When I’m driving around town,
maybe on my way to the Edge campus ministry house or running errands,
I like to play a little game with the radio.
I turn on the top 40 pop music station and then assume that,
whatever song is on, it’s about Jesus.
Either that someone wants Jesus to see them and love them
or that Jesus is singing about wanting us to see and love him.
It works 9 times out of 10.
See, most popular music is, forgive me, not written very well.
Of course there are gems in there, but like movies or fiction,
much of it is forgettable.
Popular music, specifically of the “romantic” genre, is vague
and filled with clichés about how great the other person is
—you’re so beautiful, so awesome, I just want to be with you.
So much of what is on is kind of hilarious if you put Jesus in place
of the boyfriend or girlfriend being sung about.
This is how I amuse myself.
Interestingly, a lot of Christian pop music is kind of the same.
Vague, clichéd statements about how beautiful and awesome God is
and how we just want to be with him.
These are what I often call “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.
Innocuous examples might be
“Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your Name…” by M. Redman
or “Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God.”
Or even some Taize chants like “Jesus, your light is shining within us.
Let my heart always welcome your love.”
Then you’ve got more obvious examples
like Elvis Presley’s “He Touched Me:”
“He touched me, oh he touched me
And oh the joy that floods my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole”
or the song popularized by Josh Groban “You Raise Me Up”.
It’s a great example,
a Christian praise song very akin to “Wind Beneath My Wings” (“You raise me up so I can stand on mountains/You raise me up to walk on stormy seas/I am strong when I am on your shoulders/You raise me up to more than I can be”)
—is it about Jesus? Or a lover? Or both?
There’s even a whole subculture
that some of our evangelical sisters connect with
like in this quote from a book called Love Letters From Your Prince:
“When a royal princess is rescued by a brave prince, every girl’s heart pitter-patters at the thought. But women of all ages can easily miss the glorious truth that Jesus is the Prince who has already chosen her and is waiting at her door.”
Now, I am poking a little bit of fun at
one of the many bizarre things we Christians do.
Of course it’s true that God raises us up and is indescribable
and to be loved beyond all things.
The problem here is that we end up with a simplistic theology
for something we all know is vast and complex and mysterious.
And I think we all know it’s not just our music
that gives us this surface understanding of God’s presence with us.
Lots of “Christian” art is only about being nice or pretty.
Maybe you remember last year’s Lenten Journey
about understanding scripture more deeply
—we talked a lot about truth not being only literal
but also metaphorical,
—we talked about truth hitting us on a deeper, difficult,
protected place within us,
a place that can be transformed but we don’t want it to be
because we like who we are thank you very much.
I’m poking fun at some of our church music
because it is often a symptom of surface-level faith.
Now, let’s pause for a moment,
because the Isaiah passage for today seems to contradict what I’m saying.
Isaiah says that Israel (and we) marry God.
And it’s not just here,
but many times in the Hebrew and Christian Testaments
—Jesus is the bridegroom and we, by implication,
are the blushing bride.
It’s here in our scripture—Jesus is our collective boyfriend.
If you think of it literally, it’s a bit creepy.
But also beautiful—this metaphor is called bridal mysticism
and has a long history in the church.
We see married people all the time
—certainly we see broken marriages,
but also connectedness and reliance and mutual giving.
Of course we’d use it as a metaphor for our relationship with God.
Look at the Song of Songs, if you don’t believe me.
Bridal mysticism takes Jesus as the boyfriend to its logical extreme
and puts the mystic or the reader in the place of the bride
—when we read these passages, when we pray,
we can experience the great hope a bride feels,
the anticipation of new life,
the excitement of being with the one our heart most desires
—you know this feeling.
Not just the heart palpitations of a crush,
but the deep connectedness to someone we truly love
and who loves us back.
For some of you, that might be a married partner,
for others it might be a deep, soulfriend,
for others it could be the relationship you have with a parent or sibling. This is the experience of having our name changed,
as the bride often does, from one thing to another.
For Israel, Isaiah says her name changes from “Forsaken” and “Desolate”
to “My Delight is In Her.”
There is intimacy and tenderness in this new relationship,
in this partnership with God.
Consider these deeper relationships you have, whether romantic or not
—what feelings do you have there?
Connectedness? Safety? Willingness to take other risks?
Challenge to become a better person?
Being accepted and balanced by another?
These are beautiful experiences and we ought to want them
—but they require a certain vulnerability on our end.
We have to be able to be vulnerable to God
—no more posturing, no more
“look how great I am, God, and all the stuff I’ve done for you”,
no more “look how humble I am, how little I think of myself
so that you can come and walk all over me.”
No, bridal mysticism requires us to present ourselves
exactly as we are to our bridegroom Jesus.
There’s a song by Lady Antebellum
—one of those pop songs I mentioned at the beginning that I think
is hilarious when you put Jesus in the place of the boyfriend or girlfriend.
(and we’ll hear it in a bit from the praise band)
It’s called “I need you now” and the chorus is
“It's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk and I need you now
Said I wouldn't call but I lost all control and I need you now
And I don't know how I can do without
I just need you now
I just need you now
We’re all drunk or angry or ashamed or confused or broken in some way
and we all want to call on God—this is what it means to be vulnerable.
It’s to be that broken person and not hide it and call God anyway.
A sort of spiritual drunk-dial.
Let’s be clear—bridal mysticism is not triumphalism.
It’s not about our comfortable state in this life
being a sign of God’s favor on us.
This good news of being God’s beloved means nothing
if we are content in our own blessedness,
means nothing if we’re comfortable in our wealth
and perceived happiness
—this is the gospel of wealth and it is no gospel at all.
Good news means nothing if it doesn’t speak into some bad news
Isaiah is speaking to a people who have returned from exile
in a foreign land, people who have been ripped from their homes,
who have concluded from the experience that God is in fact dead,
people who are returning to those homes changed
and find that other people have moved in
and have taken over the exiles’ lives.
Isaiah is speaking to a people who are desolate and forsaken,
who could have easily changed their names, as brides often do,
to Mrs. Desolate and Mr. Forsaken, it’s that bad.
And Isaiah is saying,
in the midst of this emptiness and confusion and drunkenness,
God is alive and delights in them.
God is, in fact, bringing them to a new home,
calling them by a new name
“Mr and Mrs You’re So Darned Amazing”,
God is giving them hope, God is showing them a new way to be.
God is showing us a new way to be.
And it’s not just the surface level of how pretty God is
or how God makes our hearts go pitter-patter
—those can be true—
this is the gut-instinct moment of knowing who we are
and what ought to be done that we often ignore.
The moment of seeing someone being hurt
when we could speak up for them.
The moment of loss when someone we love dies or leaves us
and the little we have left is God.
The moment of sudden understanding.
That moment is the truth,
that moment is what Jesus was talking about in the Kingdom,
that moment is what it’s like to be married to God.
So, these praise songs we sometimes sing—in church or on the radio—
could speak of a shallow faith.
And they could speak to something much deeper.
How aware you are of what you’re singing is the key.
And how you respond to it as well.
Do you hear “I’m okay, you’re ok?”
Or do you hear, “I love you, you know that’s not good for you, right?”
Or even, “I love you, let’s go fix the world.”
I leave you with the words of a bridal mystic from the 1200s, Hadewijch.
Her poems refer to God as Love:
This is a marvel difficult to understand
Love’s robberies and her gifts
I pray and invite Love
that she may incite noble hearts to sing in tune
the true melody of Love
In humble anxiety and high hope.