Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: A Sermon for Valentine’s Day by Rev. Selena Reyes-Martínez, Guest Writer
Ah, February. The month with the one holiday that’s all about love: Valentine’s Day.
As a kid, I’m sure you remember handing out valentines to every single other student in your elementary school class. But it was always such a thrill to give the one to your crush, right? Though you desperately hoped they wouldn’t know they were your crush, while also simultaneously hoping they would.
Not only that, but many of us probably made special valentines for our parents too. That’s exactly what I experienced before the next stage, which was actually having a date for Valentine’s. That didn’t even happen until senior year of high school!
After years of enjoying having a significant other for Valentine’s, though, I finally found myself single again. I really thought I'd be depressed. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was nostalgic for and saddened by the failed relationships I’ve had. In all honesty, though, it’s kind of funny how my view of this holiday has come full circle.
Surprisingly, I found joy in the simple pleasures of baking cookies for my coworkers and spending the day with my parents. It reminded me of how much more there is to the holiday than romance. That’s why in Spanish Valentine’s Day is also referred to as, loosely translated, The Day of Love and Friendship.
I wish we’d do that more often in English!
Anyway, with all this in mind this year, I was incredibly taken aback by the sermon I heard on Valentine’s Day by Rev. Selena Reyes-Martínez. I won’t go into details because I was so impacted I asked her if I could translate, edit, and share her sermon on my blog.
So, without further ado, I invite you to read on…
I read in an Upper Room devotional about a young man who had a friend from high school who suffered from depression. He tried to accompany his friend, assuring his friend that he would always be by his side to give him support and encouragement. His friend thanked him, but despite all the support from the young man and other friends, his friend took his own life.
For a long time, this young man could not understand where God was at that time. He felt responsible for the death of his friend, which affected his self-esteem. He felt worthless. Then his Bible study friends reminded him of Jesus’ second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, WEB).
If this young man did not forgive and love himself, guilt and anger would not allow him to love others. He concluded that it is difficult to forgive and learn how to love again, but it is necessary to live together with our neighbors and with Christ.
The Gospel of Matthew if the first book of the New Testament and one of the three Synoptic Gospels. Most scholars believe that the Gospel was composed between 80 and 90 AD. In this historic Gospel, Matthew shares that Jesus, as the Messiah of Israel, is rejected and executed, pronounces judgment on Israel and its leaders, and becomes the salvation of the Gentiles (Wikipedia, 2021).
The Gospel reflects the struggles and conflicts between the evangelist’s community and the other Jews, particularly with its sharp criticism of the scribes and pharisees.Before the crucifixion, they are known as Israelites, then they are simply called loudaioi (“Jews”), a sign that through their rejection of Christ, the “Kingdom of Heaven” has been taken from them and given to the Church. Matthew’s goal is to show the Jews that Jesus was indeed the Messiah they had long awaited. (Wikipedia, 2021).
Let’s see what the text tells us:
34 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 34-40, WEB)
It is truly necessary to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. But certainly, whoever loves God has to do what Jesus has said. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s something that is really not easy.
How many times have you been so angry with someone that you think they don’t love you? It has definitely happened to me. Sometimes, even in my own home and even with my family. You know the saying, “We choose our friends, but not our relatives”? We do not always like the family from which we come. And we definitely are not always in tune with the behaviors of our relatives, parents, siblings, children, or spouses. Many professional counselors advise in therapy that if you do not feel welcome with your family, then form a group of friends who serve as a support group. Many times, this group is the church.
We are living in very difficult time where mental health is continually affected. The enemy takes advantage of this experience to torment us and even divert us from our main goal, which is to draw closer to God.
I remember many years ago I had an experience of this type. I had my baby girl who was only a few months old and my ex-husband abandoned us. I fell into such a depression that I heard voices which tormented me, telling me that life was not worth living and that it was better for me to end my life.
I cried out to the Lord and He answered me audibly to go see my baby, who was sleeping in her crib. God, in His mercy, spoke to me and told me that if I took my life, what would become of the life of that creature He had entrusted to me? I told the Lord to take away those voices that tormented me and never allow me to go through that again. It’s been 26 years since that experience. God has never failed me. He guided me to a Christian therapist, and I have never heard anything like those voices again.
My experience is only one of many. The enemy torments lives daily and uses any instrument to deceive, destroy, and make us fall. Because, as the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “8 Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings” (WEB).
Peter is telling us that although the enemy wants to destroy our lives, God comes to restore them in the person of Jesus and will help us to the extent that we allow God to do so.
So, how can we love God, who is the first commandment, if we do not love our neighbor?
This is the biggest question in the text of Matthew. The first commandment is to love God above all things and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. We live in times of great competition. At work, people sometimes do many things in order to win promotions, no matter who they take on.
We live in times where hate crimes have not ended despite the great scope of advocacy that is being done against it. Just in the last year, how many cases have we seen of hate murders happening? To mention some: the Pulse tragedy in Florida, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minnesota, and Brianna Taylor in Tennessee, among others. Furthermore, we mourned the domestic violence murder of Brittany Nicole Steier in our own Disciples of Christ family.
So, again I ask, how can we love God if we don’t love our neighbors?
An excellent explanation of this concept is given in 1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, 20-21. Let’s see…
7 Beloved, let’s love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. 8 He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.
11 Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us.
20 If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (WEB)
The question here from the Apostle John is extremely determined: He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And John ends his speech by saying, “He who loves God, loves his brother also.”
Let’s show that love with our lives. As we move from Valentine’s Day and Black History month to the season of Lent, let’s love beyond giving chocolates, flowers, or cards. As we prepare for the season of remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection, let us love as God loved. Because only in this way can we show that we love God, in also loving our brothers, sisters, and siblings. Let us find ways to love others as ourselves.
This is today’s final invitation.
What are your thoughts on this particular topic? Share in the comments below!
Wikipedia. (2021, January 17). Evangelio de Mateo. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelio_de_Mateo