“All That God Has Made To Be Good” on Song of Songs 4:1-15 by Michelle Ellis - Oct. 1, 2023
Part of what we hope to gain from exploring the Song of Songs together as a church is the freedom to bring our sexuality to God — and know that it is good to do so.
I’d like to name the fact that while this is important work to do together, while I think it’s important to talk about sex from the pulpit and to be open and honest about this good and essential part of who are as people in the church, it also feels awkward. When I read the text for this week, I felt aware of how out of place it felt to read this poem in a worship service setting. I think part of that has to do with context. Sex seems like something you want to talk about in a smaller and more homey setting, with one or two people you know really well and who you really trust. And it’s my conviction that some of the best conversations that we’re going to have about sex together as a church are the ones that are going to happen in a smaller group with people who trust and appreciate each other enough to be honest and real, and who can seek out God together. I think it’s fitting for this part of ourselves that is sacred and intimate to be shared with people we know can honour this holy piece of who we are in the context of trust.
That being said, it is important to me to talk about this at our worship services because silence on the topic of sex can send the message that we’re not allowed to talk about it together. Or that it would be shameful to talk about it, or that somehow we as a church, and maybe even God, would much rather pretend like sex and sexuality just don’t exist. None of those things are true. The reason that I am standing up here facing the awkwardness of reading this very intimate poem with you all is this: I want the door to be open as a church for authenticity before each other and before God about our sexuality and all the messiness that that holds. Joe and I want this door to be open because it’s our conviction that it’s only when we bring our hidden longings, confusion, struggles, frustrations and wounds before God and each other that we can begin to heal. I want to stand up here and name the reality that God created us as sexual beings. He knows us and loves us as sexual beings. He desires health, wholeness and healing for all of us as we navigate the sometimes very complex and confusing road of what it looks like to be faithful in our sexuality as we journey through this life in all it’s ages and stages, whether we be young or old, married or single, gay, straight or simply feeling lost. Our heart for this time is that we as individuals and as a community can have open hearts and allow God into this vulnerable place. In doing so, we hope that God might work out healing, renewal and real world wisdom for us in this important part of who we are as His people.
Let’s take a look at this text. Notice that our text today is not talking about broken sexuality. It’s celebrating that sexuality is really good. It’s celebrating that God made sexuality to be a really good gift that is meant to be a delight and a joy. It’s celebrating the joy and delight that it is to come together with your beloved. This is a poem about two people deeply enjoying the beauty of the other, of being close, of celebrating how good the gift of sexuality is. They don’t seem embarrassed or bashful about their experience. They certainly are not ashamed. There is a lightness, playfulness, whole-heartedness and joy in this poem. This man and woman absolutely delight in each other.
How does that sit with you? This robust celebration of God’s good gift of sexuality? Do those things sound like they contradict each other? ‘God’s good gift’ and ‘sexuality’? Some of us may have gotten the idea somewhere along the way that sexuality is something that maybe God tolerates, but he’s not real happy about, or that when it feels good to be in our bodies it must be wrong. This book,located right smack dab in the middle of the Bible, flat-out rejects that posture. In a Christian world that is often reluctant to talk about sex, where there can be shame associated with the longings of sexuality, in a cultural context where sexuality seems to fall into the cynicism of reducing sex to goods exchanged between consenting partners — here we are offered the gift of this book that gives us hope for redeemed sexuality. Here we see two real human beings come together as equals, in mutual love and delight, without feeling shame and without mixed feelings or selfish motives. They wholeheartedly, freely and joyfully delight in the goodness of each other. We have a picture of sex as healing, renewing. We have a picture of sex without shame, without regret, without power plays. We have a picture of intimacy which honours mutuality and commitment between real human beings. This is a poem about redeemed sexuality. And I think that it’s worth noticing together that even though so much about this seems to be fraught, the design is for sex to be a really good gift. The Song of Songs sings that out almost in defiance—in spite of everything! This is meant to be lovely! This is meant to be beautiful! This is meant to be joyful! This longing, this desire that we all have to be deeply known, deeply loved and to deeply know and love in return is such a good, beautiful and holy desire.
Now, maybe it seems like pointing out that sex is supposed to be really awesome isn’t something you feel needs to be said. Maybe you feel like you’re saturated with stories about how awesome sex is supposed to be. In fact, maybe it’s even a point of irritation or pain to you. “Yes, I know sex is supposed to be really awesome and I’m really happy for this couple that’s really enjoying being together, but that’s not my story right now, so what does this have to say to me?” Now maybe it’s helpful to say here that I don’t think the heart of the Song of Songs is to say, “sex is really great and if you haven’t gotten to enjoy the gift of sex you’re really missing out.” While the Song of Songs is definitely about the goodness of redeemed sexuality, it’s about more than sex. The Song of Songs is about holy longing. And it’s an invitation to enter into God’s joy.
At the heart of our sexuality is the desire to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to delight in another and to be delighted in. This is such an essential part of who we are as human beings, and though sex can be a lovely expression of this longing, this longing is far deeper and wider than that. It’s the longing to be chosen, to be held, to be known just as you are and to be loved from that place. It’s the longing to be at rest in and delight in relationship and in this world. These longings that we carry are good longings, they are holy longings. They are longings that are the gifts of the Holy Spirit to draw us to God. The Song of Songs points to the reality that we have been created with deep longings to be in community, to feel deep connection, to be held within the safety of good relationship, to know what unity with others and with God feel like. Resting in the world as good, easy, peaceful, playful, and joyful. These desires are given to us by God and they are given to draw us to him. It is good to desire these things, it is good to seek after these things. Even when we are in a place of unmet desire, even when these longings are painful, they are good in the extent that they draw us to the heart of God, they invite us to bring our longing to him.
The Song of Songs is about God’s invitation to receive his love even in the very middle of the story, not just in the garden of Eden, and not only at the end when all things are made well. We are often so aware of the reality that we live in a broken world, with broken systems, broken bodies, broken hearts. This book says look, there is good here, too. There are gifts of joy, gifts of beauty, gifts of delight that God gives to us so that we can know in our lived experience, even in this broken place, that he made the world good, very good. Even in the middle of what is broken, he is at work to make all things new. God gives us gifts of beauty and pleasure to know through our experience, not just in theory that he didn’t make us only to suffer or work hard, but also to be invited into his joy, to know his love, to feel his delight.
This book invites you to enter into the joy of knowing and being known, not only through the good gift of sex, but also through the many relationships of closeness with others and with creation that he gives. Hear in this book the invitation to enter into the joy of being reunited with a solid group of friends at the airport, hear the invitation to enter into the joy of slowly delighting in a really good meal, the delight of jumping in a cool lake on a hot day, to soak in the golden colours of fall, to enjoy laughing together with good friends. Hear in this the invitation to experience yourself being deeply connected to this world, to the people that God has placed in your life and to God himself. This is what you were created for. You are invited to enjoy and delight in all that God has made to be good, as little tastes of the real and true good that will come when God finishes his work of renewing the whole world and making all things well. Amen.