Spring 2012 Chapel - February 15th
February 15, 2012
Love After Valentine's Day
Good morning, I want to share some thoughts with you about love, love the morning after Valentine's Day. You may not know it, but for twenty-two years of my life I made a living as a professional musician, primarily as a conductor. In fact, fresh out of my doctoral program at the University of Illinois I was a wet-behind-the-ears junior professor right here at NNU. During that time I had the privilege of leading the Northwesterners.
One of the performances I programmed on an annual basis was the Songs of Romance concert. Long ago, in my childhood, I was struck by a truck loaded with Hallmark cards; ever since I've been a hopeless romantic. So each year at this concert I dedicated love songs to my daughter, my son, and Sandy, my wife. It was really a treat.
This morning, the day after Valentine's Day, I'd like to talk about love. I've thought a lot about romance and love across the years. Sandy and I have been married for 34 years. My mom and dad were married for 57 years, my wife's folks were also married for 57 years. In reflecting on these long-term relationships, I've come to realize that romantic love, with all of the warm fuzzy feelings appertaining thereto, is a good thing; yesterday is a testament to its presence and importance in our lives; but romantic love it's not the whole of love. In our culture, we're so focused on feeling we may think that the feeling of "being in love" is the sum and substance of all of love, but it's not, there's more.
That's what I want to talk about this morning--love beyond feelings. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, the feeling of "being in love" is a good thing, (you know the feeling, I can't eat, I wonder where she is, kinda feeling) but it's not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling and feelings come and go. Love, as distinct from "being in love", is not merely a feeling. It is a deeper unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by faithful habits and reinforced by God's grace. Being in love may initially move us to pledge fidelity to one another, but there is a quieter, stronger, deeper love that enables us to keep our promises.
This morning I want to highlight the place of love and marriage in creation, the effect of the fall and the arrival of sin on love, and the work of Jesus to establish a new covenant that redeems and restores love and relationships with Him and with each other.
Love In The Beginning
Hear the word of the Lord:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
This at last is bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called Woman,
For out of Man this one was taken.
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. Genesis 2: 15-23
This is a passage worth hearing and rehearing. Pay particular attention to the fact that God is creating two from one. There is a unity and duality in the creation of man and woman. The original solitude of man is replaced by the original unity of man and woman, husband and wife. They have been made in God's image for relationship and love, humanity is formed as a communion of persons, male and female. [I am indebted to the extensive writings of Pope John Paul II on the theology of the body for much of my thinking this day.]
The companionship of man and woman as husband and wife is designed and created by God in the beginning. The two become one, the two in relationship with each other, so intimate and so real and genuine that they are unaware of their nakedness for they have nothing to hide from God or each other; they are free from the control of appetite and the shadow of selfishness. They exist in a relationship of mutual giving.
It's important for us in this age to realize and remember that the relational nature of humankind, man and woman united in marriage, is a foundational component of God's design for those made in the imago Dei. Marriage was instituted before the fall, it's not a convenience, nor is it one of many options. A man or a woman is married in relationship with the Lord God and their helping partner, or a man or a woman is single, in relationship with the Lord God, supported by relationships within the body of Christ. [I do not accept the feminist argument that there is no difference, male or female. We are unique as humans from other creatures and, we are unique as man and woman.]
Yet this idyllic, intimate setting, this Eden, was all too easily traded away for a taste of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You remember the Deceiver's claim, "God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." And so they took and they ate,
"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin clothes for themselves." Genesis 3: 7
In that moment, original innocence became original sin. The innocent union of humans with God and the union of man and woman with each other was broken. Adam and Eve went from freely walking in the garden under the rule of the Lord God to walking outside the garden under their own rule. They went from giving of themselves, to seeking to get for themselves. Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation of power, to be in control of their own destinies rather than freely live under the Lordship of God.
The selfless love that abounded in the garden was replaced by lust, the fruit of the breach of covenant with God. Across the ages humankind has treated the Other as something less than Other. For centuries we have turned people into objects and valued things over individuals. John clearly identifies the roots of lust in this fallen world:
"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not for the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever." I John 2: 16, 17
Man and woman, husband and wife, must now navigate a world where love is tainted by getting, rather than fueled by giving. The three primary lusts to which John refers highlight our quest:
Lust of the flesh pursues Pleasure
Lust of the eyes pursues Possession
Pride of life pursues Power
Today, these lusts can even define a marriage. Have you ever witnessed a marriage based upon these pursuits:
The Pleasure-seeking Couple
The Success-seeking Couple
The Prestige-seeking Couple
Since the fall we have witnessed, lived in, and been victims of the damage done to one another in our desire to amass possession, pursue pleasure and acquire power. People treat people like objects; commodities to be used for selfish personal gain. Men have abused women, dominating them as objects for their one-sided selfish gratification, or as trophies, another acquisition. And now, we see more and more women utilizing their own sexuality as a powerful tool of self-interest, compromising their purity for personal gratification and a false sense of security.
New Covenant Love
But I have good news, on this the day after Valentine's Day. Into all of this fallen reality Jesus comes. Jesus comes and walks among us and things begin to change. He announces the end of selfish ways and the call back to God's ways. Consider this encounter:
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female", and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Matthew 19: 3-6
Jesus gathers up generations of abuse and objectification and replaces it with a restorative reaffirmation of what was at the beginning; marriage between a man and a woman is still instituted by God. Christ invites us, calls us to enter into two covenants; the new covenant, Jesus and His disciples; and the marriage covenant, man and woman become husband and wife, learning to give, to submit, to seek the good of someone other than self.
God calls us into covenant, and in order to learn the nature of covenant, He has designed an earthy example, the covenant of marriage, where intimacy is shared in relationship with each other and with Him. In this divinely ordained union I can learn the art and essence of the true self, the self that is revealed when I learn to give of myself without hope of personal gain.
I, we, have been married 34 years and I'm still learning; I'm learning that we are best when I am for Sandy. We have been less when I was for me without consideration of her. You know the language of self-help, so common today,"My best, my way. My needs, my wants. My feelings, my self-absorbed affections."
God has granted me/us the intimate possibility of knowing self by giving of self. Sandy gives herself to me and I give myself to Sandy in ways that are tender and loving, together we learn to be helping partners. I know you want me to say our unity finds its zenith in sexual union, and it is indeed a very good thing. But that isn't the heart of the union, that's a celebratory symbol of the union.
I am called, she is called, to learn to love one another like we love ourselves. Does that sound familiar? Do you think it possible that God intends for us to learn to live out the two great commandments together, in relationship with Him and with each other?
That's exactly what I think. The communion of husband and wife is linked directly to the communion of Christ and His church. I must learn to give up myself for my wife just as Christ gave himself up for the church. And Sandy in turn is to love me and serve me as I love and serve her.
Do you see the great symbolic mystery laid out for us? God creating and ordaining the union of man and woman, the sinful fall away from His plan as they sought to take control and command of their lives, and Christ's restoration of what was from the beginning, lives devoted to Him and each other. True fulfillment is found in the emptying giving of self.
Why am I telling you all this today, the day after Valentine's Day? Because I don't want you to think that the feeling of being in love, is the end. It's a glorious thing, this romantic wiring that God has given us, but there is more. The feeling and passion of a marriage ebbs and flows (as do hormones), and I want you to be prepared for the first time when you wake up and don't "feel" in love. For when you do, you have a choice to make. Do you sound some alarm and try and remanufacture a former feeling, or do you remain faithful and committed, understanding that the love you have for your spouse, and the love your spouse has for you, is greater, deeper, stronger, than the latest wave of feeling?
God has designed us to be in relationship with Him and with each other. In the midst of this greedy, self-absorbed world, He desires to fill us with a love we are incapable of creating on our own, a love that permeated the Garden and now awaits us as we draw near to Him and near to one another. May you learn to live in His love.