Saturday, September 1, 2012

Passionate love

Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Can you remember what it felt like the first time you fell in love? You did everything you could to be near your beloved. You thought he or she was beautiful, wonderful, perfect. All those flaws that would be apparent later were never noticed in the earliest days.
In the three year lectionary cycle, we get to read one passage from the Song of Solomon, which is also called the Song of Songs. It’s a collection of love poems or love songs between young lovers, written perhaps by a woman, around 400-300 BCE. Read literally, it is quite an erotic piece of literature, with young lovers taking turns speaking of their passion for each other. They are excited to be together; that is all that matters to them.
There is no mention of God anywhere in the Song of Solomon, so what on earth is this writing doing in our Bible? It has been used mostly as a metaphor for God’s love for Israel, God’s bride. It demonstrates how passionately God loves God’s people, and how passionately God wants to be loved in return. Just like the groom in the songs, God sees no flaws, no sins, when God sees us.
But that’s not how we usually look at each other. We are always comparing ourselves to others. There was a story on the Today Show this week about an attractive woman who went on a fast from mirrors. She covered all the mirrors in her house with cloth so she couldn’t look at herself. She even found ways at the gym to not face the mirror as she exercised. She did this mirror fast because she realized one day that she was obsessed with how she looked, especially how she looked to others.
We are all concerned with how we look to others. We like to compare ourselves to others and come out better than them. That is what is going on in the gospel reading today. Note that we have finished with John 6 and the Bread of Life Discourse, and have returned to Mark’s telling of the Jesus story. In this passage, the Pharisees compare themselves to Jesus and point out that he is not as perfect as they are.
Jesus and some of the disciples were eating a meal together. The Pharisees noticed that they did not do the prayer ritual washing of their hands before eating. They challenged Jesus, why do you not wash your hands before the meal, the way they are supposed to? In response, Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah, about people who give lip service to the religious practices instead of loving God with their hearts. Essentially, Jesus accuses them of enforcing the letter instead of the spirit of the law.
He declares that it is not the food, nor the lack of washing that makes a person unclean. The food goes in, gets used by the body, and the waste material goes into the sewer. What makes us unclean are the thoughts of the human heart, and the actions the heart leads us to do. Mark does not tell us how the Pharisees responded. Certainly, they resented what Jesus said.
Before we jump to judgment of the Pharisees, let’s remember that when we point a finger at someone, three fingers point at us. Jesus gives us a list of actions that render us unclean. Some of them are pretty obvious: sexual promiscuity, theft, murder, adultery, greed.
We may deny that we are guilty of any of these, but we often get caught and with Luther’s expanded understanding of sins like murder and adultery. Luther’s Small Catechism warns us that if we even think about harming our neighbor, it is murder; if we are unfaithful to our spouse by looking at another with longing, we have committed adultery.
Most often, we get caught by the remaining four sins that Jesus lists: envy, slander, pride, and folly,
It’s so easy to want what our neighbors have, even if we can’t afford it. We envy our neighbor for having the newest phone, the most popular car, the most expensive shoes.
It’s so easy to talk about our neighbor and what we saw her doing. It’s so easy to spread gossip, stories we have heard about someone, even if we aren’t sure the story is true.
It’s pride that makes us want to be better than someone else; it’s pride that makes us reject gifts that others have offered to us; it’s pride that prevents us from asking for help when we need it.
Folly is what makes us act impulsively, without consideration of the consequences. It was folly that made Prince Harry dance nude and not realize that someone would post his photo to be seen by the whole world.
How many of these actions are you guilty of? Big unclean deeds or small ones, none of us is perfect. Jesus reminds us in this passage that we are all guilty of unclean acts and thoughts. Our hearts are not pure.
But like the lovers in the Song of Solomon, God looks past the uncleanness, and sees us with the eyes of our beloved. God looks at our hearts, our intentions, our relationship with Jesus, and loves us because we are God’s children.
Since God loves us so intently, why should we judge ourselves or others as sinful, as unclean, as unlovable? Shouldn’t we try to love ourselves and others the way God loves us? Those who love so passionately do not see the flaws, the sins, the uncleanness. Those who love passionately see only the beloved one, and are filled with joy in their presence.
This week, I hope you take time to notice how and when you think of yourself or someone else as not lovable, as not loved by God. Remind yourself that God does not see the way we humans see. God is passionately in love with us, all of us.
Please pray with me. Good and gracious God, you love us with a passion we can only imagine. Teach us to love you passionately. Help us to love each other with less judgment and more love. Amen