Today is a day when we remember St. Valentine, who was an early Church Bishop, who conducted many marriages to allow young men to avoid conscription (the Emperor at the time believed single men made better soldiers).
Whilst in Prison, he prayed for the jailers daughter who was blind, she was healed and her sight restored. He was brutally Murdered/Martyred, but his last letter was signed “your Valentine”, and so the tradition of sending love notes on valentines day has continued.
Ironic, that we celebrate romantic love from a man who kept a vow of celibacy.
Today can be a day of great joy, and that’s great, but just because we are in a good season, we realise this isn’t necessarily true for everyone.
Today is a day which brings up lots of pastoral issues, What about those who were married but are no longer through divorce or bereavement, today can be a tough day?
What about those who maybe wanted to be married and yet never has been, again today could be a challenging day.
What about those who are married but their marriage has become a really tough challenge?
Some people too in our Churches maybe in complicated relationships.
(A great book and blog about Singleness comes from my friend Kate Wharton -single minded https://www.amazon.co.uk/Single-Minded-Being-Single-Whole-Living/dp/0857214306 , http://katewharton.blogspot.co.uk/ ).
Sometimes we turn love and life into something unreal and unattainable, those of us who are married don’t live “happily ever after” marriage is something wonderful, but not always easy, and even the best marriages aren’t always sweetness and light all the time.
Single people might have freedoms and opportunities that we might envy when just getting a babysitter and getting out the house feels like a rare achievement, but when I was single I certainly didn’t feel lucky, in fact sometimes I felt lonely and sad about being single.
The truth is that we, especially in a facebook age, present one thing to the world and another thing is the reality in our hearts behind closed doors.
Sometimes Churches are good at joy, but less good with complexity and mess.
Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe places.
Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe places for messy lives.
Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe for people with marriage problems.
Sadly single people often say our Churches don’t feel safe places where they are welcome and valued.
How can we be safe sharing both joys and sorrows.
I long to see Church become a place that can laugh with those who laugh and cries with those who cries, sharing the reality of joys and sorrows.
It is human nature to run comparisons, -normally unfavourable- yet the truth is the grass is not always greener.
Whatever our circumstances life always presents challenges.
God’s Church is made up of people who are married, and people who are not, people whose relationships are in a good place, and those whose relationships are tough.
How do we as Church, become a community of grace that supports and loves one another in our variety of different life stages and relationship status’? Where joys and sorrows are freely expressed.
Where we are loved and accepted for who we are now, rather than an idealised version of ourselves, or who we might be in the future.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus meets us where we are now, encounters us in our present, and as we really are, not how we’d like to be, or an idealised ‘facebook-esk’ version of ourselves.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus meets us where we are at, celebrating the joys and blessings, as well as the sorrows and challenges.
The good news of the Gospel is that as a Church family, people around you with a different story can really be a blessing to you, and you to them, together you can carry one anothers burdens and enable the local expression of Church to be more loving and authentic.
Our world is sex obsessed and tells us we are incomplete without the perfect life (and perfect partner)… Jesus doesn’t agree!
Yet the truth is we are not perfect, nor will any partner we have be perfect either.
We live in a world maybe obsessed by sex, and we are called to be holy, the world may tell us we are incomplete but the gospel tells us we are made whole in Christ, beloved and valued.
Paul tells the Church to not to let the world squeeze them into its mould (Romans 12 -the message) and yet sometime the Church as an institution moulds us as an institution where we either feel pressured to conform to the ridiculous stereotype, but the gospel actually should allow us the freedom to be ourselves, to be loved as us, single or married, in good times or hard times.
Perhaps as Church we lack the empathy to see how other peoples lives can be fully and wonderfully Christian but look very different from our own, and how we may be a blessing to them, and they to us.
Where we feel truly loved we can be truly ourselves, the problem too often with our Churches is that we all put up our guard and show the world a respectable veneer, rather than being real about what life is really like for us.
So, a challenge for us all, especially on valentines day, we are called to love, and be a community of authenticity and grace, where all who encounter it are blessed.
Jesus says of his Church “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another”…
This is a call for real love in a real (but broken) world.