February 14, 2021 Transfiguration, Valentine’s Day

          There’s a story told about a Methodist pastor who had gotten gobs of complaints about the lengths of his sermons.  It had gotten so bad that his board of deacons called him in for a special meeting and threatened to get another pastor who didn’t prattle on forever.  That Sunday, the pastor decided to respond to these complaints by announcing next Sunday he would preach the world’s shortest sermon. A Hallelujah went up from the pews. 

The next Sunday attendance was up as folks showed up to see if the pastor would keep his word.  The time of the sermon came, and he climbed the steps to the elevated pulpit.  Once up there the pastor dispensed with an opening prayer, he simply glared over the congregation, trying to make eye contact with as many as he could and then shouted one word, descended from the pulpit, sat down and motioned to the organist and ushers to continue with the usual time of offering.

          What was that one-word sermon?  What word did he bellow with such force as he glared out at his congregation that morning?  “Love!” The rest of the story of the world’s shortest sermon.  The congregation was unimpressed, and the pastor was dismissed within the month. What went wrong?  Perhaps it’s the difference between words and deeds. His definition of Love proclaimed grumpily and gruffly over a congregation just didn’t resonate. 

There’s a lot of different ways to get the definition of love wrong.  Its a tough thing to define.  This past week my sister sent me a wonderful story which seemed to say “Love is a lot harder for adults to define than kids.”

          A survey was conducted at a primary school where children between the ages of 4-8 were asked “what is love”.  The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.  Such a simple question, “What is Love” this is what they said…

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore.  So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”– Rebecca – age 8

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” – Billy – age 4

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”– Karl – age 5

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”  – Chrissy – age 6

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” – Terri – age 4

“Love is when my daddy makes me breakfast every morning”– Ian – age 7

“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more.  My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss” – Emily – age 8

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Bobby – age 7

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” – Nikka – age 6 (we need a few million more Nikkas on this planet)

“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.”

– Noelle – age 7

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” – Tommy – age 6

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared.  I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.  He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” – Cindy – age 8

“My daddy loves me more than anybody.  He reads to me.”– Clare – age 6

“Love is when my Daddy gives me the best piece of chicken.” – Elaine-age 5

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” – Mary Ann – age 4

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” – Lauren – age 4

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” – Karen – age 7

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” – Jessica – age 8

          Today is a lovely day celebrating love, Valentine’s day. It’s a day to try and get words and deeds to match up.  It’s day to be less the pompous righteous preacher of love and more of the joyous kid who observes and enjoys love.  Speaking of getting words and deeds to match up I know many worship directors who’ve had to have “the talk” with their vocalists and musicians. 

It starts with a question to the band member that might do like this…”Does this music move you?”

“Yes, I love playing these songs!  I feel God’s Spirit moving in me and my band mates when we really get the notes right and the congregation going and just lifting God up in praise.”

“That’s great cause you’re a great vocalist, instrumentalist and your hands and your heart and your voice all greatly give God praise.  There’s just one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“ You need to “Tell it to your face?”

I gotta say, I’ve been embarrassed by having to watch my sermons. There are times where I’ve watched and said great words, great meaning, scripturally centered, spiritually powerful but as I watched I lamented “if you’d only told that to your face?!” 

My apologies- I’m spending more time rehearsing so that the connection the consistency not just the content is there in what I’m trying to communicate.  But I think when it comes to Valentine’s day its that reminder to not just tell your love to someone’s face but make sure you “tell it to your face”… Like Jessica age 8 said “You really shouldn’t say ‘I Love you” unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” 

The wisdom of those children is precious and practical. Sometimes we define love by outward beauty, by what catches our eyes, what dazzles the senses, and we miss what it really is… more than an emotion, more than a physical attraction, true love is an enduring unconditional relationship.

I believe that is why each year right before we head into Lent we have this final Sunday of Epiphany- where Jesus reveals his glory.  It’s a wow factor, its dazzling, eye catching and if that’s all love is, if that’s all Gods’ love is… the story would end there. We’d be lining up, like for some ride at Disney world for the Jesus Transfiguration trip. 

“Step right up folks see the God/Man in all his glory!! Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to his authority the likes this world have seldom seen- Mighty Moses and Ancient Fire and Brimstone Elijah himself.  This will blow the doors off even the biggest of doubters, as you take it in with your very own eyes.  Now not to worry folks, God the Father will dim the lights before your blinded by descending in an all encompassing cloud to remind you just once again who this Jesus is.  But I won’t give away the surprise ending you’ll have to hear and see it for yourself!”

Perhaps some folks would love that, because that’s their definition of love, all sound and fury and little relating and working and serving and suffering. But for Jesus this mountain top experience was simply to supply him with the confidence and conviction to go down into the valley of suffering and shame to redeem his loved ones from the grave by giving himself on a cross.  It was a time reveal and confirm his mission was to free his loved ones from Satan’s reign and that would take an act of real love.  Real ultimate sacrificial love.

          There’s a story of another pastor who told his congregation he was going for the Guinness World Record for shortest sermon ever officially    given. Since the Guinness World Record requires witnesses to confirm the achievement, he told his flock to invite as many people as possible so there could be no doubt, the event had taken place.

          The Sunday came and Pastor rose to speak and began with a few introductory remarks.     ‘Today, I will be attempting to fulfill the Guinness World Record for preaching the shortest sermon ever preached.  My title and sermon will simply answer this question: “What does Jesus say when I say what’s in it for me”?‘.  With the declaration of those 13 words, the pastor turned, exited the pulpit and sat down.  

The sermon was complete.  In stunned silence, the gathered congregation sat motionless and began to consider his words.  No closing remarks were made, no song was sung, no further announcements were made, and no benediction was given.  However, the powerful truth of the message began to ‘stir’ and ‘ring’ in the ears of those who had the heart to hear it.  

And the message was simply this.  Jesus is not interested in patronizing anyone’s desire to have their every whim catered to.  He focuses His attention on those who, with humble hearts, come saying: ‘Whom may I serve today regardless of the personal cost to me?’.  If Jesus was in our culture, He would not likely be looking to find a church (nor would He attend a church) where He could ‘get served’.  Wherever He was and in whichever church He chose, He would be there to ‘serve someone’.  Should it be any different for those of us who have been saved by Him, who claim to belong to Him and who represent Him to others?

As a people, let’s look for someplace to serve others rather than seek someplace where others can serve us.  Remember that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve.  I want to leave you with a couple thoughts from scripture about what love is

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never ends.

I john 4:7-21 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us

John 3:16 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God in peace to Love (let your face know) and serve the Lord.