It’s February. Ugh. Yes, it’s February already. It’s the month of pastel candy hearts bearing messages of true love. It’s the month of glitter, Hallmark Cards and oversized stuffed animals filling the shelves of drug stores. It brings with it Valentine’s Day, bright red and pink sweaters, and love in the air; or it’s supposed to. February is 28 (and sometimes 29) consecutive days of sugar-coated love—with a lower case l.
I’m stunned 2017 is rolling by so quickly, and I have more than enough reasons to roll my eyes at this second month of the year. I find this month irritating—not because of the inherent risks of glitter on the cornea or the toxicity of sugar and the pitfalls of addiction to it—but as a vocational minister, I have a strong distaste for the ways this “love” word is splattered around.
I find it irritating so many ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will inevitably use February as a month to preach on love. “Real love,” we will say; “Agape love,” others will chime in. Pastors, just like me, will inevitably fill these four Sundays and their one hour of privileged time among seekers for, or disciples of, Christ with a message of God’s unending love. Some will even design sermon series around the topic of love, teaching the different Greek origins and how they are applied in various biblical texts. Furthermore, we will march into the next month with our noses high, as if we have brought great enlightenment, or started the next Great Awakening, thinking we have resurrected a Hallmark holiday with the life-giving love of God. And it’s all too sugary-sweet for me.
“What’s wrong with speaking the life-giving love of God?” you ask. “What kind of Christian minister would find an Agape-love sermon series so distasteful?” you inquire. “Isn’t that what you’re always called to preach?”
Yes! And No. This month is a struggle for me as a vocational minister, not because of the love that is proclaimed as Good News, but rather for that which remains unspoken. That which is silenced and that which remains unheard, because we preachers prefer to proclaim the sweetness of God’s love. (It’s far more palatable than bitter herbs.)
You see, February is also Black History Month: a month set apart for recalling the history of an enslaved people crying out for freedom. A month dedicated to retelling the story of people who were taken from their land, exiled from their home, forced to work unfamiliar ground and sing by unfamiliar riverbanks.
We preachers forget—let me clarify, we white preachers—all-too quickly forget how February carries another powerful message, memory, and history within our broken community. A message bigger than “Valentine’s Day Love” is the message that God’s love is redemptive, God’s love is victorious, God’s love is freeing!
God’s love is victorious over racism, ageism, sexism, gender-ism, which still enslave us. God’s love is victorious over our addictions, selfishness, hatred, greed, arrogance and privilege.
No. God’s love is not “sweet”; God’s love in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is victorious.
When we allow the love of God to rule over us, and to work in and through us, we allow for a far greater love to be present in the world, so that the world may look more like the Kingdom of God. We acknowledge our own struggle with power, authority, and control, and we hand all these chains and more over to the only One who sets us free.
This February may we, who claim Christ, quiet our own versions of God’s sweetness to live out loud the wonders of God’s victorious love.