Sunday, June 23, 2019
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a & Song of Songs 8:6-7
“I Wonder… ” Summer Sermon Series
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
I Wonder… if I’ll ever hear a sermon based on the Song of Solomon.
The question I am answering today is, “I wonder if I’ll ever hear a message based upon the Song of Songs.” So, to begin with, I hope that whoever asked this is here today or will listen in online because if they’re not, well, they still will not have heard a sermon on Song of Solomon. But at least you will have! So, let’s get right to it, because there is a whole lot for me to talk about.
First, what is the Song of Songs? It’s an epic love poem, smack in the middle of the Bible. It may be only eight chapters long, but it is filled with beautiful phrases and images that make most of its readers blush. I thought about trying to have a married couple read some of it today, but it just felt too intimate to do so. Have any of you ever written a love letter or even tried to write a love poem to someone who was the apple of your eye? How would you like to get up in front of the church and read it? I think of some of what I wrote to Jess early in our relationship and just shake my head over how raw and deep my feelings were for the woman who would choose spend her life with me. I certainly wouldn’t want to read those to you! So, instead, I thought I’d have you all read just a bit of it to each other. Let’s give it a shot. We’ll start with some selected verses right from the beginning of Song of Songs. Ladies, you get to start:
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
3 your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.
4 Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
Alright, guys you don’t get off the hook. It’s your turn!
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
15 Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
ah, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
16 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
If you ever thought the Bible was boring and outdated, think again. You can go home from church and read this poetry to your spouse, and it will be better than a dozen roses, a Hallmark card, or a date night at Noto’s.
So, what do we know about the Song of Songs? Not a lot actually. Scholars date its composition from the 10th century B.C. all the way to the 3rd century B.C. The first verse attributes it to King Solomon, but these attributions tend to be assigned at a far later date to give some authority to the text. Besides, Solomon boasted about having hundreds of wives and concubines, which makes the deep intimacy between this couple an unlikely thing for Solomon to have experienced. We know that this kind of poetry was something that was prevalent in several ancient Near Eastern cultures, especially Egypt and Persia, and this poem has the hallmarks of those poems throughout it. Books of the Bible weren’t initially named, and in the Hebrew tradition, they usually received their name from the first word of the book. For example, what we know as Genesis is bereshit in the Hebrew Bible, the first word that shows up in the text. In many of our English Bibles we know this poem as the Song of Solomon because verse one attributes it to Solomon. In Hebrew it is shir hashirim, which is literally the song of songs. Why that name? It’s a boast that it is the greatest of all songs. Like calling Jesus the King of kings puts him in first place ahead of all other rules, calling this poem the “song of songs” boasts that it is the greatest of all love poems.
So, why is this epic love poem in the Bible? That’s a truly good question, and it’s one that is difficult to answer. In its eight chapters, there is only one verse that could be translated to include God’s name, but it’s a stretch to do so. The Book of Esther is the only other book in the Bible that does not mention God, and in both cases, the writings drive their readers to plumb beneath the surface to see God at work. Yet, this book has been an unquestioned part of the Hebrew Bible since well before the time of Christ. It is held in quite high regard in fact. Shortly after the time of Christ, Rabbi Akiba commented, “All the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies,” which is quite a statement given that that is the place where God dwelled in the Temple. What does this mean? Special care must be taken to approach this text well. A contemporary commentator on this said he was advised not to preach on this book until he was at least 60, advice that I am not taking today.
Interpreters have worked hard to offer spiritual reflections on this poem. For the Jews it has been a metaphor for the relationship between God and the people or between the people and the land. Christian interpreters have made connections between Christ and the church or to the deep love Jesus has for the individual Christian. Now, personally, I think those interpretations have some validity but they also direct us away from the depth of human love and intimacy that is itself a gift from God. Going all the way back to Genesis 2-3, God made the first couple to have this perfect, beautiful relationship with each other. They had everything they needed, and they could have found total satisfaction in each other. Yet, they pushed on the edges of God’s good creation, believing the lie that God was keeping them from really experiencing all the world had to offer. Because of this disruption in God’s good creation, God issues judgments on the serpent, the man, and the woman. To Eve God says, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16). This couple went from a harmonious relationship with deep connection to one filled with pain and unfulfilled desire. Some have theorized that the Song of Songs is a way of reclaiming that unrequited desire in Genesis 3, of putting things back into a healthy and loving order between a couple. In Song of Songs 7:10 we come across the line, “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.” This shows a progression between Genesis and Song of Songs, where things seem to be heading in a healthier direction. I really like this interpretation, so for the rest of our time, I’d like to press into that idea.
Let’s start here: How we treat creation reveals how we feel about the Creator. When I was a child, I really enjoyed art. I thought I was pretty good at it, which meant that I’d bring my art projects home for my parents to display. They’d go up on the fridge. They’d make their way to my dad’s office. Why? It certainly wasn’t because I was going to be the next Picasso. Rather, it was because my parents love me. How they felt about my creations reflected how they felt about me, the creator of those drawings.
God created everything good. It says so right at the beginning of the Bible. I say this to all couples of their way to marriage, but God created us to be spiritual, emotional, and physical beings – all three in one. Our culture is largely forgetting to tend to the spiritual self, as we see in the significant decline in people’s interest in church. Our culture is learning to tend to its emotional self. We can see that in the stigma disappearing from people seeing a counselor – thank the Lord. Our culture tells us to take care of the physical – eat right and get your exercise. It is also obsessed with sex as an expression of love and freedom, but much of that obsession comes at the cost of actual God-created intimacy.
Our word “sex” comes from the Latin word secare, which means “to sever, to amputate, or to disconnect from the whole.” It’s the same root for the words sect and dissect. Rob Bell observes that there are two dimensions to our sexuality. “First, our sexuality is our awareness of how profoundly we’re severed and cut off and disconnected. Second, our sexuality is all of the ways we go about trying to reconnect.” Don’t we see that throughout our culture that treats sex as though it was the pinnacle of a relationship but so often those relationships are about self-interest or about freedom to do what one wants, not the deep intimacy found in partners who come to know each other deeply, the way this poem describes? We treat our bodies as though the don’t matter, and it’s a reflection of how we view God our creator.
Song of Songs gives us a beautiful picture of what deep romantic connection looks like. The verses the man and the woman exchange show the fulfillment of their connection. They are sentiments that are so strong they would never show up on a Valentine’s Day card. If we were to pen our own love poetry for our significant other, we probably would stop far short of this poem for fear of sounding too sappy. What is more, the entire community joins in the chorus affirming this couple. They see a world being made right when this kind of passion is possible. Humanity is constantly seeking connection, but so often we seek it in ways that may look like connection but deep down are empty. I’ve walked the streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. There’s all whole lot of empty connection that happens in a place like that, isn’t there? How depressing it is to think that we humans treat our God-given bodies (and others’ God-given bodies) so carelessly. The reality of our world is that we are disconnected from each other. Sometimes that happens even in the marriage relationship where connection should be fostered on a daily basis. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” sings out the woman in our poem. Perhaps if we held a view of love more in line with this biblical picture, our marriages would be stronger.
There’s one more place I’d like to take this today. Bodies matter to God. For a long time Christianity focused on the spiritual and treated the flesh as though it was a trap that we should escape as soon as possible. Nothing could be further from the biblical truth! God created bodies and called them good. (Remember how we treat creation reflects how we feel about its Creator.) Jesus came in flesh and blood. Jesus was incarnate. Jesus – the Son of God – lived as we live, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, praying. He did all of this as a full-fledged human being. He hungered. He probably stubbed his toe at some point. He loved. Following Jesus means living into our full humanity as children of God. Our faith is embodied in our bodies. Our bodies surely aren’t perfect. They aren’t our resurrection bodies, but they are God’s gift to us now. It’s time to treat them as a gift to be treasured and to treat all bodies – others’ and our own – with care.
One day a fifth grade teacher took a large glass bowl in front of his class. He added to it a can of beef, fatty tissue, sauerkraut, olives, anchovies, and a hundred-dollar bill. He mixed them all together and asked if any of his students want to eat his concoction. Of course they don’t want it, so he threatens to throw it away. But the kids go crazy. “You can’t throw it away!” they scream. “Why? You aren’t going to eat it,” he replies. “But its valuable,” they say and rush forward to retrieve that money from the bowl. Even in the gross stew in that bowl, the students saw that there was value and worth inside. So, too, we may feel that our bodies aren’t what we want them to be or we might be tempted to look at others’ bodies with disdain, yet each of these bodies is a person who is intrinsically valuable as a child of God. Christ came in a body, affirming the worth of each body. To treat any body as less than valuable, denies the goodness of God’s creating that body. Our faith is embodied.
So, there you have it. Song of Songs. It’s beautiful. It’s luscious. It’s a bit much. But it’s in the Bible, and it’s there in part to affirm the value of human love that exists where true, committed connection is made. It’s a reminder that God loves us so much that God created us to live fully and well with each other.
 Rob Bell, Sex God. 27.