Sermon. Sunday 16th August, Tenth after Trinity.
Song of Songs. 5:2-6:10 also Luke 6:37-45
Lord, before your eyes, everything is uncovered and laid bare: speak your word – living and active – let it penetrate our souls and spirits: Examine our thoughts, and by your Holy Spirit renew the attitudes of our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
‘I am my beloved and my beloved is mine’.
Words spoke by the lady, weeks, months, years, after the wedding and honeymoon in chapters 3 & 4.
We return, in the next two sermons to the second half of the Book.
‘I am my beloved and my beloved is mine’. These words will often be written on a Jewish wedding invitation or be inscribed on the wedding bands in Hebrew. Rabbis noted – if you take the first letters of each of those four Hebrew words, you have Eh- Lool (Elul). Elul is a month in the Jewish calendar. In fact the month of Elul, begins this coming Wednesday evening – 19th August. It is a month of prayer and reflection, which leads to Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – after which follows 10 days – called the Days of Awe – which brings us to Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The link between Song of Songs and Elul and that verse, points to the purpose, for the rabbis, of those days: To restore that intimate relationship with God.
There are daily prayers of repentance. Each day psalm 27 is recited. And each day, except on Shabbat, the shofar is blew each morning in the synangogue. It is a month about introspection, personal renewal, about – replaying: looking back across the year in detail, not just the headline moments, but the more mundane parts; rejoicing: as you rummage through the drawer of the year, you discover precious things, blessings, joys. Repenting: replaying also leads to remembrance of actions, thoughts, words, actions that were wrong. Finally rebooting – the challenge of the year ahead, to live differently, to seek to heal relationships.
The aim is to restore and renew the relationship with others and with God. ‘I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.’ A chance to return to the ONE you love, the Creator God.
This time of reflection in the Jewish nation, its link to Song of Songs, gives us an example – do we set aside time to reflect on the past months how our engagement, marriage, girl-friend boyfriend relationship is going?
Song of Songs is written as a reflection on a human relationship –with incredible ups described, but also the bumps are included – just like our wonderful scriptures not only show us the faith of Abraham, Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah, but their mistakes, or times they hit the ground.
We at times reflect because, something happens. A misunderstanding, a hurt. We reflect on what went wrong. But instead we are inspired to be proactive. To look back, to replay – prayerfully, asking God to reveal; to rejoice in the much good (it may have been a heavy year, but perhaps that has cloaked the good moments?), to see where repentance (to God, to one another is needed), to reboot. Rather than maintaining the marriage, the looking back may in fact help to show the ways it is growing, the way it can be enriched or deepened, as well as allowed previously ignored hurts or frustrations, are aired and forgiveness / apologies given.
5:2-9 – Misunderstandings, Hurts, Conflict.
This is more likely a dream again . It is packed with drama. The man is late home from work, his wavy hair wet from the dew. Most likely he was looking forward to the comforts of home, and the presence of his wife, and thinking how nice it will be to cuddle up in bed. But it is a different story in the bedroom. His wife has had the equivalent of a late shower, she is warm, cosy, now undressed and in bed. She is drowsy when the knock is at the door. He speaks with endearing words – my sister (words he spoke on their wedding day, pointing to their closeness), my darling – she is his soul mate, my dove – her gentleness, my flawless one – for him, she is perfect. Each is intimate. Each personal. Each is sincere. It is all set for a beautiful homecoming, like in the movies. But it is not to be. I can imagine both wives and husbands internally nodding. One had high hopes and plans. The other was in a totally different place. Here. It is the lady. Comforts more important at that moment than greeting her husband. It could easily be the other way round. Him the one wants to sleep. Her, who hoped to be welcomed home and spend quality time together.
After a short time she changes her mind. But it is too late, he has gone. It is another sign – the strangeness of the whole thing, that this is a dream. It says ‘My heart sank at his departure.’ She despairs. Calls out. She goes into the city – the anonymous watchmen find her, beat her. She asks for the help of others – the daughters of Jerusalem. If they can help find him, tell him ‘she is faint with love’.
When this happened we do not know, It is the first indication that one of couple is taking the other for granted. That initial delight in each other had waned slightly – maybe just briefly or perhaps it had been going on for awhile, a loss of intimacy. Here is – one of the ‘little foxes’ that can spoil a relationship. It is a warning. And she sees the warning and she responds immediately – she goes out, she seeks to find him, to be restored. She does love him – v4 – my heart began to pound for him’ ‘My heart sank at his departure’, ‘I am faint with love’.
It is a lesson for all of us in relationships – going out, engaged, married – not to take each other for granted….
It give us a picture of the adjustments needed in lifestyle to be married. There is our natural reluctance to not go out of our way, our desire to take it easy; there are the differences between man and woman; the differences between cultures; our uncertainty about what our spouse thinks the variations in our life rhythms – night owl, early bird; our unwillingness to change our preferred patterns for the other; our own self awareness.
Can you remember how were the first 3-5 years of being married?
There is the distance caused by a moment.
There can be distance created by a range of differences as just described.
One of the pieces of advice before I was married, were well known words from Ephesians: ‘’In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.’’ A leader shared – that he sought never to go to bed while angry with his wife – he would seek to sort it out. I have found that a really important principle to seek to live by. Another story made a big impression on me – was from John Wimber. He was preaching one Sunday in Anaheim Vineyard. After a few minutes he stopped. He said he had to go home to his wife Carol. Next week he explained. They had had a huge argument. He just left the house. But in the service and as he began preaching, he knew he had to sort it out. So he did. You may say, well Grant that is extreme. Well, Jesus taught ‘Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave you gift there in front of the altar, first go and be reconciled to them, then come and offer your gift.’ Jesus here put reconciliation over and in front of worship. Leave the lamb there by the altar he says, go sort it out, then come back, worship. Also, St Paul said –by unresolved anger, we give the devil a foothold in our lives. He is not speaking to non believers. A writer and pastor – Jack Deere described this wonderfully. He and some other pastors decided to do some hiking and camping in the NW USA. He says at midnight that night they were wandering around completely lost and found themselves eventually climbing up a rock face. Then a storm which had been brewing cracked open and then came the rain, and that dried up rock face, became a gushing waterfall. He said he only held on, with the water falling, because he had a foothold. Deere says, you can be experiencing God’s blessing, things going really well in your walk with Christ, in your marriage, you feel the rivers and waters of blessings falling on you, but you still can be giving the devil a foothold. Is there a chance you have allowed the enemy a foothold?
Clashes, hurts happen over so many things. My sister in law said, you learn a lot about a marriage when you try to put up a tent together! Clashes can be over holidays- some of us may have very recent memories! Can be over our families in law; over finance; how we leave social gatherings; over parenting – the levels of discipline; in fact anything and everything…Some people when angry – are like rhinos – they show it and express it. Others are like hedgehogs – it gets buried down.
The question will be what happens when – not if – when we get angry in our relationship / marriage.
Whatever emotions existed between the man and woman, it becomes resolved.
The friends ask ‘how is your beloved better?’
It is a good question – whether it is in reality or still in the dream – for she expresses her appreciation for her husband. Her earlier attitude was ingratitude. Now, she is asked – how much does he mean to you? She gives an incredible reply about the man she loves and admires. She talks about his head, his hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, body, legs, how he looks… She finishes with truly beautiful words to say about a spouse:
‘He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved. This is my friend.’
The Song of Songs is erotic. Yet as it teaches us, the erotic only is ultimately meaningful if there is trust and commitment. Delight in the other person, as well as in the physical body.
For her. He is her husband. He is her lover. But he is more. He is her friend.
The friends speak again. ‘Which way did your beloved turn?’ She knows. This second question, asked in her distress, is just as significant as the first. It makes her think of the kind of response that he would make to her hurting him. Knowing his character as well as she does, what is the thing he is most likely to do?
If you are in a relationship, what does you other half do, when you annoy him / her? Really annoy them?
She knows immediately. There will be no sulking. No anger. He will have gone to his work, to pastor his sheep, by the garden. And he will be gathering flowers for her – ‘to gather lilies’. He holds no offence. Only disappointment. He lives out – a Christian response – to her rejection of his hopes; – the ones we truly love do usually hurt us the deepest – he meets hurt with love – as Paul asks of all of us at the end of Romans 12.
Yet despite this time of tension, she is secure in the relationship. She knew it or she has remembered. She knows they still totally belong to each other. She looks down at her wedding band – I am my beloved and my beloved is mine she says. A temporary set back would never lead to an inseparable break. They had made their vows to one another for life.
CS Lewis says: ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies, and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.’
Is the man secretly raging, kicking the sheep…or will he keep distance?
They meet, he speaks, verses of praise for who she is.
Instead of greeting her with a rebuke, or ignoring her, he showers her with compliments.
She is both beautiful and dignified.
Beautiful as Tirzah. The first capital city of what would be the northern kingdom. The word means ‘ pleasing’ or ‘pleasantness’. Lovely as Jerusalem –Psalm 50, says the city is ‘perfect in beauty’. Makes me think of the reactions to Minus Tirith, in Return of the King. ‘Majestic as troops with banners’ – her personality, is strong, or perhaps she is a lady worthy of ‘respect’. He describes her physically. Then he compares her to Solomon’s queens and harem – all women of beauty. No matter what beauty is in the royal court, she is a most beautiful one .
These words include repetition from chapter 4. Do we only share compliments once? Complimenting our loved one is ongoing. It is like love your neighbor – Jesus told us to keep on doing it – it isn’t like we help an elderly person once to collect shopping and say ourselves – great, ticked that box, loved my neighbor! We continue to share compliments not just before the marriage – when we feel in love – but years later, when we have celebrated our 5th, our 10th, our 20th, we compliment. We should note here the lady doesn’t tell him – ‘boring, you’ve said this all before!’ she is fine that he speaks of her eyes, hair, face again and so on! He repeats past compliments and adds new ones.
We mentioned Jewish practices. At the Shabbat evening meal, beautifully, before the meal, the husband reads or sings Proverbs 31:10-31 to his wife. A biblical vision of a woman of valor. It is an act of praising the woman for her qualities, her feminine strength, thanks for all the work needed for that day. He prays for her and blesses her. The exact words of Proverbs 31 may be not be all applicable for each spouse. But the principle – A scriptural building up, encouraging of his wife, as well as reminding the husband of the many things he can be thankful for, blessing her and praying for her…
Much we can learn from this weekly act I feel.
The key thing here at the end of chapter 6. From the words of the husband, is there is total forgiveness and total assurance that his love for her has not changed one bit because of what happened the day or night before. A writer adds a nice point: we heard ‘ who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?’ These are all about radiance, glory, light. Maybe they see the praise her husband, and her whole personality has been lit up again because of his response of love, praise, and loving kindness. It is in stark contrast to the blackness of the night and how her heart sank. Hurts can cause varied responses: anger, lead to retaliation, seeking to get our own back, fear of being hurt again, carrying guilt – for our role in the hurt. To allow these to lurk below the surface of a marriage – can be like an old war zone with landmines. Hidden from sight. The marriage looks fine on surface but the couple now tread carefully in case of another explosion, another hurt.
Truly he communicates to her: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. They are restored.
Hurt, disappointment between husband and wife. Known often in marriages. Shown here in God breathed scripture. Expectations, difference, can lead to a conflict. Yet we see a commitment from both sides to be restored. We see hope that hurts can be healed. We see the cry of both hearts in marriage: I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.
Shall we pray:
Lord, when our hearts are cold and our emotions selfish, warm us again by the fire of your love. May we be consistent in our love for you and for each other.
Lord you made us for love and companionship; help us to be faithful and honest in our relationships;
Lord, you took Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and used them as places where you touched earth with your love. Transform our ordinary love and make it beautiful by your Spirit.
In the name of him who loves us and gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.