Song of Songs 2: 8-17/ James 1:17-27
Close your eyes and take a moment to remember when you first fell in love. Maybe it was the first glance across the room, your first date, or your first kiss. Remember the flood of emotions that went along with it. Your heart pounding in your chest, wishing the moment would last forever. It's exciting but also a little anxiety producing. You wondered how they felt and whether or not they liked you as much as you liked them.
Think about that moment when you first said “I love you” and they said it back- the smile that beamed across your face. It is a roller coaster of very intense emotions all rolled up into one experience. It is exciting and scary. You are hopeful but afraid. But when it works- it works and it is an overwhelmingly intense, maybe even a passionate experience!
Our scripture lesion today from the Old Testament is all about this experience. It is a book that many often wonder why it’s even in the Bible and many preachers are apprehensive to address. It never mentions God or worship or anything connected with God. It is a collection of love poems between a woman and a man who are madly in love and desperate for each other.
Some want to sanitize this book and want to say it as a love poem between God and Israel or Jesus and the Church but all that is stretching it. Maybe it is what it is- words of romance and passion shared between lovers.
So the question still remains. Why include it in the Bible? Maybe it is to remind us that God gave us this gift of passion, romance and love for a reason. Our scripture from James tells us that all good gifts come from God and well let’s be honest, this is one of God’s very good gifts! Maybe it is a way for humans to understand how God feels towards humanity. How intensely God loves us. How desperate God is to be loved back.
We often say things like God loves you and we talk about how God desires us and wants to be in a relationship with us. We read in scripture that God is a jealous God and wants us all to God’s self. God wants our devotion and our love for God only- not for the other gods or idols in this world. And while we may say it or read it in a ho-hum way. God says it with passion!
We read in scripture about the lengths God goes to in order to provide for us, give us gifts, and that God loves us so much that he gave us Jesus as a flesh and blood, life and death expression of that love. If that isn't an extreme show of love… What is?
In 1995, Gary Chapman published a book that described his theory that all humans feel and express love in 5 basic ways that he calls “love languages.” They are “words of affirmation,” “Quality time,” “Gifts,” “Touch,” and “Acts of Service.”
Now think back for a moment to the experience you were remembering just a few minutes ago. How did you express your love for the other person? How did they show their love for you?
Did they bring you flowers or take you out to dinner? Did you go for walks after school- making sure you took the longest route possible just to spend time together?
Did they tell you how beautiful, smart or talented you are? Did they hold your hand or give you a warm embrace?
Did they wash dishes for you or fix something that was broken or take care of you when you were sick? There are a multitude of ways that people express their love for another person. And as you respond and reciprocate those gestures of love you find your relationship growing.
God shows love for us in exactly the same ways!
God does give you words of affirmation. They are the love letters of the psalms, the stories of grace and how God loves us so much that we are always able to come back into God’s loving arms- even when we stray. It is the words of a teacher, friend or stranger that tells you how much you are valued as a beloved child of God.
God spends quality time with you- always available to talk whenever we need it, even when it is less than loving things we want to say. It is those long walks, the flicker of a candle, and the silence just before dawn when you feel content, just to be in God’s presence.
God gives us gifts. It is impossible to look around this beautiful place we live and not see a gift from God. The majestic mountains, the beautiful flowers that made any bouquet your partner ever gave you, the green trees, the soft breeze- all gifts from God. Not to mention the non-material gifts- the gift of compassion, patience, generosity, musical gifts, cooking, or art- whatever gift you have- you received it from God.
The gift of touch- may be the hardest to identify but yes that too is a gift from God. It is the child who cuddles up in your lap so you can read them a book. It is the hug of a parent or a friend. It is the hand that picks you up when you fall down. It is the lick from the dog or the comfort of the purring cat. But it is also the softness of a warm blanket or the coolness of a creek and the warmth of the sun on your face.
And acts of service- those are innumerable! All those times you weren’t sure how you would make ends meet or put food on the table and someone shows up out of the blue with an invitation to dinner or fresh corn from their garden. Or simply the fact that your garden produced food at all. It is the kindness of a stranger that changes your flat on the side of the road. It is the guidance and advice we receive from scripture and the experiences of life that teach us to be grateful.
The list of how God shows us love goes on and on. But, just like any relationship, it is important that we not take these gifts for granted and that we reciprocate that love.
How do we show our love for God?
We show our love for God by spending time with God in worship, prayer, study and giving thanks for all God has done. But we also show God our love in how we treat others. Our scripture from James today reminds us that we show love for God in this way. We should be quick to listen, pay attention to what is going on around us and welcome the word of God. We are to be slow to speak and slow to anger; checking our motives, our emotions and our justifications for anger and aggression.
we are to be doers of the word, not just hearers. We not only accept the love and guidance of God but we also respond with actions of our own. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, care for the sick, the oppressed, the poor, the orphaned and the widow.
We are to welcome the stranger, visit with the lonely and use whatever gifts we have been given freely and generously to work on God’s behalf. Jesus said in Matthew that whoever does to the least of these does unto him.
As we act toward one another- that is how we act toward God. When we say things that hurt others, we hurt God. As we close the door in the face of a stranger, we shut the door on God.
But in the same way, as we treat others with love and respect we are treating God with love and respect. As we open the doors of our homes, our churches and our hearts to others, we are opening the door to the love of God.
But love isn’t the only part of a relationship. Love also calls for a commitment. It is why when people declare their love for one another they do it through vows. When we get married to another person we make promises to them. We commit ourselves to stay faithful to that person and no matter what happens they will be a part of each other’s lives. And this isn’t just a temporary promise with an expiration date. It is until death do we part promise.
This is a very similar promise we make to God in our baptisms. We acknowledge the love of God in our lives and promise to love God through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. We vow that we will have no other god’s in our lives than the one true God. We promise that we will work to rid the world of evil, injustice and oppression and act as Christ’s representative in this world.
This like a marriage is a life altering and forever promise. And we believe that as we make this promise to God, that even when we are unfaithful to God- God will never be unfaithful to us. And, no matter what, God will never leave us or forsake us. While human love has its faults and failures, a love affair with God does not.
As we read the scriptures and remember the feelings of love in our life, we get a glimpse of the power of God’s love for us. We sense in our own emotions the persistent desire God has to be in a relationship with us.
From the moment of your birth, God has been wooing you into a love affair, and God continues to shower us with love and affection in the ways that are personal and meaningful. Embrace that love, reciprocate that love through your own actions. Breathe in the immensity of God’s love and renew your vows to God.
It is indeed a passionate love affair full of all that we could ever dream. Enjoy every moment that you receive God’s love and in every way that you respond to that love. It is a love that will not only last a life time but will last for eternity.