BECAUSE GOD DOESN’T LEAVE ANYONE OUT.
The day after Christmas stores started making way for the next holiday. The cards and heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s Day replaced the tinsel and lights of Christmas. Valentine’s Day is a tricky day for a lot of people. It can intensify feelings of loneliness in folks who are un-coupled or just generally isolated. And, of course, like so many of our other holidays, it has been commercialized and exploited for companies, like florists, candy makers, and Hallmark, to make money. I have my own issues with Valentine’s Day for several reasons, big ones and little ones. I lost a very good friend on Valentine’s Day eight years ago, and we all know anniversaries are hard. I also get aggravated by the choices of boxed valentines for kids. A couple of years ago, I was trying to get valentines cards for kids in a Sunday School class, and they were all gendered. You could either get ones that were pink with princesses on it or ones that were red with trucks on it. Nothing gender neutral at all.
Maybe you have reasons to love and hate the holiday, but I can rarely spend a Valentine’s Day without thinking of a lesson I learned in elementary school. It was first grade, I think, and we were planning for our class Valentine’s Day party. There would be candy and punch and games. And there would be valentines for every student. We were required to get the small valentines for everybody in the class. I remember vividly that I was uncomfortable with that. Part of it was that I was still at the age where I thought boys had cooties. A big part of it was that I didn’t want to give a card to one particular boy. This was the kid in class that always acted out. Not only was he disruptive, he also did really gross things…like eat paste and chalk. We probably all remember that kid. And maybe, some of us were that kid.
I was reluctant to give him a card. But I remember my mom telling me that I had to give everyone in the class one…that I couldn’t leave anyone out. So every Valentine’s Day, even as I struggle with my own grief and rail against the commercialism, I remember that lesson.
I couldn’t leave anyone out.
As I’ve grown and learned more about Jesus, I realize that was a lesson in discipleship. It obviously stuck with me through the years. I still remember the boy’s name. I still remember what he looked like. And even if I was uncomfortable with him, I couldn’t leave him out. Jesus didn’t leave anybody out.
As another Valentine’s Day approaches, I reflect on who is left out. No one is left out in God’s eyes, but our world doesn’t always look like the world as God intended. We fall short, and we leave lots of people out. I think about the ways that the church leaves people out. We do it in small and large ways. In small ways, we don’t always extend a warm welcome to guests who do come through our doors. In large ways, the church leaves whole groups of people out, because some lobbying group decided that the way God made them disqualified them from church service. Our denomination is on the verge of splitting over the issue of leaving people out.
Looking back at that kid from my first grade class, I now realize that he probably had some issues that I didn’t have. I don’t know what his family situation was, but now I think they probably didn’t have a lot of money. His behavior made him the object of teasing and alienation. I have a feeling the kids were laughing at him, not with him. I can’t imagine what life was like for him, but I think if there was anybody that needed to be included and get a Valentine, it was this kid.
What are you doing to make those that are left out feel included? What can the church do to make those that are left out feel included?
The scripture teaches us that God’s love is for everyone; no one is left out. It’s available to all of us. I pray that we are living into that love and making sure that no one is left out. And I ask you to pray as well. I ask that you pray for our called Special General Conference that our church, the Body of Christ, have open hearts to the movement of the Spirit and ensure that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is included in our church. Pray that our church won’t leave anyone out. Because God doesn’t leave anyone out.
Pastor Dana Ezell