, fragile and intermittent, but God’s unending love.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God.”
Here today there is love, higher than our loftiest hopes, deeper than the immensities of time and space, God’s inclusive love.
“Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”
Here today there is love, and we gather in worship to celebrate and share that love.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Holy and mysterious Lover of the world, let this day be a worthy celebration of your abundant and steadfast love. We know that there is no way we, as humans, can ever measure the immensity of your love. It is as vast as the immeasurable heavens, deeper than the deepest seas, and all of creation cannot contain all the love that flows so faithfully and generously from your gracious hand. We, who forever have doubts about how loveable we are offer you our thanks and our praise this day, for the wonder of the gift of your love. Amen.
Gift of Music
We sometimes tend to think of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures as being an angry, vengeful God but Isaiah assures us that we are precious to God and God loves us.
Psalm 145 assures us that God “is loving and merciful, slow to become angry and full of constant love.”
1 Corinthians 13
Whenever the subject of love is talked about, there is one scripture that is mentioned more often than any other. 1st Corinthians chapter 13.
I decided to add an extra epistle reading this morning. The Letter to the Colossians speaks of love, “which binds all things together in perfect unity.”
And of course, if we are talking about love we have to include the words of Jesus that have commonly become known as The Greatest Commandment. “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.”
Reflection – A Celebration of Love
So how much do you know about the ‘saint’ that we celebrate on St. Valentine’s Day? Well perhaps the reason that most people aren’t quite sure of who St. Valentine was is because there are a number of different stories that do not always agree.
Depending on the tradition, Saint Valentine was either a priest in Rome or the former Bishop of Terni. It is said that while under house arrest Valentine discussed his faith with the judge who had convicted him. The judge decided to put Valentine to the test and brought to him his blind adopted daughter, telling him that if he succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, the Judge would do whatever he asked. Valentinus, prayed to God, laid his hands on the child’s eyes and her vision was restored. Valentine then told the judge that all of the idols around his house should be broken, that he should fast for three days and then undergo the Christian sacrament of baptism. The judge obeyed and he and his entire household, including his servants, were baptized. As a result of his conversion, the judge freed all the Christian inmates under his authority.
Valentine was later arrested again for continuing to evangelize and was sent to Rome, to the emperor Claudius II. Claudius took a liking to him until Valentine tried to convert Claudius to Christianity, whereupon Claudius refused, condemned Valentine to death, demanding that Valentine either renounce his faith or he would be beaten with clubs and beheaded. Valentinus refused and was executed on February 14th, in the year 269.
An embellishment to this story states that just before his execution, Valentine wrote a note to the judge’s daughter and signed it “from your Valentine”, which is said to have inspired today’s tradition of sending “Valentines”.
However, one of the most-read books of the High Middle Ages, states only that Valentine was executed for refusing to deny Christ by the order of the “Emperor Claudius” in the year 269. However, it also says that before he was beheaded, he restored sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer.
Another legend says that in the 3rd century Valentine, who was a priest, defied the order of the emperor Claudius and secretly performed Christian weddings. Being married allowed the husbands to escape conscription into the pagan army which meant Claudius had a shortage of soldiers. Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment “to remind these men of their wedding vows and of God’s love “.
Still another legend is that Valentine refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. Being imprisoned for this, Valentine gave his testimony in prison and through his prayers healed the jailer’s daughter who was blind. On the day of his execution, he left her a note that was signed, “Your Valentine”.
In their book Saints on Earth, authors John Darch and Stuart Burns suggest that there were actually two separate people, named Valentine, Valentine of Terni, a 3rd century bishop who was martyred at Rome in 273, and Valentine of Rome who was a priest martyred sometime in the mid 3rd century. They suggest that these two stories became confused over time and became, in effect, one saint.
So how did we get from an Italian Priest or Bishop who was martyred for refusing to deny his faith, to an arrow wielding cupid who shots arrows into couples inspiring true love?
To be perfectly honest I have no idea, but then how did we get from St. Nicholas to a jolly fat man in a red suit who climbs down chimneys?
But let’s forget all that and go back to the original St. Valentine. If you asked him the meaning of love, what do you think he would say? I’m tempted to think that he would agree with the writer of the 1st letter of John who said “Love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
It seems clear from the little information we do have about Valentine that he was not a Christian that sat back and trusted that his faith would guarantee him eternal salvation. We are told that, likely on more than one occasion, Valentine was arrested for “evangelizing”.
At the time, the Christian faith was illegal and to be caught practicing Christianity meant being jailed and possibly even executed. The followers of Christ, met in secret and had various ways of recognizing each other that would be known only by other Christians. Most people that became new Christians therefore, were invited by someone who knew them very well and who was willing to take the risk of talking to them. They were most likely to be family members or intimate friends.
To speak to a casual friend or even a total stranger about Christ, was a risk that most people would not have even considered. But this is apparently exactly what Valentine was willing to do. He was arrested for “evangelizing”, for speaking out about his faith and sharing that faith with others.
This is the what the first apostles did and we are told, either by scripture or by tradition, that all of them, with the exception of John were, like Valentine, killed because of it. We are also told that Valentine healed a girl, either the daughter of the judge or the daughter of the jailer, who was blind and perhaps also deaf. This too is not unique to Valentine, as the early apostle were also said to have given sight to the blind and healing to the sick.
What is unique to Valentine is the story of his disobeying the emperor’s decree against young men getting married and performing Christian weddings for them. Perhaps this is why he is given the distinction of being the patron saint of love, and of married and engaged couples.
But I think that if we limit Valentine’s expression of love to that of romantic love, we miss what Valentine himself would have understood as love. I believe, as I said before, that Valentine’s understanding of love was not that of romance but rather that of Divine Love offered to all people, married or single.
I think this same limited understanding of the meaning of love has been applied to 1st Corinthians 13. I can’t tell you how many weddings I have either officiated at or have attended as a guest, where the scripture chosen by the couple was 1st Corinthians 13.
I remember meeting with one couple prior to their wedding. I asked if they had any particular scripture in mind for the service. They told me they were not church people and they really didn’t know scriptures, but there was a poem they would like to use. It went something like this… “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or boastful…” They were both shocked when I informed them that it was from the Bible!
1st Corinthian 13 has become so much a “wedding’ scripture that most people either forget or are totally unaware of the circumstances under which it was written. Almost the entire text of this letter, that Paul wrote to the young church in Corinth, deals with how the people should treat each other and how they should remain one united body, regardless of the social or economic group they might come from. When Paul writes these famous words, describing what love should look like, he is not writing to a young couple just starting out on their life together. He is writing to a church that was often divided by status and class, and he was encouraging them to love each other regardless of what their background might be.
For Paul, and I believe for St. Valentine, Love is not limited to committed couples. It is not about how romantic partners should treat each other in order to ensure that their relationship will last. It is about how Christians should treat all people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or how different they may be from us. It’s about the kind of love that the author of 1st John speaks of when he says, “Love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God … for God is love.”
If we were to treat all people as Paul instructs in 1st Corinthians can you imagine what a difference it would make in our world? What if we were patient and kind to everyone? I have to admit there are many times I am less than patient especially when someone is going the wrong way in the grocery aisle when it is very clearly marked which way the arrows go! And there are many times I am less than kind. I may not be actively unkind but I may not take the time or make the effort to express kindness and as a result my actions may be perceived as being uncaring or indifferent.
What if there was no jealousy or selfishness in our world? Without selfishness would there be a more equal sharing of the world’s wealth? If things were shared more equally would there be any reason for jealousy? And what about pride and conceit? Pride and conceit may be extremely off-putting but sometimes false humility or self-deprecation can mask or even destroy healthy self-esteem.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs. How many arguments and disputes in our world have gone on so long that no one even remembers what the original fight was about? How many grudges are kept long after the original dispute has been resolved? Love is happy with the truth. How much damage is done in our world by lies and fake news?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we actually lived by the principles of love that Paul describes in his letter?
In 1967 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described the idea of Love this way. [and I quote] “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religious have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another; for love is God and everything that love[s] is born of God and know[s] God.” [end quote]
So perhaps today we can take a moment and think about Valentine’s Day in a different way. Perhaps today, instead of hearts, flowers and candy, we can offer our own prayer of thanks for the love of God, and for all of those who, like St. Valentine have passed the knowledge of that love on to us. Amen
Gift of Music
We Offer Our Gifts
We believe that God has called and continues to call each of us in love. One of the ways in which we answer this call and express our own love is through the gifts that we offer back to God. Those gifts may be the offering that we place on the offering plates at the back of the church, the offerings we make through Par or online, they may be donations we give to others beyond the walls of this church. Or they may be the offerings of our time, our abilities and our commitment. Whatever it is that we offer God this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; Loving God who is Love, bless these gifts that we offer you today. May they spread your love beyond the doors of this church to all your people. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Universal Spirit of love, God within each one of us, whose power reaches to the stars, whose love connects us to one another and to all creation — we come to you in prayer. We cry out to you with the pain of this broken world. With all our capacity for love, we long we wrap this world in love and bring healing. But we confess that we are not always able to express the love we know is inside us. We feel constrained and hesitant, afraid that our love will be rejected or misused.
We pray for forgiveness. We pray that we may learn to forgive others and accept their forgiveness of us. We pray that you will help us let go of fear so we can move on, opening our hearts to one another. We pray for empowerment that we may learn to love more fully. We pray that we will learn to let our love shine beyond this sacred place so that others will know that here, in this place, they will find freedom, acceptance, community and love.
We give our thanks for the blessings of love in our lives, and for the chances we are given to love again and again. May we feel the love inside us connecting with the love in each other and in all of creation.
You move through our lives, Spirit of Love, and through us your work is done. With clarity, let us give voice to compassion. With determination, let us work to demonstrate love in all we do. Without wavering, may we stand always, on the side of love. And so, in love, we offer our prayers:
For those who are lost and alone let there be comfort.
For those who are weary and afraid let there be strength.
For those who suffer let there be healing.
Let the downtrodden be lifted up.
And may we have the courage to make it so. Amen.
Gift of Music
So as we go out from here today, we go in Love. We go in the love that created us. We go in the love that was demonstrated for us in the life of the one whose example we follow. And we go in the love that surrounds us and dwells within us accompanying us each step of our journey. We go with God.