Two lovers

I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve ever preached from the Song of Solomon was for a wedding.

Now, there’s nothing original about that. I’m actually wondering if I’ve stayed away from it during worship on purpose. At a wedding, everyone’s focus is on the love of two people ready to commit their lives together. The only other thing that matters is where to sit and what’s for dinner. So, to read from the Song is appropriate. It’s a homerun homily.

Well, that depends on which chapter and verses you’re choosing from!

That’s the problem a lot of us have with the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs. It goes by several names, actually. We aren’t comfortable with sex talk. Youth groups don’t want to have this conversation with grandma around. Grandmas want to pretend there’s nothing to talk about.

You can imagine how uncomfortable most people would feel if there were more sermons based on the Song. Come to think of it, maybe that’s how I can get people moving around on a Sunday morning.

There are several ways people have looked at Song of Solomon. Because it does focus on the love of two, well, lovers, we’ve always made a connection between God and us. For the Jewish faith, the connection is between God and the Israelites. For the Christian faith, it’s between God and the church.

A lot of Christians don’t like to talk about allegories in the Bible until we get to this book. It’s the best sense we can make out of it. While I can read it that way, too, I also don’t have a problem reading it for what it might be: a sensual love song.

In that light, it’s a creative illustration of love and passion. Love and passion are gifts from God. So, why can’t we celebrate them? Why can’t we celebrate them without it feeling so awkward? The answer, of course, is because we’ve butchered what those feelings can be.

Maybe we need more sermons from the Song of Solomon.

I know the struggles churches are facing these days. I hear from my colleagues and I am a pastor of a church right now. So, I’m comfortable speaking into these situations. Believe it or not, we don’t have a money problem. We don’t have a commitment problem. We don’t even have a getting-people-to-show-up problem.

We’re lacking in love and passion for God. Jesus said it plainly, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Many of us can’t imagine a life so captivated by the love of God. There’s serious stuff happening in the world, preacher. Love isn’t going to pay my bills.

Read Song of Solomon as an allegory, if you’d like. But recall there are still two lovers in the story. Each is just as in love as the other. We know how much God loves us. While we were yet sinners, God gave us his son. That proves God’s love for us.

Now, what about your love?

Stay blessed…john

Polly’s Chapel

After reading Psalm 84 today, I couldn’t help but think of Polly. Polly was a man-myth-legend kind of guy in the late nineteenth century. You can learn more about him online.

Today, let’s focus on his walk with Christ.

At forty-eight years old, he converted to Protestantism. He found himself at a prayer meeting he didn’t want to attend, growing angrier the more he stayed. But the preacher prayed over him and the prayer stuck. Polly couldn’t shake what the preacher said.

From that prayer, Polly focused his life on the gospel. His life changed. He changed. So much so, that most of his family and friends thought he had gone crazy. They also didn’t affirm his conversion, leaving the Catholic faith.

A few months after his awakening, he saw a group of people at someone’s house. He found out it was a Methodist Quarterly Conference. Polly joined the meeting. At one point, someone asked him if he wanted anything. His response was, “Yes, I want license to preach.” After assuring the presiding elder that he had changed his “barrooms drinking and gambling” ways, they gave him a license to preach.

I first learned about Polly when I visited the chapel that bears his name, Polly’s Chapel. I officiated a wedding in the small chapel about fifteen minutes outside Bandera, TX. It has his name because he built it himself. When he wasn’t preaching, he was cutting and hauling the stone for the building himself. The dedication of the chapel was a community affair. People traveled upwards of twenty miles to be there!

Now, forgive the history lesson. I want you to appreciate the passion that drove Polly once he committed his life to the gospel. In some ways, it’s the kind of commitment that the psalmist knows of in Psalm 84. “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise,” he says. Well, what about those who build God’s house!

When you study the psalm, you’ll learn about the Korahites.

This was the tribe that led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16. God’s response? The ground opened up and swallowed them. Fire consumed others of them. But some survived, and of those, some became worship leaders in God’s temple. We remember them because the title of Psalm 84 bears their name.

We can assume the temple worship-leading Korahites remembered their tribe’s history. Of course a day in God’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, especially when you consider where the elsewhere could’ve been. But many of us also know how worship leads our life once we take seriously our call as followers of Jesus. As such, we connect with the words of the psalm. 

Polly built his chapel, but he was known more for his care of others. Likewise, the Korahites in the temple didn’t only seek the joy of worship for themselves. They understood their work helped others who wanted to sing God’s praise in God’s house.

You don’t have to build a chapel to help others know the love of God. You don’t have to live at the church either. Instead, you become the chapel. Who we are as God’s church is how others come to know the love of God. I sure hope John’s Chapel is a blessing to you.

Stay blessed…john

9 questions

Like any preacher, when I use an illustration I want to do two things. First, I want to teach some truth of the gospel with it. Second, I want to use an illustration that you will come across later.

If, for example, I tell you to connect praying with a traffic light, I want you to notice a few things. In prayer, we have the green light to approach the throne of grace. But there are also times when it’s best to stop to listen for God’s voice. Finally, the best way to learn to pray is to slow down and pay more attention to God’s presence. And the light guides all of us, not just you. 

Now, I just made that up as I was typing. So, I don’t know how far that illustration can go. But, if I did a good job telling the illustration, the next time you see a traffic light, you’ll think about praying.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Preachers like to joke about the greeting line after worship. From time to time, people tell their preacher how much they appreciated some point made in the sermon. The trouble is, that wasn’t any point the preacher was trying to make. I’ve had that happen to me several times. I’ve learned to let it go. Who knows what they might hear next?

The same thing kind of happened to Jesus.

In Mark 8, our Lord gave an on-the-spot faith lesson. The disciples only had a loaf of bread for them all to share. Not much for a large group of hungry guys. Then Jesus told them to beware of the “yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”

Imagine the disciples looking at one another. The Pharisees are important people. Herod is a ruler. Jesus wants us to beware of them? And all that because we didn’t bring enough bread? Of course, Jesus wasn’t worried about how much bread they had. In fact, their preoccupation with the bread showed they hadn’t been paying attention to what Jesus had been teaching and what they had experienced.

Next, Jesus played 9 Questions.

How could they miss so much? After all they had seen and participated in, how could they not understand? The proof of their misunderstanding Jesus was their worry about the bread. Remember that Jesus fed thousands of people with a few loaves. How could he not provide for their small journey now?

What Christ wanted them to know is something you and I must acknowledge as well. Our faith is in God’s provision, not the world’s promises. The yeast of the Pharisees and Herod did not produce faithful obedience or holiness. Their priorities were power and self-involvement. So, Jesus told the disciples to beware.

You and I, the church, need to be just as careful as the first disciples were to be about those priorities. What have we experienced as the body of Christ? How has God spoken to us? Let’s not forget that because we’re focusing on something else.

Stay blessed…john