God The Unrequited Lover
What are you like when you’re in love?
Have you ever been in love? Especially that first flush of new love?
Everything is beautiful all around you.
You can’t stop thinking about that special someone.
Everything reminds you of him or her.
When you’re with that person, time seems to stop. You can’t imagine how you lived before you met him or her.
You know what else you do when you’re in love?
You sing all the time.
You sing in the shower, you sing while you’re driving, you sing while you’re cooking.
You sing about your loved one, you sing to your loved one, every love song on the radio is about you and your relationship.
That’s usually how you learn someone is in love in a musical or an opera, too. They burst into radiant song and you know—they have fallen, and they have fallen hard.
But what happens when your love is not returned?
Have you ever experienced unrequited love?
Oh, it hurts.
Whenever you’re in a room with that person, no matter how crowded, you’re constantly aware of where he or she is.
You replay every conversation you’ve ever had, straining it for deeper meaning than is really there.
If you’re technologically minded, you might do a bit of light Facebook stalking, hoping that they’re happy and in love with someone, no matter how sad you are that you’re not that person.
People also sing about unrequited love.
How many songs are there about love that is not returned?
Whether it’s one half of a one-sided breakup, someone left at the altar and the dumpee cannot understand why, or the love for the ideal man or woman who does not know you exist—there are a thousand songs about this bittersweet state of joyful heartbreak.
There is joy at the very existence of this person in your life, but your heart breaks that they do not want the love that is pouring out of you.
The Bible is actually all about these two different states of love, and our gospel text for today, the Magnificat, is the song that gives voice to them both.
God is the greatest sufferer of unrequited love in the universe.
The entire story of the Bible, from creation to Revelation, is about God pouring out God’s heart to us and our spurning it and rejecting it.
Over and over again, God showers us with blessings and affection and sustains our very lives, and over and over again, we break God’s heart by ignoring God, hurting ourselves, and hurting one another.
But underneath our denial of God’s love is a little spark that no matter how hard we try, we can’t quite seem to put out.
We try and smother it with materialism or violence or greed or indifference, but still the dimly burning wick cannot be quenched.
That flame is our longing for God.
We long for God’s heart as much as God longs for our hearts.
The more we uncover and live into that hunger and yearning for God, the deeper our spiritual lives grow.
Bearing the naked vulnerability of really feeling how much we need and want and desire God, and how keenly our pushing God away slices into our hearts—that is one way of talking about discipleship.
There are people in the Bible who understood that longing for God, who let it sing through them.
David comes to mind. How many of the psalms voice the sense of love crying out for an answer?
Jeremiah. Miriam. Isaiah.
Over and over we see that the search for holiness is driven by this hunger for God and God’s presence, and all along God is hungering for our response.
The Bible is the history of two longings reaching out toward one another.
Mary and Joseph were two people who felt that longing, and when they had the opportunity to do something about it, they responded.
The Incarnation is the final answer to the unrequited love between God and humanity, and the Magnificat is the song of the fulfillment of that love.
The Magnificat is the love song and the love poem that is the linchpin of the Bible, the hinge on which the entire story turns.
God is in love with humanity and wants to sing about it, and Mary is in love with God and sees God in love with us, and Jesus will be the full expression of that love.
There is nothing else to do but sing.
And so the words come forth: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
So how do we respond to God’s unrequited love?
How do we heal God’s broken heart at our rejection of Jesus, his gift of love?
By loving one another.
Every time we care for someone in need, every time we respond in kindness when we’d rather act in our own self-interest, every time we do something as simple as offer a hug to a hurting person, the words of the Magnificat are sung again, mingled in the voice of humanity and the voice of God.
But I want to talk about one very specific variant of love that this portion of the Gospel of Luke brings up, and that is soul friends.
Mary and Elizabeth are two of the most important women soul friends of the Bible.
What I find remarkable about these two women in this story is their spiritual maturity.
Neither of them is in a particularly enviable situation.
Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age. Her health is undoubtedly at severe risk, and she is about to enter parenthood when she should be relaxing into her golden years.
And Mary is in big trouble.
She is pregnant out of wedlock in a way that most people are going to find very difficult to believe.
They will see a teenager who couldn’t wait for marriage and made a mistake, and is now telling a fanciful story about an angel’s announcement to try and cover up her shame.
Bear in mind that Mary was probably sent to Elizabeth in a shame-based tradition that was in effect as late as the mid-twentieth century.
Did any of you know girls who got pregnant in high school and were sent away to an aunt’s house in Florida until they gave birth if the young man in question were not suitable for a shotgun wedding?
Many of these young girls were forced to give up their children for adoption, so great was the stigma of having a baby outside of wedlock.
So Mary was probably sent away in disgrace to her cousin Elizabeth who might well have been facing the same type of slanderous accusations.
If Elizabeth and Zechariah had failed for so many years to conceive and Elizabeth was now suddenly, mysteriously with child, might not have tongues wagged with ugly speculation that Elizabeth had stepped out with another man who finally got her pregnant because Zechariah could not?
These women were very likely practically under siege from their communities over the scandal of their condition, not to mention the health risks of pregnancy in their time.
But listen to the words of radiant joy that come out of their mouths as they greet each other.
They are not afraid at all.
Not afraid of gossip and slander and not afraid of the future of labor and childbirth and motherhood.
They are rock solid in their confidence that God produced this situation for them and God will bless them and carry them through it.
More than that, even. As Mary’s words proclaim in the Magnificat, they are certain that God is going to use these events, use their unborn children, to change the world.
Now that is spiritual maturity.
That is poise and faith and guts all rolled into one.
And how did they achieve this grace of spirit?
I think it must have developed in part over the long years of their spiritual friendship.
Elizabeth must have seen something in her little cousin Mary from a very young age, and I picture them calling each other to deeper and deeper exploration of God every time they were together.
Who do you know in your life who calls you deeper into relationship with God and God’s work in you every time you spend time with him or her?
Soul friends are tremendous gifts of the spiritual life.
If you have one, cherish her.
Reach out to him, especially this season, and let him know how much you appreciate him.
If you don’t have one, reach out to find one.
Is there a friendship in your life that is already rich and strong, but has never really strayed into spiritual discussions?
Have that friend over for dinner and over a glass of wine ask what she thinks about God.
No one in your life who seems to be right for that role?
You are in a community right now of people with tremendous spiritual depths.
It could be that your Mary or Elizabeth is sitting right here in this room and you just need to reach out.
Everyone in this church can make small talk with everyone else in this church. We can all talk about the weather and the Colts.
Soul friends go deeper than that.
Soul friends can stand naked of spirit in front of one another, utterly giving up pretense and disguise.
Soul friends see the truth about one another and love each other with deeper strength because of it.
Maybe there is someone in this church, more than one person even, who could go that deep with you and emerge on the other side.
You’ll never know until you try.
One of the best things about soul friends is how they change each other.
You cannot enter into the deepest secrets of the heart of another person and emerge the same as you were before.
As you bear one another’s burdens and rejoice in one another’s joys, you take on a little bit of each other.
So I encourage you to look at yourself and see the bits of color that have come to you from the friends in your life who know you for who you really are.
And if you feel a little bit monochrome, perhaps it’s time to reach out and offer a bit of your color to another.
You may find a little sore spot in your heart start to heal as you begin a spiritual journey with a new soul friend.
Perhaps, like Elizabeth seeing Mary coming toward her on the path, you will feel something new within you leap for joy.
Perhaps you might even feel a song coming to your lips, a song that begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”
Because you know who wants to be your soul friend more than anyone else?
God is so longing for you, has been heartbroken and pining for you your entire life, has been singing a song to seduce you and lure you into deeper relationship.
And that restlessness you feel underneath the noise of your life, that is your longing answering God’s longing.
Love is the answer to that longing, and so we and God sing to each other forever and ever, and Jesus comes forth to be among us.
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