. . . And It Was All Good – The 15th Sunday After Pentecost
by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Because it’s Labor Day Weekend and the beginning of my fourth year of ministry here at FELC, and because we celebrate the 30th anniversary of human love today, I am preaching on something probably never preached upon here at FELC: Song of Solomon.
Last week I preached from Proverbs, that being what we call Wisdom Literature from the Bible…that group of OT books that we believe were written during the reign of King Solomon. Once again, it was a halcyon, idillyic, amazing period during Israel’s history. They established themselves a power with which to be reckoned, in addition the building of a fantastic Temple of worship, and an infrastructure that they thought would never end. Sorta of like America right after WWII. So, with all this prosperity, the artists and poets of Israel had TIME to write poetry.
Nevertheless, we have this group of books and namely, today, we have Song of Solomon…a collection of poetry. And let me say something about poetry. Poetry, for those of you were tortured by it in high school, is not a form of academic punishment from crusty old English teachers. Poetry speaks for us when nothing can in the spoken word. We Lutherans who are so identified with hymn and chorale singing are singing poetry that speaks to what we believe more readily that any creed or formal catechism. There is a reason you want to sing “Beautiful Savior” when you get together in a joyous occasion, and there are poems you sing when you’re about to hit the operating table. There’s a reason that “Children of the Heavenly Father” resonates so deeply with this congregation: poetry.
So today, we have a Biblical poem. And what a whopper. Scholars speculate what the history of these Solomon poems are about: are they symbolic relationships with God and the people of God? Are they love poems that King Solomon wrote to woo a future peasant bride? Please remember that Solomon had many, many wives. Are they just plain old erotic love poetry? And trust me, Song of Solomon gets spicier than this if one reads on. Are they poems that prophesy new life/spring with the notions of winter passing? That might even lead to notions of resurrection. So as you can tell, like really good poetry, there is a sense of mystery as to the intent of the poem’s author/creator.
I think it has perhaps all of these meanings, making it timeless and classic. I might even to venture and inquire both David and Beth Burnham if this poem were used during the days of their dating and courtship. BTW, we celebrate today their 30th Wedding anniversary to the day. We’ll have to ask them later at the coffee hour reception. Did either of them leap like gazelles towards each other?
What this poem speaks to is frankly love: obviously erotic love and love, even erotic love, is a gift from God. And here love is celebrated in its most loving and human form, between a couple in love.
If were to read all of Song of Songs, we would discover many things: the writer is probably a woman, it is one of the few, pro-sexuality texts in all of Scripture, and the entirety of the book embraces the beauty of nature. In the entire book there are 24 plant species mentioned. 24! It speaks to Ancient Israel’s relationship with the wine-making and vineyards. These images are not only concrete but also about the blossoming and evolving sexual nature of the woman in this poem.
In fact, when I was a high school choral director, I used to tell my young men in the choir, if you want to fall in with the ladies, just sing them a song. No football playing jock could ever compete with a young man with a guitar in hand singing a song to a group of young women. For those of you who doubt me I have four names who prove me right: John, Paul, George, and yes, Ringo.
But putting silliness aside, this passage speaks to our human relationship to all creation. To not only animals, and vineyards, and seasonal change from winter to spring, but to our relationship to God in Creation. And frankly, we’re losing that relationship as humanity with creation. While preparing for this sermon, I read that in advanced, wealthier Western nations, children are increasingly unable to identify plants and animals around them.
My mother was a incredible gardener. She could take the simplest sprig of an African violet and nurture twelve plants from that one mother sprig. She won prizes for her flowers at the county fair each year. Trust me, and I am very proud of this, she taught her children to identify plants and what their care meant. She had a relationship with the land.
And frankly, the writer of this poem wants us not only to enjoy our romantic relationships with each other, but also our relationship with Mother Earth. On the days of Creation, in Genesis I, God creates earth and soon thereafter all the creatures therein, including humankind. And God did not say, “let me think about this Creation stuff and get back to you.” God said, “It was good.” So, this thing, this gift from God, the earth, the skies, the creatures we humans share this fragile planet with, was created in GOODNESS.
Human love was CREATED in GOODNESS.. And all good things come from God including human erotic love. Included in this love is the beauty of the day lilies in my front yard, the glory of Evelyn Bandlow’s rhododendrons, the Gerber daisies and begonias at the church’s back entrance, to Lake Ossipee at Camp Calumet, and the list goes on.
So, today I ask that we renew our relationship not only with those we love, and certainly God, but in God’s greatest gift, Creation. The beginning of this sermon was a brief apology and explanation of poetry. We will end this service today with a great poem, “This is my Father’s World.”
The hymn is found in our red hymnals: Hymn 824
Text: Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858-1901
I ask that you speak it and later sing it with power and conviction.
I ask that you do all these things because as God says, “IT IS GOOD.”