Grace and peace to you, brothers and sisters, from the mission field of University of Cincinnati. A mission field, I say, because it is ripe, not for the harvest, but for discovery. I am poised and ready for discovering how the good news already present, where God’s already acting. This is sharing the good news—not my sharing with them, but their sharing with me and one another how God has acted in their lives. Evangelism is about that—joy and excitement in our life together, pleasure in seeing where God’s acting in mysterious ways. Evangelism is about sharing our delight with other people. It’s like falling in love with God and God’s creation.
Let me ask you a question: What’s it like for you to be in love? Think about it—think about a time you fell in love. Could be any age—your Kindergarten sweetheart, your high school crush, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse—what was it like? In the beginning, you get that heart-pounding, skin-tingling anticipation, longing to be with the object of your desire. Later, there’s deep, abiding trust, comfort in one another’s skins and minds and continual challenge. And even later, you become like one another, like a man grows to look like his dog.
And everything in your life changes because of that love. You changed your schedule so you could catch a glimpse, changed your hair so he or she would catch a glimpse of you. You changed how you spoke, how you dressed, how you thought—whether you knew it or not. Love changes everything. Now, hold that feeling in your heart, and now think about a time you fell in love with God—this church, this denomination, this people, this Christianity. What was that heart-pounding moment? When did you long to be a part of it? Have you reached the stage of trust and comfort and challenge with the people of Roselawn Lutheran? How often have you fallen in love with the church? How many times have you fallen in love with Jesus? And everything in your life changed because of that love, or had the potential to change, anyway. You changed your schedules so you could be present in the community on Sunday, you changed how you talked or dressed or acted, you changed your reaction to a panhandler or a grocery clerk or your partner, you sacrificed and you rejoiced—whether you knew it or not. It wasn’t rules or rationalism which made you stay—it was love. Love changes everything.
You may think I mean metaphorically “in love”—like being overcome with compassion and connection with a community and thought it was neat. All great things, but I’m talking about really being in love—like, you like us like us, you know? Let me give you an example. There are two choices for the Hebrew Scripture lesson for today. The lesson chosen for this parish on this day was from Deuteronomy—you just heard it read a moment—“you must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.” It’s simple, clear, directive…sterile? “Don’t add or take away anything”—implies no interpretation, no change, no vitality. There are many folk who take comfort in rules, laws, clarity. Our Jewish brothers and sisters would say the Law is a gift from the God who loves us. They’re right—God is indeed already active in the Law. But God is a living God, a God of surprises and mysteries, a God who cannot be contained by our words. Remember Abram wheedled with God to save Sodom—God changed his mind. Jesus changed his mind when the Syro-Phonecian woman showed him her faith. Could God also be a God who changes? Could God need us… for deeper relationship? Could God need us to requite God’s love?
The other option for the Hebrew Scripture lesson was from the Song of Songs. We rarely get to read from Song, I’m not sure why—too challenging? too sexy? too inappropriate? Yet we’re all obsessed with sex—whether we’re doing it right, how to have it more often, who other people are having it with, how they feel about it, what it looks like (sexy or icky), whether our kids should know about it—and here it is in the Bible in glorious, beautiful words:
8The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
9My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
10My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away; 11for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
12The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
13The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” and later “my beloved is mine, and I am his” and later “I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him and found him not” and still later, passages which might make you blush. “My beloved”—Jesus used that phrase when talking to his disciples. “My beloved”—this is unashamed love poetry—maybe like the stuff you and I both wrote to our teen loves—maybe more like Shakespeare, but love poetry nonetheless. The first narrator, a woman in love, is unashamed of her love, longing to be with him, searching the streets for him, showing him with everything that she has and everything that she is that he is her beloved. And the second narrator, a man in love, does the same—it’s a mutual, requited passion. They are complete in the other and love changes everything for them.
Great. Lovely. What’s it doing in the Bible? There’s no mention of God here. And it’s, you know, PG13. Scholars have been arguing for centuries about the Song of Songs. Some say it is a love song about the sacredness of romantic or erotic love, that in Creation, God created us not just for procreation but for joy, for delight in one another, for love. Others say it’s an allegory, a story that clearly shows the Church as the woman in love with God, the man, that it illustrates the spiritual joy we find in God. Another authority who hasn’t gotten much press—maybe as little as the Song of Songs itself—is a 13th c. Dutch mystic named Hadewijch (I know, hang on). Like other mystics, she had visions of God, and these visions were both visual and tactile; unlike many mystics, she often wrote about her experiences in unabashedly sexual terms. Her poetry is what we might call the romance novel of her day. She called God minne which means “Love.” Hadewijch found ways to describe her experience of God, in terms common to all people, drawing comparisons between spiritual and physical ecstasy; she developed a theology of knowing and loving God which is physical and mutual. Physical and mutual. In other words, Hadewijch said, just as we long for God, so God longs for us. God longs for us. God wants us to love God back. Love changes everything.
So, the joy we find in this church, the delight we have in one another’s company, yes, even the challenge we offer one another, is love. Is God active and moving in our midst. AND God is in love with us. God desires us. God wants us to share our love stories with others. Wants us to change our ways and live that love. God, dare I say it, writes soppy love poetry to us in the form of the Bible. Because what else could our scriptures be, with all our faults and all of God’s forgiveness, what else could our scriptures be but a long, complicated love story?
Jesus looked at the crowds and he loved them.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son.
God loved the world so much that he made it in the first place.
Love. Changes. Everything.