The Voice of the Beloved – August 26, 2018

The Voice of the Beloved

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Text: Song of Solomon 2:8-13

August 26, 2018

Central Idea:  God is Love

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is the only time in the three year lectionary cycle of Scripture readings that a text from the Song of Solomon is read in worship.  This little book makes people nervous.  It has throughout history.  Its language is beautiful and unique.  There are 50 words which appear nowhere else in Scripture. The majority of the book is written in a woman’s voice.   Its images are breathtaking and joyous.  But the book never mentions God.  It deals frankly with desire and physical love between two people without any explicit mention of marriage.  So why is it included in our Bible?  Commentators can’t agree on its date of origin, its author or authors, or even its literary genre.  Is it a poem, a drama, an anthology, wedding songs, political protest, pagan fertility rituals, or Egyptian love poetry?   The more you think about it, the more unclear it becomes.   In fact, all of this analysis misses the point.  The Song of Solomon is about feeling.  The point is not to figure out who, what, when, and where.  The point is to experience.  The Song of Solomon invites us to experience love.

Historically, the Song of Solomon was interpreted as an allegory.  Ancient Jewish and later Christian theologians decided that the reason this racy, secular book was in the canon of Scripture was because it is not really racy and secular.  It is not really about the desire and physical love between two people.  These are just symbols for the true meaning.  In Jewish thought they were symbols for God and Israel.  For Christians, they symbolized Christ and the Church.    These theologians knew that the book did hold truth about the divine but their allegorical interpretations say more about their uncomfortableness than they do about the nature of God’s love.

If we must give the Song of Solomon a literary definition it is wisdom literature like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  It seeks, through poetry and reflection, to understand the nature of human experience in relation to divine reality.  It is talking about real love between real people and uses that love as an analogy – which shows the resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike –  or as a parable – helping us to experience a new truth through familiar images, like the parables of Jesus, to share the reality of God’s love.  It is really about the love between two people and the love of God.

Now, we are mostly all adults here and we like to think that we are rather savvy about the how the world works and about our relationship to God.  We like to think about God and the church.  We like to think about how we should live our lives.  We like to think about what the church should be doing in the world.  Our Vermont reticence, which either we were born with or have since acquired, makes us uncomfortable with big displays of emotion, sometimes even little displays.  We want to know about things in our heads before we feel them in our hearts.  We definitely are more comfortable with thinking.  Feelings can be tricky.  They are private, not to be shared.   But today, to understand this text we have to stretch some because the Song of Solomon speaks to the senses not to the intellect.  We have to enter into it and feel it.  Otherwise we will miss what it has to teach us.

Let’s take a closer look at today’s text.   A woman hears the voice of her beloved and then she sees him.  You can tell that she is excited by her description of him leaping over mountains, bounding over hills. “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.”  Her images describe a quality rather than a picture of her beloved. He is strong, energetic, and focused on his love.   He calls to her, asking her to come away with him to a beautiful idyllic place where the winter is past, the flowers have appeared and the time of singing has come. All challenge and hardship is past and she is invited into pure bliss. But notice that he stands outside her wall, looking in her window, waiting for her answer.  What will her answer be?  We can guess but we can’t be sure.  The text ends with his invitation. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

Now I am going to ask you to close your eyes.  Picture yourself standing in a room and coming toward you is someone you love very much, smiling, arms open wide.  How do you feel?  Are you smiling?  Do you feel your heart beating faster?  Your loved one says “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  Arise my love, my fair one and come away.  What do you feel?  Excitement, nervousness, contentment, reservations?  What is your decision?  Do you step outside?

This experience and this decision are from God.  The feelings we feel; the smile, the quickened pulse, the excitement, and joy are part of our relationship with God.  The joy we feel is God’s joy; when we feel sorrow, it’s God’s sorrow.  We use examples of human love to describe divine love, not because human love is the best way to explain God’s love, but because our human love comes from the divine love.  We love because God first loved us.

So, are you going to respond to God’s invitation to live fully in this moment, to feel the joy and graciousness that is offered to you? – to feel God’s presence in everything you do and everyone you meet?  God is waiting just outside, arms open wide.  What will your response be?

The voice of the beloved is God’s voice calling us to experience, to feel love, God’s love.  To not hide behind our Vermont reticence, our analytical thinking, our theories of psychology, or our cynicism.  These are just structures or defenses we build to try and make sense in our minds that which we do not understand in our heart.    We are called to feel something!  To honor our experiences, our senses, our bodies and to honor the experiences, senses, and bodies of others.   We believe in an incarnational theology, that God chose to become human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to feel what we feel!

The Song of Solomon invites us to face the reality of the Incarnation.  God honors and celebrates our humanity, our very bodies.  God wants us to honor and celebrate our experiences and feelings are well as our thoughts.  God does not want us to live lives only with our heads; full of should and oughts.  God wants us to be passionate about our lives, about those we love, and about sharing the Good News of God’s love with the world.

After worship today we are all invited to our Church Picnic where we can celebrate the beauty of nature and of our relationships with each other. Through this beauty we can experience God’s love for us.  May our hearts and senses be open to this invitation.

Let us pray, Loving God, we thank you for our bodies, our senses, our feelings.  May we live lives committed to your service with passion and boldness.  Amen.