Monday, July 28, 2014

Tricked by Laban

Genesis 29: 15-28, OT page 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid. When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the first-born. Complete the week with this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. Sermon I’m glad that Jacob and Rachel didn’t come to me for their pre-marital counseling. Some of their relationship is typical enough. He saw her and immediately wanted to impress her so he rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered her sheep for her – and when you think about some of the things that young men do to try and impress young women rolling a stone from the mouth of the well sounds innocent and thoughtful. They have their first kiss that very day, and in Genesis chapter 29 Jacob kissed Rachel, “and wept aloud.” It’s as every first kiss should be. Before things go any farther Jacob goes to meet her father and Rachel’s father agrees when Jacob offers to work seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage – and that sounds about as it should be. Daughters are precious. They’re worth working for and father-in-laws are worth trying to impress, so if I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I would be pleased with this story of how they met and fell in love, but then I’d have to ask them about their prior relationships. I’d want to know if there were any loose ends that need to be tied up, any damage that needs to be recovered from, because you want to leave as much baggage behind as you can before your wedding day. That’s why I’d ask Jacob about the women he knew before he met Rachel and suddenly things would get very complicated. “So you were tricked into marrying her sister?” I’d ask for clarification. “And you didn’t realize it wasn’t Rachel until the morning after?” “And you’re still married to Leah?” What are we to say about these things? Surely you expected better of the heroes of the Bible. But it only gets worse, more twisted, more complicated, because just as every relationship should have a romantic story at its beginning, some complications when the stories of prior relationships finally come out, it’s the reality that but every marriage involves more than just two people that really muddies the water. For every marriage brings together two families who more often than not cause tension between husbands and wives – so if I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I’d have to ask about the in-laws, and I’d be concerned by what I heard. If I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I’d have to ask about Jacob’s parents Isaac and Rebecca who made Jacob who he is, but what a can a worms Rachel’s father is. Sometimes we clean up the Bible, sanitize it and romanticize it, and reduce it down to a nice bedtime story to tell children, but Laban isn’t the kind of bad guy kids are used to hearing about in bedtime stories, he’s the kind that you actually have to deal with. He doesn’t have any super powers, no horns or wings or anything else that Angelina Jolie has when she stars as Snow White’s wicked step-mother. Instead Laban is all too easy to imagine moving in next-door to you. He doesn’t treat his daughters right. They’re objects to use in negotiation, not gifts from God to be treasured and I’ll bet you know somebody like that. And he’s good at noticing what you want, he knows what you desire and in knowing that he knows how to use your desires against you. Jacob’s love for Rachel isn’t something for this father-in-law to celebrate – for Laban it’s a fulcrum that he uses for leverage. Think about this trick he pulls. Jacob works for seven years for his bride. He’s so in love he doesn’t even notice the time passing nor does he notice that on the wedding night it’s not really Rachel he’s with. Jacob finally figures it out the next morning and by then it’s too late – now what father-in-law does something like that? Who connives and takes advantage rather than assisting and cooperating? I’ll bet you know who. And if you’re anything like me you think of that person and don’t understand why God ever let him or her cross your path. You can’t understand how they waltzed right in, did you so wrong, and then slept soundly that night like nothing ever happened. You know you’re supposed to let God do the judging, you know you’re supposed to let God give them what they deserve, but the anger is still inside and the wrong is still fresh. Forgive and forget they say, move on and leave it in the rear view mirror, but can you really ever let it go and move on? Sometimes you can, but if Jacob and Rachel sought me out for counseling I’d tell them that the best thing to do is to put as much distance between their marriage and her father-in-law as possible. Some wounds don’t heal for years, some patterns can only be reversed by a miracle, and there are some people its best just to remove yourself from. If Jacob and Rachel sought me out for advice I’d tell them to move on, and maybe if I had the chance to talk to Jacob all by himself I might just tell him to get away from her and all the rest of them as soon as he can. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Especially when it’s family – especially when it’s love. Some crowds you do need to walk away from and some people you should distance yourself from, but there is something about family – you can no more write them off than you can forget half your genetic code. Sometimes it’s better to learn to deal with them than to write them off because sometimes, in dealing with their issues you’re dealing with your own. There was a preacher I knew who taught me more than any other ever did. He was full of himself, his sermons were too happy to say anything meaningful, and not only that, he never actually wrote any of them, he just downloaded them all from the internet. And I have spent so many years judging him, but now, knowing myself as a terribly imperfect pastor, I realize how God uses him even now as I struggle to accept myself and the mistakes that I make. Laban tricked Jacob. But Jacob was a trickster getting a dose of his own medicine, and only in forgiving Laban will Jacob ever be able to forgive himself. Ours is a complicated faith. The Apostle Paul uses difficult words like “predestination” and in our first Scripture lesson with that complicated word in a complicated passage hear a simple truth that may take us our whole life time to come to terms with – “We know that all things work together for good.” All things – even Laban’s treachery; even Jacob’s treachery. To fulfill the promise that God made to Jacob our Lord used Laban – and to fulfill the same promise that our God has made to you there is no way of knowing who will be used. So take heart in this – ours is a God who makes a way out of no way – who takes what is weak and makes it strong – who sees the sinfulness of human kind and fulfills the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven. When all is hopeless, when the world has turned her back, expect to see the light of dawn stream forth from the most unlikely places, for God’s promises will be fulfilled. Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28: 10-19a, OT page 25 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel. Sermon In this second Scripture lesson Jacob leaves his home – he leaves behind the tents that he spent his time in, his mother Rebekah who loved him, and his brother Esau who hated him for tricking him out of his birthright as first-born son, for his father Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him not to marry any of the Canaanite women of his homeland, but to go at once to “Padanaram to the house of Bethuel, [his] mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban.” So he leaves all that is familiar and on his journey to find a bride he “came to a certain place” to stay for the night, and without a proper pillow, he took one of the stones of that place and put it under his head. Now maybe if I had been walking all day it wouldn’t have made any difference that I was using a rock for a pillow, I would have been so tiered it just didn’t matter, but thinking of this rock, its edges smooth maybe but nonetheless hard and cold up against my cheek, the image of Jacob trying to sleep with a rock under his head reminds me not of the nights when sleep comes easy and after reading a page or two of some book my eyelids become heavy and next thing I know it’s morning, instead this image of Jacob with a rock for a pillow remind me of that first night at summer camp. I was eight years old maybe. The sheets I brought from home couldn’t cover up the smell of camp beds. I was definetly far from home it seemed. The crickets outside chirped on and on, and though everyone else was asleep I was awake with those crickets tossing and turning on that first night of camp – that first night that was only the beginning of the longest amount of time I’d ever spent away from my parents. Later that week the counselors captivated us all with ghost stories – the tale of “Green Eyes” that I still think of whenever I walk through the woods at night by myself – but even after hearing that story I slept soundly as it was only that first night when I felt so alone and so far from home that sleep seemed like it would never come. That wasn’t the only time either. Years later sleep eluded me again. Two of my best friends were in the car with me, they were in the front and I was lying across the back seats wide awake though it was late at night. We were too cheap to pay for a hotel room, and were riding through the state of Kansas on our way back from Seattle, Washington. It was a big adventure. We didn’t have much to do the summer after our first year of college, so one of us had the idea to drive across the country and back in my car, and I lay there in the back seat looking up at the stars, too cramped and too anxious to sleep, thinking about how if the car broke down in the middle of no-where Kansas there would be no way for my father to come and rescue us. I didn’t feel alone or homesick like I had at summer camp, but I felt on my own, and that feeling of responsibility made me long for home even more, so sleep didn’t come easy that night of independence either. The night before our wedding day was relatively sleepless too, not because I was worried but because it was the night that separated one chapter of my life from another, so while my pillow was soft and my bed warm, still I woke up early and went on a walk through the woods knowing only that the morning brought a day completely different from the one before it. How would it be different? I didn’t know exactly. What it would be like – I didn’t really know that either. And we cling to what we know; meanwhile living demands that we stand on the edge of something totally different. One night can separate the way things have been from the way things will be and with anxiety we toss and turn not knowing exactly what the new day will bring. I can see Jacob lying there late at night, and while the rock surely prevented sleep from coming easily it was his thoughts that kept him awake. He was alone, knowing that after what he did to his brother, cheating him out of his birthright, his relationship with Esau would never be the same again. He was independent of his parents that night, too far away to benefit from their help should he need it, and I can imagine him looking up at the stars while his mind circled through a litany of what-if’s – what if I break my leg? Who will wrap it up? What if I tear my tunic? Who will sew it? What if I lose my way? Who will bring me back to the path? The morning would bring a new day, possibly leading him towards a new bride, but how would this new day unfold? Where would it take him? And while security and habit made him comfortable yesterday, tomorrow is unknown and who would make sure that everything worked out the way it needed to? He finally drifted off to sleep, and when he did he dreamed “that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go; for I will not leave you.” These words are good to hear, especially in the middle of a restless night. For it’s at night that loneliness creeps in. On the day of the funeral you keep it at bay – family gathers around, their voices fill the emptiness, but it’s at night when there’s nothing left to keep you busy and everyone else is sound asleep. It’s at night that you turn over and see that he’s really not there. The house is quiet in a dreadful way late at night. There’s nothing to distract you from the bills on the counter, there’s nothing to stop the worthless thoughts that race through your mind, because late at night you know for certain that you have to come up with something only you don’t know what. And the next day is coming – only what will it bring? You know only yesterday, but one night can separate the known world from the unknown, one day can be completely different, so you toss and turn through the night not knowing what tomorrow will hold. All you know for sure is who holds tomorrow. Jacob was not alone that dark and lonely night and neither are you. Jacob was not on his own, he was not creating his own destiny, but was surrounded by angels who ascended and descended from heaven preparing his way and guiding his path. And Jacob’s tomorrow was not uncertain; for like you, his future rested in the mighty hands of God. That night was the line between everything that he had ever known and a tomorrow full of unknowns – it was a gateway to his future, but he dreamed that night and saw that it was the gate of heaven. Here me out. My 15 minutes is almost up but the world has the news cycle that peddles anxiety 24 hours a day. Remember then that tomorrow, while it is unknown, it is a step forward into a future of promise. The night with all its anxiety and fear must not convince to romanticize yesterday, for just because it is known does not mean that it is perfect. You are walking towards the promise; each day comes closer to its fulfillment. Do not go on believing that your best days are behind you and do not be afraid, for this morning you stand at the gate of heaven. Amen.

Lentil Stew

Genesis 25: 19-34, OT pages 21-22 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddanaram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. Sermon In this second Scripture lesson, as is the case with much of the book of Genesis, there is a moral lesson, but there’s also more than a moral lesson. We Christians know all about stories with morals, so the moral lesson here is clear enough on the one hand – there’s a good guy and a bad guy – Jacob is the good guy, Esau is the bad guy, and you shouldn’t do what Esau does. What does Esau do? Esau is desperate, and desperate people are willing to take desperate measures, and desperate measures lead to all kind of desperate circumstances. He’s famished he says – and maybe you know what it’s like to be famished. There’s a commercial on television these days with comedian Tina Fey. She’s in the check-out line of the grocery store, a common enough place to be hungry, and like so many of us do she grabs a bag of what’s available and without looking at its content she stuff a handful into her mouth, only to find that it potpourri. Don’t go into the grocery store if you’re famished. That’s good advice – you’ll fill your shopping cart up and those candy bars will look better than they would usually in that long check-out line, or worse you wind up eating potpourri. But more than that – you think about hunger in a more severe sense – hunger is an obstacle to education. Our public schools serve breakfast, not just because hunger is an injustice that no school child should have to suffer, but because an empty belly will occupy your mind making learning impossible. And out of desperation, will a loving parent not steal for her child? Infant formula is now a product on the shelf that’s under lock and key – you can’t just put it in your cart, but you have to call over a Kroger employee to unlock your baby’s food – and for good reason. Hunger overshadows good judgment. Morals crumble in desperate times. We can all be good and wise and kind – we can all give to the needy when we have enough, but what about when the baby’s crying and the stomach is growling, or the bank account is empty? Interest rates don’t matter to the Esau’s of the world – they just want the cash in their hand and will pay the piper on another day because it’s going to be hard enough just to get through this one. The lesson then – do not be like Esau. The time of desperation is not the time to make a decision. Wait – think it through – walk away from the temptation for your distance from it will reduce its power. Don’t stand over the soup while you make your decision, but walk away and really think this thing through. Now that’s good advice, because you will burn through that money that you got from Quick Cash up on James Campbell Boulevard, but those loan payments will keep on coming; a Snickers bar will satisfy your hunger standing in the grocery store line, but you’re stuck with that weight around your belly; and in the same way, don’t you know that lentil stew that ol Jacob cooked up while he sat around the tent all afternoon was delicious to the famished Esau, but he would be hungry again and now he’d be hungry the next without his birthright. Don’t be like Esau. But should you really be like Jacob? Such a question complicates the story – but there’s more than a moral lesson here. Esau is a bad example but what about Jacob? Is it possible to live with yourself if you’re Jacob? There’s a story I’ve just read featuring Grover from Sesame Street, pretty high brow stuff, and Grover goes to school and because he’s just as nice as they come Grover trades his whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a couple carrots, then this other kid in his class asks Grover if he’d like to trade the toy car he’s playing with for another one, and Grover agrees, only the kid doesn’t tell him that he’s just traded for a toy car that only has two wheels. Now can the teacher stand for that? She doesn’t. Because taking advantage of desperate people isn’t allowed on Sesame Street though it is on James Campbell and good Christian people need to be asking why. Jacob gets that inheritance from his brother Esau and in so doing he takes advantage of a desperate man and not just a man – his brother. The lesson then – don’t be like Jacob. Remember that Esau got hungry again after eating that lentil stew, but Jacob; did that lentil stew ever leave his mind? I’ll be preaching from the book of Genesis for several weeks starting this morning, and so you’ll find that Jacob spends much of the rest of his life dealing with the regret and repercussions of this one bowl of soup, this lentil stew that he used to take advantage of his brother, and I can imagine that the smell of it lingered for so many years to come. That’s how it is. Some choices are hard to shake, whether you’re the one who did the wrong, whether you’re the victim, or whether you’re something in-between. Like dust from the Twin Towers, like perfume from a one night stand, like blood on the hands of Lady Macbeth, the smell of the lentil stew pervades and persists just as long as you let it. A tragedy or a mistake will do that. The jump suit comes off as soon as you leave the prison but how long will the title “felon” stick? I’ve known widows who have been widows longer than they were married, and why is that? How long must the man on the street be called “homeless”? For how many years must the addict be known by his tragic flaw? And will Jacob ever get the smell of lentil stew out from his nose? But here this Good News – Jacob did become a great nation, and while Esau grew to despise his birthright he did not grow to despise himself, for there is freedom in our Lord. The Apostle Paul said it well in the eighth chapter of Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – and for those who set their mind on the Spirit rather than the deeds of the flesh there “is life and peace.” “You are not of the flesh,” and so you do not belong to your past, your great failures, your tragic disappointments, or foolhardy choices. You do not belong to what you have done, for you belong to Christ. How long will you carry that old mistake or tragedy around? Let it define you no longer – for this is the real point of our scripture lesson from Genesis – so many of the great heroes of our faith are good, but only because God made them good. They are moral, only so much as it is humanly possible to be. The difference between them and you, them and me, so often is only this: they allowed the Spirit to set them free from the mistakes of their past, and the Spirit having done so for them, will do the same for you. You can fall down, but know that with wings as of the eagles, our God will lift you back up. Amen.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Arise, my love

Song of Solomon 2: 8-13, OT page 623 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Sermon June has just passed, and June for a preacher is a wonderful month and also a busy month because of weddings. Last month there were two, one here at the church, but the big change for me was that this June, for the first time, I began to relate to the father of the bride more than anyone else. Last year I looked at the groom and found it so easy to empathize. I’d look to my left and feel for the young man who looked so nervous, almost ready to tip over, but this June for the very first time I saw that young groom, and with either of our daughters in mind, I saw that young groom as a predator. Those fathers walking their beautiful little girls down the aisle, cherishing these last few seconds looking so sad that their cheeks hang down like bloodhounds – it was this June that I could feel in the pit of my stomach their sadness. Now of course there is joy on your daughter’s wedding day – but it was this June that I could finally empathize with my father-in-law who supposedly went and bought a revolver on a whim the same summer I started dating his daughter. Yes – fathers see the young man looking at their daughter and they see King David looking at Bathsheba. The young man looks like a predator and his daughter is the prey, but let us not forget how it really was. Even now I look back on asking Sara out on our first date and I know that what I was experiencing was nothing close to confidence nor was it joy. The Song of Solomon would not have described me as I was no gazelle leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. In fact, rather than leaping or bounding , my legs were jelly, my teeth were clenching, I was probably very sweaty, and my stomach was tightening with the true pain of being in love with someone knowing the risk involved in letting that person know how you feel. So at some point we all summon the courage – we walk up or pick up the phone to offer the invitation. Thank goodness young women don’t remember it this way – no – from their perspective the whole thing happens quite differently. There’s excitement, there’s confidence, and there’s that true joy of knowing that you are wanted and that you are in control. “My beloved speaks and says to me: “arise my love, my fair one, and come away with me.” But you know that’s not how it really happened. He had probably spilled something brown all over his tunic I bet, he smelled like the sheep he was supposed to be watching over, and I can imagine that before the words would come out of his mouth a or something beetle crawled out of his beard. These things never change – the request is full of “uh’s” and “um’s” and “If you’re not doing anything this Friday, and if you are I understand, I just mean if you don’t have anything else going on, and I understand if you do, but if you don’t I’d love to pick you up in my chariot to take you to tour my father’s vineyard.” That’s how it looks; it’s only poetry in retrospect. In the moment inviting someone into your heart isn’t pretty. It’s risky, but you do it any way because you don’t have a choice, so you offer the invitation in the hope that your heart might be something desirable, that your companionship might be better than being alone, you take your feelings and you put them out there, and then you wait to see if those feelings will be returned. And maybe you wait behind the wall, gazing through the windows and “looking through the lattice.” Too afraid to knock on the door, but he can’t go very far because he’s offered this girl his heart and once you’ve offered someone your heart even if you want to run away you can’t get very far without your heart. Now waiting this way, trying to steal a peak at this person who you love in the hope that seeing them might reveal something about the way they feel about you is very different from what is described in today’s first scripture lesson. These two lessons are not complimentary but conflicting for David rose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace, and from the roof he looked down and sees a woman bathing. The difference between the two young men, the one described by the Song of Solomon and on the other hand, King David, is this: the young man who hides behind the lattice wants to give this young woman something – something very special, but very fragile. He wants to give this young woman his heart. David on the other hand is the man all fathers fear their daughters are going around with because he looked down from his roof top and his eyes met something he wanted, and he used his power to take it. On the one hand you have the beginnings of love, and on the other hand is something much less. Love is initiated by an invitation, an offer that in the hands of the invitee is a choice – you say yes or you say no, you feel the same way or you don’t. There is a great risk taken in this situation, as if the answer is no then the young man walks away with a broken heart. On the other hand, King David’s heart would not have been broken if Bathsheba had not been brought to him. For him there was no risk at all – he didn’t even have to talk to her. There was no invitation, there was no risk, and the power to initiate or end the relationship never left David’s hands. That is not what love looks like, and so God’s love for us is not represented by King David, but by the young man who has offered this young woman his heart, invited her in the hopes that he has something to offer, and she has the power to say yes or say no. Just as Christ is referred to as the Bridegroom to the church in the book of Revelation, so here, in the Song of Solomon God’s love is like that of a young man in love – fragile and sacred. The young man has something to offer us. Like a young man with a heart full of love God does not look down on us seeing something that God wants or needs, but seeing us and knowing that God might just be able to make us happy, God offers us God’s heart in the hopes that God’s love for us will be received and returned in kind. While the invitation is something that can change our lives for the better it would not be love if we were required to accept the invitation. Those of us who have offered our hearts to someone can feel some kinship with God, and can then look to the cross to see a love poured out for a people, and the savage marks of rejection. Know this then – the time you finally built up enough confidence to ask her out – you got dressed and combed your hair and rehearsed your lines but she stood you up – God knows what that feels like. The time you gave him everything you had and he spit in your face – God knows what that feels like. The time it hurt so badly you couldn’t get out of bed and said you would never love again – God knows what that feels like. But three days later he came back and offered us his heart again. The temptation is to hide our hearts away after the love we offer is rejected – but that’s not God’s way, nor should it be yours. We are called to love each other as God has loved us, and so you must offer your heart – the risk is huge, but it is the risk you must take to inherit the joy true love offers. “See! Now the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs; they give forth fragrance.” So here this invitation, and if you have forgotten what it means to be desired know that you are wanted. Here this invitation, and if you have forgotten what it means to be loved then know that you are loved. Here this invitation and know that the one who loves you, whose heart is on the line for you, offers a new life with this invitation and this call to go and do likewise: “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.” Amen.