Wow, the Song of Solomon alongside James--who thought that was a good idea? And, as we enjoy the last few weeks of summer, who decided Springtime would be a good reading?
So, I looked a few things up about the song. God is not mentioned in this book of the Bible, yet according to The Reverend Martin Smith [Sojourners-September/October 2012], in the Middle Ages there were more commentaries about the Song of Solomon than any other book of the Bible. Martin wrote that for over 1000 years people considered this book the key to understanding the innermost meaning of the whole Bible. “The Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore gives us a hint: Why not reimagine the idea of the will of God--usually supposed to be a preordained plan that calls only for our obedience--[instead consider God’s will] in terms of God’s longing for union with us,…” If we were looking for God like these lovers are looking for one another--if we were so in love with God and excited about spending time together such that it always seemed like Springtime, we could perhaps understand how much God wants to spend time with us--how much God wants us to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Remember that first bloom of love when the world seems brighter and the air fresher and everything is invigorating and new? You don’t want to spend any time away from your beloved. That is how God is with us. God wants us to acknowledge that we are God’s children and that God is with us 100% of the time by choice.
Then we have James--a practitioner of sarcasm and a nag. But there is something here that gives us insight into unity with God--the thing that our god desires most of all--to be part of our lives, the big 98% or more if we will give it. Here is Eugene Peterson’s The Message version: “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of his creatures. Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God-the free life!-even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. … Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”
From our baptismal vows: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we said we would do when we took our baptismal vows or said we would train our children to do when we answered for them.
God wants our time and our hearts. James tells us when we get just a glimpse of God that will be it--we will be focused on God our beloved. To be able to serve God and others as God would like us to, we need to see ourselves as we really are. If we recognize our own strengths and weaknesses, our gifts and our brokenness, our talents and our neediness; then we can serve others without judgment. We can recognize our need to act and to persevere in that action even when systems and people are corrupt and the odds seem insurmountable. Because we are corrupted and holy at the same time, this is the value of looking at ourselves long and honestly. We are not perfect and neither is anyone else, but we can work in the world to make it better and we can improve others’ lives at the same time. [Adapted from The Reverend Martin Smith-Sojourners as cited]
And Jesus applied the same concept to the Pharisees as James did to his readers. He suggested the Pharisees should take a good look at themselves. They were into ritual washing (something the poor couldn’t do because of their limited access to water). Jesus quotes Isaiah to them: [The Message version] “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.” Jesus told them and the disciples that the bad actions that came out of them were the polluting influence--the actions that arose because they were hard of heart towards those who needed them, in verses that were left out that included their own parents. Some apparently would give money to the temple and tell their parents they couldn’t help them in their old age. Now that is an issue.
Obviously, I care deeply about serving those less fortunate and I know people in this congregation do, too. Many of us volunteer out in the community. I serve with the community sexual assault program by taking their crisis calls, holding the hand of survivors and being with children who are talking to the police. Others volunteer at school and some of us are very focused on really seeing people no matter how they are dressed or how they speak. In all of these cases we are not assuming that we are perfect and those we serve are less than, we know we are imperfect but with God’s grace we tilt at the windmills and hope that we can make a difference in one person’s life—today! I have learned--as an extrovert--that James is right: it is best to use the ears first, then speak and keep anger at bay-straggling in the rear. So much can be gained by listening to someone--really hearing them, really seeing them. And, oftentimes, that is all someone really wants--to be heard and seen.
I am my beloved’s and he is mine. I cannot sit still while people suffer. I must inform myself and take action. Let us all listen and learn about ourselves and others and the systems we live under. Then we can persevere in God’s will for us--to be beloved and unified with God’s desire for the world. That is true religion!