God says, “I would walk 500 miles; and I would walk 500 more!”

(Ok, maybe that’s a slight paraphrase!)

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.”

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

That lesson this morning has to be one of the weirdest in the whole lectionary.   It’s so strange that the BAS offers an alternative just in case we’d rather not deal with it.  But, you should know me well enough by now to know that, if there’s something weird in the Bible, that’s what I’m going to preach a sermon on!

The Song of Solomon is a full-on love poem… or maybe it’s more like a steamy romance novel.  The lectionary, kindly, has given us a pretty PG section – but even here, look at what’s being said: there’s an eager, muscular stag of a lover, leaping over mountains and bounding over hills, and here he is peeking through the windows and poking his face in through the garden lattice just to ask his beloved to run off with him into flowery meadows filled with turtledoves, figs, and vines of juicy grapes.  …And believe me, that’s just the start!

God is… lover?

Now, your whole life, you’ve heard and known that God is love.  “Jesus loves me, this I know”; “God is so good, he cares for me”, and “the King of Love my shepherd is”.  We know that God loves us, that his perfect Fatherly love is far beyond what we could imagine from our earthly parents. He’s one who patiently waits, who sent his own son to seek us out and pay the price of our redemption, and who runs to throw his arms around the prodigal who returns. 

But in the messiness of this world – and if you’ve listened to even 5 minutes of news this week, you’re well aware of the messiness – in all of that, we tend to reduce God’s love to a concept or an idea.  But it’s more than that.  God’s love is action.

Now, this lesson is all one big metaphor, but metaphors and poetry are meant to help us wrap our heads around ideas that are too hard to see and understand on their own.

You know God is love, that he loves you, but did you know that his love is like this?

Nowhere in scripture do we find God pictured as a stern old guy with a long beard, watching from a distance, waiting for an opportunity to scold and punish.  If that’s the image of God you’ve been given – then, on behalf of the Church, I’m sorry, because that’s not what we find anywhere in scripture.

No, this is what we find!

God loves you, God wants to be with you so much that he’s prancing over mountains to get to you!  You’ve heard the song “I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…”.  Yeah – God loves you like that!

The type of love that God has for you is the love that leads him to climb mountains and valleys, wade across rivers, and cross deserts just to be in a relationship with you; he’ll relentlessly and energetically seek you out just to meet you where you are and say “my love, come away!”.

And, as the metaphor continues, when God gets near us, what does he find?  A wall.  Of course.  (We’re good at building walls, aren’t we?).  But does that keep God from the love he has for us? 

No, as we read in that weird lesson this morning, God becomes a bit of a peeping tom!  But he’s not watching, making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out if you’re naughty or nice – that’s not God!  No, whenever we put up a wall, we know God gave us free will and respects our decision, but God’s going to be there peering in through the windows, trying to get your attention.  If you’ve got a fence made of lattice, he’s going to be calling out through the openings “come away, I love you, you don’t have to stay in there!  There’s a feast, and flowery meadows, and streams of living water!  I love you, come with me!  Let me show you!”

When we say God is love, when we sing about love divine, it’s that sort of love: a love that seeks us out, a love that will not let me go, and even if I’ve put up a wall, he’s peeking in through the windows and calling out over the fence saying “come”, you don’t have to stay in there, let me show you how much you are loved; let my glory be revealed in you – redeemed, restored, and being made fully alive![1]

Requited Love?

If that’s how God loves us – not something earned, not something conditional – then what’s our part in that?

We just need to be responsive to God’s love.

It’s as easy as that; this isn’t an over-simplification.

When you hear that faint “come away!  Trust me!  Let me show you what I’ve got planned!  It doesn’t have to be like this!  Come with me!”, well, you know what?  It’s in those moments that we need to be doers of the word, and not hearers only.  God loves us, he just wants us to respond.

When you’ve got that knot in your gut, when a situation just isn’t sitting well, when you can’t rest, and you’re anxious, and you just can’t find any peace, that tension is because the one who offers peace that passes understanding is peering in through the window in the wall you built, calling out “come away, it doesn’t have to be like this, let’s do it my way, I’ll show you how good it can be!”.

But what does James say?[2]

God loves us, he thinks we’re beautiful, he sees our potential and wants to be with us so that we can see all that he has in store for us. 

But we hear that, and James says we’re like those who look in a mirror but just can’t accept what we’re seeing.  We know God loves us, but then we start to say “no, I don’t know what God sees in me.  How could God love me?”

And rather than answering God’s call, we dismiss his voice, and draw the blinds so we don’t see him waving outside the window.

But what God wants is for us to listen.  He’s already made all the effort.

He wants to lift us up and lead us on.  And yeah, it will lead back over those mountains and through those valleys that he crossed to find us, but he’ll be with us, to comfort, guide, direct, and provide along the way.

He’s calling.  Each of us can hear him faintly through the walls we’ve built.  Each of us can feel him in our gut when we’re apart from his peace.  But, when we hear or feel that Word, the right response is to just do it: to see ourselves as God sees us, to love those whom God loves; to bridle our tongues – and I think that’s as much about the lies we tell ourselves as what we say to each other; and to keep our hearts open, making room for God to purify them; as Jesus said today, it’s not what comes in that makes us a mess, it’s what resides in our heart that makes us a mess.[3]

“Behold, here God comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills! He’s like a gazelle, or a stag!  God is here, calling out over your wall, gazing in through your windows, saying, “I love you.  Trust in me!  Come away.”

We hear and feel that Word every day.  He’s made that effort.  Now, may we have the grace to respond.  Amen.

[1] St. Irenaeus, in arguing against those said God’s favour had to be earned, famously summarized scripture in saying “the Glory of God is a human person made fully alive” by beholding the likeness of God in Christ Jesus, face to face.  As James 1:17-18 and the whole design of worship under the Old Covenant shows, God’s glory isn’t a thing for us to look at, as though he’s lacking if his glory goes unnoticed; God’s glory is revealed through the act of broken, sinful people like us being brought in, cleaned up, healed, restored, and made to share his overflowing and abundant life!

[2] James 1:17-27

[3] Mark 7:21-23

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