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States of Love
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 14, 2016
Genesis 24:42-58 Revelation 19:4-9 Psalm 91
On this Valentine’s Day what other topic could I choose to talk about than love? Today is a celebration for those who are in love, a celebration of the memory for those who have been in love, and a day of hope for those looking forward to love. In my reflections I will be referring to couples as partners. In the past, I would only be talking about marriages, engagements, and those who are dating on Valentine’s Day. But in our society, love has become so broadly understood and expressed that our language needs to reflect that breadth.
I chose Bible passages that talk about love for our readings this morning. Both of our readings are about marriages. In our reading from Genesis, we have the story of Rebekah consenting to the marriage proposal offered by Isaac’s servant. And in Revelation we have the invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is a marriage feast to which the whole human race is invited. The Lamb is Jesus and the bride represents all the faithful who hear the call of Jesus. The Bible readings are about marriage because marriage is the only ritual in the Bible for lovers, the only proper result of love in the Bible.
But in our world, today, people love and express love in many ways that the writers 3,500 years ago or 2,000 years ago didn’t witness. I don’t think it is reasonable today only to follow the norms from so long ago. People always have loved. And people still love today. The institutions that governed love in the past have been challenged by society, and love today does not always find expression in the time honored traditions of Biblical religion. But that doesn’t mean that people no longer hold love as sacred. And it means, too, that the time honored traditions can also still have meaning.
I think that the story of Rebekah stands out in the whole Bible. It is a love story, a timeless love story. But what makes the story stand out for me is that in this love story, the woman has a voice. Isaac sends his servant to Mesopotamia to find a wife for himself. The servant prays to God to help him find a wife for Isaac. He waits at a spring, and he asks God to give him a sign as to who a proper woman would be for Isaac. He decides that when he asks a woman to draw water for him, if she also says she will draw water for his camels, that will be the woman. It turns out that Rebekah comes to the well, and does just that. Isaac’s servant has found a bride for Isaac. The servant asks Rebekah’s brother and mother for their consent on the betrothal and they give it. But the story doesn’t end with Rebekah’s family giving her away. In many stories in the Bible, women are given to men and have no say in the arrangement. But in the story of Rebekah, she is asked whether she wants to go with Isaac’s servant. Genesis 24:57-58 reads,
They said, “We will call the maiden, and ask her.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.”
I have to wonder if all the jewelry, clothing, and other signs of Isaac’s wealth may not have figured in Rebekah’s consent.
This story is so important because the essence of love is mutual consent. Both parties must love each other; both parties must agree to join together. Love is something that can’t be coerced. It may be possible to force someone to marry—and indeed, it has been done through the ages and is still done today—but no one can be forced to love. In the 60’s we talked about free love. The fact is, all love is free.
Swedenborg says some beautiful things about love. There is one quote that I have come back to again and again over the years. It seems to capture the nature of love so well, in the language of a theologian.
The states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquillity, inmost friendship, full trust, a desire in mind and heart to do the other every good; and from all these blessedness, satisfaction, joy, pleasure, and in eternal fruition of these, heavenly happiness. These states are all in marital love and issue from it, because marital love has its origin in the marriage of good and truth, and this marriage is from the Lord. Love wishes to share its gladnesses with another whom it loves from the heart, indeed, to bestow them on him, and in turn to find its own. Infinitely more does the Divine Love of the Lord bear itself so toward the human being. The Lord created man a receptacle of both the love and the wisdom proceeding from Him, and having created him so (the man to receive wisdom, and the woman to receive love for man’s wisdom), He has infused in them from the inmosts a marital love, on which He can bestow all things blessed, happy, joyous and pleasant, proceeding and flowing in from the Divine love by the Divine wisdom along with life into those who are in true marital love, for these alone are receptive of them. Innocence, peace, tranquillity, inmost friendship, full trust, and the mutual desire in mind and heart to do each other every good are severally named, because innocence and peace are of the soul, tranquillity is of the mind, inmost friendship of the bosom, full trust of the heart, and the mutual desire in mind and heart to do each other every good is of the body from them (Marital Love 180).
The first thing I would like to call attention to in this passage is that love between partners is given by God. And love relationships are given to humanity as a way of giving them delight and heavenly joy.
Giving joy and delight to others is the essence of love. So Swedenborg says,
Love wishes to share its gladnesses with another whom it loves from the heart, indeed, to bestow them on him, and in turn to find its own. Infinitely more does the Divine Love of the Lord bear itself so toward the human being.
To give gladness to someone else and to find one’s own joy in doing so is the nature of love.
This can be said of God. God loves humanity immeasurably. And like everyone who loves, God wants to give us gladness, to give us delight. And if Swedenborg can be believed, God gives us our supreme joy by giving us loving partners. It is in the love relationship that humans find their greatest happiness, or at least in loving relationships one finds one of our greatest delights.
With a loving partner, all our joys are redoubled. I love playing and composing music and recording my music. But it means all the more when I can play this music for Carol. I love public speaking and giving lectures. But it means all the more when Carol comes to hear me speak. With Carol in my life, everything is happier, more blessed, more meaningful. One of the songs I wrote about Carol goes, “Everything’s better with you.” And I try to give Carol support in every way I am able, and share in the things that she loves. It is no wonder that Aristotle wrote that friendship is among the chief of virtues.
Another remarkable consideration in the Swedenborg passage I quoted is that love is called “inmost friendship.” We think of love as a giddy feeling that causes us to swoon with bliss. But Swedenborg calls our attention to the trust and deep inner friendship that makes for lasting love. From couples who have lived together for many years I often hear it said that they are best friends. The flutter of early romance doesn’t last. But when that early flame is solidified with friendship, then love is lasting. Swedenborg touches on this.
With those in true marital love conjunction of minds increases, and friendship with it; but both of these decrease with those not ‘in marital love. In the chapter (nn. 156-181) in which we considered the “Conjunction of Souls and Minds by Marriage, meant by the Lord’s words, ‘they are no longer two but one flesh,’” we have already shown that conjunction of minds increases with those in true marital love.  The conjunction increases as friendship is joined to love, because friendship is as it were the face of the love, and also its garment, adjoining itself to the love as a garment, and conjoining itself to it as a face. The love preceding friendship resembles love for the sex, and wanes after the marriage vow, whereas love with friendship adjoined, remains and is steadfast. For it enters deeply into the breast, where friendship introduces it, making it truly marital, and then the love in turn makes this its friendship marital, differing markedly from the friendship of any other love, so full is it (Marital Love 214).
I’m not sure I understand the process Swedenborg is describing here. But what I take from this quote is that friendship makes love lasting and true. Love is joined to friendship and friendship is joined to love. Early infatuation fades. But the early infatuation lasts and grows when friendship is united with love.
Are these idealistic words? I think not. No easier way is there to learn the joy of giving than in loving relationships. But relationships can be difficult because of all that is contained in these words. In order to truly love and give in a relationship, one needs to confront ego selfishness. No more powerful way is there to come to terms with ego than in love relationships. Losing ego and the joy of giving are what heaven is all about. Losing ego and the joy of giving are the essence of love and spirituality. That is why all lovers are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb. For love between partners and love for the whole human race is the heavenly marriage to which all humanity is invited.
Well, I’m all out of time and space in this talk. And I’m just getting started.
Lord, this Valentine’s Day we thank you for the gift of your unfailing love. Your love for the whole human race never ceases. You love us always. You always reach out to us to lift us upward and to save us. You continually work to bring us into purer delights and gladness. You send us friends and loved ones to make our lives more full and joyful. We thank you for the many loves you send our way in people, deeds of kindness, and useful activities. We pray that you give us to treasure the dear people in our lives. Let us not take for granted anyone we come in contact with–whether we see them often or seldom. May we not let commonness make us complacent with the people we see often. And may we not let casual encounters seem unimportant. Love is everywhere to be found for those who have eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. And every gift of love is a gift from you, our dear Lord.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.