How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  We spent it huddled inside as Snowpocalypse 2021 descended.  Our family celebration with its hand-made cards and home-made fondue is postponed until the Winter Storm Warning expires.   But we do not need a day on the calendar, and more importantly, we must not wait for a day on the calendar to express love for loved ones.   

Roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards are not to be despised.  That is unless that is all there is.    Our love must never be a casual thing.  We speak of “falling in love” and “falling out of love” as though it is a sickness or spontaneous whim.    But whirlwind romances lead to precipitous marriages then often to heartbreaking divorces as men and women follow only their heart’s desire.  

But love is not a thing to be fallen into or out of.  It grows out of commitment and grows into even greater commitment.   We don’t make vows to love one another so long as we both shall “feel like it.” Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”  

For newlyweds this day is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But as a pastor, I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

RUTH 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.    She had not lost her first love.   The intensity of her love for her beloved had not waned with adversity or prosperity or familiarity.  Quite the contrary, it had grown.    Romance may wane and take new forms, but love must grow.   When it does not grow, when it declines, when love for our beloved is diminished because of a growing love for ourselves, then something is dreadfully wrong.  Even if all seems well on the surface.

The Ephesian Church was a church on the move.   They were hard workers.  They were straight as an arrow, doctrinally.   They had solid elders who knew how to spot a fake, a mile away.   They strenuously resisted the compromising theology of the progressive Nicolaitans.   Though they lived in a city and culture, unpromising for the Christian faith, by all appearances, they were prospering as a church.  But for all their theological acumen, solid eldership, and commitment to hard work, they were missing the most important ingredient to the Christian life – a growing love for Christ and for one another.  

The Risen Christ makes a shocking accusation – “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  For all their praiseworthy attributes, Jesus’ verdict is so serious that if not remedied, they would cease to be a church – “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Jesus remarked, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)   Do people recognize that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the way we love Him and one another?  If not, He is coming — coming to take our lampstand.

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” consider how this opening message to the Church at Ephesus is a warning to us of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

Please Note:  Our host church, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, is currently closed because of weather related flooding due to broken water lines.   Until repairs are completed we will not be able to meet in-person.  But, you can join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

When repairs are completed we will resume meeting from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.