"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7


(Article for the 1/13/2016issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch

            Within the last several weeks, you have probably noticed what I have when walking through the popular discount and dollar stores.  The shelves that once held Christmas candy and decorations are being emptied at incredible discounts, and huge displays of pink, red, and white candy and decorations are being set up.  This is a reminder that Christmas is over, and Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

            Valentine's Day is one of my earliest school memories.  It was 1960 and I was in Kindergarten at the time.  In preparation for the day, our teacher (Mrs. Brownell) had set up a table at one end of the room as a "post office."  Then we made a type of "teller window" out of a big cardboard box, and put it on the table.  Everybody had to bring a shoebox from home that would be their own "mailbox;" and after we personalized our boxes, they were all put in a row across another table.

            When the day arrived, we all came to school with our box of dime store Valentines addressed to each member of the class.  We put a gummed sticker on each envelope like a postage stamp.  Then we had to give them to the postmaster, who took a rubber stamp and "cancelled" our stamp-sticker, and then our Valentines were dropped into a big bag.  After all of the Valentines were "mailed," they were sorted and put into the individual shoe boxes.  And everybody got a turn at being the postmaster, so nobody was left out.

            The main idea here was to teach a rather rudimentary lesson to the children as to how the postal system works.  But there was another equally important concept in play as well. 

            Everybody in the class received a Valentine from everybody else.  Nobody was excluded.  So I not only addressed a Valentine to my friends; I had to give a Valentine to the kid who pushed me into the mud, the kids who didn't want to play with me, the kids who teased me, the kid who dressed in ragged clothes, the kid who didn't smell too nice, and even to that "yucky girl" who sat behind me (remember I was five years old!).  And I had to give them a card that asked each one to "be my Valentine."

            Before starting school, I really didn't know a whole lot about Valentine's Day and what it meant.  But when I had to ask even those people I didn't much care for to be my Valentine, I learned a lesson in what it means to love other people simply because each individual is a person like me. 

            When we look at the Bible, we see how God describes "love."  1 John 4:7-21 is probably the greatest love chapter in the Bible.  Consider these verses:   "Dear friends, we must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love. God has shown us his love by sending his only Son into the world so that we could have life through him.   This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. Dear friends, if this is the way God loved us, we must also love each other.   No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.   We know that we live in him and he lives in us because he has given us his Spirit." (vs. 7-13)

            If we take an honest look at ourselves, it would be fair to conclude that we're one of those people that God shouldn't really love, something like those "undesirable" kids at my school.  We have sinned, we have misused his name, and we have not lived lives that give him the glory he deserves.  An honest self-assessment is not a pretty picture.

            Even though we aren't the people that God should love, that's not the message he gives us.  God loves us in a way that we cannot earn or deserve.  We call this "grace," which is God's undeserved love.  He loved us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to pay for our sins.  Through faith alone, we have a relationship with Jesus our Saviour that will carry us through this life into the life to come.  Because God loves us, he asks us to love one another, even if it is in our own imperfect way.

            Throughout my primary school years, we always had a type of Valentine's Day party, and every year I had to give Valentines to everybody, even those people I really didn't like.  From this, I learned a valuable lesson in caring about other people, even as a child.  Sure, we always had snacks and Kool-Aid at our parties, and it was a fun time.  But nothing sticks quite like my Kindergarten "post office" experience.

            As we see the Christmas stuff disappearing from the shelves and the Valentine's Day stuff taking its place, we can look at the manger in Bethlehem and see the love God has that's underneath it all.  God sent Jesus out of love for you and me.  May we always be moved to love others as he has loved us.

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