A reflection on Proper 17B: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 and James 1:17-27
My great-grandparents taught me about the value of music and an appreciation for the earth as God’s creation. They were farmers in southern Idaho. The house was a yellow Victorian with an old turret that housed my great grandmothers’ sewing machine and fabrics for quilting. In the morning we had fresh strawberries and milk for breakfast. Later we would homemade chicken pot pie for supper, and in the evening my great grandmother played the piano and sang old ragtime classics like “Frankie and Johnny.” I can still hear my great grandmother as she played and sang:
Frankie and Johnny were lovers
Oh lordy, how they could love
Swore to be true to each other
Just as true as the stars above
He was her man, but he done her wrong
My great grandparents inspired my love of gardening.. For some reason I don’t know, my great grandparents left the Mormon Church and became Christian Scientist. I remember them being deeply wedded to living a natural life. I think of them as we prepare for our five week series, Season of Creation. We’ll spend time during the Season of Creation reflecting on the ways we are integrated and invested in the world around us.
This week, for us, serves as a time of transition from the readings we heard all summer to the readings we will hear during the Season of Creation: from reflecting on who we are as God’s people to reflecting on how we act as God’s people. The movement from “who we are” to “how we act” as God’s people began last week.
Last week I reflected on the Rock Center report on the Mormon Church and my life growing up as a practicing Mormon. I commented on the teachings of the church as I understand them and then connected those teachings to the scripture readings we heard over the summer. I mentioned that, like the ancient Hebrew people, the Latter Day Saints consider themselves to be “God’s chosen” people. They are not alone in thinking this – other world religions, past and present, hold a similar belief.
I then spoke about Solomon from the reading in 1 Kings, and how his expansive understanding of God turns the tide. Different from Saul and David who married within their clan, Solomon had many wives from different tribes and clan. These intercultural marriages revealed to Solomon the broadness of God’s being and nature – God’s being is expansive.[i]Solomon’s extended family lineage broke open Solomon’s idea of who God chooses and how God acts in and through human life.
For Solomon, God chooses everyone.
Last week’s reading in 1 Kings concluded our series on the first three kings of ancient Israel – Saul, David, and Solomon. We are left with the image of Solomon, the son of David, as a wise, generous king who worshipped God in the fullest sense possible, led his people well, and honored his father David. Solomon built the temple that David always wanted, and placed the Ark of the Covenant in that temple. David’s dream come true.
And now we find ourselves considering the book of James. It is very clever of the lectionary folk to give us this book next in the cycle. Unlike many of the letters of Paul, James is not a theological teaching it doesn’t offer a teaching about who God is[ii]. Instead it presumes the reader knows who God is. James is a collection of teachings on the practices of Christian life primarily asking this question: “What does a Christian do about her/his faith?
The book is assumed to be written by James, the brother of Jesus, while he was in Jerusalem. But scholars have not found any critical or substantive evidence to support this.
James is the English translation of the Greek and Hebrew name “Jacob.” Jacob, in the Old Testament is the father of the people who became known as the twelve tribes of Israel – and so it seems more likely that this book was written as a call to unite Christians of the early church, as a new tribe of Israel in the life and teachings of Jesus. The author urges Christians to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Good advice in any age.
Our reading from the Song of Solomon also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, or the Song of Songs in the Hebrew text, gives us some insight into our conduct, words, and deeds. Historically this book is said to be a collection of songs written by Solomon for one of his wives, Pharaoh’s daughter. But more likely it is a collection of wedding songs and loose lyrics that celebrate human love, physical love. [iii]
Song of Songs/Song of Solomon reminds us that God blesses our lives in many ways, including the way we love other human beings. God blesses our sexuality. And it points us to recognize that our love for another human being mirrors the depth of God’s love for humanity. [iv]
As we leave the summer season and enter our five week Season of Creation we are asked to consider the expansive nature of God, manifesting in and through our lives. We are called to reflect on how we tend to others, including animals, plants and the world around us. What are we doing to help build relationships that are whole and sacred as God desires? How are we acting as a people of God? Will we be true to God’s love? Or will we do it wrong?
The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible: The Letter of James pg. 916; 1971 Abingdon Press
The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible: The Wisdom of Solomon pg. 545; 1971 Abingdon Press