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November 11, 2014, 9:47 AM

Love Songs

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Set me as a seal over your heart,
        as a seal upon your arm,
for love is as strong as death,
        jealousy as unrelenting as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire—
        the Flame of flames!
Rushing waters can’t quench love;
        rivers can’t wash it away.
If someone gave
        all their wealth in exchange for love,
        they would be laughed to utter shame.                             

Matthew 22:34-40 (CEB)

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[c]and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[d] 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Sermon:

“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs; but I look around me and I see it isn’t so. Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.” Who is the poet and singer who composed those famous words? [Paul McCartney] We certainly do have an abundance of silly love songs. We could start naming them and continue on for the whole hour and not name them all. I like that the titles of many love songs can be used as proclamations in and of themselves: “Love is a many splendored things,” “Love lifts us up where we belong,” “All you need is love,” “I was made for loving you, baby,” “In the name of love.” Love songs have to be silly. We are trying to put into words emotions that are crazy and overwhelming and extreme and ridiculous and beautiful and passionate. Metaphors fall short. Words miss the mark when we try to explain this “crazy, little thing called love.” And so our attempts seems silly, and yet beautiful and necessary at the same time.

So perhaps it is fitting after all that in the middle of what we call the Old Testament-Hebrew scripture, sandwiched in the midst of wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is this tiny little book, the collection of love songs, entitled “Song of Songs.” It certainly falls into the category of ‘silly love song,’ for it is silly and crazy and extreme and ridiculous and beautiful and passionate. In fact, it is so passionate at times in Judaism’s history, youth preparing for their bar/bat mitzvah were not allowed to read the Song of Songs until a certain age. And present day Christians, if they know about the Song at all, generally ignore or avoid it because of its romantic and often erotic allusions. What do we do with this silly, beautiful, love song in the midst of our scriptures?

Here a few examples of text from this book, carefully selected for our worship today:

            “Oh, give me the kisses of your mouth,
            for your love is more delightful than wine.” (1:2)
 
            “I have likened you, my darling,
            to a mare in Pharoah’s chariots:
            Your cheeks are comely with plaited wreaths, (1:9-10)
 
            Ah, you are fair, my darling,
            Ah, you are fair.
            Your eyes are like doves
            Behind your veil.
            Your hair is like a flock of goats
            Streaming down Mount Gilead.
            Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
            Climbing up from the washing pool; (4:1-2)

Make sure you save these quotes for a really important occasion with your beloved.

Of course, in 2014 we giggle at such metaphors, such silliness in this ancient love song, but the traditions of both Judaism and Christianity have hailed the utter importance of this small book throughout their history. Our early church fathers and mothers lifted up the Song of Songs as critically important. Outside of these silly images, the Song is full of rich biblical metaphors, some taken from Exodus and the giving of the Law; others from Isaiah’s songs of promise and restoration. The Church has seen the Song, throughout most of her existence, and the epitome of love between God and God’s people. Scripture refers to God, and to Jesus, as the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings. The inner sanctum of the Temple was entitled the Holy of Holies. And this book, this silly little collection of poems, is the Song of Songs. It is critically important that we don’t ignore it, and here is why.

First, it is scripture. It has been part of the cannon of scripture for generation upon generation upon generation. It has been beloved, cherished, respected. It has been used in worship, teaching, and devotion. It is part of the book of faith through which we encounter God.

Second, it makes us uncomfortable. It stomps all over our understanding of divine love and secular love. It breaks down the boundaries between what is considered holy and sacred and what is considered secular and worldly. It enlarges our understanding of God’s love. In the middle ages, many holy people—mystics—spoke of God and God’s relationship with humanity in romantic and even sensual terms. We might know Julian of Norwich—a famous Christian woman mystic—for her beautiful words, “and all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well.” But so much more of her phenomenal writings were filled with passion for Christ, spoke of Christ as her lover, and were extreme and powerful love songs to Jesus. The Song of Songs reminds us that all LOVE is of God. Our romantic and sensual love still shines with the light of divine. Our covenant relationships are sacred and holy. Sharing our hearts and lives with another is a form of Holy Communion.

However, the most important reason we should not ignore or avoid the Song of Songs—it uses human relationships to speak of the relationship between God and God’s people. It sings of the interconnectedness of human relationship and divine relationship. Matthew 22 also proclaims this intertwining of human and God—the Great Commandment is to love God and neighbor. These are inseparable; you cannot love God and hate your neighbor. Just look at all the metaphors throughout scripture that compare God’s relationship with God’s people in terms of human relationships: Our Father/Mother-parent imagery, partners at work together, intimate friendship, and most often used, the image of marriage and covenant.

So much of our understanding of God is wrapped up in the relationships in our lives; those beloved, intimate, enriching encounters with neighbors on a day-to-day basis—parent and child, romantic couple, deep friendship, good co-workers, uplifting acquaintances, and even chance encounters with strangers that remind us of the goodness of life. These strengthen our relationship with God and help us connect more fully with the images of God in scripture. How much more do we understand God as loving parent holding Ephraim to God’s bosom or guiding Ephraim’s first steps if we have experienced the same ourselves? How much more do we rest in the security of our covenant with God when we have had the security of a deep friendship or a lasting covenantal relationship? And how much more do we understand the passionate yearning of God for us, when we have felt a yearning for another?

In understanding how much the good and healthy relationships in our lives impact our understanding of and our relationship with God, we also understand how deeply we are pained when a relationship fails, breaks, or turns bad. We see that it not only breaks our heart, plagues our mind, but shakes the foundations of our faith—to lose a human connection impacts our divine connection. Whether it is the loss of a parent, child, spouse; a job ending and loss of relationships co-workers either due to lay off or retirement; a broken romance; the loss of a lover; a relationship that becomes abusive; the betrayal of a church family, if we understand how such a loss affects our relationship with God, we can seek healing and solace in the relationships that remain strong—letting them nourish us as we grieve. And as a faith community, we keep our eyes and ears open for those among us wrestling with brokenness, and offer ourselves as part of healing relationships in the midst of their loss.

People have not had enough of silly love songs; silly, beautiful, passionate, extreme love songs. For love is a many splendored thing. It lifts us up where we belong. It is what we need. We were made for loving. And in the name of Love, we embrace the Song of Songs. And we love the Lord our God will all our hearts, soul, and mind, and love our neighbors—parent, partner, child, sibling, friend, co-worker, church family, acquaintance, stranger (all neighbors)-as we love ourselves. We help one another when we struggle with relationships that break or fail.

For love is as strong as death…jealously as unrelenting as the grave. Love’s flashes are flashes of fire—the Flame of Flames! Rushing waters cannot quench love and rivers can never wash it away.  Amen and Amen.


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