Monday, February 16, 2009

On Love and Repentance

Living here, away from the seemingly all-powerful greeting card and chocolate companies, I almost missed St. Valentine's Day. If not for my roommate, Karin, giving me a chocolate bar, a hug and a kiss on Saturday, I wouldn't have even remembered that the day was here. That's probably why it was two days ago already and I'm just now getting to writing my thoughts about love. That's not entirely true, as yesterday, at Bible Hour I was inspired to write about love based on a thought that one of the speakers shared.

First however, I want to share a little about the saint and why we celebrate a day with his name attached to it at all. The Treasury of Daily Prayer says this:
"A physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of Emperor Claudius, Valentine became one of the noted martyrs of the third century. The commemoration of his death, which occurred in AD 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the Early Church of the West. Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, Valentine left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer written on an irregularly shaped piece of paper. This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine's Day in many nations."
We see from history that the love of the saint himself was not eros, but rather it was charitas, the love of Christ, which he shared in the form of encouragement. I imagine that Valentine wasn't just writing "Cheer up, Friend" to the jailer's child, but that he was either sharing the Gospel a final time or that he was trying to build up the already existing Christian faith of his jailer's child. The love which we ought to share with one another on this saint's commemoration day is that same love which Valentine showed, the love of Christ. We should love our neighbor because the Gospel compels us. And how do we share this kind of love? We do it through the proclamation of the Gospel, through the mutual encouragement of the saints, through acts of service to our neighbor.

Now, about the inspiration gleaned from yesterday's biblické hodina. The topic for the meeting was "The Church." We talked about what the Church is, and one of the men who spoke made citations from Luther (which made me REALLY happy, of course). Ephesians 5 was also cited, from the portion on marriage, about how the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, and how the husband is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. It was then discussed as to how the members of the Church are to interact with one another: with love.
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling (1 John 2:9-10).
We the hearers, members of the Body of Christ, were exhorted to let the only thing between us be love, and to try to always out-love one another. How incredible would that be, to have a competition in love. This exhortation to out-love one another of course brought to my mind Romans 13:8: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law."

All of a sudden, when this scripture popped into my mind, in combination with John's words about those who fail to love their brother still living in darkness, I was launched before the juggernaut of the Law. Everytime I read or hear those words in the second chapter of 1 John, I always am slain by the Law, rather than renewed by the Gospel. I don't know if that is what John intended, for his words to have that effect, but they certainly do on me.

Now, I know that many people think that the command to Love is a nice, warm, fuzzy, and possible one to keep. But "love" is Law. It's the fulfillment of the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:36-40). I don't love my fellowman the way I ought. And I don't love God because I don't love my fellowman. I am continually entrenched in this sin, and therefore have failed to fulfill the law. And it grieves me. I want so badly to love God and to love my neighbor. But I can't because I'm a sinner. I can't love God or my neighbor in my own strength. Nothing in me can please our righteous God. This knowledge of my utter inability to please God is disheartening to say the least.

This disheartening effect is as it should be for a sinner faced with her failure before the righteous Law. And when I'm confronted with my utter wretchedness, my first-- and wrong-- reaction is to look for some semblance of good in myself. This is not as it should be. This only causes more dispair. The only right reaction to sin must be repentance. Intriguingly enough, this was explained so well in the Book of Concord readings appointed for St. Valentine's Day:
"This repentance [which St. Paul proclaimed in Romans 3] teaches us to recognize sin: namely, that we are all lost, neither hide nor hair of us is good, and we must become absolutely new and different people.

"This repentance is not fragmentary or paltry--like the kind that does penance for actual sins-- nor is it uncertain like that kind. It does not debate over what is a sin or what is not a sin. Instead, it simply lumps everything together and says, 'Everything is pure sin with us. What would we want to spend so much time investigating, dissecting, or distinguishing?' Therefore, here as well, contrition is not uncertain, because there remains nothing that we might consider a 'good' with which to pay for sin. Rather, there is plain, certain despair concerning all that we are, think, say, or do, etc.

"Similarly, such confession also cannot be false, uncertain, or fragmentary. All who confess that everything is pure sin with them embrace all sins, allow no exceptions, and do not forget a single one. Thus, satisfaction can never be uncertain either. For it consists not in our uncertain, sinful works but rather in the suffering and blood of the innocent 'Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world'[John 1:29]

"This repentace endures among Christians until death because it struggles with the sin that remains in the flesh throughout life. (Smalcald Articles III:35-38, 40)"
So, I regret and repent of my sin, which is the only thing that I have. I have nothing to offer God but my sin. No good deeds, nothing with which to please Him on my own. But God the Righteous Judge, for the sake of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, in whose blood I am covered, sees only Christ's righteousness when He looks at me. Now about real love: God's love compelled Him to rescue us, and it's His love that compells us to love our neighbor. It is not out of fear or of a need to earn salvation or favor with God that we love our neighbor, but out of gratitude and a recognition of how much we've been loved, that we love our neighbor. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

I have a lot to learn about how to love. I will fail, and do, constantly. However, when I acknowledge that everything I have of my own is sin and cling to the Cross in repentance, then I'm given everything that is Christ's, and holy, wholly sinless. And then I can freely love my neighbor, without fear of failure. Praise be to God for this wonderful gift!

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2

1 comment:

Andrew said...

A competition in love. Now that's an interesting concept. One can only imagine how different the world would be if people treated every day as such a competition.

Also, you definitely came up with a better Valentine's post than me. I'll have to try to channel my bitterness into something much funnier next year.