It seems appropriate to preach about love on this Valentine's Day.
There are some questions that we naturally ask when confronted with the concept of love. Usually, they are the wrong questions. For instance, we may ask, "How do you recognize love in another person?" or "How can you tell if a person is unloving?"
Love does not ask these questions. Love is governed and directed by the Commandments of God. So love will not think evil against a neighbor, but instead put the best construction on everything. Love suffers long and thinks no evil. Love puts up with the weaknesses of others. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. So love goes out of its way to always assume that your brother is loving.
We cannot look at the outward actions of a man and tell whether he is loving from those actions. If someone bestows all his goods to feed the poor, that seems like a very loving person. Yet St. Paul says that such a person may not have love at all. A person may give up his life for another, yet not have love. So it is dangerous to judge by appearances.
There are also many different ways to express love. Should I assume that because you do not show love as I do that you must be unloving? Surely not! The pride in our sinful flesh wants us to think that we are the epitome of love, and that everyone who falls short of our standards or acts differently is less loving.
But instead of this attitude, we should remember that only God truly knows a person's heart. If we say that a man is unloving, then we do not put the best construction on what we cannot know for certain, namely, his heart.
We may use the Commandments to judge a person's actions as loving or not. Even then, we must be very cautious. If a brother sins against us, love desires to show him his sin so that he can repent and be forgiven. That is the one and only purpose for judging a brother. If we judge a man and then gossip behind his back rather than seek his repentance and forgiveness, then our own actions are unloving.
The purpose of Paul's writing about love is not so that you have a checklist to see if people around you are loving. No, the first purpose of Paul is for you to examine yourselves and see what things in you are getting in the way of love. So long as you have a heart of sin, you will have unloving thoughts and words and actions. Even now that you have put on Christ in Baptism, still you must struggle against the Old Adam who ruins every act of love.
As the Church stands upon the threshold of Lent, it is especially good for you to examine yourselves. Where have you fallen short in love? It is not a question of whether you have. Everyone sins much daily, and every sin is a failure to love. But search your thoughts, words, and deeds to see where you have failed. Then repent of your sins and receive God's forgiveness.
Therefore, I urge you again this Lent to come to Private Confession. You should come to Confession because that is the voice of Love. For this is the second purpose of Paul's writing - that you recognize that the true fulfillment of love is not in you, but in your dear Savior Jesus Christ and in the Gospel He speaks. He is love in the flesh, for He is true God. All these qualities of love that Paul describes are found purely in only one Man. This is the Man who speaks to you in the Absolution. This is the Man who speaks to you in preaching. This is the Man who gives His Body and Blood to you to eat and drink.
Only Christ perfectly loved all men. He did not merely love those who were pleasant and nice to Him. No, He even forgave those who slandered Him. He forgave those who denied Him. He forgave those people who pounded nails into His flesh. Those people are you and me and all men. It is the lack of love in our warped hearts that put Christ to death. Our loveless slander and denials crucified Him.
But this is how you know what love is, that Christ gave Himself into death for you. Christ crucified is the highest expression of love possible, although the sight appears ugly, dark, blood-stained and horrible. Yet this Christ, bleeding in pain, is your life. On the Cross you see the clearest glimpse of the infinite love of God.
Because of His Resurrection from the dead, you also will love perfectly one day. Your halting, faltering beginnings at love in this life must always be flawed. But in the life that He has purchased for you, that which is perfect will come. Then you shall see God face to face, and know Him as He already knows you. Then love shall be perfect in your heart, since you will be raised into the image of Christ's Resurrection.
May the Spirit keep us in the perfect love with which God has loved us in His Son. In the Name of this Triune God, who is love. Amen.
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