“ Arise my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.” You don’t often think of Holy Scripture as necessarily sounding like a love letter, especially perhaps the Old Testament where we find a fair amount of blood and thunder, jealousy and murder. And yet we have a set of poems evoking a gentle love story that despite efforts to see it in purely theologically terms is unabashedly romantic, some would even say erotic. So right at the beginning there is a hurdle to overcome. If sexual imagery is being used then why have we in the church got ourselves into such a mess over the years. Certainly both in churches and outside I think it is fair to say that we have not really figures out sexuality very well. All too often we veer from one end of a spectrum to the other. We see the homophobic rants of conservative Americans, torture in Egypt, beatings in Russia, to the Gay pride marches in London and New York. On another theme, of problems with sexuality, I am sure that recent events at the Old Bailey this week would have left many of us saddened and cheapened.
Why do we do this?
Is it a fear of intimacy or a confusion of intimacy? Vv 8-13 speak of the beloved (normally felt to be the female voice) being called away by the male. Imagery of spring is used (flowers appearing on the Earth, the cooing of doves etc), this then is also an image of new beginnings, new life and renewed love. The emotions of romantic or sexual love have such strength that it makes them a very suitable vehicle for the author to reveal his themes of renewing a relationship.
Instead then of setting the divine – human relationship in the context of King and Subject, or husband and wife (don’t forget that women were second class citizens when this was written), but rather in the context of the very first rush of a love affair. It reflects a novel insight into a different way of understanding the human – divine relationship. This is the only book in the bible that God though unnamed in. He does not seem to appear in the whole of the Song of Songs, though through the imagery of the writing is seen as wanting to engage in a relationship with us that is so intimate and so passionate that the only way the author could portray it was to use the language of our most potent and powerful emotional relationship.
Jesus meets up with the difficulties and paradoxes of human relationships where his peers, just like us, liked to create boxes in which they neatly put the different relationships in their lives. John the Baptizer was seen to avoid Alcohol and any form of luxury. His teaching was bold and forthright, he certainly did not take prisoners. He was subsequently criticised by some as being too harsh and ascetic. Too dry. Jesus, on the contrary, was far too flippant in the eyes of some and certainly too easy going with the cleanliness laws. He was therefore accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.
Have we changed that much?
Today our politicians are judged by what they say, they create an image of course, and instead of looking at the person and the behavior we are too ready to fall into the trap and judge the image. When we think of the Queen, what image do we have in our mind? If we see a story of Andy Murray, do we offer him insights beyond Tennis? Do we try and see beyond Luis Suarez’ teeth? Admittedly that is challenging, but we need to try. Just how ready are we to allow people to be complex?
So I invite you to take a moment and consider the minister of this church. The people sitting in the pew in front of you or behind you. Do you know them or do you know just an image of them?
We live our lives so often behind barriers that we create. We hear of church lives, social lives, a work life balance. We like to live in compartmentalised lives that we think makes life easier. Jesus however points out that that may well lead to temporary secular success, but closes our eyes and ears to God and therefore a poor and dangerous choice. The little children in v 25 when Jesus says “ I praise you Father… because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children” may well relate to the poor and the outcast who were pretty much on a level with the status of little children – in other words pretty meaningless.
So to those who live uncomplicated lives, God reveals himself with greater ease because they tend to have less self constructed barriers. Creating barriers of course is what we as humans do very well, and yet that is the very behaviour that Jesus advised us closes us off from God. By doing this we then find ourselves justifying what we do, a process that becomes always harder, has a tendency to create defensive behaviours and ultimately leads towards what I would call adversarial patterns of living. In plain English, we are more likely to argue that co-operate.
Jesus’ response to this is to invite us to accept him and he will give us rest, to take his yoke for he is gentle and humble in heart. For his yoke is easy and his burden is light. If we open ourselves to God and to others we embrace a way of life that does not require us to defend or justify our actions. I hope you can see where this is going. With less of a need to defend ourselves, we become less adversarial and more open. We learn to listen more, to see beyond other’s masks and barriers. We learn to love others as people, because we see them as people and not titles or images. We see them as people and not what they may stand for. We see them as people and not as old, young, catholic protestant, Christian, Jew, Moslem, Atheist. We see them as people, as children of God, as our brother and sister. We therefore can learn to love them even if they are our enemy. And then we begin to become followers of Jesus and we will reflect God to those whom we meet.
How do we start this? Well let us begin by looking around the church today and let God help us see someone else in a different light. Let the light of God in and follow where it leads. Then when you go home do the same, when we go to work, see our colleagues in a new light. Break down the barriers and fall in love again with God, with yourself and with others around you.
May the Lord bless you as you step out in love
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit