Sunday, August 23, 2009

Homily for Proper 16 Year B 2009

You have heard it said: “All is fair in love and war.”
Love and war--uttered in the same breath. The comparison of the two can strike the ear as a sour note, as dis-chord, dissonance, disharmony. But the two are often joined.
Jordin Sparks, who knows not a sour note, sings in her current pop hit: “I never meant to start a war/ Don't even know what we're fighting for” She plaintively asks: “Why does love always feel like a battlefield?” And to ensure you will not forget the name of the song--she repeats the word “battlefield” a bazillion times.
Jordin sings: “I guess you better go and get your armor/ (Get your armor)/ Get your armor/ I guess you better go and get your armor/ (Get your armor)/ Get your armor. More echos for the slow to hear.
Jordin Sparks is not the first to draw upon war as a metaphor for love. Twenty-five years ago Pat Benatar’s single “Love is a Battlefield” was at the top of these same pop music charts. And about two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul drew upon the same metaphor.
Paul, in a letter to the church in Ephesus, encourages them to fight the good fight. He admonishes them to put on the armor of God. This is special armor for a special battle. He warns them that he is using a metaphor-- “our enemies are not flesh and blood.” Like when Jordin Sparks compares romantic love to war, creating an interesting metaphor--Paul does the same sort of thing. Paul, however, is not concerned with romantic love, the greek word eros--but agape--godly love. Turns out--godly love is also a battlefield.
A phrase from Song of Songs is an interesting case study: “His banner over me is love.” I sang it as a worship song as a child in Vacation Bible School. The image is of a military banner with “love” written on it. The War Scroll from Qumran mentions banners bearing such mottos as “the truth of God,” “the righteousness of God,” “the glory of God,” “the justice of God.”1 The woman in the Song may be announcing that she is under the cover, or refuge, of her lover.2 If so, the poet has taken a military image and subverted it to love’s ends: on the male’s banner is written “love.”3 Military metaphors are not unusual in Song of Songs: 6:4,10, and 12; 1:9; 3:7-8; 8:6.4 Jordin Sparks is not the first to connect love and war in this way. So, the next time you sing, “his banner over me is love,’ imagine, if you will, a banner with ‘love’ written on it signifying God’s unquenchable love for his people, but also remember that the phrase in its original context describes the love of a young man through the eyes of the young woman he loves. The text overflows with eros. But synagogue and church found no difficulty in transposing the language onto a register expressive of God’s love for his people, and of their love and worship of God. That audacious hermeneutical move has held generations of believers in its embrace for more than two thousand years.
In our text, Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus to put on righteousness (acting rightly--justice’s first cousin) as if it were a breastplate. Wear truth as a belt. Shod your feet with telling everyone good news of peace. Keep the faith--“Your faith will be your shield,” he says. Truth. Peace. Faith. Righteousness. God’s rescue will be your helmet. Together, these are godly armor.
The Spirit of God is your sword, not a sword of metal--a sword made of Word. When Alexander Pope said that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” he was thinking of battlefield’s of flesh and blood. We, however, are thinking differently.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...Word became flesh--Jesus. When Jesus was being arrested, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of those who had come to take Jesus away. Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath. Jesus said to Peter, “those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” Peter was on the wrong battlefield. Peter drew the wrong sword.
It is rather subversive, don’t you think, to use words that connote violence, to advocate non-violence. The words of The Word, were constantly misunderstood by the more literally minded. In our Gospel lesson today Jesus asks (of words he had uttered) “Does this offend you?” Had they answered, they would have answered “Yes.”
Paul’s use of the language of war is both subversive and offensive. But Paul believes that love and war have more in common than a lack fairness--Paul believes love is a battlefield. Are you ready for battle? Will you fight? Will you take up arms against evil? Have you put on your armor--righteousness as a breastplate, salvation as a helmet, shoes of proclaiming the good news of peace? Got your shield--that is, Faith? Is Truth your belt? Ready to take up your sword of the Spirit.
With Jordin Sparks, I can sing (think of it as karaoke): “I guess you better go and get your armor/ (Get your armor)/ Get your armor/ I guess you better go and get your armor/ (Get your armor)/ Get your armor. More echos for the slow to hear.

1 comment:

boonedl12 said...

Charles I hope you continue to post your sermons on this page. I don't hear as well as I would like and this clarifies a lot about what I thought I heard Sunday. Thank You!
David Boone