15th Sunday after Pentecost – September 2, 2018 – Song of Solomon 2:8-13 – Trinity Episcopal Church, Winchester, TN
I regret not recording this sermon in some way. As a relatively new preacher, I’m still learning how sermons take shape in the unique moments of their unfolding. This one was prone to several additions and adaptations. As the living word of God, a sermon is meant to be absorbed by the ear. It is an event in time and not–as it appears here as text on a page–an object in space. Alas, this is what remains.
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 stand 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.”
I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but I’m going to preach on the Song of Solomon today. I’m not sure it’s a good idea because some of the content here is kind of . . . sensitive. It’s about. . . passionate love. You know—sex.
I don’t know if we’ve reached the point in our relationship where we can talk about such things. In fact, I’m not even sure what the proper stage is in the relationship between a pastor and his congregation when such talk is acceptable. Technically, I’m not even a priest yet, and I won’t be for a couple more weeks.
But, here it goes . . .
Today’s passage from the Song of Solomon is one of the only excerpts we get from this entire book in the three-year rotation of the Revised Common Lectionary. It appears today, in Proper 17B, but it also lands a second-string role in Proper 9A.
If it sounded familiar to you it might be because the second half of this passage is often read during weddings. That makes sense. It is about two loving companions. Or, more explicitly, two lovers.
We often use metaphors to define our relationship with God, but they don’t typically involve young lovers. The metaphor of a parent and child is probably the most common. God is father or a mother hen gathering her brood.
The Bible also speaks of the relationship between Christ and the Church as a marriage between husband and wife. A familiar hymn says, “From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride.” These are images of family, comfort, protection, and warmth.
These metaphors depict a God who wants to be in relationship with us, like a parent or a spouse. But other relationships in our lives may prove to be useful metaphors for our relationship with God.
Lucky for us the Song of Solomon does tend to stretch us out of our comfort zone in this regard.
On his blog this week my priest-friend Evan wrote that a member of his parish staff, who grew up in the Baptist tradition, said that as a young person he was not allowed to read the Song of Solomon. The book was simply off-limits to children and young adults. “As an adolescent, I was told not to read it,” he said.
Some Christians think it should be off limits to adults, too. It is just too out there. It contains stories involving giving in to one’s passions which some see as much too erotic: sex before marriage; hiding from people during outdoor escapades.
The author’s images are certainly beautiful and poetic. While they may not be too terribly explicit, what they represent definitely is.
They can make us uncomfortable. Hands being thrust into cracks, channels blossoming with orchids and pomegranates, one’s beloved pasturing his flock among the lilies.
I bet just hearing that made some of you uncomfortable. Our discomfort with this topic and these images is precisely that—ours. The problem is not with the biblical text; it’s with us.
We are not comfortable talking about physical intimacy between two people, so why should we be comfortable talking about God that way? Even if it is a metaphor.
We are created to be passionate, loving, sexual beings. Intimacy is part of our very identity. But for some reason we forget that God is a part of that. And we don’t talk about it, especially not in church.
Instead we stick to what’s comfortable. We talk about God as a parent because Jesus did. We also know what it means to have, or need, a relationship with a mother and father.
Even if we don’t have a spouse, most of us have probably at least been to a wedding so we talk about God as a spouse because we are familiar with the concept of marriage and the mutual support that comes with it.
We even talk about God as sustenance, the very food and drink of life, because we need nourishment.
But we don’t talk about God as a passionate companion or a lover. But when you think about it, it’s really quite apt. God will stop at nothing to be in a relationship with us.
We’ve been there. And it goes far beyond our first kiss–a peck on the cheek in grade school.
Most of us can remember that first time we really fell for someone. The way it felt to be around them. Butterflies in our stomach. Nervous babbling, sweaty palms, and shaking knees when we asked them to dance. In the afternoon we tried to study but we couldn’t. All we could think of was our love.
Can remember your first love? Or the day you first met your spouse? You didn’t want your first date to end. You spent countless hours on the phone. You would have “leapt upon the mountains and bounded over the hills” just to see them.
My sister Leslie was introduced to her husband Andrew on a trip to Austin, TX with some college friends. She met him at a New Year’s Eve and didn’t leave his side for rest of the trip. She was just a poor college student, but she later confessed to me that she would have gladly drained her entire bank account just to push her flight back one more day.
That’s the way it is sometimes. We are so captivated with another person that nothing else matters. It is enough to stare into their eyes for hours.
The author of Solomon’s song is reminding us that that’s also the way it is with God. No matter how uncomfortable certain subject matter makes us, God is a part of even our most intimate moments.
In fact, God is the source of them.
Perhaps it’s not so out of bounds for us to read today’s narrative and think of God. The narrator hears her beloved and she stirs. There he is, peeking through the lattice, beckoning her to come out.
What if God came to us like that? What if our relationship with God was as special as a relationship with a new love? What if our relationship with God made our insides tingle and our stomach sink.
Could we ever allow that? I think so.
God does not just comfort us like a parent or love us like a spouse. God also pursues us with the voracity of young love.
God tells you, “You are mine.” I think of you all the time. God is so captivated with you that nothing is a distraction. Not all the money in your bank account.
“I always want to be with you,” God says. And he will be.