Joe Evans: The Invitation


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 beetle or something 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 anyway 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, for 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 for us 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, hear this invitation, and if you have forgotten what it means to be desired, know that you are wanted. Hear this invitation, and if you have forgotten what it means to be loved, then know that you are loved. Hear 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.

Let us pray.


Almighty God, as you have loved us, help us to love each other. We pray it in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.