A Sermon for Proper 17: Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
The Song of Songs or Song of Solomon is unique among all the books of the Bible. It is one of two books whose voice is from a woman’s perspective. It is one of two that never mentions God. It is the only one that is a series of poems or songs about love. The poems are neither an allegory nor a metaphor about the love of God; they are titillatingly sensuous love poems (Wines). Their presence in the Bible reminds us that our sexuality is a gift from God, and we should honor it as such, but this is a subject for another day. For this morning, we glean that the desire to know a person so sensuously intimately is the desire to know and be known (Hoezee – Song).
Do you remember being struck dumb by love? I do. Everything I saw, everything I did, came out of my infatuation. For a while that was a good thing. However, there really can be too much of a good thing. I can recall driving to Atlanta for a party being thrown on our behalf. We were half way there, and I had not said a word. Angie astutely asked me if anything was wrong, and I mumbled something incoherent about no white horse, chiming bells and so forth. She smiled, I think suppressing a laugh, and whatever she said allowed me let go of my romantic fantasy and thus my loving infatuation began to grow and mature. Over thirty-five years it has continued to grow and mature; at least I think so.
The truth is it is a good thing for our love to grow and mature. To be stuck where we are is to miss out on the new things that life and grace of God bring your way. The same is true about our relationship with God. In Molten Souls Grey Temple describes the emotional impact of a loving encounter with the Spirit that is so overwhelming it is similar to being struck dumb by love. The experience shapes everything. One response is to freeze the experience and then at every opportunity try to give it to another just as we experienced it. It does not work. One thing that allows us to be shaped by the Spirit is that our souls are molten, just like hot metal. When metal is molten it is malleable; a skilled craftsman, like the folks at local mills, can shape the metal into whatever they need. What they will also tell you is, let it cool too much, and you cannot shape it at all. When we freeze the experience of our molten soul’s encounter with the Spirit and try to give it away, it is like hitting someone with a metal bar. Part of mature living in the presence of the Spirit is to allow our souls continue to be molten so we can continue to be shaped by the Spirit as we continue to encounter the ever-changing experiences of life. Another lesson is that as powerful as our experience is; it is our experience, and we cannot give it away. What we can do is to share the warmth of divine love, which come from the molten state of our souls, with our neighbors. Then we can invite them into God’s presence and trust the Spirit to do what the Spirit does. In this way, our neighbor has an opportunity to have their molten soul transforming experience. Instead of one person being transformed and another being hit over the head with it, now two people have transforming experiences. So grows the body of Christ.
Throughout the millennia, history shows us how gatherings of the faithful behave just like individuals do. They gather a common experience of their god and encase it in stories and rules. Now stories are good because they are a way of teaching. Rules are good because they are a way of guiding. However, when stories and rules get frozen, they can do harm just as a frozen experience can. Such harm is what Jesus encounters when the Pharisees and scribes challenge him about his disciples not precisely following the purity code about eating (Webb). Notice Jesus does not argue that point of law. He points to their failure to follow God’s commandment to honor your father and mother. In the verses we do not read, he talks about the practice of Corbin; which is sort of like a life gift to charity where you give them the principle, and they provide you with an annual return until your death. With Corbin what you give to the Temple is no longer subject to the commandment to care for, your father and your mother. The practice of Corbin twists the law away from the guiding love toward parents to self-interest. Corbin leads its practitioners away from loving God (Hoezee – Mark). Strict legalism, when the law is above love when the law becomes more important than people, leads faith communities to produce strictness and meanness (Hoezee – Mark). Just like us, for stories and rules of faith communities to continue to invite people into God’s transforming presence they have to be malleable, they have to change. This means the faith communities; the church has to change.
I ran across an essay by Garrison Keillor on Episcopalians (Keillor). He writes about
our clam, our stayed pace, our fondness of macaroni and cheese.
They are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!
Episcopalians believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
Episcopalians like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
Episcopalians drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.
Episcopalians still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season.
And [w]hen you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, “May the Force be with you,” and [they] respond, “and also with you.”
As lighthearted as they are Keillor’s observations are spot on; we have our deeply ingrained traditions, and through them we teach, through them we guide, our children, our neighbors, and ourselves.
As we listen closely to Mark, we hear Jesus asking us to look at our practices and ask whether they’ve become more important than our mission (Lose). Which of our traditions reveal God’s love? Which of our traditions obscure God’s love? How do we know? We can ask ourselves. We can ask our neighbors, our kids, co-workers, and those who aren’t coming to church, what needs to change for our worship and congregational life to be more understandable, accessible, useful, and helpful (Lose). The Gospel story teaches and guides us toward the least of these, those around us who are vulnerable, powerless, marginalized, and forgotten (Epperly). The whole of the Gospel story teaches and guides us to share the warmth of our molten souls so our neighbors may shaped by the touch of the Spirit and transformed by the eternal love of God.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 8 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17B Mark. 30 8 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17 B Song of Solomon. 30 8 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Keillor, Garrison. “Garrison Keillor on Episcopalians.” 22 8 2015. Facebook. <https://www.facebook.com/search/str/garrison%20keillor%20episcopalians/keywords_top>.
Lose, David. Easter 4 B: God is Not Done Yet! 26 4 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net>.
Temple, Grey. “The Molten Soul.” New York: Church Publishing, 2000.
Webb, Elizabeth. Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. 30 8 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 30 8 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.