For the Love of God
Song of Solomon 3:1-5; 5:2-8
The Song of Solomon or sometimes called the Song of Songs is an unusual book for the bible. God is not mentioned in it … at least not directly. It is in its literal sense, a series of romantic love poems. No one is really sure who wrote it. So what’s a romantic book doing in the bible? Like its authorship, how it first came into the Jewish canon is not entirely clear. But what is clear is that it qualifies on the basis of an allegorical interpretation. It can be read as a book on the love between God and Israel. Later, Christians re-interpreted it to mean the love between Christ and the Church.
So there’s a solid tradition of interpreting this book as God’s relationship with us.
Most of the book contains love poems between a man and a woman with a few others making some comments. But also included in it are two sequences that are often seen as the woman’s dreams. These are the two passages we read this morning.
In our first dream sequence, the woman cannot find her lover. She leaves her home and searches for him in the streets and squares. She comes upon the “sentinels”, probably a group of officers empowered to keep the peace. Before she speaks with them she finds her lover and takes him home to her mother’s house.
Laurie told me a story this week about a couple. The man is contemplating asking the woman to marry him. However, the man’s family suffers from dwarfism. He, himself, is of ordinary height, but his parents and his siblings are very, very short.
We can imagine how difficult it must be to be very short. Short children with short parents no bigger than the neighbor kids would be terribly teased. A very short adult would encounter many barriers from reaching grocery shelves to even getting into a bus.
So the man worried about asking the woman to marry him. How would she feel being part of such a family? Would she worry that her children would be little people? He sought out his mother for advice. She simply replied have faith in God.
We yearn for relationship. We, humans are “built” for relationship. We get lonely easily. Our loneliness can be relieved as simply as another human sitting quietly with us. Indeed, we all have periods when we need to be alone. And when that’s a choice, it’s often a healthy respite from the dynamics of a relationship. But if we are alone when we are in need or alone for an extended period, we eventually are worn down by the lack of human contact. So we seek after our “lover” … someone who we trust to be with.
Similarly our relationship with God often tracks along the same road. We yearn for God also, seeking wholeness, purpose, and meaning in our lives. So we seek out God in one form or another, by one name or another. We may not be explicitly considering God in the equation. But we all look for fulfillment in our lives and that’s a search for a relationship with the Divine.
And if we don’t seek out God, we can easily become aimless in our lives. Eventually, we can lose ourselves, who we are and what our role is in life. But if we are tuned to God … thoughtfully and intentionally examining our lives to discover what we really are meant to do, God will help us find what will fulfill us. God blesses us with talent and opportunity and if we are listening to God, God will point us to a path of fulfillment.
And many times for many of us, that one right opportunity will come along and we are on the road of fulfillment … thanking God for it and taking God home with us, if you will, in our exuberance of success.
But other times we may miss the opportunity either because we are blind to it, or because we are put off by it.
Back to our story, the man contemplated his mom’s advice. Both he and the woman were faithful and religious people. As the man considered asking her to marry him, he realized that there really wasn’t a way to resolve this on his own. He needed to talk to the woman and see just where she was. Indeed, he needed faith that God would guide that conversation to an appropriate ending.
The second dream is a metaphor of missed opportunity.
The woman’s lover arrives, but she is not ready for him. By the time she is ready he has given up and left. She goes out looking for him. And instead of finding him, she encounters the sentinels. Now the sentinels are not simply passive in this dream, but they assault her for some unknown reason … and she’s left asking her friends to find her lover.
I think the “sentinels” are key to this. The can represent our fears, our self-centeredness, and our blindness.
Being in relationship is a risk. We may feel threatened by a relationship, possibly unsure of ourselves or of the other. So we stay “home” and when the other … “our lover” … comes to us, we hesitate and lose the moment.
We can come up against our own barriers, boundaries, and desires … our sentinels if you will. Maybe we expect perfection from our friend or we expect to not have to change or we want to be constantly validated.
For example, I wonder how many people look for the perfect spouse who fits them perfectly. They look and look for that perfect person – but never find them. Either they will never enter into a sustained, life-long relationship or they will compromise, but never accept the compromise and the relationship fails. They are looking for a relationship that fits as they are now … all ready to go without the life-long risk of uncertainty and challenge.
But that’s not how relationships are. They are imperfect and constantly evolving. If we are to be in relationship, we have to be prepared for an uncertain future. So finding a “lover” isn’t the end of the relationship. It’s only the beginning …
So in our story, imagine proposing to a woman, by asking her what she thought of having little people for children! But when he raised this with the woman, she of course had all kinds of concerns. She loved the man and wanted to marry. But could she be a good mother to a child who is a dwarf? Could she stand up for the child if the child is given a hard time? Could she be fair to all of her children, whether little or ordinary?
During a relationship all sorts of “sentinels” may assault us: job loss, childlessness, and sickness. We have become very individualistic in our society and so its hard for anyone of us to commit ourselves to another and give up a measure of our individuality and independence for the sake of the other and the relationship. But unless we understand that we are answerable to each other and that we are in the relationship together for mutual support in both good and bad times, the relationship can and often falls apart.
And similarly our own barriers and boundaries … our sentinels … can often hinder our relationship with God. God’s call to us is not just a call of comfort. It can often be a call of challenge. Having sought out God, like in a marriage, we are no longer isolated individuals, but a partner with God in our lives. We are answerable to God and God’s righteousness.
And so we may encounter any number of “sentinels” who will assault us.
For example, we may resist a change in our lives. Sometimes God puts an opportunity in front of us, but it seems too much effort or too much disruption in our lives and we pass it by. Or we are afraid of the unknown. The opportunity is there, but we don’t know where it will lead and we can imagine all sorts of problems. So we pass it by.
And sometimes we are stopped by society’s expectations on us. For example, a job opportunity comes your way and you really want to take it. But it means bringing home a lot less income. Or maybe the opportunity will lead us on a path of much controversy. So we pass it by.
At last, for our two lovers, it all came down to uncertainty. There was no way they could answer these questions for sure. They had to decide whether they were going to take the risk. And for this they turned to God and decided to let go and let God … and get married.
Once we are in relationship with God, we are called to do what Jesus would have us do or succumb to a meandering spiritual life of loneliness and loss. We are in relationship with God. We are no longer isolated. We are comforted but we are also challenged. We must choose either for our relationship with God or for loneliness.
But if we are truly “in love” with God, we will take God home with us and step into that path of wonderful opportunity come what may. That’s the risk of being in relationship and finding fulfillment in it.
Think about it.
God’s grace and love be with you …