Let me begin with these two readings which I had asked Tom to read:
TNK [Jewish Publication Society] Psalm 45:11 Take heed, lass, and note,incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house, 12 andlet the king be aroused by your beauty; since he is your lord, bow to him. 13O Tyrian lass, the wealthiest people will court your favor with gifts, 14goods of all sorts. The royal princess, her dress embroidered with goldenmountings, 15 is led inside to the king; maidens in her train, hercompanions, are presented to you. 16 They are led in with joy andgladness; they enter the palace of the king. 17 Your sons willsucceed your ancestors; you will appoint them princes throughout the land. 18I commemorate your fame for all generations, so peoples will praise you foreverand ever.
TNK Song of Solomon 2:8 Hark! My beloved! There hecomes, Leaping over mountains, Bounding over hills. 9 My beloved islike a gazelle Or like a young stag. There he stands behind our wall, Gazingthrough the window, Peering through the lattice. 10 My beloved spokethus to me, "Arise, my darling; My fair one, come away! 11 Fornow the winter is past, The rains are over and gone. 12 The blossomshave appeared in the land, The time of pruning has come; The song of theturtledove Is heard in our land. 13 The green figs form on the figtree, The vines in blossom give off fragrance. Arise, my darling; My fair one,come away!
Well, today is July 5, and this is the “morning after,” a “morning after” what certainly was not a typical Independence Day, not a typical 4th of July, for the nation, or for most of us as individuals or families. Here in the desert, we really do not have beaches to which we flock — I don’t know; are there beaches on Lake Roosevelt? — but fireworks were not held in Tucson because of the recent, it now appears to be over, Big Horn fire and the overall dryness of the desert as we await the annual monsoon.
And Patricia worked until 3:00, getting off an hour earlier than usual, and what with COVID-19, while otherwise I was inclined to invite some friends over for the haute cuisine of Chicago-style hot dogs and baked beans and (I grant it this is not traditional, but I like them) hot-fudge sundaes, we did what we did with our only company’s being Stanley and Oliver, our two dogs. (I was tempted to bring them this morning, since Patricia is with me, but with no fellowship hour, it seemed kind of silly to put them in the car for two and one-half hours of ride. only to have the time they were not in the car being spent closed up in my office.)
But that hot fudge sundae seemed appropriate — though my stores had no fudge sauce, so we had to settle for dark chocolate caramel, not bad, —but that hot fudge sundae seemed appropriate, if not to the 4th of July, then to what I wanted to say this morning, and not just because July is National Ice Cream month. Foods like ice cream represent an indulgence in pure physical pleasure, something which God must have created to show how truly great is God’s love for us — and I am only half kidding, because today, we have some Scripture readings that reflect God’s intent that we find joy and pleasure in earthly life, especially in one aspect.
The editors of the Lectionary provided us with a choice that I declined to make between an excerpt from Psalm 45 and an excerpt from what is variously known as “Song of Songs” or “Song of Solomon,” and so I asked Tom to read both passages. And while it is common among some to claim that the overt sensuality of Song of Songs is about the love of Christ for His Church, I am quite certain that the Hebrews hearing or reading those passages hundreds of years before Jesus was born, would have had no reason whatsoever to understand them that way. . . nor do I, especially when we consider the support found in the words of that Psalm. Both passages clearly refer to part of the attraction — note I am not saying, “attractiveness” — part of the attraction between woman and man.
And though I did not include the recommended Hebrew Bible passage from Genesis in our readings today, it, too, directly refers to the relation between woman and man formalized in marriage. The writers of Genesis have both Rebekah, whom I shall introduce to you in just a moment and who will become Abraham’s son, Isaac’s, wife, that same Isaac about whom we read the past two weeks, the writers of Genesis have both Rebekah and, earlier, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, described as “beautiful” women. (In Bible study, I say that the writers’ of Genesis got to radio personality Garrison Keilor’s Lake Woebegon, Minnesota, “Where all the women are beautiful and all the men are above average,” before Keilor did.) Sarah and Rebekah are beautiful enough, so that each, in what are perhaps the same story told three times in Genesis, each is the object of being almost seduced by their hosts, when with their husbands they take refuge in the homes of these hosts.
All of which is to say, that when we read the Hebrew Bible, our “Old Testament,” the sensual life, the bodily and emotional equivalent of a hot fudge sundae, is celebrated and not scorned. The God of Israel intended for the people to derive physical pleasure from life. With due apologies to you for saying so, but with thanks to God, God made man-woman physical relationships pleasurable! And if the Darwinists want to say that this was to encourage pro-creation, I would not argue, but the fact remains: God made physical relationships pleasurable.
God made it pleasurable for humans, humans whom God did not make perfect nor able perfectly to control themselves in pursuit of pleasure. God did not make any human save Jesus Himself perfect.
As a prelude to our Lectionary Old Testament reading, which I am only going to describe, not read — it is a fairly lengthy passage with no theology of any real importance, — Abraham’s wife, Sarah, has died, and Abraham addresses one of his servants and says to the servant,
“I am going to make you swear by Yahweh, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live but will go to my native land and my own kinsfolk to choose a wife for my son Isaac.’
Our reading commences with that servant’s having gone to seek a wife for Isaac, back in what would be today’s Iraq, and continues with the servant’s offering that explanation of why he had arrived where he had. The reading further continues with the servant’s finding a bride for Isaac in the person of Rebekah.
But what do we have coming from the lips of Abraham? From Abraham, the descendants of whom constitute the members of the two largest religions in the world — Christianity and Islam, at least one of which, Christianity, arises from a third, Judaism. These are the three great “Abrahamic religions.” From the lips of Abraham, we hear the first instance of racism! The Canaanites, whose land he has occupied, are not good enough for his son to marry — and his daughter-in-law-to-be, Rebekah, will take this same attitude when it is time for her son, Jacob, to marry (and of course, Jacob’s wife, too, will be beautiful, although he will have two wives, sisters, so consider that when you choose to use the term, “biblical definition of marriage”).
Racism? Racism is a highly objectionable sin to us, as well it should be, and having once been improperly and unfairly accused by a newspaper reporter of what he called a “racist” comment toward him, I know that “racist” and “racism” are two charges that really hurt. One of the two greatest sins of twentieth century humankind was the result of Racism, elevating Aryanism, something of which I wager many had never heard before it was so used, elevating Aryans above all other human existence. (Aryan refers to a sub-race within what anthropologists call “Caucasian”; it is a term that was used as the self-designation of an ancient Indo-Iranian people.) In the first half of the twentieth century, Aryanism in the form of eliminating other sub-races and races, and is what Hitler sought to achieve — and lest we think this was something solely foreign, Woodrow Wilson, a US President, had a less murderous but complimentary belief in the supremacy of Aryans.
So the great patriarch, Abraham, can be said to have been guilty of Racism with respect to the Canaanites.
But Racism is not the only behavior in Abraham that should raise a question in our minds; in two of the three almost identical stories to which I referred a few moments ago, when Abraham and Sarah were seeking shelter with someone, Abraham tried to pass Sarah off as his sister, and the hosts regarded themselves as fortunate, when they stopped short of . . . stopped short of physical pleasure with her (and this before the Ten Commandments).
A racist and a liar; Abraham was simply not a perfect human being!
But then, how could we identify with Abraham had he been a perfect human being? We do not worship Abraham, yet whether he was an actual historical figure or not, we do look to Abraham, not because he was perfect, but because of his faith and his commitment to follow God.
But perfect? No. A sinner? Yes, though the term had no points of reference hundreds of years before the Ten Commandments.
But given that the “father” of these three great religions was not perfect, how can anyone expect that the “fathers,” the leaders through history, of this or any other secular nation would be perfect? As a nation that is going through an almost singularly difficult time, because, in no small measure, of the sin of its past, the results of which have not yet vanished in our own time, as a nation, should we discard the important and lasting positive contributions of those leaders toward what is, though tarnished, the hope of the world, because they, like Abraham, were not perfect?
Ask that with respect to Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Grant; ask whether there would have been this imperfect yet noble union whose birth we celebrated yesterday, without their contributions made toward it, just as did Abraham contribute toward our ultimately acquiring the faith we hold.
I began with talking about physical pleasure, what, since we are all adults, might be known as “the joy of,” oh heck, you can fill in the blank yourselves. It is a tremendous gift, yet it is a double-edged sword. Think of the story of David and Bathsheba, where David’s lust — lust is the correct word — leads him to two horrific sins: adultery and murder, two sins specified in the Ten Commandments which had, indeed, been given to the people by the time of David.
We might think we are not prone to either of those sins, and maybe, again because of our ages, we are not so prone, at least as we once were, though I have heard interesting stories of what goes on in Florence Gardens.
But we once were so prone, and as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You shall not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. 22 But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court;
‘You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’
We humans are prone to sin — and too many hot fudge sundaes or too many of Kim’s and Eugene’s chocolate frosted cake donuts are gluttony; are sin, — we humans are prone to sin because at least many of us are not able to contain our desire for physical pleasure … or to overcome the fear and ignorance that lead to our disposition to be prejudiced against those whose skin color or speaking accent is different from our own. We are human, and thus we sin.
But we do not have to remain locked in the same sins! Perhaps Paul, the writer of so much of the New Testament including the magnificent letter we know as “Romans,” who himself seems to have had little understanding of how easily one can be led into what he would call “sins of the flesh,” offers us an escape. In Romans, Paul offers us a glimpse of a way out of individual sin — and through that, a way ultimately to overcome what many, including Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, called and call our “national sin,” slavery, and its surviving aftermath, Racism. This is today’s Epistle lesson:
We are well aware that the Law is spiritual: but I am a creature of flesh and blood sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate. While I am acting as I do not want to, I still acknowledge the Law as good, so it is not myself acting, but the sin which lives in me. And really, I know of nothing good living in me -- in my natural self, that is -- for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: 19 the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want -- that is what I do. 20 But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me. 21 So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side. 22 In my inmost self I dearly love God's law, 23 but I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? 25 God -- thanks be to him -- through Jesus Christ our Lord. So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin.
The point, my friends, is this: God gave us many gifts, physical pleasure high among them. But gluttony, drunkenness, lust, are not what God intends, but something to which in our flesh we are prey — just as are we prey by nature to fear and ignorance, which I suspect are at heart what causes Racism. We are prey to them; we are prey to sin!
But as Paul points out to us, there is hope for each of us to be found in Jesus Christ our Lord, by seeking to be faithful to the way the truth and the life which is Jesus. He, Jesus, knows it is not easy, but we know that through Him, there is hope for each of us — a hope more easily made real if we pray regularly, I need to add.
And if there is hope for us as individuals within Him, then we can see that there is hope for our Nation to conquer its sins through Him as well.
And we can best help that Nation by being faithful to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who, though we so often fail, has not given up on us, nor should we on Him.
By the way, and almost as a footnote, one of the vocal protestors the week before this past week — and I think he could have cared less about the well-being of Christianity, though I failed to re-look up information about him, — called for tearing down statues of Jesus, because the statues portray Jesus as a White European, as, my word and not his, as an Aryan.
He actually had a point: Jesus was a Semite, another sub race, the same sub race, of course, as was Abraham.
Have any of us refused to worship Jesus because he was a Semite? Do we deny Abraham’s importance to our faith? The racial aspect of their being has nothing to do with our worshipping God through Jesus, does it?
We as Christians who are also Americans have in Jesus proven we can remove our racial blinders; let us lead others to do so as well —in order, in the words to the Preamble of the US Constitution, to form a more perfect union.
And in Jesus’ name. Amen.