So in case you've forgotten this Saturday is Valentine's Day. So don't worry, you still have a week to get the needed flowers or cards or chocolates for your significant other, or a little something for your children or nieces and nephews; just a little reminder for those special people in your life that they are still loved.
Of course the holiday also has its downfall: it tends to instill a slight sense of guilt. The other person gave us a more expensive gift than we did for them, which somehow means we don't love them nearly as much. Or, in reverse, when we try to do something nice for Valentine's Day and we go overboard resulting in the other person feeling bad, we end up feeling guilty for doing too much. Or, we just don't do anything at all, and we haven't for years on end, because it's just a bogus holiday anyway. But deep down it wouldn't be such a bad idea to put aside that negative attitude and just do something special for a special someone, a little extra effort to remind them how much we still care. There are many thoughts and feelings that run rampant through people's hearts and minds running up to this holiday, and guilt is right in the thick of it, whether Hallmark or flower and dessert stores plan for it or not.
After all, guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion. It makes us respond in ways we regret later on. It alters our normal day-to-day behavior. It makes us question our self-worth. And one of the places that promotes it just as well as anywhere else is the church, ranging from not giving enough in offerings to not attending worship in general. We don't study the Bible enough. We don't pray enough. We don't do enough good deeds. We don't believe in God enough. We don't trust God enough.
And the first reading this morning starts off with this piercing onslaught of putting us in our low-down human place. God asks us to walk out the doors and look at the world around us. Look at all the people we played absolutely no role in shaping. Look at all the fields we did undeniably nothing in creating. Look at the birds of the air, the trees, the rivers streaming water all over this beautiful land; all of it intended for good. All of it meant for peace and tranquility and we have only violated God's gift for all of humanity. It's as if God points us to look at the magnificent creation, and our Lord says in a voice of anguish and despair: "Look at what you did, my brothers and sisters! Look at what you did to my wonderful handiwork! Look and see what you're doing to my precious children from wasting the Creation to the violence and the all-around hatred!"
But this Word of the Lord is not meant to incite guilt. It's God's way of telling us how much God still loves the entirety of the Creation and all of humanity, including us. God only desires what is best for all people, and guilt is not going help the cause: not by God, not by the church, not by a holiday, not by human beings against one another day in and day out. Guilt will never improve the broken relationships between once-close friends or even between God and God's children: it will only create more fear, more worry, more thinking that we are never good enough for this almighty and all-powerful God.
Nevertheless, that's why the first reading from Isaiah this morning keeps on going with the important reminder that the same God who shaped the entire Creation "gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless." To the people who feel they are worth nothing, who feel as if they made no impact on the ones they love, who question if their life was worth living, who wonder if anyone really cares about them; to them God never stops giving the hope they so desperately need.
It is through the church that we are not meant to hear guilt, but hope: the Great News that God did all of the Creation-shaping, the human-borning, the cross-bearing, the death-infiltrating, the Resurrection-emerging, for all of us, including for the people who feel so incredibly guilty that they never did enough in this life. Society may say otherwise, but God boldly proclaims, "You are more than enough in my eyes! You are my child, and I will love you to the end of this life and beyond!"
In the end, guilt has been swallowed up in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. As He told His disciples, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." And Jesus did so through the cross to triumphantly overcome our wonderings of if we are ever good enough. We are much more than good enough because of what God has done through our Savior, Who has claimed us as His own then, now, and forevermore. And so for that ultimate love that defines us as God's children and saves us all for eternity, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon