Here is the text to my sermon intro on February 14, 2016. Valentine's Day was originally a church holiday to celebrate the love of God. BTW I really did have a tooth problem this week, but it didn't keep me away.
Due to a severe toothache, Pastor Glenn is not able to be with us today. But we do have a guest speaker that you will be thrilled to know. His name is Len, and I can't say much about him, because he will tell us his own story. But you need to know he is speaking to us from a Roman prison in the year 270AD. Welcome Len.
Good morning. As the man said, my name is Len. I would tell you it's a joy to be with you , but this is a strange day for me. You see, I am scheduled to be executed later today. Ironic they would choose the eve of Lupercalia, the pagan Roman holiday for sexual love, since love is one of the reasons I am in prison. Let me tell you that story.
The Roman Emperor, Claudius the Second, a very cruel emperor that one, has been in numerous military campaigns in recent days, and his people are losing their taste for war. He was having trouble getting young recruits into the army to serve the empire, so he came up with a crazy idea. He forbid young men to marry until they had put in their military service. I guess he figured that if they didn't have wives and children to come home to, the soldiers would be more dedicated to their military efforts.
Being a priest in a community near Rome, and knowing the importance of love, I decided to continue to marry young couples. Besides, I've preached for years that God is love, that God demonstrated his love for us in Jesus, that we should love one another, and that the best earthly expression of love is the marriage relationship.
Well, as you might guess, word got back to the authorities that I was defying the Emperor's command. They came to arrest me, right after a marriage ceremony incidentally, and charge me not only with defiance of the marriage ban, but also of leading an illegal cult. They tried to get me to deny Jesus as my only lord, and promise not to perform anymore marriage ceremonies. Those were two things that I couldn't do. So here I am in prison waiting for my death sentence to be carried out.
I have a strange calm today. I have read the stories of earlier martyrs like Polycarp. You know his story of course; next to the apostles one of the most famous martyr stories there is. When Polycarp was a young man, he was discipled by an old man named John, yeah the John, John the Apostle of Jesus. Polycarp was our last connection to the first disciples. And he seemed so brave to face the Proconsul and say, "I've served my Lord for 84 years, and he has never denied me, I can't deny him now."
I have also read the account of Perpetua, her story has been circulating around the Christian churches recently too. She was a young noble woman in Africa, who refused to deny Jesus, in spite of her wealthy father's pleas. She and her servants were fed to the beasts in Carthage just a generation ago.
As I've read those stories, I always been impressed by the bravery of the martyrs. Now I'm thinking they weren't so brave as they were empowered by God's spirit for the occasion. I am strangely calm now. I just pray that, by the Spirit, I can be as calm and brave as those two saints were.
There is one blessing to my being in prison that I have to tell you about. The jailer's daughter here was a blind girl, who came to me with encouraging words from my friends. I prayed for her, and, God be praised, he gave that young girl her sight! It was an amazing miracle! As you might expect, her entire family is asking to know more about Jesus.
She's a sweet girl, that Theodora. I have just written her a letter. She will know it's from me because I have often sent messages to my friends on parchment cut into heart shapes, but I signed this one anyway.
Of course I signed it not with just my nick name Len, but with my full, better-known name; I signed it "from your Valentine." May she and her family grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There's not a lot we really know about St. Valentine, except that someone by that name was martyred on February 14, 269 or 270 and was later sainted by the Roman church. However some of the legends go way back in time, including the story of the jailer's daughter. Other parts, like the letter on heart-shaped paper, the girl's name, and the ban on marriage are probably added embellishments. Happy Valentine's Day. Celebrate the love of God today.