Jesus is teaching us the difference between Religious people and Spiritual people. Religious people are like the Pharisees who were so prideful of keeping the Law, they had no time or energy left to love God, the Law giver. The Readings warn us to seek a personal love relationship with God (righteousness); over perfect religious practice.
1. Song of Songs (2.8-13) is an erotic love poem
This at first may seem out of place in the Bible – particularly if you had a female professor of Old Testament explain that the references to animals, mountains, fruits and lily pads are interpreted as parts of the male and female anatomy. We recoil in horror because we are so ‘head focussed’ instead of ‘heart focussed’. This is of course the point. God is all knowing - and not interested in an intellectual relationship with us. What God wants is a passionate, emotional love relationship.
- Notice the total focus on the beloved (i.e. God)
- Note the absence of concern about practical / legal matters
- Relationship is everything
- This is the thing some religious people do not understand
- This is why churches that over-focus on doctrine decline
- This is why charismatic and Holy Spirit filled churches thrive
2. People are starving for a spiritual experience of God
I am always shocked to find yet another spiritual person who does not have a church home. This is shocking because we in the Anglican Communion have worked so long and so hard to develop beautiful worship and inspiring teaching. But something is obviously missing.
- Love is missing - Particularly love of God
- We have often, taken God’s love for granted with the liberal assumptions of “God is love” and automatic forgiveness
- Pharisees had tradition; we have new-age philosophy
- Forgotten the holiness of God - need for cleansing, healing
- Spiritual defilement prevents relationship with a holy God
- Holy Spirit miss-translated as “Holy Ghost” and sidelined
3. Spiritual people need a Holy and Spirit-led church community
Jesus is teaching us that it is what is in our hearts that counts. The challenge is that we live in a pagan culture that does not love or honour God. This culture has tempted many people into rebellion against the Commandments of God and their own Baptismal Covenant. This “sin guilt” has defiled or spiritually polluted them and prevented them from having a personal experience of the Holy Spirit.
- How can you love a God you have never experienced?
- How can you have a relationship with such a God
- We all need a Saviour who will save us from our sin-guilt
- Jesus is of course that Saviour
- We have to go to Him alone and ask for forgiveness
- Good News is Jesus will send the Holy Spirit who will guide us and help us see our sins – whenever we are ready, not before
3. Forgiveness cleanses us so we can experience spiritual joy
But James (1.16-25) reminds us that people deceive themselves. Anglican worship is deliberately designed to help overcome our self-deception through hymns, Bible readings and teaching that help us see what spiritual pollution may be hidden in our heart:
- Fear, Materialism – spiritual idolatry (all about me)
- Anger, gossip and un-forgiveness – murder of the heart
- Envy, wanting more – stealing in the heart
- Pornography, lust – adultery in the heart
Sin in the heart pollutes our soul and can open spiritual doorways for deceiving and lying spirits (this is for an adult class). These spirits in turn can become oppressive and eventually lead to spiritual bondages and addictions (alcohol, control, materialism, idolatry). The Pharisees Jesus was talking to would be at this stage. They would have a spirit of religion or a “religious spirit” that was blinding them to the truth of who Jesus was and what God really wanted them to be doing – loving and obeying God.
The Spiritual life of joy we all seek is a long, hard struggle “...to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1.27)