September 1, 2024
Song of Solomon 2.8-13 —The voice of my beloved! “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
Psalm 45 — A wedding ode to a prince marrying a foreign princess, extolling both his personal loveliness and his nobility as a ruler.
Alternate: Psalm 72 — God guide the king, that he may defend the cause of the poor, and that he may prevail over the enemies of justice.
James 1. 17-27 — • Everything is a gift from God. • We are children of God’s truth, and clear expressions of God’s creativity. • Be quick to listen and slow to speak, and slow to anger. • We do not just hear the Word of God; we do it. • Religion is to care for the needy and stay “unstained from the world.”
Mark 7. 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 — “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” … “It’s nothing outside you, but what comes from within, that defiles you.”
Song of Solomon
Oh, we’ve tried so hard to make this a theological allegory, but face it: it’s ancient Near Eastern erotic poetry. Check out 7.7-8: “ You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches.” Allegorize that all you want. It’s still erotic poetry. Let it be that! For one thing, let it celebrate the joy and mystery of erotic love, of romance between two people. That experience is not devoid of God. Find the divine there!
And, just to get theological: no matter how you allegorize or assign parts, this makes it clear that God’s love for us is erotic love: God’s desires us, because we’re beautiful to God. God wants us. Whatever we think of as erotic love, as physical as it gets, is how God loves us. God wants physical intimacy with us just as deeply as two human lovers do. What might that mean? Maybe finding God in our bodies… in our relationships… in all forms of love… in forms of body-prayer… in embodying God’s love in whatever ways we are given to do so…And maybe we discover the erotic love of God: loving God simply because God is desirable, beautiful, attractive, and dear to us. The Song of Solomon lets our full passion flower: God is our Heavenly Lover.
Preaching on James, you have to pick a verse or two; there are several topics in a small basket.
A parallel between James, the song of Solomon and the Gospel is the connection between inner and outer. Real faith is both inward and outward: both the passion of love and its embodiment, both hearing and doing the word, both inner and outer “cleansing,”? both prayer and justice. It means both being quick to listen and also caring for the orphan and widow, that is, the needy.
To “remain unstained by the world” doesn’t mean to avoid getting our hands dirty. It means to avoid letting the values of the world determine who we are and how we live. It means even when we’re immersed in a culture of consumerism, capitalism, violence, selfishness and all that, it doesn’t stick to us: we’re moved by compassion, trust, the presence of Christ, and the energy of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’s culture cleanliness really was “next-to-Godliness.” Jesus’ critique isn’t to diminish ritual cleanliness, but to attach it to its deeper meaning: outer cleanliness should reflect inner commitment, and inner commitment should bear fruit in outward actions. All our “bad stuff,” our theft, murder, adultery, slander and so on, come from within. How does what you do reflect what’s in you? Whatever is in your heart—joy or anger, resentment or mercy, fear or love, meanness or loveliness—that’s what will spill out onto others. No matter how you try to disguise it, your heart will make itself known. So work on what’s in our heart, and work on harmonizing your outward words and actions with what you really believe in.
It’s what comes out of our mouth that defiles us. How much of our public discourse and private conversations are laced with trash talk, meanness and judgmentalism! As much as it makes us feel superior to judge others, Jesus says it defiles us. Watch out.
Whatever is in you is what spills out to others. Imagine the incense of your heart burning all the time. Whatever it is will suffuse the air around you. If what’s in your heart is the burning tires of anger and resentment, your neighbors will smell it. If it’s the jasmine of forgiveness and mercy, they’ll know. Attend to what is within, for it will come out.
It’s not what comes from outside us that defiles us. Boy, do we need to hear that. There’s a part of us that has a hard time trusting that. When bad stuff happens we think, “What have I done to deserve this?” We’re not much more enlightened than believers in Bronze age superstitions when we think God punishes bad behavior with bad experiences, when we think what happens to us reflects who we are. Sure, sometimes we bring consequences on ourselves. But there’s a difference between natural consequences and divine punishment. Victims of abuse or relationship violence need to hear this over and over. What somebody else does to you does not defile you. Think of Jesus on the cross: treated as less than human, scorned, rejected, condemned—but none of that diminished his loveliness, his goodness, his dignity. One reflection of Jame’s statement that true religion is to care for the needy and “remain unstained by the world” is to keep our gentleness and generosity intact even when those around us accuse us, judge us and even despise us, to remain humble and compassionate even when others encourage us to be resentful, vengeful or defensive. We don’t let others decide how we’re going to live.
Call to Worship
1. [Song of Solomon 2.10-13]
Leader: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
All: O Beloved, we hear your voice, and awaken.
For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
God of love, our souls, enclosed, emerge
to you like small green things in spring, seeking your light.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come.
O Beautiful One, our spirits sing love songs to you.
The voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
You whom we desire above all, our hearts join all Creation in praise.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
O Lovely One, we open to the sunlight of your grace,
that we may bear the fruit of love.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Yes! We love you. We come—to be with you,
to worship, to revel in your love.
Heavenly Lover, we are yours.
Leader: A Mystery Beyond us calls to us.
All: A Beauty from deep within beckons.
Our busy minds can’t perceive it.
Our human traditions can’t contain it.
But it calls to us and we must answer.
It rises in us like a song, and we must sing.
So, Holy One, we gather to worship you.
We gather to listen and wonder
and blossom with your grace. Amen.
Leader: Muddy water swirls, clouded and opaque.
All: Still water settles out, and becomes clear.
God has called us to this time and place to be still in God’s grace.
We come to rest in God’s presence, that what is within may become clear.
God desires truth in the inward being.
Holy Spirit, clarify our souls, cleanse our hearts,
and renew within us the desire to do your will,
in the name and grace of Christ.
God of grace, you give us your law not to restrict us but to set us free. Help us by your grace to hear and understand, to listen and discern; to know and choose wisely. By your Holy Spirit, your Word in Christ, alive in us, guide us in the way of your Wisdom. Amen.
God of truth and power, we observe many traditions, we meet many expectations, we follow many habits. But now in this moment, free of past or future, there is no one to judge us or to compare; there is only you, hidden in your Word. Help us to listen for your presence, to hear what is True, to be changed by your Word. Our hearts are open vessels. Pour yourself in, and we will receive you. Amen.
Eternal God, we are hungry for your truth. Feed us with your Word. Clear our minds; open our hearts; ready our hands: to receive your Word and to digest it, to hear your Word and to do it, to love your Christ and to follow in the deep joy and compassion of the life you give. Speak, for our hearts are listening. Amen.
God of love, we acknowledge the selfishness and fear that come from within us, the things that hinder our perfect love. Heal our wounds and fears; wash us clean of our faults, so that what comes from us offers love to all, in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: Friends in Christ, we desire to be in harmony with God,
who desires truth in the inward being.
All: We confess what is within us is a mix of love and fear.
God, open to us our inward lives, that we may see clearly, and be made new.
Help us see clearly what within us is born of love,
and what is born of our wants and fears.
By your grace transform our inner desires,
that what flows from our hearts may be love and healing,
and the grace of Christ.
[Silent prayer … Words of grace]
The grace of God be with you.
And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God, You who are truth,
You who dwell within me:
You see me as I am; and you receive me as I am.
Help me to shed all attachment to outward appearances,
to see myself truthfully,
and to let myself be filled from the inside out
with your grace, your forgiveness,
your blessing, your love.
[Silent prayer .. The Word of Grace]
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
We look within,
to what is deeper than we can see,
deepest in our hearts,
where only you can perceive,
and where you bless.
There in the darkness,
heal us; wash us;
love us; hold us.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
1. [James 1.17-27]
With gratitude we affirm that every good thing is a gift of God, the Mother of stars, the Father of lights, whose love is not shadowed or changing.
We give thanks that Christ, the Word of God, the word of truth, has given us birth so that the wonder of Creation might blossom in us.
By the Holy Spirit we seek to be doers of the word, not hearers only, to live by the perfect law, the law of liberty. We seek to rid ourselves of selfish desires, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save our souls. By the Spirit’s grace we seek to persevere, to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. We devote ourselves to care for those who are vulnerable, to do justice and act mercifully, and to serve God in all we do, in the name of Christ. Amen.
We trust in God, whose Word creates all that is, whose Wisdom is life itself.
We follow Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, who taught and healed, who loved and liberated, and who continually renews in us the ways of God’s love. In love he gave himself and was crucified; in love he was raised from the dead. Christ will come again and again to give us wisdom and guide us in the ways of God.
We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s loving Wisdom alive in us. By God’s Spirit, as the Body of Christ, we live in the way of Jesus, choosing love and forgiveness, healing and justice. To this we give our lives, praying that always God will unite us, redeem us, guide us and empower us in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
God, Beloved, we thank you. We love you. We desire you.
We gather at your table, drawn by your love and your beauty.
In your grace and mercy you are like a gazelle,
leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
You create us as the image of your love.
You claim us as your Beloved.
You set us free from all that oppresses us.
You Spirit calls to us, “Arise, my love, and come away.”
We leave all our worries and judgments, and come to you.
We come in thanksgiving. We come because we love you.
Our Heavenly Lover, you are beautiful, and we desire you.
So we come to feast on your presence,
singing your praise with all Creation.
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
the body of your loveliness.
He is our Beloved, who does not merely speak of you;
he draws us into delight in you.
In him we fall in love with you.
In Christ we taste of your goodness;
we die for love of you and rise in the ecstasy of faith.
(The Blessing and Covenant) *
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
wildly in love with you, and with your world.
In these gifts of bread and cup, and the gift of this gathered community,
we draw near to you.
Arise, Love, and fill us with your beauty,
that we may go into the world radiant with your Spirit,
in the name of Christ.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
By your Spirit may the grace that is in our hearts shine out through our words and actions and all our choices. Send us into the world to share your love for the sake of the redemption of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(Click on title to see on the music page.)
Be Thou My Wisdom (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)
Be thou my Wisdom and grant me your sight.
Help me to see by your love’s perfect light.
Love, be my compass, my balance, my Way:
guide from within what I choose day by day.
Grant me the wisdom to seek and to learn,
to pray for your leading and wait and discern.
Help me to listen with all of my heart,
listen for all of the Truth you impart.
Grant me your Wisdom: a heart that’s made pure,
courage to follow a love that is sure.
Led by your Spirit, listening still,
help me to know and to follow your will.