Rev Angleena Keizer, United Methodists of Great Britain
Sunday 2nd of September 2018 St Andrews Scots Memorial Jerusalem
Song of Songs 2:8-18
St Mark 7: 1-8, 15-15, 21-23
His banner over us is love
You may have seen some banners or posters outside churches as you are passing by. Where the church shares a scripture or a message about God with the local community. I have to confess I have seen many, but I can never remember what they say. What I do remember is that many years ago whilst at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, I read a huge banner that stretched across the back of the auditorium wall. It read: Receive Gods love, walk in God’s love and give Gods love away. I never forgot that banner. You may have heard me say or pray those words. It was a banner I saw, identified with, and remembered its words.
Last Thursday Kristen and I were here at St Andrews, we were doing some work in the guest house lounge. Whilst we were there, people were working around us. They sealed the car park areas, put out chairs and table, set out a drinks area and disco. There was a wedding being prepared for, invited guests started to arrive to celebrate the love shared between a bridegroom and his bride. We met one of the guests last Sunday who had flown in for the wedding. For over fifteen years I have officiated at many weddings. I have enjoyed being with the couple in their wedding preparations. I like to find out more about them, how did they meet, how did they fall in love and come to that moment of taking their love forward, to a life-long commitment in the covenant of marriage, declaring their vows to one another before God? I like to hear their love story of how they come to this point of commitment to each other in marriage.
The reading from the Old Testament was taken from the book of Solomon, or otherwise known as Song of Songs. I don’t remember hearing any sermons over the years from the book of Song of Songs. The writings have been debated down through the centuries by both Rabbis and the Church, as to whether it should be included in the Holy Scriptures, the cannon. Along with the book of Esther, it has no mention of God within the writings. It is explicit in its language, and description of the profound mystery of love. It has been considered especially during the early centuries, of being overtly sexual between a lover and his beloved. Throughout history there are those who believe this to be an allegory between God and his love for Israel, whilst theologians in the church believe it to be the love of God for his bride, the church. Eventually the debate between the Rabbis was concluded when Rabbi Akiba said “the whole world was not worthy on the day the Song of Songs was given to it from Israel. For all scripture is holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holiest of the Holiest ( Mishnah Yadvim 3:5)
However as we view the different understandings, and commentaries of this book, it describes the mystery of love written in a poetic style. The words seek to describe the love between two people. It is considered to be written by King Solomon, who wrote 105 poems. Some would also consider it to be the account of King Solomon’s wedding. Whether we view the writings of love as between a lover and his beloved, as Gods love for Israel, or as Gods love for the church, it is ultimately a profound message of love received and shared amongst a community. A few verses before the reading today the beloved says “he bought me to his banqueting table and his banner over me is love.” We know throughout the scriptures the imagery of marriage is used to depict God as a God of love, marriage is depicted as a relationship between God and his people. There are images of the Son of God as the bridegroom, and the Church as the bride. We know God is a God of love who does not only love Israel and the church, but also loves the nations and people of the world. His banner does not represent a nation but represents the nations. His banner, his flag is love. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.Jesus shares a parable of people being invited to the banqueting table, his banqueting table. His disciples are instructed to go and invite people to the banquet. When I have met with couples they sometimes struggle with who they should and shouldn’t invite to the wedding, often it is down to their budget as to how many they can invite. There is no limit to who are invited to Gods banqueting table. We too are called to share God’s message of love and his invitation.
I want to ask us today “have we received Gods love, do we know Gods love, do we have assurance of his love”? I pray and hope that those couples married by me will continue to discover more of each other, continue to grow together and work at sharing their love as this doesn’t always come easy and needs to be worked at. Likewise, not only are we called to receive Gods love, be in a intimate relationship with him, but we are also called to share his love with others.
When asked what was the greatest commandment? Jesus replied “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself”. In his teachings he took it a step further by saying to also love your enemies.
I want to suggest that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. James the brother of Jesus reminds and instruct his disciples to not only be ‘listeners’ of the word of God but to be ‘doers’ also. He instructs about Christian living, in essence saying, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. That Christ’s followers are called to come under Gods standard of love, receiving Gods love, walking in it and giving it away. Often we don’t do that, or it can be very difficult to do so.
In the Gospel of Mark we heard how the Pharisees and the elders criticised and judged, Christ’s followers. They accused them of being unclean, by not following the traditions and ritual cleansing of their hands before eating. Jesus responds to their criticism . It’s not what a person eats that makes a person unclean, but the heart. He addresses the heart of the problem, as being the problem of the heart. He explained that what comes out of the heart is what makes a person unclean. The thoughts, words, actions towards others are what makes a person unclean. When a person acts with malice, deceit, jealousy, greed, adultery etc, that is what makes them unclean. Jesus challenges the followers to live a clean life, a life where the heart has been purified. How we treat others is how we walk under Gods banner of love.
On Thursday evening, Kristen and I went to Praying Together at Jaffa gate, (before moving above David’s Tomb, to pray with Muslims, Jews and Christians) which is held on the last Thursday of every month. This week our Muslim brothers and sisters were sharing about celebrating Eid, a time to seek Gods forgiveness for the way they have treated others. A Jewish lady shared how the Jews are soon to celebrate the New Year, which is also a month of seeking God’s forgiveness for how they have, and haven’t treated others. Seeking forgiveness for their thoughts, actions and deeds, which have not been loving. Both said the same thing that “true worship of God is how we treat one another” it’s not what we eat and drink that makes a person unclean, the heart of the problem is the problem of our heart. As our Muslims and Jewish brothers and sisters have, and will be seeking Gods forgiveness, for the way they have treated others, perhaps it’s a good time for us to reflect, how are we living? how is our relationship with God and others? Can we truly love others including our enemies? How is our heart today, is it our heart that is the problem? What Is flowing out of our hearts, is it expressions of love or do we also need to ask God for his forgiveness?
I want to conclude with a meditation called, The Two Wolves:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My Son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
The grandson thought about it for a minute, and asked his grandfather “which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one you feed”
The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. We are called to receive God’s love, walk in Gods love and give Gods love away, by our thoughts, our deeds, our words and our actions. Which wolf are we feeding and manifesting out of our hearts and lives today? For his banner over us is love, and our true worship of God is how we treat one another in Jesus name. Amen