Sometimes, all you have to do is read the bible publicly and people will laugh.
That's what happened yesterday.
Most of the erotic imagery within The Song Of Songs
is so alien to the landscape of our lives that it strikes our modern eyes and ears as a bit . . . . ludicrous. And hilarious.
So I knew we'd spend a fair amount of yesterday's talk simply reading the text and offering some observations. It was great fun. Yet amid all the fun the message carried a super serious refrain:
REAL LOVE HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP COLLECTING THE MANY AND START PROTECTING THE ONE.
You can watch the 11:30 service in its entirety here.
It’s kind of funny to me – and not LOL funny but more smile funny – the kinds of things people collect. Who know? Maybe you’re one of them. Some people collect stamps (AV) and others collect coins (AV). Do you know what they official name for a coin collector is? Right! Numismatist. Every 8 year old boy went through a phase where they collected baseball or football or NASCAR cards. I had a great idea for tennis cards and even had the first edition in mind: Sadly, no one else shared my enthusiasm for that particular project.
And then some folks collect Civil War memorabilia; others WW2 artifacts. Some people at the upper end of the income bracket collect cars – antique, high performance, or both. Probably my favorite of them all is Graham Barker’s Naval Fluff collection . . . and he has it broken down according to years (AV). All that belly button stuff in one place! Whole lotta collecting going on.
And some of us here, either in the past or in the present or plotting for the future, collect something else. Romance. Intimacy. Sexual partners. There are guys who collect women and there are women who collect guys. We are a nation full of and sometimes it seems like a church full of people who collect sexual encounters. We have bought in to the thinking that the best way to maximize sexual pleasure is to multiply sexual partners.
It’s really as old as time. King Solomon, the king whose presence sort of looms in the background of the SOS, evidently collected hundreds of women he used for sexual intimacy. 700 wives, 300 concubines, and while the # is perhaps symbolic the message is the same: collector of women. Then through the years, kings and presidents, queens and prime ministers, have all been notorious for their collecting. It all seemed to reach a crescendo, apparently, when Wilt Chamberlain famously, embarrassingly, boasted of having had 20,000 different women. So the high-heeled, the well-known, the all-powerful have a long record of conquering and collecting members of the opposite sex.
But it’s not just the celebrity factor that I’m interested in. I’m interested today in those who fly below the radar and yet still have the same kind of mentality, the same kind of behavior. Like the kid I knew in high school who literally would put notches in his belt buckle for each new girl he “collected.” It was so cliché it was true. Or it’s the way our culture can subtly encourage a season of promiscuity and what do we call it? Sow your wild oats! As if there is no harvest to worry about. And it involves both genders . . . a few years ago, a female Duke student made up a mock “senior thesis” evaluating the 13 guys she had collected sexually during her four years . . . and the report got out. Put that on a resume! We collect these encounters because we believe that each incident is disconnected from the next one. It happened at this point in time with no further consequence in our lives. It seems almost . . . natural.
Yet against the backdrop of history and against what seems to be human nature to collect, we encounter the Song Of Songs. We saw last week that this biblical book a) barely made it into the bible and b) has the literary form (library!) of almost an opera. A romantic, sexually frank opera, complete with music, parts, movements, and speakers. It can be very difficult to follow. But there are a couple of operas within the opera (!) that I especially love for today, and that’s for the vivid contrast they make. Now in SOS the man and woman – we think they are married but we’re not exactly sure – do a lot of back & forth. Answering each other’s praise. And we also saw last week how it is that SOS is incredibly daring because the lead female character is the lead character period.
Speaking of which, look at 2:3 where she is speaking:
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
See that? You’ve got the ONE among the MANY. We say these days that “there’s other fish in the ocean” when a relationship breaks up as a way of encouragement that there are other candidates for romance, but apparently in this time they were more “there’s a lot of trees in that forest.” Yet among that abundance of trees, in the middle of all those guys she could collect, the woman in SOS declares: my beloved. One among the many. I couldclimb all the trees, but I won’t. It's raining men (Hallelujah!) but I've only got eyes for one. Then look at 2:8-9 just because you can hardly believe it’s in the bible:
Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
Great! We get to the end of it and my beloved is a . . . peeping tom!
Or: WE say a guy is a hunk or hot or cute; they said, “Ohhhhh! He’s a gazelle!” (AV) Turn to the guy nearest to you this morning and call him a gazelle. Or at least an impala. Highest honor in those days and in SOS it conveys how quickly this guy moves to be near the woman. The whole poem/mini-opera builds to 2:13:
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful ONE, come with me.”
Beautiful one. One among many. The contrast there is not by accident.
Because a bit later it is the guy’s turn. Look at 6:4:
You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
as lovely as Jerusalem,
as majestic as troops with banners.
You are as pretty as a city, baby! You're Wadesboro! Statesville!
But that doesn't compare with what comes next. See, he’s putting the moves on his woman and again I want you to read this just because you won’t believe it made it into the bible:
Turn your eyes from me;
they overwhelm me.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Gilead.
What?! Guys: do NOT try this at home! Goat comparisons may well have worked in ancient times, but I can give you a 100% guarantee they DO NOT WORK NOW. You’ll be digging out of that whole for months at least, years most likely. Check 6:6 as it moves to the teeth:
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
not one of them is missing.
So: clean, white, and best of all . . . intact. 24 for 24!
But all that is just a prelude to 6:8-9:
Sixty queens there may be,
and eighty concubines,
and virgins beyond number;
9 but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
the only daughter of her mother,
the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
the queens and concubines praised her.
See it again? The MANY contrasted with the ONE. 60 queens and 80 concubines could never compare to the ONE. Virgins beyond number don’t hold a candle to the “perfect one.” There is such a focus her on rejecting promiscuity and celebrating monogamy. One man, one woman, for life. The highest state of arousal doesn’t come from the most partners! Isn't it interesting: the most frankly sexual book in the bible -- by far -- also has the strongest rejection of promiscuity and the most powerful celebration of monogamy. It comes from the only partner. It makes me realize something that I hope and pray will settle deep into who you are: Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.
See, this Love Song is a celebration of the love which best reflects the love God has within himself as Trinity and the love he has for us in Christ. The most passionate, heated, enjoyable intimacy is not spread around; it is shared exclusively and exuberantly with the one. Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.
It’s a bit like what happened a few years ago when a Hollywood star got asked this question on a talk show:
A great lover is someone who can satisfy one woman all her life long, and who can be satisfied by one woman all his life long. A great lover is not someone who goes from woman to woman to woman. Any dog can do that.
Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. .
Or maybe it’s even like what Henry Ford said on his 50th wedding anniversary. They asked him how his marriage made it while he was busy changing the world with the Model T. His answer: The formula is the same as car manufacturing. I stick to one model. Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.
Or it’s like this lollipop (Experiment in which I ask a volunteer if he'd like a charms blow pop that I just licked.) Ewww! Of course you wouldn’t share that. It’s one man per lollipop forever, right?! Right. Hey – that’s what we’re doing when we collect . . . sharing lollipops. Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. .
Can I ask you something? Whether you are male or female, single or single again, newlywed or long timer? Are you a collector or a protector? Have you from the youngest of ages bought into the lie that sexual satisfaction comes from a variety of partners? Or have you learned either from observation or experience that nothing quite matches the God-given beauty of life-long faithfulness and long-term passion? Have you moved from collecting to protecting and even into treasuring? Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. .
I believe that when you approach intimacy in this way it helps you to be KNOWN rather than OBSERVED. Savored rather than lusted after. See, we often think of sex mechanically. It’s why people get “how to” manuals on it. It’s something you do. SOS sees it poetically, not mechanically. As something you are, not something you do. That’s why SOS is an operatic poem! And when you embrace SOS you’ll understand out of all those trees, there is ONE; out of all those queens, there is ONE . . . and you’ll be able to know and be known. I realized in getting this talk ready that one of my highest privileges in life is the fact that Julie knows me AND ALL MY QUIRKS (shaving twice a day, doors closed during preaching, two pair of socks on at a time, Nutrageous, endless) and loves me ANYWAY. In fact, our 25 year old daughter Taylor says that her greatest sense of security comes from the understanding that NO ONE ELSE could deal with either one of us!
Maybe . . . you’re so hesitant to commit to and practice marital monogamy because deep down you are petrified of being known. Gulp. Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. .
I just invite you to that place, marrieds, where you learn to long for what you already have. Because you know what happens to that green grass on the other side of the fence? It turns brown. Celebrate, tend to, treasure the grass you got. (But do it without the goat comparison.) And singles/singles again, I invite you to that place where you accept that the only place where the incredible vulnerability of sex can have any safety at all . . . is in marriage. Vulnerability without safety: well, every family who has dealt with an unplanned or unwanted out of wedlock pregnancy knows what I’m talking about. Vulnerability with safety: God-given beauty. REFRAIN.
So: how? How can you protect yourself, your mate, your relationship? 1) Marrieds: never tell another person “I’m feeling something here” even if you are. It happens. It’s what you do with that infatuation that matters. And verbalizing it to the object of your crush escalates hormones, tension, and temptation. 2) Singles: recognize you are affair proofing your marriage (or not) by how you act now. Celibacy before dramatically increases faithfulness after. Keeping the marriage bed pure starts before you ever get married. And you make that decision now. Not in the heat of the moment. Now. The best way for lifelong intimacy is to delay it until it’s safe. 3) Marrieds: here’s what we do at church. No car rides alone with people of the opposite sex who aren’t our spouse. None. Inconvenient? Yes. But less inconvenient than innuendo or all out crisis. REFRAIN.
You know, of all the things you could collect . . . stamps, coins, navel lint . . . I think the worst would be someone else’s lollipop. So let’s just enjoy our own. REFRAIN