Digital Worship Service October 17, 2021

Contemporary Service and the Sermon from this Service are embedded at the bottom of the page.

The 21st Sunday After Pentecost
October 17, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

First Reading: Isaiah 53: 4-12

4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm: Psalm 91: 9-16

9Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
 the Most High your dwelling place,
 10no evil shall befall you,
 no scourge come near your tent.
 11For he will command his angels concerning you
 to guard you in all your ways.
 12On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
 13You will tread on the lion and the adder,
 the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
 14Those who love me, I will deliver;
 I will protect those who know my name.
 15When they call to me, I will answer them;
 I will be with them in trouble,
 I will rescue them and honor them.
 16With long life I will satisfy them,
 and show them my salvation.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-10

1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: Mark 10: 35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
  41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Aubrey, Austin, Becca, Betsy, Bobby, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Brett, Christa, Craig, Dan, Dave, Deanne, Dennie, Dorothy, Doug, Eliza, Elizabeth, Florence, Francis, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N.,  Jonathan, Marie, Margaret, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike, Patrick, Peggy, Pete, Richard, Sal, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Shirley, Steve, Tom, Vim, Spring Wright, all medical and emergency workers the family and friends of Margaret Dawson, and those we pray for in our hearts(pause)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Resurrection Lutheran Church, Plano, Trinity Lutheran Church, Clifton, and College and Seminary Students. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Invitation to Communion
Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. “Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Song of Songs 7 Mutual Love in the Garden

By Egon Tschirch, a cycle of paintings on Song of Solomon, number 2, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56842486

Song of Songs 7

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded in the poem (my interpretation)

1 How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.
2 Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.
3 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, overlooking Damascus.
5 Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.
6 How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden!
7 You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.
8 I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples,
9 and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth.
10 I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages;
12 let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.
 13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.

The lovers in the poem see what the others cannot and should not. They see one another longingly and they desire to know every part of their loved one. The poetic description of the woman by the man indicates a view that requires a level of intimacy unavailable to the common observer and this may also be behind his rebuke at the end of the previous chapter to the daughters of Jerusalem calling the woman back that they may gaze upon her as ‘upon a dance between two armies.’ Her movements and her dance are to delight the greedy eyes of her lover and to overwhelm him with desire for her.

The two previous compliments of the man[1] have focused on the face and upper body of the woman, but now the man begins with her feet, proceeds through her midsection and ends with her neck and facial features. Thighs, navel, belly, and breasts would be obscured by clothing but here the man describes that which is hidden from all others to the woman he loves. His descriptions are not those of a man keeping distant, but a man who has closed the distance to where even clothing no longer obscures the woman’s beautiful body from his eyes. Others may have overlooked her, but to the man she is overwhelming. She has the feet of a queen, her thighs are a masterwork, her navel and belly are both fertile and desirable. She may not fit the cultural ideal of womanhood, but in his eyes she is the queen of his desire and from head to toe his desire is to drink in every part of her.

His amorous incantation is daring in its open expression of desire. He has come to her and his desire overcomes reserve or decency. His intention is the physical expression of his desire for her, that the long delayed time of union may finally arrive. That they may both delight in the touches and kisses that they share together and celebrate their mutual love and passion. She is a combination of the majesty of royalty, the beauty of the natural world, and the strength and beauty of the great cities. She is the queen of his heart, the nourishment he needs, the kingdom he serves, and a master work to be lifted up. The banquet of love has been delayed, but he too is drunk with love and ready to celebrate this feast.

Previously she has been beckoning to come into the house, while he has invited her outside. Now she invites him to join her in nature. He belongs to her, and she belongs to him. They desire one another and they are surrounded by the awakening of nature: vines have budded, grape blossoms have opened, pomegranates are in bloom, and mandrake puts forth its seductive fragrance. Mandrakes appear in Genesis 30: 14-17 where Rachael grants Leah a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes that Leah picks, but here there is no competition for the beloved’s attention: he is hers and she is his. It appears that the night of missed opportunities has been left behind and with the dawning morning the time is finally right for love.

Many readers have read within this section of the poem an allusion to the Garden of Eden and a return to the way relations were meant to be. This is heightened when one realizes that the rare Hebrew word used for desire (teshuqah) here is only used two other places: Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. The first usage in Genesis finds its reversal in Song of Songs: “yet your desire (teshuqah) shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 now becomes “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” The distortion of desire that occurs at the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is now overcome as this man and woman are wrapped up in mutual desire as they enter this new garden anticipating love. The other use of teshuqah is in the story of Cain and Abel, where God warns Cain, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7 In that story jealousy and anger overwhelm the brotherly love of Cain and Abel and Cain is instead mastered by sin. Perhaps this love poetry helps us imagine a world where love can overcome anger and jealousy and desire rightly becomes a mutual invitation to enjoy the presence of one’s partner in the garden. Often Christian theologies have dismissed the passions and desires of the body as a part of the sinful nature of humanity, but Song of Songs (and I would argue the Bible in general) points to a fully embodied experience of love and passion and joy which is both mutual and strong. This man and woman have saved all of themselves for one another as they enter this new Eden of sweet and mutual love.

 

[1] Song of Songs 4:1-5 and 6:4-10

Review of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 40: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

A Handful of Dust takes its title from the ominous words of T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Evelyn Waugh writes dialogue in a way that is easy to read, and the story’s pace and tone is light as it mocks the collapsing of the world of Tony Dust, and by extension many others who saw their way of life under threat by the changing cultural winds that occurred between the two World Wars in England. Tony Last loves his home, his wife, and his son and is very satisfied with their life on the gothic designed estate of Hetton. It is a world of attending church, watching his son ride horses, participating in social clubs, and managing the affairs of the estate. Yet, after seven years of marriage his wife, Brenda, becomes bored with this life and embarks on a path which brings unravels everything. She decides to begin an affair with a London man of limited ambition and interest named John Beaver. John, who still lives with his mother and has no regular responsibilities, is viewed by many in society as a bore with little prospects but Brenda’s presence invites him into many new places in London society.  Brenda conspires with John’s mother to purchase a flat in London, so that she may stay there for extended periods under the guise of studying economics while she engages in an open affair in London while her husband stays generally supportive of her and unaware in Hetton. Everything unravels when Tony and Brenda’s son is killed in an accident while he is out on a hunt with his father. Brenda asks for a divorce and Tony, humiliated but still the honorable English man attempts to grant her that. When Brenda and her lawyers make increasingly large demands, demands that would require the sale of the Hetton estate, Tony departs on an expedition to the unexplored regions of South America and never returns.

Evelyn Waugh writes well, and I can understand why this book is on the top 100 list. Like Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, this is set in a time period and world that I don’t find greatly appealing and even though both works are dealing with the unraveling of that world they are not things I would seek out to read. With A Handful of Dust, I identified strongly with Tony Last and for personal reasons I really disliked Brenda’s shallow and careless actions which destroyed not only her marriage but the entire world of her husband. In my own story, I have been the husband whose wife embarked on an affair with a person who others looked upon as awkward and boorish. I was the last to know what was going on, and had several people come to me after the revelation and disclose that they had known but were afraid to say anything. Even though I may not have chosen to live in Tony Last’s world, I could empathize with the trauma he must have endured as it quickly is taken away from him and he finds himself in unfamiliar territory still attempting to be the person he once was. All reviews of any work of fiction are subjective, and although the work unearthed some painful memories for me, and it is not a genre or a time period that I find compelling it is well written and I can understand why many people enjoy its mocking of the collapse of this stilted and formal world. These brief reflections are, for me, a way of consolidating my thoughts after engaging with each work.

Digital Worship Service October 10, 2021

Contemporary Service and the Sermon from this Service are embedded at the bottom of the page.

The 20th Sunday After Pentecost
October 10, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

First Reading: Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15

6Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. 7Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

10They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.
12For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
  and push aside the needy in the gate. 3Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

14Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Psalm: Psalm 90: 12-17

 12So teach us to count our days
 that we may gain a wise heart.
 13Turn, O LORD! How long?
 Have compassion on your servants!
 14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
 so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
 15Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
 and as many years as we have seen evil.
 16Let your work be manifest to your servants,
 and your glorious power to their children.
 17Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us,
 and prosper for us the work of our hands —
 O prosper the work of our hands!

Second Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
 14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46                          

31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Aubrey, Austin, Becca, Betsy, Bobby, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Brett, Christa, Craig, Dan, Dave, Deanne, Dennie, Dorothy, Doug, Eliza, Elizabeth, Florence, Francis, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N.,  Jonathan, Marie, Margaret, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike, Patrick, Peggy, Pete, Richard, Sal, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Shirley, Steve, Tom, Vim, Spring Wright, all medical and emergency workers the family and friends of Margaret Dawson, and those we pray for in our hearts(pause)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Rejoice Lutheran Church, Coppell, First Lutheran Church, Temple and our Lutheran witness in God’s world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Invitation to Communion
Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. “Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Song of Songs 6 The Fairest Among Women

By Egon Tschirch, A Cycle of Paintings “Song of Solomon” Study E, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56954517

Song of Songs 6

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded, and the daughters of Jerusalem are underlined in the poem (my interpretation)

1 Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women? Which way has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?
2 My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
3 I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies.
4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
5 Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me! Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved.
7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.
8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number.
9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her. The maidens saw her and called her happy; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.
10 “Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”
11 I went down to the nut orchard, to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
12 Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.[1]
13 Return, return, O Shulammite! Return, return, that we may look upon you. Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?

The woman in her seeking has appealed to the daughters of Jerusalem to assist her in locating her beloved. Previously we have encountered violent resistance from the sentinels of Jerusalem, those entrusted with making the city a safe place. Most interpreters now interpret the response from the daughters of Jerusalem in a positive manner: the woman has appealed to them for aid and their interest, now piqued, causes them to ask where they might find the beloved. Yet, there is something in the tone of the two responses by the daughters of Jerusalem in this chapter which have made me wonder if they also may be resisting the desired union of the woman and her beloved.

From the very beginning of the poem, we have seen that the woman is outside the cultural expectations of beauty for a woman. She is black and beautiful to herself and her beloved but she remains outside conventional norms. What if the title granted to the woman by the daughters of Jerusalem, ‘O fairest among women’ is spoken ironically? What if their offer to help find the beloved one are not genuine? That would explain the woman’s answer which does not include the daughters of Jerusalem in her search as well as provide a way to understand the interaction between the man, the woman, and the daughters of Jerusalem at the end of the chapter.

The woman’s response to the daughters of Jerusalem rebuffs their offer to seek her beloved with her. It could be that she doesn’t want to share her beloved’s attention with any of the daughters of Jerusalem, but it may also indicate that their offer was not genuine or helpful. The woman’s response that her beloved has gone to his garden and is pasturing his flock there echoes the imagery of the first four chapters and while it may indicate a literal garden it may also indicate that the man is coming to her.[2] The woman and her beloved are solely for one another and not to be shared with the daughters of Jerusalem.

Even though her seeking has met resistance, we hear the voice of her beloved speaking to her and complimenting her again. The initial comparisons are to the cities of Tirzah (the original capital of Northern Israel) and Jerusalem.  Normally in the bible a capital city is referred to in feminine terms and feminine metaphors are used to describe Jerusalem or Bethel, but here the imagery is reversed where the beauty of a capital city is used to describe the woman. Many would expect Bethel to be paired with Jerusalem, but there are many possible explanations why the poet may choose Tirzah instead.[3] The woman is viewed as impressive and even overwhelming. She is like an army approaching in all its might and even her look upon the man is overwhelming. The man then returns to the language of nature, echoing his descriptions of the woman in 4:1-3. To the man she is more impressive than all the queens and concubines of royalty or any maiden among the daughters of Jerusalem. To the man she truly stands out as terrifyingly beautiful and desirable beyond all others. He is overwhelmed in her presence and yet he comes once again to her.

Verses eleven and twelve have puzzled interpreters, and the NRSV’s translation is merely one guess at what is occurring in these two verses. My best guess is that the man goes to the ‘nut orchard’ to look at the vines and the pomegranates. The imagery from throughout the poem would lead me to believe he has come seeking the woman to see if the time is ripe for love, or whether he is still too early. He has come to her, and she has been swept up together with him. Yet, as she has been swept up together with her beloved and they ride off into the sunset, the daughters of Jerusalem call her back. They call her to return so they may look at her. I read the response coming from the man, defending the woman, from the intrusion of the daughters of Jerusalem. His response essentially says, “why should you have the privilege of looking upon her as something to be exhibited.” It could also be the woman defending herself, but what follows in chapter seven is also coming from the man praising her beauty. In the man’s eyes she is the fairest of all women even if she might not be in the eyes of the daughters of Jerusalem.

One of the ways this passage has been read is where the woman has invited the nations of the world (represented by the daughters of Jerusalem) to come and know what her beloved (God) is like.[4] If this is the interpretive path chosen the woman clings to her faith and hope in her beloved even when she encounters resistance. Yet, once again the woman is described in terms that are almost godlike-being beautiful and formidable, awe inspiring and powerful. One of the gifts of poetry is the multiple ways it can be heard and bring meaning. Perhaps the man is defending his woman or metaphorically his God. Regardless, our two seekers are finding themselves again in proximity to one another despite the resistance of the sentinels of Israel and perhaps even the daughters of Jerusalem. They cling to one another even as others may attempt to make a spectacle out of them.

[1] Verse 12 is the most difficult verse to translate in the Song and interpreters disagree about what is actually said or who is speaking. The NRSV’s translation assumes that it is the woman speaking. As Stephanie Paulsell can say about this verse, “No one really has any idea what it means.” (Cox 2012, 251)

[2] See for example 4:12-14

[3] A couple plausible explanations include: 1) following the lead of the Septuagint, translators have read Tirzah as a nominal form of the Hebrew raza (pleasing) 2) The destruction of Northern Israel (Samaria) and the aversion between the people of Judea and Samaritans may have made the mentioning of Bethel problematic, while Tirzah has fewer negative associations. (NIB V:419)

[4] See comments on previous chapter.

Digital Worship Service October 3, 2021

Contemporary Service and the Sermon from this Service are embedded at the bottom of the page.

The 19th Sunday After Pentecost
October 3, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

First Reading: Genesis 2: 18-24

18The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,
 “This at last is bone of my bones
  and flesh of my flesh;
 this one shall be called Woman,
  for out of Man this one was taken.”
24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Psalm: Psalm 8

1O LORD, our Sovereign,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 You have set your glory above the heavens.
 2Out of the mouths of babes and infants
 you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
 to silence the enemy and the avenger.
 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
 the moon and the stars that you have established;
 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
 mortals that you care for them?
 5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
 and crowned them with glory and honor.
 6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
 you have put all things under their feet,
 7all sheep and oxen,
 and also the beasts of the field,
 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
 whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
 9O LORD, our Sovereign,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Second Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12

1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
2:5Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,
 “What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
  or mortals, that you care for them?
7You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
  you have crowned them with glory and honor,
  8subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
  10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Gospel: Mark 10: 2-16                          

2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
  10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

  13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. 

 

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Aubrey, Austin, Becca, Betsy, Bobby, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Brett, Christa, Craig, Dan, Dave, Deanne, Dennie, Dorothy, Doug, Elizabeth, Florence, Francis, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N.,  Jonathan, Marie, Margaret, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike, Patrick, Peggy, Pete, Richard, Sal, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Shirley, Steve, Tom, Vim, Spring Wright, all medical and emergency workers, the family and friends of Matlyn Webb and Barry Rodstrum, and those we pray for in our hearts(pause)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: St. Martin Lutheran Church, Littlefield , San Gabriel Lutheran Church, Alvarado and Heart of Texas Conference. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Invitation to Communion
Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. “Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Song of Songs 5 Love Isn’t Always On Time

By Egon Tschirch, A Cycle of Paintings on Song of Solomon, Study B, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56954417

Song of Songs 5

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded, and the daughters of Jerusalem are underlined in the poem (my interpretation)

1 I come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.
2 I slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! my beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.”
3 I had put off my garment; how could I put it on again? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them?
4 My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him.
5 I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.
6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me[1] when he spoke. I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer.
7 Making their rounds in the city the sentinels found me; they beat me, they wounded me, they took away my mantle, those sentinels of the walls.
8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.
9 What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?
10 My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand.
11 His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves beside springs of water, bathed in milk, fitly set.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh.
14 His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires.
15 His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.
16 His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

Doctors John and Julie Gottman, who have done incredible work in understanding how relationships work and what causes them to fail, often use the term ‘bids for connection.’  One partner extends an invitation to connect: it could be an invitation to conversation, affection, or acknowledgement and the other partner has a choice of how to react. The partner can ‘turn towards’ their partner’s bid for connection by engaging in the conversation, returning the affection, or acknowledging their partner’s presence and needs, or they can ‘turn away’ where the bid for connection is missed or ignored, or they can be responded to with hostility where the partner making the bid for connection is rejected in a belligerent or aggressive manner. No relationship is perfect and even loving partners sometimes turn away when their partner reaches out to them.

The woman throughout the poem has been wanting her beloved to come to her in the house and the expected moment arrives when the beloved arrives, and she doesn’t get out of bed to open the door and let him inside in a timely manner. This is the crisis of the poem. We have been awaiting this moment where the lovers can be together, and the moment comes, and it is missed. The man comes and his intention is love, he is ready to be present with the woman. He knocks on the door, he asks for her to open the door for him, he attempts to reach inside to unlock the door so that he may enter. Perhaps he has been long in coming, perhaps it is late in the night, perhaps the woman is perturbed by his delay but in the moment he comes she makes excuses for why she doesn’t open the door: she has taken off the clothing she wore during the day, she has cleaned her feet. She delays. He departs. She desperately regrets the absence of her lover’s presence when her desire awakens, and she opens the door.

The poem does not measure time in minutes or hours but in the intensely personal and sometimes painful time of anticipation and the monumental moments when a missed opportunity has our lovers pass like ships in the night. The moment takes on monumental importance to both the man and the woman. The woman’s delay in rising from the bed to come to the door causes the man to walk away. The beloved’s departure at this moment causes the life to go out of her. Now she returns to being the seeker looking for him and calling out for him. This is the second time she has turned him away and now for the second time she attempts to seek him out again, to respond to him and bring him back. It may only be a moment too late, but that missed moment has monumental importance in the world of the Song.

The last time the woman sought her beloved (chapter 3) the sentinels guarding the city did not obstruct her search for her beloved. The city after dark was a place where the woman could go in search of her beloved, but now those charged with ensuring the city is a safe place prove to be a danger. Many women, minorities, and individuals who are LGBTQIA+ have experienced times when those in authority who are supposed to provide a safe environment are those who actively harm their bodies and their psyche. The language here is stark and may allude to an experience that is starker still: the authorities not only beat and wound the woman, but in taking away her mantle (cloak) the poem may want us to understand that these sentinels also may have raped her. This black and beautiful woman has experienced violence in her desperate search for her lover and she calls upon the daughters of Jerusalem to join her in the search. Perhaps it is only in the company of other women that she can be safe in her search for her beloved.

The daughters of Jerusalem ask why they should get involved. They wonder why this ‘fairest of all women’ is so completely enthralled to this beloved one of hers. There may also be the element of fear to become engaged in these affairs because of the threat of violence. They have their own lives, their own households, and their own relationships to tend to and yet she calls them to join her in solidarity to search for this man who she let depart without expressing that she is faint with love for him. If the daughters of Jerusalem join her search, they presumably know who the beloved one, but they see him through different eyes.

The woman’s response is our only look at the male body through the eyes of a woman in the Bible. (NIB V:415) Her pattern of describing her beloved is similar to his description of her in chapter four in it’s beginning with elements from nature and then switching to descriptions from the world of builders and artists. Her initial response is similar in his earlier order, beginning with the face, hair, eyes, lips. He is ‘ruddy’, a term used to describe King David when he was called from the fields and probably refers to the healthy tan of people who work outdoors under the sun’s rays. The description points to a man with wavy black hair, attractive eyes, lips that taste good, and cheeks that smell good. The description of his physique is statuesque: his arms are rounded and strong, his body (or loins) are firm and precious, and his strong legs and tall height are like pillars and tall trees. Yet, she ends not with a description of his physicality but of his speech. To the woman, the beloved is as attractive as nature, as physically imposing as a statue, and as speaks as sweetly as a poet and every part of him is desirable to her and so her pursuit of him continues amidst the danger and the missed opportunities.

Pulling back from our lovers and reading the Song as a dialogue between the people of God and their God, Isaiah 55:6 immediately comes to mind, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.”  Yet, many faithful ones can look back and think of many instances where they were not receptive to God’s calling or they ignored God’s invitations. Many faithful ones can also talk about the experience of searching for God and being unable to hear God’s voice or understand where God is active, particularly when the people and groups that should be providing them shelter become a danger. Rabbi Akiba viewed the conversation between the woman and the daughters of Israel representing all the world coming to Israel and asking ‘what is so special about your beloved’ as they attempt to seduce the people away from their devotion to the LORD God. The woman’s response in the poem is an invitation to these nations to come to know what their God is like. (Davis 2000, 283) One of the gifts of the Song in both relationships between lovers and the relationship of faith is the honesty that there are times where one partner turns away from the other’s invitation to connect and the impassioned pursuit of the other to let them know that they are still the object of their affection, despite previous missed opportunities, and that they are still faint with love for the other even in the midst of a hostile and dangerous world.

[1] In Hebrew thought the nephesh (soul) is one’s life and a literal translation here would be “my life went out” (NIB V:411)

Song of Songs 4 A Dance of Desire

Song of Songs, a Cycle of Paintings no. 16 by Egon Tschirch (1923) Permission to use provided by his heir Wolfgang Adler under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Song of Songs 4

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded in the poem (my interpretation)

1 How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved.
3 Your lips are like a crimson thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built in courses; on it hang a thousand bucklers, all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.
9 You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your lips distill nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon.
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed.
13 Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices —
15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.

The intertwined voices of the lovers weave together very different sets of imagery to describe and compliment their partner in this lover’s dance of attraction. The majority of the fourth chapter is the man’s response to the woman’s seeking and compliments in the previous chapter and his voice begins by describing her attributes. The man begins his descriptions of the woman’s attributes by stating, “how beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful’ and ends by stating, “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” Between these two statements are metaphorical descriptions of her attributes. The use of seven in scriptural poetry is a way of designating completion and so both the descriptions, the structure and the bracketing of these compliments reinforce in the poem how completely beautiful this woman is to the man.

The imagery the man uses may seem strange to us in describing a woman’s body, but just because they use imagery that would be alien to our language to describe the object of our affection does not make them any less valued by the hearer of the poem. The images all come from the natural world and probably express the experiences of a person who works in the field and who may have been drawn into the military for service at times. Eyes being doves, hair being like a flock of goats, teeth like shorn ewes leave us wondering how the images are compliments but these animals are all viewed positively in an agrarian world where flocks and birds are a part of the life, particularly the life of a shepherd. Perhaps hair like a flock of goats is long and brown and moves with the wind, while teeth like shorn ewes each bearing a twin are white teeth in proper alignment with no missing teeth, but whatever the compliments were intended to mean the woman values them. Lips like a crimson thread are probably easier to envision as well as round cheeks like a half pomegranate. The militaristic image of the tower of David where one thousand shields hang could simply indicate a long, strong neck or it may, as Carey Ellen Walsh states,

suggests a fairly strong defensive system, namely, of a thousand infantry men manning the tower. In addition, it may reveal the lover’s insecurity over the woman’s other suitors: a thousand armed men may have beaten may have beaten him to her. (Walsh 2000, 97)

The man’s final attribute he compliments is her breasts, but even here the image is one from nature, and one she has used to talk about him, gazelles. The poetry is seductive but not pornographic, and the man as he is poetically describing the woman’s attributes instead of sexualizing her body uses the images from the natural world to express how altogether beautiful she is in his eyes.

There is a distance that exists throughout the Song. The woman is often seeking the man or beckoning him to come inside the place where she is while the man when he speaks invites her to join him outside. After complementing the beauty of the woman, he invites her again to come away. The man induces her to come away from Lebanon, the mountaintops, from the dens of lions and leopards. Perhaps the place where the woman resides is dangerous for the man, it is a place where he is out of his element. Perhaps the presences of other suitors make his approach as treacherous as going into a den of lions or the mountain lair of leopards. In approaching this dark-skinned woman, he may find himself as a stranger in a strange land and yet, in the language of the poem, he comes to entice her to journey from Lebanon and the mountains to join him.

The man’s heart has been captured by the woman. She has either ‘ravished’ or ‘stolen’ his heart, but regardless of which translational choice is made for the ‘heartening’[1] effect she has on the man, his will belongs wholly to her. The pairing of, “my sister, my bride” is strange in English but ‘sister’ is a common term of endearment in Egyptian love poetry (NIB V:405) and would probably be understood that way in Hebrew poetry. Calling the woman his bride picks up the image of the wedding procession at the end of chapter three and invites us to hope for an approach of the man to come and join the woman. Her glance, her jewelry, her scent (or the smell of her perfume/ointment), her kiss (or words), and her love are all intoxicating to the man. The woman is a garden or a fountain that only those who are privileged to be invited to view may admire, but this man knows that behind her walls are all the precious fruits and spices that he could want and the living water that can quench his thirst.

The man beckons the woman to come with him, the woman desires the man to come to her. She asks the wind to spread her fragrance so that the man might smell her and be entranced. She wants him to come to her and to enjoy and explore the garden that she is and to sample the harvest of love that awaits. The scent of this woman, the promise of exploring her beauty and tasting her love should draw her beloved to come to her. He has declared her altogether beautiful. She has ravished him with her glance, put on her best jewelry, perfumed herself and extended an invitation for her beloved to view her garden. We now wait with her for his response.

Christian and Jewish interpreters of the Song have often heard the man’s declaration of the woman’s beauty as an echo of the love of God for humanity, Israel, or the church. This woman, who is declared as the bride, has a resonance with the imagery of the land that is called Married in Isaiah 62: 4-5

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no longer be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and you land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Many interpreters have understood the locked garden and sealed fountain as an allusion to the lost garden of Eden, and the invitation of God for the hearer to re-enter this lost garden where the beloved can encounter God without fear. The seeker is invited to come to a place that is hidden to the world, but a place where the desired intimacy with God can be achieved. Yet, in poetry the images can flow in multiple directions and the lesser taken path is hearing the woman representing the divine. Many of the images here in this chapter that the man uses to describe the woman echo what other cultures in the region of Israel have used to describe a goddess.[2] The woman’s looks and attraction are overwhelming to the man, and as Stephanie Paulsell notes, “If she views him as a king, he sees her as something even more awe inspiring.” (Cox 2012, 237) If the woman poetically is representing God, the God desires the seeker to come to the place where God dwells and sends out the alluring fragrance upon the winds to draw and entice the seeking ones. While the seeker attempts to draw the divine from the mountains, the sought one invites the seeker into the place into their home to come and know their presence. Either reading has its limits, as all poetry does, but whether speaking of human love or divine love we stand in the tension between these two parties who continue their dance of attraction and distance, desire and hope, and love and delight.

 

[1] The Hebrew is literally ‘to hearten’, the verbal form of the Hebrew word for heart.

[2] Stephanie Paulsell (Cox 2012, 237) cites Marvin H. Pope as making this claim (Pope 1977, 474)

Song of Songs 3 Seeking the King of Her Heart

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

Song of Songs 3

Bolded is the woman’s voice, the man’s voice is not bolded in the poem (my interpretation)

1 Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.
 2 “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not.
 3 The sentinels found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
 4 Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
 5 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
 6 What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?
 7 Look, it is the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men of the mighty men of Israel,
 8 all equipped with swords and expert in war, each with his sword at his thigh because of alarms by night.
 9 King Solomon made himself a palanquin from the wood of Lebanon.
 10 He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love. Daughters of Jerusalem,
 11 come out. Look, O daughters of Zion, at King Solomon, at the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart.

During the day the woman sent the man away, presumably in this reading to deal with the issues that keep them apart, but now in the night she desires his presence. Although the translation of the Hebrew nephesh as soul has helped many traditional commentators see this as an allegory for the relationship with God, the meaning of nephesh would be closer to ‘with all my being.’ The very essence of the woman loves and desires the beloved and departs from the bed and the house to seek him. We join the woman in her desperate search for her beloved. Perhaps she regrets telling him to flee earlier or realizes that her desire for him is more powerful than her need for public acceptance of their relationship. Her search for him is desperate. This one whom she loves with all her being must be found and brought into her home.

Many readers hear of the sentinels finding the woman and anticipate this being a threatening scene for the woman. There are certainly many instances of men with power and authority taking advantages of a vulnerable woman and an unmarried woman walking through the city at night may be taking a risk. Yet, the sentinels here are not viewed by the woman as a danger but rather as a resource. They are someone who may have seen her beloved in their rounds, and so she asks them for information. The woman’s desperate search for the beloved overcomes any sense of danger these sentinels may pose, and she passes beyond them without harm or any additional information on the beloved’s location.

The desperate search in the night leads the woman to the one whom she loves with all her being and now she will not let him go again. Shortly after the encounters with the sentinels she finds him and brings him into her home. She brings him to the place where no other man is present, no brothers or fathers, and she brings him into a place where our lovers can close the door and keep the rest of the world outside. Perhaps previously she desired him to bring her into his own home, but for now she refuses to let go of him and brings him into her own home.

This passage presents an interesting contrast to the description of the dangerous woman in Proverbs 7. In Proverbs the dangerous woman also will not stay at home and:

Now in the street, now in the squares, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with an impudent face she says to him: “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; So now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you! Proverbs 7:12-15

Proverbs would probably find the woman’s desperate search for the beloved distasteful, her seeking through the streets and the squares and her bold seizing of the man and bringing him back to her household as the antithesis to that book’s more chastened view of relationships. As Stephanie Paulsell states, “Proverbs tells this story with the woman in the role of the villain, the Song places the woman in the role of the brave heroine.” (Cox 2012, 222) I find it helpful that our scripture can embrace both a male and feminine perspective on a similar story. It is also ironic perhaps that the male perspective in Proverbs is threatened by the presence of daring (dangerous in Proverb’s view) women.

The second half of the chapter shifts into the language of metaphor and may initially seem out of place within this portion of the poem.  Verse six can be read in either voice, as the man complementing the woman which is answered by her long compliment of the man, or as the woman beginning her extended metaphor about her beloved. I read this entire chapter as the woman’s voice, and her question about “What (or who) is that coming up from the wilderness…” being answered by the exclamation “Look, it is the litter of Solomon.” In our culture we may think of women being the primary ones perfumed or wearing scents like “myrrh, and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant” but especially with the metaphor of the beloved as Solomon this fragrant procession which produces a column of smoke makes sense in the poem.

The beloved one is probably not actually Solomon, or even the king, but instead it is a way of referring to the majesty, strength, and power of the beloved in the woman’s eyes. The normal procession for a wedding would be the bringing of the woman in the man’s household, but perhaps there is something in the ancient culture we have missed. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25: 1-13 of the bridesmaids waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, where it is the bridegroom that approached the place where the wedding occurs. Here Solomon approaches in all his glory and wealth to the place where the woman is so they can experience the joy of their mutual love.

There is an absence of fathers in the Song. First the woman brings the man into her mother’s home and chamber, and then it is Solomon’s mother who crowns him. This is a pattern throughout the poem, but here is also makes sense within the metaphor. In 1 Kings 1, when Solomon is anointed and declared king, his father David is very old and feeble and apparently unable to participate in the coronation of his son. It makes sense in the logic of the story that it is Bathsheba who crown her son and rejoices with him in his role as the king of Israel and in his, in the poem, upcoming wedding.

The progression of the poem takes the woman’s search for the beloved and her action of bringing him back to her mother’s home into a metaphorical procession of Solomon departing his father’s house with his mother to come to a place where he can celebrate his love for this woman. The man is both the one whom she loves with all her being and metaphorically one who embodies the majesty, strength, and power of Solomon. At the very least this man is the king of her heart, and her desire is to be the queen of his. The poem continues to bring the lovers close together, but still builds upon the anticipation of a rendezvous that is not final.

This portion of the Song has a number of echoes throughout the scriptures and also has a rich history within the allegorical and mystical interpretations of the Song of Songs. The image of a pillar of smoke moving through the wilderness evokes the pillar of cloud and fire that is the physical manifestation of God’s leading of the people of Israel through the wilderness in the Exodus. (Exodus 13:17-22) Frankincense and myrrh are used in the temple as a part of the act of lifting up offering to God, and frankincense in particular in the Hebrew Scriptures is always used (outside of the Song of Songs) in reference to the cultic practices in the temple.[1] Myrrh can have the connotation of worship, royalty and lovemaking in the scriptures.[2] This divine royal connotation also is part of the imagery in Matthew’s gospel when the magi present frankincense and myrrh to Jesus.[3] Myrrh also enters into another ‘love song’ in Psalm 45, where the king’s robes are fragrant with myrrh. If verse six is read in the feminine voice referring to the male character, the male character adopts several kingly but also divine attributes.

The one seeking her beloved here forms a contrast to the frequent pattern of Israel failing to seek God who is their partner. One example of this would be Isaiah’s inviting us into God’s frustration and heartbrokenness over Israel’s continue unfaithfulness:

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am.” To a nation that did not call on my name. Isaiah 65:1

Yet, the mystics have sometimes turned this around when God has been difficult to find.  Ellen Davis points to the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) and she confronts God saying,

How is this compatible with Your mercy? How can the love You bear me allow this? I believe Lord, that if it were possible for me to hide from You as it is for You to hide from me, that the love You have for me would not suffer it; but You are with me and see me always! Don’t tolerate this, my Lord! I implore You to see that it is injurious to one who loves You so much. (Davis 2000)

On both sides of the relationship between the seeker and the divine there are moments of deep intimacy and closeness and those frustrating moments of distance and division. One of the gifts of Hebrew wisdom literature is its ability to live in the complex reality of multiple perspectives. Wisdom can include the perspective where a woman seeking a lover in the streets can be a dangerous lure away from the relationship with one’s partner (as in Proverbs and metaphorically speaking of the relationship between God and Israel in Hosea) but she can also be an image for a love that will not be denied and something that moves the hearers beyond their complacency with the way things are. The woman wants everything her lover, her king, and even her God can offer her and will not settle for less. As others fail to seek, she leaves her bed in the night and is unwilling to settle for anything less than bringing her beloved into her presence.

[1] Exodus 30:34, Leviticus 2:1,2,11,15, 16; 5:11, 6:15, 24:7, Numbers 5:15, Nehemiah 13:5, 9, Isaiah 60:6, 66:3, Jeremiah 6:20, 17:26.

[2] Exodus 30:23, Esther 2:12, Proverbs 7:17

[3] Matthew 2:11.