Preached this sermon on Sunday, September 2nd at Spirit of Hope in Detroit. It comes from Song of Solomon, chapter 2, verses 8-13.
Words, words, words. What do we do with our words. Can I start by talking about myself for a minute, or something that happened to me? It has to do with words. I put up a blog posting on the Huffington Post. Or, and I don’t say this to brag or whatever it may sound like, but they asked me to write something specifically for the national party conventions that started last week with the Republicans, and continues this week with the Democrats. They wanted me to talk about poverty, and how we think it will or won’t be covered by the major parties.
So, you know me well enough to know that when I write for things like that, I can be a bit direct. Well, because sometimes we just need to say what we need to say. People with lower income have less and less power every year in this country, and at some point people are going to get together and really change the way things work in this country, rise up, and maybe even topple the powers that be. I used some more dramatic language than what I just said now, but you get the idea.
You may know that as on most news sites, there is a place at the bottom of the article, or essay or blog to write comments. So some people wrote some comments. In fairness some were supportive. But some were not so much. And while I should know not to read the comments, well, I did.
In fact, I admit to having a minor obsession over checking what people are saying about what I write. And, as you know, in internet comments, it quickly becomes not just about what was said, but about the person who wrote the article in the first place. Some insinuated that I should not be a priest, and that I am a communist, and other such things. While my article was certainly serious, there was a part of me that wanted the commentators to take a chill pill. Relax for a minute.
It happened because the people who wrote, at least in my estimation, refused to address the issue of poverty with any sense of compassion, much less empathy. But knowing that doesn’t really help me. These words, these hurtful words, designed to be hurtful, got to me for a few minutes this week. Maybe words have gotten to you sometimes. Maybe you have been attacked, whether by a total stranger or by people who are very close to you. Maybe those words were intended to hurt you, and maybe they were just carelessly put out there and intentional or not, made you feel bad. Words have power. Some say sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Well, I think words do hurt. We can ignore some, even most bad words, but sometimes they get through. Sometimes they affect us.
So when I saw Song of Solomon this week for today’s scripture I was thrilled! You have no idea. Or maybe you do. After all that ugly stuff here is something beautiful. The beauty of God and love just poured out there! We get to talk about love for just a minute. In fact, the surprise for me was, this is the second time in a week I am preaching from this text. I preached this text last Sunday afternoon at a wedding, on the
with beauty all around. People and nature, and the river, and all of it. Detroit River
Today we get to read some love poetry from Song of Solomon, otherwise known as Song of Songs.
You know we have an open mic here at Spirit of Hope, the third Sunday afternoon of the month. Among all the things that come across the stage we have some love poetry that comes to us at Spirit Spit Open Mic. While I love poetry, sometimes, I hope I am not confessing too much here, I don’t know the difference between good stuff and not so good stuff. To put it simply, sometimes I know good poetry, and sometimes I don’t.
Especially when reading poetry, it is hard to know, at least for me, what is good and what is bad. Are these beautiful amazing words of love? “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”
Are these beautiful words, designed to transform love in our hearts, expressing the deepest beauty of the soul, or is it an easy to memorize cheap poem recited after a few drinks to manipulate you into bed. These are the things I don’t always know? Don’t pretend you don’t understand what I am talking about. How many people have used fancy words, luxurious words, words you thought someone wanted to hear, but not necessarily what you actually meant, to get what you want?
What if the people who put together the Bible put Song of Solomon in the Bible, so people of faith would have a tool, a poem if you will, to help them go to bed with someone? I wasn’t there. I don’t know why it was put in!
Song of Solomon is in the same category as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. None of these books talk often, and certainly not directly, about God; and they really don’t talk about Jesus. They are laden with wisdom and love and thanksgiving, and sage advice, observations about the world.
Wisdom literature is generally considered the parts of scripture that are most feminine, and written in a more feminine voice that other parts of scripture. In wisdom literature there are times when the male actively pursues the female, almost aggressively. And there are times when, well, the female actively pursues the male, almost aggressively. This part, in the woman’s voice, saying, “come to me, come to me. It is spring, come out to me. Implying, my arms are open. My heart is for you. Come to me, my love!
And the beats of Floetry start to groove in the background. "Loving you has taken time, taken time, But I always knew you could be mine. I recognize the butterflies inside me. Sense is gonna be made tonight, tonight. All you gotta do is say yes, say yes, say yes." (from Floetry, "Say Yes")
Is it getting hot in here? Don’t look at me like that. This is all scripture here. Don’t hide. See, we usually talk more easily about other parts of Scripture, such as when God wants us to do something, or God does something to us. But, can we handle it when all the Spirit is putting out there through scripture words of intimacy, and love, and floetry, if you will?
Sometimes, maybe you have experienced this, the church doesn’t always talk well about intimacy, and sex and love and how people get close. We do but we don’t. We give a long list of the things you are not supposed to do. But we don’t talk about the things that God wants us to experience. I hope you hear that we are beyond just romantic love here, beyond what it means to love a husband or wife, though that is in here too. As is evident in this scripture, as well as in the rest of Song of Solomon, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, God uses words to help us get closer to one another. God uses words to bring us closer to the Spirit. Intimately. Sharing ourselves. Sharing our deepest, most distant secrets, and feelings. You know, the things we have shoved so far away that we forget sometimes that they are even there.
Intimate, like Jesus touching those he is healing. Intimate, like praying with someone at their bedside when they are sick. Intimate, like laying hands on those who need to know they are anointed by the Spirit. Intimate, like us working together, doing the love of God in our community. Getting to know one another not just as people across the aisle on Sunday morning, but as sisters and brothers.
That’s why I love these words. Oh, these words do amazing things. These are good words. Good words of invitation. Good words that balance the sharp, biting, noise that comes across our television screens, that are pointed at us when we are in conflict, that are used to harm and hurt you, or us, or your neighbor. Good words are here. Good, loving words. And they are saying, come in, come closer, come to know me, come along. The winter is over, it is time for spring!
Words that reflect the relationship that God has with us. The relationship that Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have with us. So close to us. So intimate. Never with a word that will harm you. Never with a word to make you feel ugly or insignificant. Never with a word that makes you feel less than you are. Never with a word to turn you with anger or hatred to your neighbor. Never with a word that moves you away from God, but only closer.
Come into the space with good words. Loving words, and a loving spirit. This is the place where words should not hurt you. And they lead you to the living word. Lead you to the word of peace. Lead you to the word of freedom. Lead you to the word of righteousness. That one word, that we say. That name Jesus. That means more than any other word we can utter. In that word, we have everything we need. Maybe not to fix everything that is wrong in our lives, but that leads us to peace. That loving word. That intimate word.
I invite you today to know that word, and be doers, and not just hearers. You are invited into the Spirit. Invited into the love. God is proposing to you today. All you gotta do is say yes, say yes, say yes.