Sermon: "The Desire" (preached 2/8)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:18-25
Scripture Lesson: Song of Songs 2:1-7
What Is The Desire
To Love & Be Loved - In the history of romance, there’s a story told thousands of times over. It goes something like this young couple’s discussion:
"Since I met you," the man said, "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't drink."
"Why not?" she coyly asked.
"Because I'm broke," he answered.
Ishtar, Venus, & Helen - Love and desire often go hand in hand, and while we laugh at this story, we know there’s a grain of truth within it. Young men are willing to spend everything, give everything for the object of their desire.
In the ancient world, people spoke of the “god of love”, actually, it’s almost always the goddess of love. One of the more ancient stories is of the Babylonian goddess Innana-Ishtar. She was the beautiful goddess of love. Wild and fierce she was also the goddess of strife. Hand in hand with her beauty was her untamed lust for death. One story talks about her bathing in the blood of dead soldiers on the battle field.
The Greeks and Romans called her Aphrodite or Venus. She again was a beautiful goddess of love. No one knew where exactly she came from except that she came up out of the Sea...Now mind you that the Sea is a treacherous and evil unknown in Greek and Roman stories. If you look in the book of Revelation, the Beast of the anti-Christ comes up out of the Sea. So in the very conception of love, the Greeks believed that romantic love itself was born out of the treacherous unknown. To put her in an even worse light, Venus was married to the ugly, crippled God Vulcan; however, as you might guess, she was having an affair with...Mars, god of war.
Ancient Greeks and recent movies have told the story of Helen of Troy. A woman of such desire that men waged the largest war in ancient history just to have her as their own. Her love and her life was a bitter tragedy of love and death intertwined.
Humans have always understood the inherent danger of love and the desire it brings. But, even though we know about it, it doesn’t mean we’ve become any smarter about it. In fact, I believe that as we’ve traded in our stories, we’ve lost valuable teaching moments regarding a very, very beautiful yet treacherous human experience: The Desire to love and be loved.
Discontinuity & Continuity - One of the best comments that people often give their significant other runs something like this: “He/she totally gets me.” We want to be “gotten.” We want to be understood. We want to know and be known. Deep inside us a very strong need to be so close to someone, to become so intimate that we become one. You might know married couples or even best friends that complete each others’ thoughts and sentences. They’ve been together and connect so well that they seemingly think as one.
Conversely, in marital counseling, I’ve heard such things as “She just doesn’t get it.” “I don’t even know him.” “We have separate lives.” The opposite, these statements are the shared longing for a connection that’s just not there. What they want so desperately is to be united, to be one.
In an excellent article to which I am greatly indebted, Kyle Keefer and Tod Linafelt compare the works of Georges Batailles, the movie Breaking Waves, and the Song of Songs. The article points out that all three are trying to work through one of the frustrating treasures of human existence. Continuity & Discontinuity. The desire to become one.
As I’m sure you all have realized by now, we are separate beings. I am different from you. You are different from me. And you are different from you [point from one person to another]. They call it Discontinuity. We have a discontinuity of being. We are separate, different. We don’t share the same exact feelings, thoughts, experiences, and desires. I am unique. You are unique. This discontinuity is a fundamental part of our individualism, and while it does make us unique and special, it is also the source of our loneliness.
We long to be REALLY connected to something, to someone. We want for someone to understand how we feel, how we work. We want someone who “gets us.” As I said before, we want to be gotten. To have unity is what [author] calls continuity.
Desire, yes, desire itself comes from this experience. You see each of us experiences on a daily basis discontinuity, yet, we hope and want and we desire to have continuity, to be united, to be one with someone else.
God, Sex, & Death - Two weeks ago, I spent some time sharing how God and Sexuality were connected, and today, again, we see them intersect. You see our desire to connect, our desire for continuity finds a home in three areas of human existence.
Some look to find unity in a higher power. In many religions, people believe that the ultimate joy is finding “at-one-ness” with God. Hindus believe that one is united with Brahma, Jews, Christians and Muslims see being at one with God as the ultimate joy. I would venture a guess that many of you here today want to find a continuity with God. I know I do. I desire to experience God running all through my life.
Depending on your point of view, along those lines, there is also a unity in death. It’s something we all experience, and whatever happens in all of it, we’re brought to the same state. Now that’s a bit misleading, because some of us believe in Heaven and eternal life and even eternal death; however, in death, the very process of death, humans find connection and continuity. Who doesn’t grieve with and for a family who loses a child. Who doesn’t feel the sting of a spouse who lost their love on a battlefield far away. As macabre and odd as it sounds, humans actually experience continuity in the process of death. Later we’ll even hear the Song of Songs author compare love and death.
We also experience a taste of continuity in sex. In the awkward indignities of this beautiful, biological response to reproduce, we humans find something transcendent. The truly sensual nature of sex, the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings of the act are so exceptional that throughout history people have believed that the act is actually spiritual. That’s right, back to a connection with God.
In sex, we are totally vulnerable. We are stripped of the clothes that hide, and we unite our bodies together. The two become one flesh. It is physically, the closest we can come to being continuous.
God, Sex, & Death, 3 places we humans taste continuity in the midst of a world that isolates and separates. As we dig into the book of the Song of Songs, we find that all three are present...and that all three are NOT equal experiences of unity...though each have their place in the human experience.
His Banner Over Me Is Love
The Banner - In chapter 2 of the Song of Songs the Beloved confidently states, “His banner over me is love.” In the ancient world it was difficult for large armies to organize themselves. In the midst of the chaos of battle, soldiers needed to be able to communicate where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do. Banners were used for each unit. Each soldier would belong to a unit, and each unit had a unique banner. So each banner was a sign of belonging and identification.
Love & War - In a subtle connection between death (here symbolized as war) and love, the Beloved identifies herself by the Love of her Man. “His banner over me is love.” His love was sign of safety, a comfort.
Identification - Within the confines of a committed relationship, mutual identification is essential. The Genesis text puts it this way, “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Part of becoming husband and wife is the process of uniting two lives into one. The banner of Love hangs over a healthy marriage. Each spouse can identify themselves in the other while retaining their own identity within the marriage.
Losing One’s Self - However, the text is also clear that we are free to be ourselves within a relationship. Genesis say, “They were naked and unashamed.” Too often we scan past this part too quickly as we blush at the word “naked;” however, it’s important we pause here. For nakedness isn’t just a lack of clothing. Nakedness can also be the uncovering of our hearts and souls. The kind of relationship that God intended for a man and a woman is one where each person is free to be exactly who they are...no pretenses, no pretending, no trying to be someone we’re not.
One of the dangers of desire is the loss of self. Too often a wooing young man or perhaps a desperate wife trying to make a relationship work will give up their self. They will cover their own nakedness with the clothing of what someone else wants them to be...or what they think someone else wants them to be. Instead of a banner of Love, providing a safe freedom to be who we are, Desire can lead us lose who we are...dooming any relationship.
However, the opposite can doom a relationship, too.
My Lover Had Left, He Is Gone
“I’ll Call You Tomorrow” - I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase used before...and I’m sure you know the connotation that it carries. And too often the lack of sincerity behind it as well.
Chapter 5 - The Lover is Gone? - In chapter 5, the young woman has what most scholars agree is a dream. A nightmare to be exact. You see her Lover was at the door, but when she opens the door, he is gone. She looks and searches the city, beaten and abused by the experience, she is left alone...abandoned. Apparently, she’s heard about how easily it rolls off guys lips, “I’ll Call You Tomorrow”...but she also knows that guys sometimes aren’t still around the next day.
Too Close for Comfort - When two people begin to enter a relationship, their lives begin to touch, and as the relationship deepens, the connection deepens. Soon those boundaries of personhood begin to overlap. Our discontinuity, our very individualism begins to be encroached. However, like the young woman’s nightmare, some people get spooked. Fearing a loss of self, the moment the boundaries of self are touched, they flee the relationship. The Lover is gone, He’s not at the door, and there will be no phone call.
So where am I going with this? While the Song of Songs is primarily an erotic poem extolling the virtues of love, it also offers a warning: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Song of Songs is about Desire. Actually it’s about THE desire...the desire to love and be loved.
THE Song of Songs
Our Design - The Bible is fairly clear that we were made to love and be loved. If God is love, and we are made in the image of God, then we can conclude that much of who we are identifies with love. Returning to our beginning this morning, we desire to have unity, to be continuous beings. To have the fellowship or relationship with God and others such that we “get each other.” We are hardwired for Desire...We were designed to Desire.
Who’s Master? - But, the problem is that Desire sometimes gets the upperhand. We want to be with a person so much that we’d do ANYTHING to be with them. We feel lonely, and it’s easy to fill that loneliness by spending a night in someone else’s bed. Perhaps, we don’t like ourselves, and it feels good to be wanted like he wants you...
Interestingly, Desire shows up within the Hebrew text in some odd places, and each time it is akin to being Master. After the Fall, God tells Eve that her desire will be for husband...but most scholars understand this as a statement of contested mastery in the relationship...In other words, the power struggles of husband-wife are rooted in Desire.
Just a chapter later, Cain is being told by God that sin desires to be master over him. Desire leads to mastery.
And now, in Song of Songs, we are told not to awaken love until it desires...in other words, “Be careful with love. Be careful with relationships. The Desire we have to love and be loved can become your master and destroy your life.”
Strong & Whole Self - So what do we do? Be it an unhealthy surrendering of self to the altar of desire or a fear of one’s individuality being swallowed up, the remedy is the same: Know thyself. Who are you? You are a child of God. You bear the image of God. You have worth because God made you just the way you are. You don’t need some guy to tell you that you are special...that you are sexy. As she proclaims in the Song of Songs, “I am a Lilly of the Valley, the Rose of Sharon,” the young woman is comfortable in her own skin. Tell me again? What is the definition of sexy? That’s right Loving yourself...being comfortable in your own skin.
There is little sadder than staring out across a college campus on Saturday morning...watching girls walk home in the same clothes they went clubbing in the night before. I always noticed that they walked with their heads down avoiding eye contact with other pedestrians. One night stands aren’t sexy, and there’s no condom to protect the human heart.
You also don’t need a girl fauning over your car, your money, or your popularity. Guys you don’t need a girl on your arm or in your arms to be a real man. Conquests aren’t God’s measure, and being sexy has more to do with integrity and character than muscles and sports...at least for the girl that will stay with you through thick and thin, who will be a good mother, and a great wife.
Brothers and Sisters, and especially my younger brothers and sisters, unless you are whole and healthy on the inside, your relationships will continue to struggle. If you don’t respect yourself or your body, he won’t either. If you don’t know how to let someone in your life, in your heart in a healthy way, you will always be lonely...no matter how many women you sleep with. I’m amazed by the number of people who have sex without ever being truly naked...of being real, open, and vulnerable. If you leave the Desire to be loved by God unmet, your body, mind, and heart will seek to fill it with the love of something or someone else...and it will always fail...leaving you more empty than ever.
The only way to keep Desire in check is to understand it...and yourself. We were made to love God and be loved by God. Understanding that our deepest longing can only be met in God through Jesus Christ is the only way we can find true happiness...it’s the only way we’ll be happy with ourselves...it’s the only way we can be truly naked and unashamed...and it’s the only way we can have successful relationships and marriages.
But there is also another part to this. We are made to love and be loved by others, too. And the key to loving others in a commited relationship is the big “S” word...no not that one! Get your minds out of the gutter.
That “S” Word?
Submit - It’s been said by many a wise woman: There is only one thing that keeps a woman from being a happily married wife: her husband!
The word of love is actually submit. An ugly word that has been held hostage by the ignorant and misinformed. It has a bad history within the church as it has been used to defend men’s abuse and degradation of women. What amazes me, though is how often Christians, even today, misuse the word and how it applies to a marriage relationship.
A Bad History
The Forgotten Ephesians 5:21 - the word submit in Ephesians 5 only appears once, "submit one to another." Too often the "church" has used this section to lower women's status and make them subservient to men. Still today there are "family" ministries out there that promote "women should submit to their husbands. [period]" However, the entire point of this text is to show how ALL OF US should submit to each other: wife to husband, husband to wife. Wife should respect husband, husband should love his wife and look out for her best interests just as Christ died for the Church! There's no dominance in this! There's mutual love. Mutual respect. One flesh, side from side, side by side.
The LORD Is One
Echad - In the end, all relationships are about Echad. Echad is an important word in the Bible.
The Great Shema - Deuteronomy 6:4, considered to be the holiest text by the Jews says, “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” The LORD is one, the LORD is echad. Echad means “one.” God is Echad. Central to the Bible is the belief that God is one.
“One Flesh” - And as Rob Bell points out in Sex God, “It’s the same word as the “one flesh” in Genesis, “And the man and woman shall be one, echad, flesh. Central to Bible is the belief that God is one, not many, and sex between the man and woman has something to do with God. Who God is. What God is like. Adam and Eve are one as God is one. This marriage between a man and woman-their having sex-is about something much bigger than the relationship itself. It points beyond them to somebody else. - to God. The point of marriage isn’t marriage. It’s a picture. A display. A window that you look through to see something else. You see our world isn’t echad, it isn’t one. It’s broken, shattered, fractured, with pieces lying all over the floor....A marriage is designed to counter all of this. NOt to add to the brokenness of the world but to add to the oneness of the world.”
Marriage: A Symbol of Hope - Marriage and sex in marriage are symbols of hope for this world. We live as discontinuous beings with a desire to love and be loved...with a desire for unity...with a desire to know and be known.
Marriage is God’s way of bringing Echad to us. Marriage and Sex are about Oneness. Desire is about Oneness. Brothers and Sisters, God’s banner over us is Love. Rest in that. Brothers and Sisters, your Desire is to love and be loved by God...and nothing else will ever come close. Nothing.
You want a good marriage? Fall in love with God. You want great relationships? Fall in love with God. You want good sex? Let God love you. You want to be “gotten” to be understood? Let God love you for his banner over us is love. And our desire is to be loved by him. Amen.