Sermon – “We Need to Talk”
Song of Solomon 2: 8-17
April 3, 2016
Welcome to the first day of summer!
I know, the calendar says April and there is snow on the ground.
But for me … and millions of others like me … today is the first official day of summer … because its opening day for Major League Baseball!
You see, I’m a huge baseball fan. Understanding the game – the strategy, the statistics – was essential in my childhood home if you wanted to be a part of the dinnertime conversation … especially in the summer.
So, from an early age, I developed a love of all things baseball. And to fully appreciate the game, you have to fully appreciate its idiosyncrasies.
Baseball players are, perhaps, the most superstitious of all professional athletes. They all have their unbreakable routines – some eat chicken before every game, others sleep with their bat, some wear the same socks on the same feet or refuse to cut their hair when they’re on a hitting streak.
And as critical as some of the things they “do” are to them, the list of “don’ts” is even more important.
If you’re on a winning streak, don’t change anything. When entering or exiting the field, never step on the foul lines and when a pitcher has a no-hitter or a perfect game going, do not talk about it. This last rule applies to players, coaches, fans and announcers. If you talk about it … you will ruin it.
While baseball has more than its fair share of oddities, it’s not the only place where certain subjects at certain times in certain places are off limits.
Right here in the church, we simply don’t talk about some subjects. The reason may not be fear of ruining a perfect game, but we steer clear nonetheless.
The subject that tops that list is sex.
In all of my 43 years of attending church, I do not ever recall hearing a sermon about human sexuality. And to be honest, I never thought much about it. Until I started preparing for today.
And I kept coming back to one, simple reality.
Pretending that physical intimacy, physical desire is not a part of who God created us to be is spiritually dishonest.
So, let’s talk about it.
The Song of Solomon (or as it’s known by its Hebrew title, Song of Songs) is an 8-chapter love poem between a man and a woman. Its full of lush, and sometimes erotic imagery
Granted, it doesn’t use language that feels very complimentary to us today.
“Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon.”
“Your hair is like a flock of goats.”
“Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes.”
I doubt you’ll find any of those on a Hallmark card these days.
But even so, the meaning of the language is pretty clear.
And from the earliest days, Christians and scholars haven’t known what do with it.
It wasn’t just you who got uncomfortable at the thought of this topic being discussed in a religious context.
Even including it in the canon of scripture was hotly debated. And as far back as the 3rd Century AD and through John Wesley and the editors of the King James Bible, leading religious thinkers chose to interpret this book as an allegory that is describing the love of God for Israel or the love of Jesus for the church rather than acknowledging that this is a book about two people passionately in love who are enjoying everything that comes with that kind of love.
So why is this book even in the Bible … and included among the books known as the Wisdom literature of all places?
Because our sexuality is one of the good gifts from God and a part of who we are created to be.
The five books that comprise the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon – each reveal one of the basic elements that combine to create our humanity.
Job is the voice of the spirit; the deepest part of our nature that wrestles with the most complex of issues.
Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes form a trilogy that sets forth the voice of the soul. The human soul has three parts– heart, mind and will.
Psalms is the book of the heart, of emotions, and in it you will find reflected every emotion known to man. (We learned that in Lent, didn’t we?) The book of Ecclesiastes is the voice of the mind. It is a penetrating inquiry into life. It speaks of our unending searching for answers.
Proverbs is the expression of the will of mankind, summed up in the most quoted of the proverbs, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Prov 3:5) This book, and what it teaches us about right living, will be our Gateway focus for the remainder of April.
The fifth book in this group - Song of Solomon – is the voice of the body; that deep, physical yearning to love and be loved.
At its most basic level, the Song of Solomon is a celebration of true human connection.
It consists primarily of dialogue between a pair of lovers, a man and a woman – believed to be Solomon and his first wife. There is no plot or storyline in the book.
The passage that Pete just read begins with the woman describing her beloved as a gazelle leaping over the mountains. Then the man speaks, and the imagery is rich: "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."
If we look closely at the relationship described here, I think we’ll begin to see why it was included in the Bible … and what we’re missing out on if we don’t talk about it.
First, the love shared by these two young people is a relationship marked by fidelity. The lovers are faithful to each other, even when they are apart.
If all we see is the physical, we misunderstand and assume its point is the condoning of casual or premarital sex.
The Book's attitude toward the lovers' relationship is anything but casual. The book has a sexual ethic, but this ethic is not chastity, but fidelity, sexual exclusiveness.
The lovers embody unquestioned devotion to one another, a love that is as strong as death, a constancy that is innate in their relationship, not something they have to work at.
Second, their love is defined by mutuality. They share a mutual respect for one another. Theirs is a relationship very different from many others depicted in the Bible. The man is not dominant. The woman is neither shy, nor submissive; she is assertive and sensuous.
It is, in fact, the only book of the Bible, where a woman speaks in the first person. Even the book of Ruth is told through a narrator.
Finally, the song celebrates love – with all of its intimacy and desire - as a natural part of God’s creation. I don’t think it’s an accident that this poem is set in a garden, a bountiful garden full of examples of God’s amazing creation.
In the Garden of Eden, we witnessed the rupture of the relationship between man and woman – between human and human. In that garden, a woman’s desire for her partner was a part of the problem and what led to her punishment.
Here, in this garden, we see relationship as God intended it to be.
The desire between partners is mutual; the relationship equal. The Song of Solomon celebrates a love that takes us back before the “fall” into sin and gives us reason to believe that a new kind of relationship, re-created as God intended it to be, is possible.
For that reason alone, the Song deserves a place in Scripture.
In a day and time when music and movies depict sex as a tool to control, manipulate and exploit.
In a day and time when there are shelters to protect women and their children from domestic and/or family violence.
In a day and time when human and sex trafficking rivals the drug trade for illegal financial gain.
In a day and time when headlines daily affirm that women around the globe are kidnapped, raped, and disrespected.
In a day and time such as this, we need to hear the Song of Solomon.
We need to hear voices that speak boldly of true love.
We need to hear voices that call us into intimate relationship based on respect and faithfulness.
We need to be reminded of what God created love to be.
And we need to be that voice for others.
Because if we are silent – if we, the church, are silent – because we are embarrassed or too polite, then we leave our children and our grandchildren with nothing but society’s definition of sex and relationships.
God created us to be in relationship with him and with one another. He showed us the path. I pray that not only are we brave enough to walk it, but we are brave enough to talk about it as well so that all may find their way.