With Strength of Heart 08/30/09

Song of Songs 2:8-13 
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away

Mark 7:1-8, 14–15, 21-23 
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come … and they defile a person.

James 2:17-27 
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

There is a tendency in our society that began long ago, likely with Greek philosophers, that we call dualism.  It was brought into formal thought more intentionally during the Enlightenment and it separates logic and rationality from emotions and nurture.  We separate and split emotion and reason claiming that to be rational one must not be emotional; or that if one is emotional than we cannot also be rational.  In order to get a more clear view of our texts, we must understand that there were different concepts of the heart then … today, we think of the heart as the center of our emotion.  In the time of the New Testament, the heart was the center of a person’s will and decision making

All of our texts today deal with the heart in some way and being pure at heart.  Song of Songs is poetry that celebrates the joy of love.  James is concerned about a person’s integrity, the agreement of our words andc actions.  Jesus, in his response to the Pharisees, focuses on the heart because that is where the decision is made to come closer to the heart of God.  All of these passages mix up emotion and reason in varying degrees and they all funnel us to one question: how does one LOVE God?

Song of Songs is a love poem.  Considered wisdom literature, it can be seen as a reminder of the love between Creator and the created, emphasizing the importance of play, of laughter, of grace and beauty.  It celebrates the mutuality of love, and the playful aspect of loving another individual intimately.  There is a give and take, an appreciation of beauty and grace, and two equal voices alternating in their appreciation and seeking out of the other.  Many have wondered how it is that this belongs in the Bible.  How does this challenge us to love God? A lot of contemporary Christian songs could easily be changed from a Christian song to being just about love.  Alternately, I often find a modern rock, country, or other genre song on the radio that helps me to better understand God’s love for me and vice versa.  What does all of this mean in our faith life?  Can intimacy be a Christian trait?  Can we love God in each our close relationships?  Are we, in fact, called to be Christ’s love to one another?

James says to be “doers of the word” and not just people who hear the word, nod our hands in agreement, and then sit on our tuckus and wonder where the world went so wrong.  We are called to be the word that we hear in the world.   Jesus reminds the Pharisees and the elite Jews of the God behind all of the rules and restrictions of holy laws and traditions developed by the elders.  He does not tell them that they are wrong to be concerned with ‘right action,’ but he does change their focus away from “what is right” to “where is God” or more accurately “who is God.”  Almost every church in every denomination could benefit from looking at how some of our traditions cause us to worship the church instead of God.  Jesus redirects the Jewish authorities and asks them to rediscover the purpose of their traditions and in this way find how to become closer to God.  Do we love God in the way we worship?  Do we remember why some of our traditions have developed and do they still function in the same way for us today?  What would our worship look like if we loved God like the voice in Song of Songs?  How can we and do we show our love for God?

There is an interesting dance between these passages.  Song of Songs celebrates intimacy.  In the Mark passage, Jesus explains what it is that ‘defiles’ and separates us from God which makes us wonder how to become closer to God.  James is concerned with community life and exhorts us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger,” explaining how we can be more intimately connected with one another.  All of us have intimate relationships, and all of us know with a certainty that those relastionships are difficult to maintain.  Relationships require time and energy, they fill up the bulk of our lives.  So it makes sense to try to make the bulk of our lives something that will please God and show God our love.  Our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with people.  We cannot truly love God if we do not also love those that God loves.  This is why the passing of the peace of Christ is so important.  We have been graciously forgiven by Christ, and in turn, we are to show Christ’s love to all. 

Mother Teresa said, “Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other’s faults and failures.”  Passing the peace of Christ is a visible sign of all the actions that we do in order to live up to Christ’s charge to each of us.  Christ calls us all to become united in purpose and joined in a new creation that celebrates and proclaims Christ’s presence in the world.

There is an answer to the question that keeps playing over and over in my head (How does one love God?)  The answer is that love for God is a verb and not a noun.  Loving God can be a whole multitude of things: singing, laughing, crying, hugging, praying, helping, trusting, believing, building, walking,  … In fact, there is no one answer for how to love God.  This is the heart of the message Jesus spoke to the Pharisees.  Discover your love for God and let it fill you up.  Do that in a community as best as you can.  That is the ‘right’ way to worship.

Let us pray:  God of Love, you come to us as a surprise, delighting us with your unexpected wisdom and the joy of your creation.  Thank you for loving us first.  Continue to teach us how to love you and help us to be playful in that love.  Amen.

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