Shameless

Sermon Originally Preached on September 2, 2018

Kenai and North Star UMC

Song of Songs 2:8-13

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.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
13 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.

When I was looking through the lectionary texts this week, I was surprised to see this one, from Song of Songs, or some people call it Song of Solomon. It’s in the lectionary every three years, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone preach from that text directly. I think it’s important that we do, so what better time than today?

Song of Songs is such a cool book in the Bible, for a lot of reasons. It’s poetry, which kind of serves as a breath of fresh air when we read scripture. It’s sometimes easier to digest and find beauty in. Another interesting piece of this poem, is that it’s one of the only canonized books that could have been written by a woman. The poet speaks in the first person, having a conversation with a man, meaning half of this text is written from a female voice, which if you read scripture a lot, isn’t super common. And another reason this passage, and this book in general strikes me, is because it explicitly talks about and celebrates passion and desire, and celebrates it as a gift from God.

The author, let’s refer to them as she, is telling us this story of this deep love she’s experiencing. She’s watching for this person she loves, and compares him to this strong and beautiful animal, a gazelle or a young stag. It’s really powerful imagery. And this woman, our author, speaks so freely about the passion they have for each other, and she does it without shame.

This book has been talked about and debated a lot, its authorship, its story, and maybe most likely, who it was talking about. Some scholars argue that this book is solely about female desire, and others say that the two characters describe God and the Church, and their intense relationship with one another. We can argue this too, but either way, we can take so much from this beautiful expression of shameless love.

Brené Brown is an author and theologian, who describes herself as well, as a shame researcher, which in and of itself, means there must be a lot of it in this world. Brené defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging-something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Brené talks about shame as a source of unnecessary and destructive behavior, because it makes us disconnected, or at least makes us fear disconnection because we have this idea that we aren’t worthy of something or someone.

It’s tough, because shame is all around us, and we aren’t often told to have shameless anything in our lives, or in the church especially. Often, shame is the motivator even, for us to be better followers of God, better Christians. I find myself feeling bad about the things I’m not doing, or things that I could be doing in my faith life. Or we are given these commandments to follow, or these instructions from Jesus, and we sometimes miss the mark. So we take those moments to feel bad about who we are, rather than celebrate our journey and the learning and evolution that takes place on it.

God is not in the business of shame. God isn’t calling us to feel bad about any part of who we are, our actions, our inactions, our curiosities, or our desires. Instead, God invites us to adopt that same shameless freedom that we read about, demonstrated by the woman in Song of Songs.

The author describes the fruitfulness of the vines and the fig trees and the flowers. She paints a picture of human love, a love that is full of beauty and wonder and grace. Her story, in my opinion, is an invitation for us to celebrate ourselves shamelessly, both in our love for God, and in our love for one another.

Shame, and more specifically, God’s desire for us to have no shame, is demonstrated in a lot of other places in the Bible too. The most common of these is from the story of Adam and Eve, when they both were created not needing to be ashamed of their bodies. In Romans, the writer tells us that “everyone who believes in God need not be put to shame”. And 1 John says this:

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

God’s work in this world allows us to move in it, loving God in the best ways we know how, needing not to be ashamed, if and when we mess up or don’t follow directions well. Because God’s love and our ability to love goes hand in hand.

So if this is in fact meant to be taken literally, as a story written about human beings and their love for other human beings, we are faced with this enormously powerful and descriptive poem about human love. And that love, the ability we have to love someone so deeply, reflects God’s love for us, a love that still exists, despite God knowing those pieces of ourselves which make us feel shameful sometimes.

Now I’m not a parent, unless you count dog parent, but I have parents. And those parents have demonstrated pretty much this same attitude of deep love for me at some pretty incredible moments. I’m sure I woke them up at all hours of the night when I was a baby, and through their lack of sleep, they still loved me well and continued to claim me as their child. The same thing happened when ‘no’ was my favorite word, and I was non compliant most of the time. And the same thing happened when I was a little too fiercely independent in high school, and when I forgot to return their calls when I was away at college. I was still loved without limits, and was allowed to be shameless in my relationship with my parents, because there was no question that the love was present no matter what.

Often, we think of God as parent, at least as a piece of who God is. And ifwe’re going to do that, I think we need to imagine God in the same parent lightas those deep-loving parents we either know or we are. God is not the reflection of the parent who is watching over us, just waiting for us to mess up. Though I think God has ways of calling us out when we do that. Instead though, God is the reflection of that parent who forgives quickly and honors us exactly as we are, because we are God’s beloved children. Full stop.

God’s capacity to forgive and to redeem and to restore is rooted in this pattern of love that strives to unite God and God’s people. Shame isn’t even an option.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come.

 This fierce compassion and care, this freedom is one which surpasses shame. The author doesn’t say, ‘arise my love and come away when you’re done screwing up’. She doesn’t describe the flowers appearing on the earth, and then also bring up the weeds that are appearing next to them. She is inviting herself, and inviting us into shamelessness, an acknowledgement of the beauty and the passion that God has allowed us to feel and to be.

A way God invites us to practice this shamelessness, again and again, is through communion. Jesus was pretty clear, that all of us are welcome at the table, sinner or saint, or a little of both. All are welcome at the table, gay and straight, migrant and citizen, skeptic and believer. When we come to this table, we are welcomed as exactly who we are. We are celebrated as God’s beloved, in the same way that Song of Songs celebrates deep human love. Our job is to allow that to be true. Our job, when we come to this table, is to try as hard as we can to be shameless in that, to walk up to this table and say to ourselves, ‘yes, I am loved and yes, I belong here and yes, I deserve this holy gift’.

May we believe that to be true, and may we allow each other to live that shameless love out all the time. Amen.

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