Friday, June 6, 2008

Sermon for Sunday June 1, 2008

Come to Me
Song of Songs 2:8-13; Matthew 11:25-3

Tennessee Williams tells a story about Jacob Brodzky, a shy Russian Jew whose father owned a bookstore. The older Brodzky wanted his son to go to college. Jacob, on the other hand, desired nothing but to marry Lila, his childhood sweetheart -- a French girl as breezy, vital, and ambitious as he was quiet and retiring. A couple of months after Jacob went to college, his father fell ill and died. Jacob returned home, buried his father, and married his love. Then the couple moved into the apartment above the bookstore, and Jacob took over the business. The life of books fit him perfectly, but it cramped her. She wanted more adventure. She eventually met a talent agent who praised her beautiful singing voice and enticed her to tour Europe with a vaudeville company. Jacob was devastated. At their parting, he reached into his pocket and handed her the key to the front door of the bookstore.

“You had better keep this,” he told her. “You will want it some day. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back sometime, and I will be waiting.” She kissed him and left. To escape the pain he felt, Jacob withdrew deep into his bookstore and took to reading as someone else might take to drink. He spoke little, did little, and most times sat at the large desk near the rear of the shop, immersed in his books while he waited for his love to return.

Nearly 15 years after they parted, Lila came back to the bookstore. But when Jacob rose from the reading desk he did not recognize the love of his life. “Do you want a book?” he asked. Lila was startled, but she gained possession of herself and replied, “I want a book, but I’ve forgotten the name of it.” Then she told him a story of childhood sweethearts. A story of a newly married couple who lived in an apartment above a bookstore. A story of a young, ambitious wife who left to seek a career, who enjoyed great success but could never relinquish the key her husband gave her when they parted. She told him the story she thought would bring him to himself. But Jacob’s face showed no recognition. He had lost touch with his heart’s desire. He no longer knew the purpose of his waiting and grieving, that now all he remembered was the waiting and grieving itself. She cried out, “You remember it; you must remember it -- the story of Lila and Jacob?” After a long, bewildered pause, he said, “There is something familiar about the story, I think I have read it somewhere. It comes to me that it is something by Tolstoy.” Dropping the key, she fled the shop. Jacob returned to his desk, to his reading, unaware that the love he waited for had come and gone.

How easy it is to miss love when it comes. Either something so distracts us or we have so completely lost who we are and what we care about that we cannot recognize our heart’s desire.

I want you to think about the person sitting to your right and your left. Think about the person who is sitting in front of you and behind you. Think about your family and your friends. Now think about the handful of people whom drive you crazy. I’m going to tell you something about them – each and every one of those people, you and me included, aches to be loved. In a world that seems plagued by an epidemic of emotional pain, it’s not surprising that we are a culture infatuated with love. Most people will go to great extremes to feel loved. Romantic fantasies . . . casual one-night-stands . . . we’ll spend billions of dollars on how-to-books and online friendships, pills and powders, make-up and seductive clothes. But none of these seem to secure the kind of love that will fill the empty, lonely spot inside that waits for someone – anyone – to accept and passionately love the real me.

I’ve met people who live their lives believing that there is no one there for them. They think, “Nobody understands me. Nobody cares about my pain. No one cares if I live of die.” Even in marriages, it’s easy to feel that one’s spouse no longer understands. I read a story about a couple named Mark and Beth. When they were young, they fell in love. Their eyes sparkled and their steps were light. They felt that unique, special attraction for each other. They got married, believing that they would forever supply each other with a permanent sense of self-worth. But, as time went on, Mark expected Beth to always be as loving and accepting and forgiving as she was when they were dating. Beth expected the same from Mark. They began to feel disillusioned, even betrayed by one another. As the years passed, affirmation was replaced by sarcasm and ridicule. They each expected unconditional love and acceptance from the other, and each failure to do so was another brick in the wall between them. Mark and Beth recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Although they shared ten years together, they experienced very little real love. Unfortunately, not even marriage guarantees that our need to be loved will be fulfilled.

So here we sit today, frustrated lovers, wanting to be understood but feeling alone. We want to love and be loved, but we feel incompetent, inadequate and insecure. Some of us try to compensate. Some will tell themselves. “If I can only do something to make myself more likeable or desirable . . . if only I can be successful . . . if only I can make myself more beautiful . . . if only I try harder or put more effort in . . . THEN all my problems will be solved.”

The truth is hard to accept. We will never be loved by doing more. We will not be loved if we stumble upon the correct formula of things to say, do and wear. Here’s the truth: you are already loved. Someone already who knows you and understands you. Someone already sees you– shortcomings and insecurities included – and still loves you. You are loved by God. God’s just nuts about you. God pursues you and calls out to you and God will do anything it takes to draw you into a love relationship. All God asks is for us to trust that real love can be life-changing and real. God wants us to throw off the bonds of insecurity and hear words of love: “Arise my beautiful one and come with me. See! Winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on earth, the season for singing has come. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.”

Like our human relationships, we think we have to do something to earn or deserve God’s love. Many people feel useless or worthless is we are not busy doing something. But God has already given his love to you as a gift. You don’t pay someone back for a gift. You just receive it – otherwise it’s not a gift anymore. There is no work of effort involved. God is passionately, intimately, breathlessly, fiercely, undeniable in love with you. God knows you. God understands you. God loves you and God wants you to arise and allow yourself to receive that love.

Here lies the beauty of the Gospel. You don’t need to carry around heavy burdens of doubt, or self-contempt-or inadequacy. Jesus says drop them and take the burden of love upon your shoulders instead. God says, “I have come to you. I sent my son in human likeness so that I may fully know you and you may fully know me. Now make good choices. Seek the highest love. Come to me and I will give you rest for your souls.” I believe right now Jesus looks at you and sees your pain. He knows the weight of your family problems. He knows what it’s like when you feel no good. Jesus understands loneliness and feeling like nobody really cares about or understands you. He experienced it all himself. And through that Jesus says, “Just leave it behind for a while. All your striving to find love and acceptance is just a distraction. They are detours which lead you farther away from God’s love.” Jesus says, “I’ll carry all those burdens and distractions for you. That’s how much I love you. Arise my beautiful one, come with me . . .”

In his book Mortal Lessons physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:

I stand by the bed where the young woman lies -- her face, postoperative -- her mouth twisted in palsy -- clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight -- isolated from me -- private. Who are they? I ask myself -- he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” “She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers -- to show her that their kiss still works.

Regardless of the scars you bear from the ravages of life, no matter how you feel about yourself at any given time, God loves you. God kissed us by giving us Jesus – by allowing his body to be twisted on a cross to show us that God’s love still works. No matter what, you are beautiful to God and he will never stop loving you.

God will never force a relationship on you that you don’t want. But I think we want it. I encourage you to find a space where you can be alone with God. I want you to sit quietly and allow the Holy Spirit to confirm this message to you. Allow God to speak words of love to you in inward stillness. Come to God saying, “O God, lover of my soul, I am yours. I belong to you and you love me as I am.” And as you listen, may the kiss of the Spirit touch you as you hear the voice of a God who is totally in love with you: Arise my beautiful one and come with me. See! Winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on earth, the season for singing has come. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.

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