If you are a fan of the Beatles and their music, the half-line above set music playing in your mind and you instantly knew how to end that phrase. All you need is love! Of course, that phrase is practically pure tripe. It is not complete rubbish because it can be understood in the proper sense and be true, but that is not how most people would read it.
February is the month of Valentine's Day, the holiday in which we celebrate the grisly death of a third-century Christian Martyr (actually there seems to have been two or three Valentines) by giving one another little heart-shaped pictures and various candies, typically chocolate. I know that is the way I want to be remembered when I am gone – hearts, flowers, erotic love, and dark chocolate. If that is the kind of love you associate with the Beatles’ song, that is NOT all you need.
February is also the month of Ash Wednesday this year. We begin the season of Lent, preparing to remember the greatest exercise of love in history – the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ for our forgiveness and salvation. If that is what comes to mind when you hear the Beatles’ tune, the phrase is accurate, and your mind functions in a very peculiar way.
The Beatles were not known to be great Christian theologians, favoring Hindu thought instead, and their use of the language of love tended to be more secular than sacred. The world around us means something entirely different when it uses the word “love” than Christians do – at least when we are speaking theologically.
The worldly idea of love is self-centered. We love because it makes us feel good or because we have an expectation of good and pleasure or some other benefit arising from love. Couples profess love as they approach marriage, for example. Through years of pre-marital pastoral counseling, I have found that people generally mean that they enjoy the way the other person makes them feel, or does things for them, or they find their physical relationship satisfying or exciting or whatever. It is a rare individual, and almost never a couple, that intends by the word “love” to indicate that they want to care for the other and enable them to be all that they can be, fulfilling themselves rather than making the one who loves feel something special.
Love that is patterned after the love of God for us – and remember, God is love – is a love that sets the beloved above one’s self, loving that person for who they are and wanting to protect and nurture that and advance the one who is loved to be the best and most complete and satisfied they can be. Jesus loved us in that way.
He loved His heavenly Father by listening to Him and putting the plans of the Father into action even at great personal cost. He did not first love the Father, and then He acted as a response to that love, but rather He loved the Father by acting out the will of the Father which included the Passion and the crucifixion. That was how He loved God. We also are tempted to think that because He was also true God, Jesus approached the passion calmly, knowing how it would end and seeing with divine foresight the resurrection and ascension. We think this way because we cannot imagine a love so great as to take up that cross. Jesus probably knew what was coming, but in the passion and in the resurrection because the Scriptures told Him, but He denied Himself the insight and the comfort of that knowledge beyond what we might find. The passion was real and the stress and power of the fear were real – as the passion narratives in the Bible tell us over and over.
The love of the Father for us caused Him to plan such a salvation, and the love of the Son for His Father and for us brought Jesus to the cross. All we really need is THAT love, and we have it! It is that love that overshadows our lives, walking with us daily in our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and our defeats and failures. That is the love that provides us with food and clothing and all of the needs of the body for this life.
The worldly sort of love makes us feel good at times, but it also makes us miserable at times. It is a powerful drug, and once you have a little of it, you want more and you can be miserable without it. The difficult part is that it is usually all about you and not about the one you love. The love of God, and love like God’s love, is about the one you love. When it is the love of God, it is his love for you and it stays with you through good times and bad to bless you and strengthen you and bring you through, with the ultimate goal of everlasting life in glory.
So, on February 26 beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will begin our Lenten observance with the Lord’s Supper and prepare our hearts for a season of repentance by looking at the Seven Deadly Sins. They include (using the names of the sermons) Camel-like Pride; The Green-Eyed Monster of Envy; That Old Dragon of Anger; The Three-toed Sloth; Greed, the Scrooge; The Twin Sisters of Gluttony and Lust – and a look at the Passover on Maundy Thursday, finishing up with the Nature of Sin on Good Friday.
We will discover once again how great is our sin, how undeserved is the love and grace of God, and how full and compelling is the love of the Father for us, and of the Son for His Father and for us. All we need is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.