The Restless Heart
I. “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him…[when] I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go” (Song of Solomon 3:1-2).
When I was a chaplain in an assisted living home, I had the chance to visit with elderly men and women from every walk of life. Some had been successful businessmen. Others were scholars, scientists, or factory workers. Some were active and sharp, others were bed ridden or suffering from memory loss. But in everyone, despite all difference, there was one, common quality: restlessness. As I’d sit listening to stories and confessions, restlessness would show up again and again. You could hear it in their words and see it in their eyes. Their hearts were searching for something.
I believe they were searching for God.
But aren’t we all? Someone once said that every man who knocks at the door of a brothel is looking for God. If there’s one sure proof that humans are more than mere animal, it’s our restlessness. Science, technology, literature, wars and every accomplishment stem from this basic yearning. The Picassos and Beethovens leave their mark on history, for their very genius in expressing restlessness. A good piece of music leaves you wanting more.
This is the message of the Song of Solomon. It’s a poem between a lover and his beloved who crave intimacy day and night. You can hardly read it without wondering, ‘What on earth is this doing in the bible?’ But the Church celebrates this book because of its powerful spiritual message. It brings us an allegory of God and the human heart restlessly searching for each other.
We are restless, and we will always be restless, until we rest in God.
II. Today is Septuagesima Sunday. It’s the beginning of Pre-lent, these three weeks to prepare our hearts for Lent. It’s time to gear up. So the Church gives us two scripture readings about holy work.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (9:24-27; 10:1-5).
Paul describes the Christian journey like a race. Athletes spend years pushing themselves to earn fame. But how does that measure to our calling to become holy. We’re motivated to make all kinds of sacrifices so we can afford the newest iPhones or go on luxurious vacations. What about our relationship with God? Do we sacrifice for that?
At the opening of this epistle, Paul says that all Christians are “called to become saints” (1:2). He says that Jesus Christ died on the Cross not just to give us a heavenly ‘ticket to ride’ but that we might be “enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge…that you come short in no gift…that you may be blameless” (1:7-8). This is the point of asceticism. This is the point of Lent, that we spend more time in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in order to give over our hearts more fully to God.
III. Our Gospel today makes another analogy.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-16). He sends them off to work in the field, and at the end of the day, pays them a day’s wages, one denarius. This vineyard represents our Christian life. We’ve been given this short life to cultivate a relationship with Him, to meditate on Him, to give over our thoughts and desires to Him, and to pursue in everything holiness. The denarius represents God’s reward for our labor. It was a special coin stamped with the image of Caesar. In the same way, God rewards our efforts by restoring in us His image. The life of holiness is a life of becoming more and more like God.
A lot of false gospels are being preached today. You hear everywhere phrases like, “You’re fine just as you are;” “God’s okay and you’re okay;” “Once saved always saved.” I suspect, no matter what we believe intellectually, we’ve all soaked in this attitude in one way or another. We think of salvation as guaranteed and holiness as on option. In our hidden thoughts we tell ourselves: “I’m a pretty good guy. God can’t expect that much more from me.”
IV. God loves us and love is jealous.
No loving wife would be content with a husband who came home night after night drunk. No loving husband would be satisfied if his wife only spoke to him when she wanted money.
We think, “What harm have I ever done to God?” But what kind of marriage would it be when husband and wife only check in with one another once in a blue moon. Forget about dates. Forget about sacrifice and companionship. You can imagine a cartoon of the absent husband waving his hands in the air, “I don’t know why she’s upset. What harm have I ever done to her?”
God didn’t create us to have a laissez-faire relationship. God created us for invigorating intimacy.
V. “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him…[when] I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go” (Song of Solomon 3:1-2).
Christianity is about restlessness.
The restlessness in the heart of man or woman in the nursing home who “wants to go home;” the restlessness which spurs on technology and science; the restlessness that inspires poets and musicians; the restlessness between young lovers who lay awake at night longing for each other…it’s all one and the same.
Our hearts are restless, and they remain restless, until they rest with God.
So go and seek him, and when you find him, don’t let go.