Fresh Cut Flowers. In Winter.

The Remains of St. Valentine, in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street, in Dublin, Ireland

Today is all about the card.

Specifically, a $4 card with a beautiful envelope. Maybe it has a witty picture. Or maybe it has a poem that you think is beautiful. Because today is all about the card. Because we are horrible at expressing our true feelings, and a pre-written sentiment seems just right for the person with whom we share our lives. Right?

And we probably loathe this day. This Valentine’s Day. Just a mere six weeks after Christmas, when most of us are still trying to pay for the explosion of presents we bought, that are probably now completely overlooked.

So we are here, in the darkest days of the year, in the dead of winter, in the coldest time of the year, and we have to buy fresh-cut flowers.

Fresh-cut flowers.

In the winter.

For guys, this entire day is a set-up for complete disaster.

Yet, if we have love in our lives, and share that with someone, we simply can’t afford to ignore it. Even if we can’t afford to recognize it.

So we go shop for a really great Valentine’s Day card. And we can blame a lady named Esther A. Howland for that.

She opened the first professionally printed gift card shop in the 1840s, in America, specifically to cater to the card-writing practices that, for years, was typical of Valentine’s Day. And her first cards were elaborate, with real lace and ribbons. She’s even known as the “Mother of the Valentine.” An annual award is even given in her name.

And today, over 1 billion cards are sold for Valentine’s Day. And, guys, we should be ashamed. Women buy 85 percent of cards sold for this holiday.

(I assume, too, that the remaining 15 percent of those cards, purchased by guys, are probably purchased the day after.)

She wasn’t the first to think about Valentine’s Day cards and letters, though. The earliest known Valentine poem was written in 1417, and the text from the earliest Valentine written in the English language, from 1477, was written from a lady in waiting to her future husband. Margery Brews was trying to convince her father to increase her dowry, which was the amount of money the family was willing to give along with their daughter, to their future son-in-law. It seems the young man, John Paston, had some doubts that he would not be getting an adequate enough financial package with Margery, and the letter was to convince him to forsake all these earthly goods and notice that she loves him, and would make him a great wife.

The dowry price was a point of contention, until the mothers of the two lovebirds intervened for a settlement. Then, and only then, did the marriage take place. They were married, and had a son together. Romance, and true love, won — even over money.

We’re not sure if the dowry was ever increased, though.

But the holiday existed long before even 1417. And, initially, the holiday was nothing about flowers, greeting cards, or chocolates.

Well before all of this, it was actually called Saint Valentine’s Day.

Historians believe that it celebrated the lives, and deaths, of as many as fourteen various Christians, and three of them were recognized later by the Catholic Church as saints. All were named Valentine, and they were all martyred for their faith.

One lived in the third century, when the Roman emperor Claudius II decreed that only single men could serve in the Roman army. Valentine, a Christian in Rome, risked his life to marry those soldiers who would not forsake their true loves. He was killed for this risk.

Some of the early stories state that another Valentine, a bishop of in the modern city of Terni, helped Christians escape the torturous Roman prisons. And, as love would have it, Valentine, a Christian himself, was in love with the daughter of the Roman jailer. Before he was killed, though, for the assistance he gave, and for the discovery of his admiration, he wrote her a letter, and signed it “From your Valentine.” It was the last thing he wrote, before he met his violent death. (His remains are believed to be in Dublin, Ireland, and you can see the casket which holds those remains in the above image.)

And the third Valentine, of which very little is known, may have been martyred in Africa.

Stories of martyrdom, to me, are so intense. We gloss over them with a historical eye and file them for later use in great conversations.

But these men lost their lives. For the name of Jesus. They brought their entire lives to the altar of worship, and laid them there, only to take them up again in the presence of God.

And now, we celebrate this holiday, and maybe their memory, by buying a $4 card. We lay, at the altar, $4 – maybe a bit more for other gifts. We celebrate love with meager offerings of money and plastic. Because a day like today dictates the maxim of we have to do it.

There isn’t much sacrifice involved when we purchase a $4 card.

We’ve turned true sacrifice into true acknowledgement.

Sacrifice requires complete selflessness … a complete loss of personal identity, because we give all of ourselves to the one we love the most. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about great marriages and great loves. Forget all the books and lectures and sermons.

True love requires sacrifice. Every day. Every moment. With no expectation. True love can never be repaid. It can never be equaled.

Yet, if you are in a complete relationship, built upon the name of Jesus, you will never want for affection. You will never want for love. Because the one you love will love you in return.

That is how we are loved by God.

I want to call us to worship on this Valentine’s Day. I want to encourage you to sacrifice today – to give all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength. Offer what is most precious to you. If the lives of three men have aided the memory of this day, then let our love for God be as intense.

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