Sylvania United Church of Christ
Claimed by God, Responding as Disciples
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The sermon for week September 02, 2012

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JOYFUL, JOYFUL, Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Gayle Boss in an article in Weavings, a journal on the Christian spiritual life, writes about the poet Mary Oliver who wrote a poem entitled, “Tern,” the small birds that inhabit the seashore.

Mary wrote this poem during a period of spiritual struggle and doubt, but on this day she stood at the shore and was transfixed by the beauty of the Terns, dancing in flight along the shore. As she gazed her soul was soothed, the anxious questions faded and she gave herself to wonder, might this be a prayer? She writes, “Maybe not the perfect prayer”...but the doubts are subdued “and not through the weaponry of reason.”

I was caught by her phrase, “the weaponry of reason.” Although I have mostly seen reason as an ally in my faith development, I think I understand her choice of words, “the weaponry of reason.” Too often our approach to faith is one of reason only. Generally, when we think about wanting to grow deeper in our faith we think about picking up a book. We think about faith development as a learning activity involving the intellect, focusing upon the mind.

We want to know more about God so we read, we attend a lecture, we join a Bible study group, and in the Protestant church we give preeminence to the sermon in worship. Some Christians seek to deepen their faith by focusing on doctrine and right belief. Other Christians do the opposite. They debate the orthodoxy and honor the question. The problem, however, is both approaches are focused on the mind as the primary vehicle for growing closer to God or deepening one’s faith. We think of faith as being able to articulate our beliefs. Mostly, it is also the way we teach our children. We think of faith in terms of teaching them about God.

We think of faith as the process of trying to get it all sorted out in our heads and in the meantime the Terns are dancing in their flight by the seashore, calling us to prayer, making pray broader than we have every imagined it to be, and inviting us to experience faith not just as something we believe with our heads but as an act of living, involving not only our mind but all five senses and every other part of our being.

In the middle of our Bible there is a perspective on faith we would do well to remember as we speak of faith and a life of faith. These lessons on faith in the middle of the Bible are found in the books of Job, the Psalms and the Song of Solomon. They are for me portraits in faith, revealing the heart beat of what faith is, codified not in statements of beliefs, a creed or doctrine that must be acknowledged and believed through the brain. Instead, these books are poetry, stories, and songs, appealing to all the senses, inviting you to come outside and live and discover faith by embracing life.

The Book of Psalms is God’s nature book, exemplified in Psalm 19. The psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” (Ps. 19:1). Marcus Borg, who will be our visiting lecturer in three weeks writes that his pathway out of agnosticism or possibly even being a “closet atheist,” came not from more study but in the “aha” moments, “the awe-inspiring, wonder evoking” moments of the sacred in all that is, the holy mystery all around us and with us. (Meeting Jesus for the First Time).

One such moment for me was the first moment when I gazed upon my new born son forty two years ago. Never was my faith deeper than in that moment. It was a faith born not of the mind, but love and the heart. Never was life more sacred. It is in those moments when we are most alive, faith becomes not solely a propositional statement to be believe, but and encounter to be experienced. Our aliveness to that moment is an expression of our faith.

This is my counsel to you: learn all you can. I am myself a book kind of person. I can go to the beach and be content sitting on the porch reading Karen Armstrong’s several hundred page book, A History of God, but all I am saying is, to actually know faith, to experience faith, the faith of the psalmist, you have to at some point lay down the book, engage with life, and stand on the seashore and watch the Terns.

Faith, at its core, is involvement with life. Reason, book learning, Bible study, may help you get there, but faith until it is lived, until there is an actual engagement with life, remains the “lip service,” James warns against in his book in the New Testament.

No where is this more evident than in the book of Job. You know the story. Job loses everything, his wealth, his family, his health. He has nothing. Three friends come to visit. They sit together and try to reason with Job why this has happened. Gayle Boss says for 889 verse they try reasoning. Is God just or unjust? Was Job a righteous man or a sinner? In the end God has had enough. “Finally,” says Gayle Boss, “when Job isn’t much more than a sack of bones on a heap of ashes, God steps in and says to Job (Job 38), ‘Enough’. You are more than a logical mind. Come outside and exercise your senses.” (Weaving, 2012). See, feel, touch, smell. Engage.

In the end Job responds, “I heard of thee by the hearing of the ear (in other words all he had was his head knowledge about God) but now my eyes see thee.” God becomes real to him when he opens his eyes to the world around him.

There is a visceralness to faith that can only be experienced by engaging in life and there is no place where this is shown more than in the Song of Solomon, the third of the three books I have mentioned in the middle of your Bible, all focusing on stories, poems, the senses, and matters of the heart, as opposed to right believing, right thinking, a faith imprisoned within the brain.

Scholars have debated forever as to why this book is in the Bible. It is a love poem between two people. God is not even on the stage. The love of this poem, however, is neither ethereal nor platonic, the kind of love one might expect to read in the Bible. It is instead a love fully expressed through the senses. It is erotic. It is ‘R’ rated. There is a carefreeness to the lovers longing and expression.

Why oh why is this book in the Bible, right in the middle of our Bible? I think it is there, because just like in the middle of our soul, it is telling us, this is the way faith should be. It is experienced in your passions. It is, using a phrase coined by Joseph Campbell, learning to “follow your bliss.” If you want to grow your faith, learn to follow your bliss; learn what excites you. Learn what moves you, and, Yes, in a word used too infrequently in church, learn what makes you happy.

And I will tell you what will happen if you do, instead of it leading to hedonism, a life devoted solely to the pursuit of pleasure, and the seeking of one thrill after another, you will find instead the true you, a life of compassion, a life of willing service, and a life that becomes an epiphany of sacredness in which daily you exclaim with the psalmist, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” In other words the life you will find is the faith you seek.

How do I know this is true? Because, I have seen it in the life of Jesus. Read the Gospels in the light of the Song of Solomon and you will have a greater understanding of who Jesus was and remains among us a Savior who knew the law but lived by compassion.

There is a line in the Song of Solomon that should probably be read at the beginning of every communion service. It is these words, the lover speaking of her beloved, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love.”

This is Jesus this morning. He brings you into this banquet hall. He lays before you this table. He invites you to find your place at this table, no matter who you are, no matter from where you have come and “his intention toward you is love.”

To respond to that love, to say Yes to life, to take the risks, to dare loving and to be loved, to embrace the life that only you can live, is to have faith, and to know, whether or not you are able, fully, to articulate that faith in words, the same faith in which Job was able to say at the last, “Now I see,” and the palmist exclaim, “the heavens are telling the glory of God,” and the beloved extol, “winter has past, the rain is over, the flowers appear, the time of singing has come.” Embrace the life God has given you and you will find the faith you seek.

Amen and Amen.

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