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Meditation on Pentecost

The readings for Sunday, May 20, 2018, Pentecost: First Reading: Acts 2:1-21 First Reading (Alt.): Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 3...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

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.

It doesn’t take too many years for the questions to begin:
Hey mom and dad, how did you meet?
Hey mom and dad, how did you know that you were in love?
Hey mom and dad, how did you know that you wanted to spend forever together?

Our children tend to be curious about our past. As our children grow into young men and young women they discover that God has delighted to create young men and young women to fill the world with joy and wonder and then they begin to wonder if we, their fathers and mothers, ever experienced what they are experiencing, the birth pangs of love. Being a teenager is tough. The heart seems like such a fragile thing. And so they spend endless hours talking on the phone and texting and updating their Face Book and My Space pages to what end? For some, it is to gather in a community of friendship in which they, too, can sing their songs of love: endless and longed for, absent and hoped for.

Our children grow up into teenagers, young men and women, and are curious about our past even more: When did we fall I love? Why? What was it like?
That’s why the Song of Solomon touches us as it does. How it captures the freshness, the innocence, the passion of young love but more than that - it teaches us to sing. Oh, some may declare it a metaphor of God’s love for God’s people or Christ’s love for his Church, and I will grant that that certainly could be true, that such a reading was probably necessary to ensure that this poem of intense and passionate love found its way into the Holy Scriptures, Jewish and Christian. However, in pondering through what means the Holy Spirit used to ensure this love poem came to be preserved, let’s not tarry this day on such details.

To preach on love might seem trite, a bit of fluff on a weekend filled with hearts of chocolate filled confections and millions of dollars worth of Hallmark cards, red roses and candlelight dinners. It might be painful for those who have experienced the brokenness of love turned inward or replaced with pain and brokenness and loss. It might for the widow and widower be a mixed bag – memories of a lifetime together and of the loss that brought that life to an end and began a new one. But the song is ultimately about an undying hope. The healing power of love. A promise.

We read:
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.

I do not remember the exact vows that Piper and I shared these nearly 20 years ago. We wrote them ourselves by hand and who knows where those scraps of paper ended up. I am sure that we vowed to love and honor, to live and laugh, to face all circumstances of our lives in a sure and certain hope that together with God we would see ourselves through. Something like that. In nine years of ministry I have heard hundred of couples share similar vows. You know how they go – I take you to love honor and cherish in sickness and health for richer, for poorer until death parts us. All of us in time, I think, come to realize that these promises must be lived into in order to fully understand their implications.

I remember a time, not that many years ago, when my health – mentally, physically and even spiritually found itself up against a wall. It was then that these vows of ours became words of healing, of transformation, of the promise of wholeness. I had foolishly allowed the pressures of trying to live up to the impossible image of a successful pastor, an image created in too many books and magazines, take hold of me. This image crafted by a few very successful pastors who wrote books sharing their systems and successes could easily convince a new pastor that if they only worked hard enough, followed the right formula, poured themselves into their work that such hard would result in success. For these few famous pastors it seemed that everything they touched turned to gold, their churches were full and the ministry hummed along like a well-oiled machine. They knew what to say, what to do – in every circumstance. They had it all together with something to spare. More and more I tried to put this congregation on my back and climb the mountain believing that if I only worded harder, longer, with more intensity that I could be as successful as them.

Many of us, perhaps, tell such stories to ourselves – if we only try harder, work harder, find the right book, listen to the right expert, that we will achieve all that we can. We want to be the best at what we do, but fail to count the cost, and use a distorted picture of what “the best” truly is. Even in ministry, we can allow the culture to dictate who we are and who we want to be.
If you were around back in the fall of ‘04 you saw the roof damaged by a hurricane and the septic system fail completely and services cancelled by one hurricane after another. Each burden added to the challenges of every day ministry. Sunday after Sunday I stood behind the altar, fumbling through words half unconscious from the inability to sleep, eye twitching from stress, esophagus burning from reflux. Weeks went by sucked into in a black hole with no hope of climbing out. Imagine waking up every day and believing in your heart that there was no hope that things would ever getting any better. Such was my life. Some of this some of you know, but perhaps what you didn’t know was how my marriage saved me. I cannot tell you what day the music died in my life, lost in stress-filled days and overwhelming despair, it came upon me suddenly and took everything. But I know this: somewhere in the darkness, that awful quiet darkness, the day came when a song filled the air so strong that it carried me back. When the melody of my marriage proclaimed a word of healing that broke through the darkness and vanquished despair.

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.

Love rooted in faith provides the music in our marriage. Marriages can become, I believe, a place where God works healing. Where songs of hope sing into our souls and lift our eyes to the light and carry us through places where we could not otherwise walk.

In a wedding sermon of 1531, Luther says “God’s word is actually inscribed on one’s
spouse. When a man looks at his wife as if she were the only woman on earth, and
when a woman looks at her husband if he were the only man on earth; yes, if no king
or queen, not even the sun itself sparkles any more brightly and lights up your eyes
more than your own husband or wife, then right there you are face to face with God

In Scripture, God’s words come as much in speaking as in song. As we witness the vows renewed this day, we are privileged to hear the songs of two people that God has joined together in a love nourished and nurtured by faith and life, but most of all but the grace-filled love of God himself. There in that song they have found healing and hope, strength and renewal. They have bound themselves in its melody and make their bed in its harmony.

If we listen closely, perhaps we might find ourselves singing right along. If we listen closely perhaps the music in our own lives might find further nourishment. Amen.

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