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After reading the texts this week, my first thought was can we please have more bread? The return to Mark is rather jarring. Many U.S. pastors are on vacation this weekend, some are concluding summer sermon series, and the rest might be right with me in wishing for more bread. Then, without further delay, let’s take a deep breath and dive right in.

If you are brave and up for navigating some challenging waters you can preach from Song of Solomon. I can’t. I can’t because I know this is a love song and I don’t really think it describes God. If it does, that’s a greater leap than my faith can make. It’s beautiful, though, so you could start there. And, yes, I believe that we are God’s beloved and that thinking of God as our Beloved, isn’t wrong. It’s just the sexual overtones (or undertones) that prevent me from using this text in a sermon. It is lovely poetry, though, so enjoy.

Psalm 45 falls into the same category for me. The psalmist tells us very clearly that their verses are addressed to the king. As there are no earthly rulers to whom these loving verses apply right now, I’m going to give this psalm a pass, too.

Getting through the awkward passages, we arrive at Deuteronomy. These verses contain some helpful advice. It’s best to follow God’s ordinances, to become “a wise and discerning people.” Moreover, we must make sure that each generation knows what God has done. While I’m not sure we’ve done a great job with either following God’s commandments or telling the stories of our faith to each generation, this is the desire of every faith community. For those of us planning Recovenanting, Rally, Homecoming, etc. for next week, this text is a great lead in.

Continuing with these theme, Psalm 15 becomes even more specific with the question of who shall live in God’s house. There is some very good advice for us in this Psalm. It is a healthy reminder of what faithful lives look like. I wonder how seriously we take these words today. Do we remember that speaking truth, caring for our neighbors’ well-being, keeping our word, and lending money without interest honors God more than just saying we do these things?

James reinforces the idea of actions meaning more than lip service. Our actions need to be consistent with our words of faith or we deceive ourselves. There’s good advice here, too. Listen before speaking or letting anger rise too quickly and pay attention to what we do. The beauty and power of these verses comes at the end, though. The very definition of “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is one that could help guide the church of today. Imagine a church that truly committed to caring for orphans and widows (the vulnerable among us) while also making a concerted effort to remain “unstained by the world.” Imagine the kind of strength and compassion such a church could embody…

Lest we travel off into unrealistic imaginings, Mark brings us down to the real and practical. If you wash your hands just because it is part of tradition, then your hands might be dirtier than those who come to the table unwashed. Jesus has no patience for those who follow the traditions without only their lips (or hands) but not their hearts. Jesus clearly states that no food or dirt (or germs) can defile a person. It’s what comes out of us, usually our mouths, that’s a problem. We can uphold tradition all we want, but if our words and actions are not loving of God, ourselves, our neighbors, or Creation there’s a problem. Is there a discrepancy between what we say we believe and what we do in our churches? What can we do to bring more Love into the world?

These are intense passages that make all the bread of the last few weeks look much more desirable. Where are you at this week? Whether you are craving those carbs or rolling up your sleeves to get to work, please join in the conversation so we can share the journey to the pulpit.

Photo: CC0 image by Susanne Jutzeler


Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.


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15 thoughts on “RCL: Trying to Abide in God’s Tent

  1. I’d be curious to know if any reading this have ever preached on the Song of Solomon! What did you come up with? I agree with what Rachael says about the passage — for me it’s much too erotic to be about God. So I think I am going to pair the Mark and James texts: what comes out of the mouth versus what one actually does (and speaking is something one does, too!).

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    1. I did plan to preach this. I wrote the sermon and sent it to my Session, since I was talking about sex outside of marriage. I’m not preaching it – not because they were negative – but because we worship in a senior living community. Since it’s a holiday weekend, most of our members will be gone and our congregation will be made up predominantly of the elderly. The questions I raised in the sermon relate to how we talk about sex before marriage within the Church. Most of the people who would hear this sermon would have great grandchildren. They aren’t really the people who would be engaging the questions I ask of the text our application. I did post it to my blog and may pull it out if the topic presents itself – or I’m in a congregation with a younger group.

      https://lifeinthelabyrinth.com/2018/08/28/lets-talk-about-sex-song-of-solomon/

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      1. Your use of the text makes sense to me. I think using it to talk about human sexuality could be very helpful and healthy. I also understand why you won’t be preaching that to your folks, given your context. Blessings as you continut to prepare for worship.

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  2. I am pairing/ trifecta-ing Deuteronomy, Psalm 15 and James. What jumps out at me is the quick/slow juxtaposition. Quick to listen, God’s laws need to be heard at a deep level; slow to speak, process what you hear, reflect back-do I have this right? slow to anger….Oh boy that one is tough this week when a few things went wrong in my household. God gave us a mouth that can be closed….and ears that can’t. We need to use them as provided.

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    1. I love this. I might have to go this direction after reading your thoughts. Our local community has experienced multiple suicides of young people this year and I’m sure the news of the boy in Denver is only opening those wounds. Thank you Rachel.

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  3. Rachel, would you be willing to expand on why the sexual overtones prevent you from using the Song of Songs text in a sermon? I am with you in the belief that this is not likely an allegorical writing about the passionate love of God but rather about very real human love. I am feeling drawn to it for a few reasons. 1 – it is one of the only texts in the biblical canon that is written from the perspective of a woman. Even the man’s words are being quoted by the woman’s voice. 2 – it is the only sex-positive text that I am aware of and could be an opportunity to talk about sexuality as a gift from God rather than something dirty that should bring shame. But I don’t know if I am being foolish about wanting to preach this text.

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    1. Leslie, if you preach the text as about human sexuality, I think you are on to something that could be very beneficial. It’s the pretending that this is about our relationship with God that I find not so helpful. God is many things to many people, but I don’t think sexualizing one’s relationship with God is helpful or particularly healthy. However, the points you make I think would excellent sermon material.

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  4. I preached a well-received sermon on Song of Songs this summer, in a sermon series: stories in scripture of romance, mystery and adventure. And this was in a retirement community! It happened to be the week after the royal wedding – so lots of fun. (My daughter pastors a congregation. She printed the wedding bulletin to distribute, guest musician played music from the service and some of the congregation wore fascinators.) Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon provided some great insight and quotable quotes! I added to the reading SoS 8:6-7 – Set me as a seal upon your heart . . . This book is not just about passion or sex, but about faithfulness and the strength and power of love. At least that was where I took it!

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