Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 30 August 2009 23 August 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 17B/Ordinary 22B/Pentecost 13 August 30, 2009 Textweek

Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; James 1:17-27 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today’s Old Testament reading is a delight, and it seems to belong somewhere other than the Church. Maybe it delights in drawing us beyond where we are. Looking at one commentary on the Song of Solomon, this quote seemed to open up the possibility for where today’s readings might be inviting us…
‘Song of Solomon is great reading in both the sanctuary and the bedroom, for both are “thin places” that can inspire a theology and spirituality of joy.’ Commentary by Bruce G. Epperly

I think that’s a really helpful quote and it suggests the Song of Songs has ‘inspired’ theology and it has. Initially amongst the Hebrew peoples it was read like a love poem between God and the people of Israel. Then in a Christian context, it was seen as an allegory of love between Christ and the church. Why then, did these two great religions not adopt and so reflect a ‘spirituality of Joy’? For the narrative of the scribes and the Pharisees from Mark’s gospel is more commonly recognisable as the allegory or attitude of the church, certainly more recognizable than the energy from the Song of Solomon. What happened to this love poem in its translation into the theology of the Church?

To explore one possible answer for what happened we need to go back to the bedroom, that other “thin place” that inspires a theology and spirituality of joy. When our theological foundations were being laid down – bedded down, you might say - the role of men and women and the understanding of humanity was quite different from what it is today. Women were chattels, most often of lesser value than productive farm animals. And men were the kings of the castles; they owned and controlled everything. And it’s in that setting, that the wisdom of the Song of Solomon was lost, for the Song of Solomon is a song of mutual Love, and expression of Divine Love, a love that is not constructed, nor subject to, the power differentials of this world. The inherent inequality of the genders re-shaped the inspirational wisdom that’s there in the Song of Solomon and in so doing, the theology of joy was lost. Man created God in his own image…….

Following the creation of that distorted theology, more distortion then follows in its wake. As the concept of love becomes subject to the dominant power of the day, in that reshaping of the primary divine reference point for life, so there was also a reshaping of the understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church; there was a reshaping of the relationship between the Priest and the laity, and there was a reshaping of the relationship between the Christian and the non-Christian. Divine love, the mutuality of love, the ecstasy of the bedroom, was distorted to favour the power differentials of the primitive world.

The narrative from Mark is really important for us in our appreciation of what then is revealed in and through Christ, for Christ does not reveal himself as the head of the Church – he is not the dominant power in the bedroom. Rather, what is revealed in Christ is a Divine indwelling joy of mutual love: the Divine energy of joyous love in humanity and in all of humanity.

When it’s equated through poems like the Song of Solomon to the seasons, Christ is revealed as the energy of Spring that brings forth the fruits of summer out of the darkness of winter. But it is not a once a year event, for the wisdom of Solomon is for the spiritual movement in the ecstasy of every moment; it calls us, it invites into a new way, a living way, through the curtain of the primitive institutions of worldly power.

Today’s readings illuminate for us reference points for living that are very much experiential reference points. Starting in the bedroom of mutual love, sung into truth through the Song of Solomon, the letter of James speaks of our fulfillment in Christ that is birthed by the word of truth, so that we, WE become the Divine first fruits; we become the summer that is to be realized from the winter.

James grounds this experience of mutual love in the generous act of giving:
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above
It echoes Song of Solomon, the love poem: The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Then James further calls us to this experiential practice of love:
Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
And again the love poem is echoed: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
From the bedroom of mutual love, that intimate embrace between humanity and divinity, we arise, like spring to bring forth the fruits of summer. It’s a movement or practice or sense of purpose that when pure and undefiled is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Now at that point we might be left thinking, that’s easy, is it that simple? To care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. But we have to translate the orphans and widows that James speaks of, for James is grounding the revelation of Christ in his own everyday context; we must do the same.

The spirituality of Joy is to be found in, and as, the experience of a common humanity, where we find ourselves at one with the marginalized and the dispossessed. It doesn’t mean we chuck away everything we’ve got, doesn’t mean we’ve got to become poor and ragged and go without the delights of the world. What it means is to find ourselves at one with the marginalized and the dispossessed; they too have the opportunities for joy that we have - we create together.

As we welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save [y]our souls, there’s a shift in energy that the Song of Solomon draws us into; it’s the shift in energy that is present in Spring and that shifts that winter into summer. So we challenge the scribes and the Pharisees, and we seek and participate in a new way forward, no longer following a primitive theology of worldly inequality, no longer subject to those who abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

We are called to become doers of the Word:
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past

Become doers of the Word, no longer doing what we should, but rather looking to doing that which we could. Become doers of the Word, looking to a fulfillment of life that is birthed in a heart, and that is unstained by the world.

Holy God… song of all creation
We rejoice in the beauty of life
And in our anointing as beloved children,
birthed in Divine Love
In Christ, is revealed the righteousness of life
And together, with each other, we seek this same fulfilment in ourselves,
Making real that in which our heart delights….Amen

Peter Humphris<