A Sermon About God and the Corrupt Powers and Authorities

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Hello everybody.  Long time no read.

There is much to write about but little time to write about it.  I did however record one of my recent sermons and upload it to YouTube.

Unfortunately this is a rerecording of the original sermon since the original was destroyed or not copied or some disaster or other.  As a rerecording I hate most things about it.  But it is here for you all.

It was recorded before the political revelations of the prior weekend and, needless to say, this last weekend pushed this sermon to its limits and maybe even beyond.  In short there was a lot that happened among the “rulers and authorities” this last weekend that made me want to give into anger, rage, malice and slander.  Still, we are children of the King and he has humiliated them on the cross and continues to do so and therefore we should be kind and compassionate and humble and loving and all that.

Also I should note that this was the third in a sermon series that is roughly based on the Atonement Theories.  The first sermon was about the wrath of God and the forgiveness that comes through the cross (Satisfaction Theory).  The second was about being slaves to Satan and the cross as a Ransom (Ransom Theory).  This is the third.

Hope you enjoy it.  Or at the very least don’t hate it as much as I now do.

https://youtu.be/xJbo9DCG4WY

Autumn Sermons Now Live

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Hey everybody, I just received word that my sermons from Autumn through Advent #1 are live.  You can also check out the sermon series from Exodus last summer.

In the past I made little youtube videos of them but that was horribly tedious and not a good use of time.  But now they are on my church’s website so you can follow the link if you dare.

I would make a list of recommended ones and not recommended ones but then the more sinister of you would listen to the “not recommended” first and try to figure out why I hated them so much.  You know who you are.

So just let the Spirit guide your finger or mouse arrow to the sermon for you or something religious like that, or maybe spiritual.

Either way, enjoy!

Here’s the link:

http://www.rosewoodlane.org/index.php/sermons

Recently Recorded Sermons: Lent To Easter and a Bit Beyond!

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In the spirit of my series this week on preaching, here are six live recordings of recent sermons.  The first one is from Job.  The next several are from the gospel of Mark and the one at the end is on the road to Emmaus.

What Do We Do With All These Celebrities? A Sermon on Elijah

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Last week I posted the whole manuscript of my sermon and I received some good feedback.  I am equally passionate about this week’s topic so decided to do it again.  I deleted some of the more superfluous paragraphs this time around for quicker perusing.  I hope all you perusers enjoy a good peruse.

Introduction

For some time now I have wanted to talk to all of you about a deep, long lasting and widespread Christian heresy.  Although I have addressed this in a few other sermons, it has been hard to take just one Sunday to bring it up.

The reasons for refraining were numerous.  The first is that I am really passionate about this and sometimes overrides good sense.  And, at least me, passion is most often off putting than persuasive.

The second reason is that this is currently a very popular belief in Christian culture and one that is hard to preach about without offending anybody.

This leads me to my third reason, that I was just afraid.  In Luke chapter 4 Jesus preaches a sermon very similar to what I am about to preach and the end result was his hometown citizens tried to throw him off of a cliff.

So you need to know that I unlocked this side door over here and when you bring out the pitchforks and torches, good luck catching me!

But what Jesus said in Luke 4 was that Elijah’s most significant miracles was done for a widowed single mom who lived in another country.  And they were not big fans of that observation.

Because they and we have this belief that just because we voted for someone or we bought someone’s movies or listened to their music or watched their T.V. show that means God likes them more than God likes us.  We seem to think that God can use them more than God can use normal, everyday people.

And that is wrong.

Yet I keep hearing Christians say that very thing in so many ways.  So before I move we need to talk about human celebrity and human politics as they relate to what God is doing in the world.  It seems to me that God who would rather work with nobodies who live in deserts than with football players who score touchdowns and Kings who write laws.

And I think this is good news.  This is a huge part of the gospel, that our God is so big and powerful that God does not need human power or wealth.  At times God doesn’t even appear to want it.

And I am saying this, this morning, fully aware that the Super Bowl is this afternoon and obviously God has a favorite team that God wants to win and let’s just say it is not the New England cheaters.  .  .I mean, Patriots, but really can you call them Patriots if they cheat?

I am joking but Super Bowl Sunday is as good a Sunday as any to remind ourselves that we are just as valuable to God as any football player or politician or celebrity.

I say that and I still want to be careful and not belittle or demean what some celebrities are doing for our faith right now.  I give most of them the benefit of the doubt and would argue that they are doing what we are doing, namely trying to remain faithful to God in the context that God called them too.

A God Who Loves Nobodies

Yet in Scripture, God does not seem to need them or want their celebrity and power.

Here is why I think that is:  Using nobodies reveals or even perfects God’s power.  The apostle Paul teaches us, it is actually my life verse, that power is made perfect through weakness.  So by using barren people who live in barren deserts, God’s power is perfected.

That is maybe why but here is a thought on how that works.  It goes back to the made up religions and their little “g” gods.

If I was going to invent another religion and another god, my god would first have a name that evokes power.  My God would be named “Mountain god” or “lightning bolt god” or “Sun god.”  It would not be “molehill god” or “spark god.”

Then this fictional god with the made up power name would do three things all for my benefit.  First that god would make me wealthy.  Second that god would satisfy all my appetites and hormones.  Third that god would me powerful.

And several anthropologists and sociologists and historians have noted for us that all false religions and false forms of religion go back to those three things.  Any time anybody has made up a god that god has served the purpose of making people powerful, wealthy and satisfied.

In the Old Testament you see this in all the false gods and idols.  We invent a fertility goddess to help us have more children.  Now today children are a handful but back then you put your kids to work in your farm fields and household when they were three or four.

So if you had 12 children, you had twelve slaves and twelve slaves can generate a lot of income.  And if those 12 are all boys you are really rolling in the dough but it is okay if some are girls because you can sell them for money.  But if you could not have children you went broke.  So they invented a fertility goddess that they could sacrifice and pray to and ask for children.

Then they invented a god of war and power.  This god would help you win battles and make you a king.  If you sacrificed to this god that god would help you conquer your neighbor’s land and enslave him and his sons so that now you can farm 40 times the land you could when it was just you.

Then they had gods of pleasure who rewarded you with good food from exotic lands, all the food you could eat and all the women you could want.

The funny thing is that so far this all sounds like good news, right?  Who wouldn’t want an all powerful god to multiply my dollars, land, kids and pleasures?

But they did not stop there.  They reversed the formula and if you all ready were wealthy with a lot of kids and you were famous and had access to pleasure, they assumed the gods liked you.  You did something good to get them in your favor.  However, if you were poor, had no access to pleasure and no children and no kingdom then obviously the gods hate you and you are a sinner.   Therefore, we get to either enslave you or kill you depending on how useful you are.  So the wealthy are virtuous and loved and the poor are lousy sinners.

Today we look at them 3,000 years ago and say, “oh how unenlightened and silly they were,” yet I still hear people, even Christians, arguing much the same thing.

But here is why the Christian message is good news:  Israel’s story begins when Abraham, a poor guy, living in the desert with no access to exotic food or women, married to a barren wife (so no children) finds favor with God!  The true God, the not made up God, goes out to the desert and recruits a poor, barren couple to advance God’s purposes.

This plays out all throughout Scripture.  Any time God goes to do anything it starts with the least and lonely and broken and hurting and poor.  God seems to ignore kings and celebrities in favor of working out his purposes among the nobodies.

Moses is a sheep herder out in the Canaan and is recruited to go to Egypt to free the people.  Moses is worse than those without money and power and pleasure.  He used to have those things and now has none.  That must mean the gods really hate him, to take away all that stuff.

Yet Moses is the one recruited by God to free the people.  By the way, the name Moses is given for God is not a power name but instead is, “I AM,” which means “I am present God.  I am here for you God.”  I am not the God of lightning or mountains or wildflowers or the sun (though I created those things).  Instead call me that God that is here among you.

Samuel is an altar boy, whose mother was barren before she had him.  He is recruited to be the first great prophet, not because he is special or powerful but because his mother was barren.  God loves barren women.  The false gods hate them, or else they would have children but our God blesses them!

David is a sheep herder out in the nowhere Bethlehem and is recruited by Samuel to be King and before David becomes King he is a man after God’s own heart but after he becomes King he is all about himself, adultery, murder and raising armies to go conquer nations God does not want them to conquer.

What Angry Elijah Learned

1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings this play out. Samuel and Kings are a compilation of stories about the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judah and if you read it, it is a four volume anthology to how worthless kings are.  Even David, the one after God’s own heart, becomes King and immediately becomes worthless.  Even the good kings who followed God were powerless to keep people faithful.

So we read 1 and 2 Samuel and then the first several chapters of 1 Kings and we get disgusted at all these lousy and powerless kings who can’t do anything good for the Lord.

Then we get to Elijah’s story which starts in chapter 17.  By the time we get to Elijah, we the readers are meant to be furious with these worthless kings.  Then Elijah bursts on the scene and he is mad too.  His anger is very much written to harness our anger.

Elijah wasn’t a king.  Elijah was a prophet.  Right before he bursts on the scene we are told that King Ahab married a wicked woman named Jezebel.

You can read about that in 1 Kings 16.  Jezebel came from Sidon.  All the Sidonians worshiped the false god Baal.  Baal means “high up god” because if I am going to invent a god I would name my god something like, “my god is higher up than your god.”  It is kind of like, “My dad can beat your dad up god!”

Jezebel was sent by the prophets of Baal to convert Israel to Ball worship and where does she go, where can she go but to the throne room.  If my god is “High Up god” than I need the high up place of a throne room to advance his purposes.  Jezebel uses her feminine wiles to marry the King of Israel whose name was Ahab.  Once she married Ahab she convinced Ahab to kill the prophets of God and set up temples and worship spots to Baal.

Follow with me here, Jezebel is the prophet of Baal who is sent to Israel and she goes to the center of Israel’s power, the throne room, manages to get Ahab on her side and begins converting people to Baal.

So Elijah confronts the evil king Ahab and his worse wife Jezebel and Elijah declares a famine on the land until they get their act together.  It does not work.  Ahab doesn’t repent.  Instead he and Jezebel seem to say to each other, “Oh, we thought we killed all the prophets.  Nuts, we missed one.  Well kill him too!”

In chapter 17 verse 2 we are told, “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah”

Remember word of the Lord does not just mean God spoke.  Word means wisdom.  The wisdom of the Lord came to Elijah and what did the wisdom of God say,

“Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”

Let me paraphrase.  The word of the Lord came to Elijah and said, “RUN YOU FOOL!  GET OUT OF TOWN!  They are trying to kill you, you moron!”

Elijah runs.  He spends a few days in the Kerith Ravine and then goes to Sidon.  Sidon is where Jezebel came from and where the false god Baal is worshipped.

Elijah doesn’t go the throne room of Sidon, though.  Instead he ends up at a poor widows house, a single mom.  Then and now single moms are the epitome of no power, no wealth and no pleasure.  That is exactly where God sends Elijah.  While Elijah is there Elijah multiplies food for her and raises her son from the dead.  No matter how powerful your king is, he can’t multiply food and raise anybody from the dead.  But Jesus can and did those things hundreds of years later.

Follow with me here, Jezebel the prophetess of Baal tries to take over Israel by going to the center of power.  Elijah, the Israelite messenger of the true God is sent to Sidon but not to any place of power but to a poor, powerless single mom in the desert.

After a time God calls Elijah back to Ahab, but not to convert Ahab but to end the drought.  Before the drought is ended there is this wonderful shoot out on a mountain where all Ahab’s prophets face down all one of Elijah and they see whose God can set the most stuff on fire.

I am not joking.  That was the competition.  Remember God had just raised someone from the dead two chapters ago.  Setting stuff on fire seems petty.  The average guy with a cigarette butt can set things on fire.  But God can set things on fire, praise God!  So Elijah wins and those who are there see the miracle of God and join Elijah’s side.  Elijah says, “Kill all the false prophets.”  So they do.

And it doesn’t work.  The next chapter, Jezebel the wicked wife is furious that her prophets are dead and she doubles her hit on Elijah.  And Elijah’s zealous followers are nowhere to be found.  Elijah runs out to another mountain and he throws a holy tantrum before God.

Elijah tells God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

I will be honest with you that when I hear Christians gripe against the world today I think they are a lot like Elijah throwing proud pity parties on mountains.

Maybe God’s words to us would be God’s words to Elijah:

15The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.”

God’s answer is I have more nobodies from more deserts.

17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.

Today if you hear me saying there won’t be justice for evil kings, read verse 17.  There will be justice.

18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

We hear of 7,000 and think that isn’t a lot but back then it was.  It was a good sized group of people who still worshiped God.

Elijah, come home from your ego trip.  There are 7,000 just like you.  You are not special and no Ahab and no Jezebel and no false god Baal are going to beat me with silly human celebrity and silly human power.  I have 7,000 nobodies in deserts who are greater than any King or Queen or false god.

Conclusion

Just because the politicians and celebrities are not doing what I want them to do, does not mean I am losing.  Instead I have 7,000 nobodies living in deserts and that is all I need.

If Jesus were someone we made up 2,000 years ago we would need as many celebrities and politicians and football players to give him lip service on national and even worldwide television.  After all human power is the only way powerless idols stay in power.

So if we made Jesus up we would be desperate for someone popular and powerful to say his name.  Strangely, in Scripture I get the sense God doesn’t want us to say God’s name all that much but that is another sermon for another day.

Likewise if we made Jesus up we would be desperate for wealthy people to write us checks and more kings to approve our building permits so that we could build more temples on hilltops.

But if Jesus really was the son of God who became flesh and who died on the cross to free us from the powers of darkness then we don’t need them.

All we need to do is remain faithful ourselves to the God who is faithful in choosing us.

It might be cool when the celebrities decide to come along but ultimately God chooses the weak and powerless and foolish because that is just what a powerful God would do.  That is the wisdom of our faith and the wisdom of the cross.

The apostle Paul says it in 1st Corinthians.  Paul says that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

That is the wisdom of our God right there.  It is a wisdom that does not gets its underwear in a knot every time the President does something we disagree with.  It is the wisdom that says there are 7000 barren people living in barren deserts whom God loves and is working through.

It is the wisdom that says that as long as God has tiny churches in places like Elgin, Oregon who are willing to open their building for the teenagers of the community to practice archery and learn a bit about Jesus then Christianity will flourish.

As long as God has a group of people who meet regularly to pray and read Scripture and have a conversation about what faithfulness looks like in our current world, Christianity will flourish.

As long as God has families who are willing to open their homes to foster children and orphans and adopt them as children and siblings, Christianity will flourish.

As long as there are groups of people who get together to talk about what houses need painting, what elderly need their leaves raked and driveways plowed and how to accomplish that Christianity will flourish.

As long as desert widows and shepherd boys and altar kids and diseased elderly offer themselves to the Almighty God, Christianity will do just fine.

God doesn’t need or want human wealth.  God doesn’t need or want human power.  God doesn’t need or want human celebrities.  Instead our God chooses the outcast nobodies who are barren and live in deserts and that is how God wins.

As I said at the beginning, that is good news because the false gods hate nobodies but our God loves them and cherishes them.

Let’s pray.

Crazy, Stupid, Furious Longing Love: A Sermon on Song of Songs

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Usually I try to rerecord my sermons and post them on Youtube.  However, that is time consuming and I feel most people are adverse to hearing a sermon, preferring rather to skim manuscripts.

So, for the first time ever, I am posting the full manuscript of my sermon that I preached this morning.  I apologize for its length while hoping you still take the time to peruse my thoughts on the Song of Songs as it relates to our relationship with the Almighty.

As Brennan Manning reminded us, “We are God’s beloved and he furiously longs for us!”

Introduction

This past week I discovered a picture of my wife and I.  It was taken 8 years ago, when we were in college.  It got me reminiscing about college days.  Nothing good comes from that.  .  .except good sermon intros.

One of the most fun things about college was that you often had a front seat to people falling in love.  People fell into and out of love like you all change your shoes.  It was quite the chore to keep up with who was dating whom and who was breaking up with whom and why.  At times I daydreamed about creating a college newsletter dedicated only to chronicling the get-togethers and breakups.  Then Facebook was invented which negated the need for that.

Mostly what stuck out this week is a sentiment shared by our chaplain Gene Schandorff.  Quite often Gene had a committee, usually of girls, come into his office.  With tears in their eyes they sat down and explained to him that they were worried about another friend, we will call her Rebekah for coherency’s sake.

“Gene, we are so worried about Rebekah.  She started dating Tim three months ago.  They were really good friends and we loved both of them and thought they were good together.  Now they are dating and they do everything together and Rebekah doesn’t want to hang out with us anymore and we don’t think she is doing her homework or even *gasp* calling her parents!”

Gene would ask, “how do you know her grades are failing and her parents are not in touch.”  And they would not know how they knew.  They just knew!  Ultimately, they were frustrated because Rebekah (and probably Tim) had turned into a different person and the new Rebekah did not hang out with them as much as the old one did.  So their thinking went, “We are delightful and we don’t know why she would not want to hang out with us so it must be a moral failure on her part.”

Their list of complaints went on, “They spend every waking moment together and we think they cuddle too much.  You know what the Bible says about cuddling.  It can lead to dancing and Nazarenes don’t dance.  So we need you, Gene, to sit down and talk to Rebekah and Tim and tell them that they need to start doing their homework again and stop hanging out with each other and hang out with us and maybe call their parents.  You need to do this for their own sake and for God’s sake.”

I love how Gene handled these situations.  He explained to them what love is.  When you love someone oftentimes everything else becomes secondary.  When you love someone you want to be together with them at the expense of other areas.  When you love someone you change.  They change.  That change is half for the better and half for the worse but it happens.  When you love someone you search for them above all things.  Love changes everything but it is not to be badmouthed.  It is to be celebrated because Rebekah and Tim have found each other.

In Scripture we learn that the church is God’s bride.  We are God’s beloved.  We are the object of God’s affections.  God is not so unlike Rebekah and Tim.  To other religions and other people our God might seem crazy because God wants to spend all God’s time with us.  God seeks us out with a desperate longing.  God is willing to sacrifice God’s very self in order to be with us.  God is desperate for us to love God back.

The prophet Hosea talks about this a little bit.  The Apostle Paul talks about this in Ephesians and other places.  Jesus talks about this in some of the parables and stories he tells.  The Psalms bring it up quite a few times.  The prophets do here and there.

However nowhere is this loving God more present than in the most awkward book of the Scriptures, the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon.  I don’t know when the last time you read it was.  The book does not come up in polite Christian conversation all that often.  In fact quite a few theologians throughout history have dismissed it.  They have said things like, “it is in the Holy Book and therefore it is God inspired but that doesn’t mean we have to read it” and they have encouraged others to avoid it.

The main reason for that is because it doesn’t mention God at all.  More than that, it doesn’t refer to big theological words or concepts we come to expect from other parts of Scripture.  It doesn’t talk about faithfulness, the law, sin, holiness, judgment, wrath.  It doesn’t talk about good versus evil at all.  It doesn’t even tell a fun story about God saving people and doing miracles and killing giants.

Instead it is 8 chapters of mushy lovey-dovey stuff.  In fact the only high theology word that appears in the book is “love.”  Before it teaches us about God and holiness and sin and judgment and grace it illustrates love to us.

For that reason several popular Christian thinkers have rediscovered this amazing poem over the last 50 or so years.  Books have been written about it and sermons have been preached and Bible studies have tried to cover it.  Perhaps the reason for this is because we are aware that we are desperately in need of love.  At the same time we are a people who have profoundly misunderstood love.  We have sought to boil love down to things like emotions and physical displays of affection and even rational understanding.  But Song of Songs, in all its complexity, reveals to us a love that is so much greater than how you feel or act or think.

Summary of Song of Songs

The story itself is about two passionate teenagers who are in love with each other but for some reason they can’t find each other.  The story begins with both lovers taking turns singing about how in love they are.  The woman goes first and she begins by talking about how unworthy she is to be loved by the man.  She is a member of the working class and her tanned skin shows it and this makes her unworthy.  Yet she ends her first song by saying, “But tell me where you work and I will come work with and for you.”

The friends watch this whole romance from the sidelines and their first reply to her is, “Follow the path of his sheep.”  That means, “Go find him.”  If you desperately long for him, go seek him out.

Then, probably while she is looking for him, they sing out to each other and their words are ooey-gooey sound effect expressions.

In fact quite a few of the words in the poem are not really words that mean anything.  They are onomatopoeia’s which are sound effect words.  They sound like what they describe.  However, these are not the fun 1960’s Batman sound effects, “Boom, bang, pow, bing.”  They are more like the 1950s Cary Grant movie sound effects, “oooh, mwamwamwa, ohoh” and the like.

Finally, in chapter 2 verse 8 she says, “Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills!  My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.  Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.  My lover spoke and said to me, arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth;  the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.”

They are together again and it is so wonderful, just like Spring!

If you grew up watching 1990s romantic comedies you would expect the story to end right there.  They found each other.  They are in love.  It is happily ever after.  Those movies never showed you a month later when they fight about how to fold towels and do dishes and what movie to watch!  Instead the movie ends when they find each other.

Perhaps because we learned too much from those movies, in the Church of the Nazarene we have been guilty of trying to pause our relationship with God at the mountaintop.  We take our teens up to summer camp and give them emotional high after emotional high and then lead them to believe that if they are ever not giddy for Jesus they are a letdown to the faith.  If we ever stop singing, “Look Spring has come!” or if we dare to sing it with less emotion, than our faith is useless or so we have thought.

But Song of Songs does not end at chapter 2.  Suddenly in chapter 3 verse 1 the woman says,

“All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him.”

We are not told why he left or where he went but sadness overtakes the story for a few verses as she goes looking for him.  This time she finds him quite quickly and we have more ooey goey stuff as they both invite each other to “come into their gardens.”  The friends are still on the sidelines saying “oh, how cute.  They are in love.  Eat and drink and have your fill.”

Then suddenly in chapter 5 they are apart again and this time it is not easy to find each other.  In fact at one point the woman sings about the man showing up at her garden door.  She sees him through the window and she hears the door handle rattle.  Her heart goes all aflutter and she rushes to the door and throws it open to find he is not there.

She goes out looking for him but she does not find him.  Instead she finds the night watchmen, or rather they find her.  These watchmen are not nice men and in the absence of her beloved they take advantage of her.  They beat and bruise and de-robe her.

At this point the friends who have been supportive so far, begin taunting her.  In 5:8 she says to them, “If you find him tell him I am faint with love.”

They reply, “How is he better than others?  What does he have that you would charge us so?”

She defends him, “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.  His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven.

She goes on for awhile and manages to recruit them to the search.  It is not long until they find him.  He is in his garden.  She rushes into it and they are together again.  Again the friends coo from the sidelines and song ends with the lover saying, “Come away.”

The Church’s Search for God

This poem about these two star crossed lovers who search for each other, find each other, lose each other, search again, find again, lose again, search again, find again is our love story with God.

The Jewish people sing this to each other on the last day of Passover.  After a weeklong party, as they prepare to leave Jerusalem and go back to their regular lives, they sing this to remind themselves that God is always searching for them and to encourage each other to always search for God.

They know what we know.  It is easy to love God on the mountaintop while we have our festival.  But the mountaintop experiences of lovey dovey, eewy gooey sound effects are not the whole of our story.

There are also valleys.  They are times when we wake up and don’t “feel” God.  There are days we go through the humdrum of life without any spirituality or “God moments.”

There are also days when our love for God puts us in horrible danger.  I think of the Christians who are executed for claiming Christ and who are driven out of their homes and rejected by their neighbors.  Love is dangerous.

When Gene Shandorff sat down with the committee of friends who were worried about Tim and Rebekah, Gene knew what all married people know.  If Tim and Rebekah made it and were married, there would come a time when their love got dark, much darker than a missed homework assignment.  There would be a time when they would wake up next to each other and feel nothing.  There were would be a time when the disagreements were fierce and bitter.  They would storm out of the room thinking, “I don’t know why I married him” and “I don’t know how I will stay married to her.”

Of course there would also be times when they would be madly in love and other times when they would “need some space.”

So Gene’s opinion was let Tim and Rebekah have the eewy gooey, giddy time because, as everybody who is in love knows, the light of love requires the darkness of love.

Everybody who is married can say “amen.”  The giddiness and the happiness and the lovey dovey comes and goes and you can’t always predict its comings and goings.

When Allie and I were in our Rebekah and Tim stage we were desperately in love.  We went to register for wedding gifts at Macy’s.  We stood before this giant and long wall of China plates, over 100 patterns.  We both stared at it without saying anything.  I saw one I liked and thought, “I like that one but we will see what she says.”  Then she pointed to that exact pattern and said, “I like that one.”  That was a sign.  It meant our love was true.  We were meant to be together.  All heaven and earth and china plates had revolved into our love affair.  Eeverything was so perfect and so wonderful.  We just knew we were meant to be.

Well, we’ve been married 6 and a half years now and we have 2 kids so I guarantee you if we were looking at the same wall of China patterns we would pick the exact opposites just to spite each other.  That does not mean that we are not in love any more.  It just means that love consists of more than liking the same China pattern.  In turn our love for God is way more than eewy gooey lovey dovey worship songs at mountain retreat centers.

There are moments of light and moments of Spring and moments of giddy love.  There are mountaintops where we sing giddy praise songs and yell “amens” and cry at the altar of our joy.  But there are also times of darkness and clouds and there is the every day journey with God that requires no emotion, just a consistent and faithful search for the presence of the one who loves us.

Gregory of Nyssa in reflecting in his own walk with God came across a story about Moses in Exodus.  In the story the people have been saved from Egypt.  They have crossed the Red sea and arrived at God’s mountain.  Suddenly a pitch black cloud covers that mountain and Moses is called to climb up into it to meet with God.  Gregory of Nyssa concluded that “those who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God.”

It is when our story gets dark and our friends desert us and the watchmen on the walls find us and beat and bruise us, that God just might be right around the corner.

Our tradition has great problems with this type of thinking.  We like our faith giddy.  The more emotional you can be about Jesus, the more you love Jesus.  By emotional we mean energetic and we have typically had a low tolerance for low energy faith.  Actually we have really been mean to introverts, who express little energy.

Therefore pastor’s offices flood with people.  They come in and say, “Pastor I just don’t feel like I love God any more.  Is there any book I read, any song I can listen too, any prayer I can pray, bible study I can attend, Bible verse I can memorize that will bring the ooey-gooey spirituality back.

My answer to them is not a magical formula or verse or book to make them feel giddy.  Instead I remind them of what Song of Songs shows us about love.

When we are in love with God sometimes it is like Spring.  But sometimes love requires work.  It requires us to get out of our bed, open the door and venture out to search for God.

There are also are times to hunker down in darkness and claim the logic of love, a logic that says, “I committed to this person, or to this God and though I don’t feel anything or though I feel angry and bitter, I will remain committed because that is what love does!”

There are also times when love is dangerous, when our search for the loved one costs us our health and safety.

We should not expect to constantly feel a high energy devotion to God.  Instead we should remain committed to the search for God, knowing it might cost us dearly but also knowing that when we do come to that garden with God, the good giddy emotions will return and we will be able to do life again in the joy of our faith.

God’s Search for the Church

I should probably close now but it would be wrong because there is another way to read Song of Songs.  The interpretation I just gave put us in the position of the woman and God in the position of the ruddy and handsome man.  However, the song leaves it open and God could very well be the woman who is searching for us the man who can’t stay faithful or stay put.

In this reading, the friends would be the heavenly beings who would look at God and say, “Why are you still waiting for them?  Why do you still love?  They have slapped you in the face!  They have abandoned you!  They say they love you and then they pledge their allegiances to other nations and kings and TV shows and sports teams!  How are those humans, your beloved, better than others?  Why would you even search for those lousy sinners and horrible wanderers?  How dare you ask us to join you!”

God’s answer to them is in the New Testament.  It is the image we have of Jesus who is not unlike the woman in the song.  Jesus takes on flesh and ventures to where we work.  Jesus follows the tracks of our sheep and upon finding us, dwells with us.

However, this search made Jesus vulnerable.  While Jesus is searching for us, the watchmen find him.  They arrest him, beat him, insult him, bruise him and derobe him.

By taking up the cross Jesus reminds us, “My church is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.  Her head is purest gold, her hair is wavy and black as a raven.  Her eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels.”

God is looking for us, suffering for us and God longs for us with a desperate and dangerous longing.  God is paying the price to win us back to the garden because as unfaithful and wandering though we are, God thinks the church is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.

Will you also furiously long for God?

Let’s pray.