The Adoration and Seduction of Your Soul
This is going to be a great, big, gooey, gushy, schmaltzy sermon, so just brace yourselves.
It is going to be embarrassingly emotional, uncomfortably intimate, and just all around hearts and flowers, so buckle up.
We are going to talk about God’s love today.
We are going to talk about the love of God in all of its extravagance and all of its irresponsible, reckless intensity.
I spend enough time in this pulpit talking about the challenges of life, our struggles to confront darkness both within ourselves and in the world.
Today I’m taking up the challenge Paul articulates in Ephesians: “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Do you wake up in the morning and know that your destiny and your purpose is to know that you are filled with all the fullness of God?
Are you reminded at least once an hour that God delights in you?
Do you understand that God has never been disappointed in you?
God may have mourned your choices, grieved your hurting of yourself and others, longed for you to turn toward God in faith and trust, but take this knowledge and write it on your heart: God has never been disappointed in you.
You are God’s favorite, God’s darling, the light of God’s life.
God gets up in the morning to see you, to know you, to work in your life and try one more day to seduce you a little closer.
I’m telling you that nothing, and I mean nothing, in your life is more important that knowing that God loves you.
It sounds so simplistic, but most of us live the majority of our lives with only theoretical knowledge of God’s love, not experiential knowledge.
And thus when we try to love others, from our own spouses, parents and children to our colleagues to starving and oppressed people around the world, we find that sooner or later, our love runs out.
Self-generated love is a limited resource.
We can only love others truly, fully, unconditionally when we let God love us truly, fully, unconditionally.
And “let” God love us is absolutely the right verb.
We have to allow God to love us. God’s love is absolute whether we acknowledge it or not, but until we accept it, welcome it, let it make us vulnerable and change us, we cannot become vessels of grace.
We remain isolated individuals, cut off from the Body of Christ, muffling the inner voice of the Holy Spirit with our own doubt, stuck patterns, and conditional, performance-based love.
Accepting that we are accepted is the great initiation into the deeper life of love in Christ.
Paul Tillich explains in a famous sermon of his: “Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’ If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.”
Why don’t we want to accept that God loves us?
Why do we find it so hard to believe that God has never been disappointed in us?
Why don’t we live in the truth that our hatred of our selves and others pierces God to the heart?
Why do we say “Jesus died for our sins” but still act like it was all some big cosmic transaction rather than Jesus saying, “your life matters more than mine, I would do anything for you”?
Could there be any deeper or more radiant love possible?
God breaks God’s own laws for us!
God destroys physics and morality for us in one fell swoop with the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and we frail, clueless humans miss it.
We resist the truth that even if you were the only human being on earth, ever, Jesus would still die for you.
You matter that much.
We struggle to accept it because we don’t live lives that help us accept it.
Here I’m going to tell you exactly how to learn and know and experience the truth of God’s love, and I’m forewarning you, it’s going to be a dreadful anticlimax after all this build-up.
You’re going to be surprised and disappointed, but I’m in this pulpit to proclaim truth, and this is the truth of my life and the truth of generations of the faithful before us.
You learn that God loves you, learn it all the way down to your bones and your DNA, in prayer. That’s it.
I know, pretty unglamorous, right?
But here I don’t mean prayer in the sense of our usual laundry list of petitions.
I don’t mean liturgical or memorized prayer when it is done in dull, unaware habit.
I mean prayer as entering the undiscovered country in your soul.
I mean going beneath your habitual mental clamor into the endless embracing silence of God.
I mean contemplation.
Shutting yourself off from the noise of the world and delving beneath the noise of your mind is the only way to find and cultivate the presence of God in your heart and spirit, and I’m comfortable making that definitive of a statement.
This is the holy ground where God convinces you, minute by minute, day by day, desert by desert and mountaintop by mountaintop, that God is passionately, irrevocably in love with you.
Now, the problem is that when most people hear “contemplation,” they picture monks and nuns piously chanting in a monastery somewhere or new-agey woo-woo self-actualization addicts hiding from the world in mantras and workshops.
That’s not what contemplation is.
A simple definition of contemplation is any spiritual practice that breaks the iron control of your ego long enough to make you vulnerable to God.
Many people practice spiritual disciplines driven by the ego, and that’s fine, that’s where we all start.
We do the Daily Office or meditate or listen to devotionals or read the Bible because we think we’re supposed to, we want to look good in front of others and/or God, or we want to become spiritual and holy people.
Those are all ego-driven motivations.
But the Holy Spirit is both sneaky and powerful. The Holy Spirit can work with our poor human mixed motives.
And if we are faithful to our practices, whatever they are, things begin to change.
If we enter with the intention to really be taught by God, to really be changed by God, to really drop our false barriers and burdens, over time, God’s love starts to lay siege to our heartbreak.
God’s love infiltrates our doubts and our insecurities and all the armor of our false selves that weighs us down.
This is the work of God in our lives: to convince us, over time, that God loves us.
God never tires of it, and once you really start to see it happening in your life, you won’t either. It is the great adventure.
I don’t care what your spiritual practice is, as long as it leads to contemplation.
As long as it leads to getting out of your mind and into your heart, as long as it is a rehabilitation from the addictions of the ego and the false self, as long as it is a sincere opening and surrendering to where God wants to take you instead of where you want to go, it is contemplative.
For some of you, that will be the Daily Office. For others, it will be centering prayer or meditation.
For some of you it could be walks in the woods, heart pumping bike rides, reading poems, playing an instrument, building furniture, or singing hymns.
Some people can enter deep contemplative awareness in corporate prayer and sacrament, on Sunday morning.
What you’ll discover is that, as time passes, you find contemplative presence in what you previously thought were secular or mundane activities.
As you allow the Holy Spirit to be more and more active within you, suddenly you’re seeing the glory of God as you wash dishes or mow the lawn, in the face of your grocery clerk or the sound of a doorbell.
Find the practice that takes you to the contemplative place, and your spiritual life will blossom like you won’t believe.
What it comes down to is this: if you want to know God’s love, you must pray. It’s as simple as that.
Gerald May says that turning Godward in multiple little moments throughout the day is like when two lovers meet eyes across a crowded room at a party and share a small smile.
It’s a secret, knowing, intimate moment even in the midst of the crush of people and events, and nothing and no one else can create that glow in the partners’ eyes when they meet.
This is what you and God have the potential to be in each other’s lives in prayer, and this is the deepest desire of God’s heart.
Usually when I preach I try to hew pretty close to the text, exploring one or more of the scriptures assigned for the day and tying to point to how it applies to our lives.
It seems like I haven’t done that today, but I’ve actually been preaching out of the Song of Solomon, which was appointed in place of our usual psalm today.
As you probably know, the Song of Solomon is the great love poem of the Bible, and people have interpreted in various ways over the centuries.
It can be viewed as the literal story of a man and a woman in courtship, and a popular allegorical view from the Middle Ages onward was that it is a description of the relationship of Christ and the Church as the Bride of Christ.
But I want you to hear it today as the voice of Jesus in adoration and seduction of your soul.
Do not shy away from the passion and intensity of God’s love for you! Our same old tired sanitized phrases to describe God’s love for us just aren’t enough.
They aren’t enough to sustain us in the desert, they aren’t enough to express the incandescent joy of communion with God, and they aren’t enough to give us the courage to share the Good News with others.
Go and read the entire Song of Solomon this afternoon, and know that it is God’s love letter to you.
Hear verse 2 and know that it expresses the secret, raging longing of your heart: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!”
Hear verse 4 and know it is the story of your prayer life: “Draw me after you, let us make haste.”
Hear the phrases repeated over and over again and know the truth of how Jesus thinks of you: “O, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.”
Say of Jesus the words of the bride, “This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem…I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”
This is the Word of God about your life in God.
And finally, hear the text we sang today, and know it is the reality of Jesus pursuing you with ardor.
If you want to know and experience this love every day, open your heart in prayer and spiritual practice every day.
Let yourself be seduced out of your complacent ideas about God and yourself.
Welcome the destabilizing and overwhelming rush and flow of God’s love, a love that is recklessly passionate and irresponsibly intense.
This is the richness of the life of faith.
Start here and now. Close your eyes, open your heart, and listen to these words from our text today.
This is the story of your life in Jesus Christ:
“The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My 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.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The 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.’”
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