Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/02/2018

It would be quite easy to go through one’s entire career as a pastor and never preach on the Song of Solomon. It never shows up in the “regular” three year lectionary and even using the alternate semi-continuous Old Testament readings we’re presently using, it only shows up once; today. I’ve been successful at avoiding preaching on the Song of Solomon for 22 plus years now, not only that but I never took a class on it at seminary, I’ve never done a Bible study on it, it was part of one the Lay School classes I taught but I pretty much dismissed it in about 30 seconds as not being worthy of our time; but…there comes a time. I like to talk about the many voices of the Bible and this is one, so I figure I should take a shot. I don’t know if I have a whole lot to say about it so it might make for a short Labor Day weekend sermon, but who among you will complain?

If you’ve ever read the Song of Solomon though, your first question might be, “Why is this in the Bible?” It’s a romantic, sometimes even erotic love poem that never mentions God or religious practice so how did it make the cut? The short answer to that is, because Solomon’s name became attached to it, King Solomon, the son of David, noted for his wisdom. In our Old Testament readings we moved into the Solomon part of the narrative a couple of weeks ago and now we get this reading today and then a couple of weeks of Proverbs which the tradition also connects to Solomon and his wisdom.

The more accurate name for the Song of Solomon is the Song of Songs, in other words, the greatest of all such songs but it became identified as part of Solomon’s wisdom even though there is no clear evidence that Solomon actually wrote it. Somewhat humorously it’s been said that he could have written it as he is reported to have had seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines so the subject matter was familiar to him, he would have known his way around such things.

The inclusion of the Song of Songs was a matter of debate among Jewish rabbis in the first century but the matter was settled by the great Jewish teacher and mystic, Rabbi Akiba, who said, "The whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” That indeed is high praise.

He wasn’t the only one though; early and medieval Christians also shared this high opinion of the Song. Origen who was one of the first Christian biblical commentators wrote a ten-volume commentary on it. In the Middle Ages, the Song was the subject of more commentaries than any other Old Testament book. I’m leery about doing one sermon on the Song but Bernard of Clairvaux, in the twelfth century, wrote eighty six sermons on it and he didn’t even get past chapter 2! On the other hand though, from what I could find, Luther had his doubts about the Song, not really being sure of what to do with it.

I would find myself somewhere in Luther’s camp but, while it might be on the margins of biblical material, because it is one of the voices of the Bible, I will try to let it have its say. There isn’t much question that on its most basic level this Song of Songs is a poem about the love shared between a man and a woman and as such has been used for centuries by Jewish people to celebrate such love at a wedding; it winds up being used occasionally at Christian weddings as well. It has also been cited as having to do with creation theology, celebrating the unquestioned goodness of all aspects of what it is to be human, including the sexual. That might be enough to warrant its inclusion in the Bible, but maybe not.

This is a very human text but as is the case with most biblical texts there are other ways it can be approached and in both Judaism and Christianity there has always been another dimension to this Song of Songs. In Judaism the love between the man and the woman was seen as an allegory representing the love that God had for the people of Israel. In Christianity, the allegory is about the love of Christ for the church, the church not as a building but the church as the people who gather. In both cases, it’s a portrayal of God’s love for God’s creatures. With that, this rather unusual biblical voice starts to emerge and it is a daring voice.

Because the Bible is multi-vocal, its variety of voices portrays God in a variety of ways, using a variety of images. As an allegory of God’s love for humanity though, this Song of Songs represents one of the more daring images in the Bible. If this is a theological disclosure of the character of God, God’s passion as it were, is seen differently, seen in a way that we’re not used to. We’re not used to God as a gazelle or a young stag leaping upon the mountains and bounding over the hills, saying to us, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

What we get here is a God who is a true lover, one who loves with unrestrained delight, even lust, a God who withholds nothing in love for his creatures. That’s not what we’re used to when we think about God, instead often having a tendency to emphasize the otherness of God, the holiness of God, a sharp contrast between Creator and creature, a God whom we only dare approach with fear and trembling. As an allegory concerning God’s love, this Song of Solomon does represent a daring voice. It might not be the primary way we think about our relationship with God, but as an alternative voice it’s worthy of consideration at least once in 22 years.

One could read the Song of Solomon only from a human perspective as a human love song because that’s what it is. One could also ignore that aspect and read it only from a divine perspective as an allegory concerning God’s love which is a valid interpretation. Acknowledging both readings though creates some interpretive tension and such tension can be a good thing. This doesn’t need to be an either/or choice because both ways of reading the Song can help us to know God better and as human beings to help us to better know what it is to be in relationship with God and in relationship with other people.

As Christians we remember that we worship a God who chose to be revealed in the human flesh of Jesus. We deal with a God who embraced all that it is to be human in order to restore the divine image in which we were created. Our theology isn’t an either/or theology, embracing as it does both the divine and the human and importantly we remember that after creating human beings God declares creation to not just be good, but very good.

To be sure, the Song of Solomon isn’t part of the Bible’s core testimony; it’s out there somewhere on the margins. It is however a voice and maybe it’s a voice that helps us to think differently and positively about our relationship with God.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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