Sermon for August 30, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: Song of Solomon 2:8-13                            


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.

   The Best Love Song

         We were made for intimacy. God created us for love, that heart wrenching, dramatic, Eros we humans experience when in love.

Thank God our ancient forebears thought the erotic poetry of Song of Solomon worthy of inclusion in what we know as our Bible. Here love is strong as raging waters, fierce as death. The unnamed lovers in this erotic poetry cannot be satisfied until their unity with one another is complete. Every fiber of their being yearns to take the other wholly into self. It is a beautiful, haunting and familiar, if distant refrain.

God desires relationship with us in just such a way as this. We are God’s beloved and cherished creation. We were hardwired for the intimate dance of love that takes place between us and the one who loved us into being at the beginning of time.

When we’re in love like that, we’ll do absolutely anything for the one we love. We can’t help ourselves. The moon rises and sets over the very being of the beloved, as in the Song of Solomon the two lovers speak of figs and flowers, the visual impact of the very sight of one cherished, the scent of the man, the woman for whom our desire is barely contained.

         We love God with the same kind of focused attentiveness of any lover, loving through our bodies and not just our brains. This is a radical thought for most of us. We tend to worship God from the neck up. No problem loving God with our mind and with our heart, but with our strength, with our bodies?

We express intimacy with God through our bodies. Our bodies matter. What goes into them, and what comes out of them. God made us whole and perfect and beautiful at the beginning of time and called it good. We are, as the Psalmist says, “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” Or in today’s text from Song of Solomon, we are the beloved, as cherished as a lover held dear after decades of shared living. God could have breathed into anything or nothing, yet God breathed into dust. We are Adam, Adam, literally translated “mud creature”, out of the steamy breath of God.

Our bodies are simply magnificent. They do amazing things for the glory of God. They build houses and birth babies. They run marathons and paint sunsets. They play musical instruments, and harvest gardens. Our bodies find solutions to difficult problems, and create beauty, ordering the universe in ways that serve and delight.

We don’t always treat ourselves as beloved and cherished by God. Not all of us wake up in the morning, look into the mirror and say, “God thinks I’m so beautiful, so handsome.” Yet that is precisely what God says to us all the time. You are precious and beautiful and whole and perfect, simply because God made you and loved you into being. It matters little whether you are young and energetic as a tightly wound spring, or more mature and measured of step. We are no less beloved when our eyes fail and our knees grow weak than when we could run all day and not grow weary. We bear the imprint of God in our very being, created perfect, holy and beloved in the image of God, regardless of the condition of our flesh.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that the capacity to be wholly cherished, (body, mind and spirit,) can only be satisfied through sex, when we’re physically flawless, or very young. We further act as if our hearts longing can best be satisfied with a stranger or mere acquaintance. We give ourselves over to temporary satisfactions and diversions for the mind, body and spirit, and then seem surprised and disappointed when the illusion of love doesn’t last. God wants so much more for us than this.

We know what intimacy looks like at its best. Even if we’re not experiencing it today we can bring it to mind, or imagine it. There are several key factors to intimacy that bring us the profoundest of human joy. In her book “Married People”, Francine Klasgbrun discusses the nature of intimacy. First, intimacy requires a complete acceptance of the other person just as he or she is, so that each person is unafraid to be open and honest with the other. Second, it implies that each person feels important to the other. Third, it means the creation of an environment in which secrets can be shared with complete confidence. Fourth, it accepts the fact that there will be periods of distancing as well as closeness, and that the distancing will not destroy the relationship. Finally, intimacy means truly communicating, listening with sensitivity, and assuring the other that he or she is safe in the exchange. Every human being longs to have intimacy with someone else -- to be open and loving and safe together.

But what about with God? Is it really possible to be intimate with God as well, to have this open, sensitive, creative relationship with the eternal One who presides over our destinies?

The Bible suggests that it is. Song of Solomon evokes it. King David sang of it. Jesus embodied it, drawing away at every opportunity for the consolation of time alone with God. St. Paul was struck blind and knocked of his high horse as they say, by it. The saints have always known God best by spending as much time as possible in God’s presence, as we would with our beloved.

The late theologian Soren Kierkegaard reminded us that there is what he called "an infinite qualitative distance" between us, and the Almighty. We cannot assume too much. Yet intimacy, trust, communication, a sense of joyful well-being are the consequences of a an intimate life with God through faith.

If you want to know God intimately, if you long to experience the unconditional love, consolation, and sweetness of being cherished as the beloved, keep hanging out with God. Show up, pray, listen, and wait. There is simply no way that the holy one will fail to come for you.

In the film “Anne of Green Gables,” the lead character Ann Shirley and her best friend and bosom buddy Diana would communicate their desire for the pleasure of one another’s company with hand signals across the vast fields of Prince Edward Island. God signals us with signs writ large. We ignore the writing and plunge on as if the world depends on us and not on God and then wonder why we’re lonely.

Unlike any other creature on earth, we set about trying to destroy this perfect and beautiful home from the moment we receive it as gift. We are willful creatures.

Some of you may be fans of Seinfeld, a stand up comic and lead actor on the television show that bears his name. Once he spoke about our tendency to use and abuse our bodies in a tongue and cheek way. He said, “One day I decided to spoil my appetite. You remember how often your mother or your father said, ‘don’t eat that, you’ll spoil your appetite?’ Well, I decided to spoil my appetite. I ate something big an hour before dinner and I took the really big risk that it would spoil my appetite because you know what? I’ve lived long enough to know that I have other appetites to spoil, hundreds of them, coming along right after this one. In fact, several times a day for the rest of my life, I can spoil my appetite anytime I want. In fact, I think I’ll call my mother right now just to tell her that I’m about to spoil my appetite and there’s nothing she can do about it.”

The reason Seinfeld is funny, is because we’ve all been sitting in a restaurant sometime and ordered dessert first, saying “my mother’s not here to tell me that I have to eat my meal first, or I’ll…. spoil my appetite.

We have other appetites besides our desire for food to spoil. As recent events in the news such as the sex games at St. Paul’s school in Concord would indicate, we can take any gift of God, from our appetite for food to a healthy sexuality, and misuse God’s gifts.

We act as if this is our show and we’re in charge of the whole thing, until it falls apart. Some of you know that we have a new puppy. We’ve only had Jazz a few weeks and he assumes everything he can sink his teeth into belongs to him. When we go for walks, he would prefer to carry the leash in his mouth to keep his human in line. I hope God is more patient and humored than we are when we pull and tug at the leash. But I suspect God just as relentlessly tries to teach us and correct our wandering ways to keep us out of harms way, to make us safe, and to show us love so that we can be happy.

We may not want what God wants, but we want to want it. At the heart of Christian life is a healthy desire for intimacy with God, loving God with our mind and or bodies, as well as our spirit. The text for today gives us a hint of what that intimacy is like, and promises what is possible. We are God’s beloved, the bride for whom God will lay down God’s own being, the spouse we’re willing to die to defend, and whom we pledge to cherish all of our days. Love looks a lot less like the latest Hollywood blockbuster and little more like this.

“Walking along a crowded boardwalk near the beach town where I live, I heard the strains of a German polka band playing from the ocean park gazebo. This is hardly considered sexy music by anybody’s taste. Internally I made a bit of fun at the music and the couple of hundred old folks planted in folding chairs on the lawn, listening. But then I noticed something. In the center of the boardwalk an aged German couple, plump, wrinkled and folded in all the usual places, twirled one another in a most elegant dance. In his adoration for this eighty-something woman, he seemed to be seeing her, not only as she once was when first they danced sixty years ago but adoringly as she is now. She in turn captured his gaze with a look of joy undiminished by the cane she left propped against the bench in order to swirl gingerly into his arms. Their practiced turns and dips reflected the years of shared joy and misery common to any life, clearly made bearable by their love for one another. Couples holding hands stopped to gaze at them. Children held sand toys, teenagers pocketed cell phones, gaping. This couple bore witness in a few moments to what is possible between two people who love one another for a life-time.” (From “Sex and the Spirit”, Verlee A. Copeland and Dale B. Rosenberger, 2014, United Church Press)

The Christian life creates a context for us to grow closer and closer to the One who loved us into being, just as in a successful marriage a couple grows closer and more intimate over time. Like the dancing couple on York Beach, our intimacy with God develops over time in just such a practiced way as this. If we want to grow closer to God, we have only to hang out regularly with the one who made us, as if God were our beloved, and we, God’s own.

If there is within you any corner of loneliness today, listen with yearning and expectation for the voice of your beloved. As Jesus got up long before dawn and went off to a lonely place and prayed there, so we quiet ourselves as a lover waits for the beloved. Pray, listen. God speaks to you.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, God says. “And come away with me.”

For your joy and intimacy and heart’s delight,

May it be so. Amen