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September 2024

Sep

The Time of Singing Has Come

Uncommon Wisdom

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

It is fitting that we begin with a passage from Song of Solomon that is, at its heart, an invitation to notice, to pay attention, and to respond to the love of the beloved with singing.

Introduction:

Before we begin our reflections on The Song of Solomon, it’s probably best to say a few words about what this series is meant to do. We’ve called it “Uncommon Wisdom” because we feel that these scripture lessons invite us to a less popular and underappreciated way of using scripture to look at the world around us. In a society whose only real success strategies appear to be exploitation, violence, and smear campaigns, these verses will show us another path to the good life- a road less traveled. These passages might comfort or challenge us in strange ways that we haven’t necessarily come to expect from biblical texts. There’s nothing particularly Israelite in most of this literature, and two of the three books we will encounter don’t even mention God. Weird, right? I suspect I’m not the only preacher with little experience preaching on these books. Sermons on wisdom books usually require a little extra research and careful outlining for me than those based on narrative. I hope you will put in the extra work to understand these texts and challenge yourself and your hearers to let them speak truth to the realities of today.

These books—Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Esther—are part of a section of our Bibles called Wisdom Literature. Its genre is generally more poetic and reflective than the history and moral instruction we find in most of the Hebrew scriptures. It doesn’t have a singular theological agenda, but its general goal seems to be an invitation to humanity to use all that God has given us as tools to contemplate God’s nature, goodness, and desire for the world. Other pieces of Old Testament literature that fall in this classification include Job, Ecclesiastes, many of the Psalms, and some of the apocryphal books.

Our team feels that the Wisdom Literature invites us to look differently at the world around us. It doesn’t explicitly endorse a specific moral code- although it offers suggestions. It doesn’t provide a single clear article of Christian doctrine or lay out a chronological path to spiritual growth. Instead, it provides a lens. When I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my campus ministry in 2018, we reflected each night on all we had experienced that day. An overwhelming theme- the “common wisdom” of the trip - was that Christian discipleship is not about the destination but the journey. Out of this framework, my relationship with God blossomed into something more symbiotic. When I started thinking of discipleship in this way, my time with God became a lot less about striving for some far-off thing that I couldn’t understand and a lot more about an ongoing conversation with my loving creator and constant friend about what on earth (they) were up to in the world. I humbly submit to you, the preacher, that Wisdom Literature wants to do this for you and your hearers: to invite all into an ongoing conversation with a loving God about what’s up in the world around them.

Planning Notes:

The Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament rarely receives particular focus in corporate worship for one Sunday, much less five. On the occasions we do pull out passages from the Wisdom Literature, we address specific, well-known texts like Ecclesiastes 3 or Proverbs 31 (which, you will notice, does make an appearance in this series). This series invites us all to come closer and listen with our whole selves as we encounter these books that straddle the line between story and poetry to open our hearts to God’s wisdom.

It is fitting that we begin with a passage from Song of Solomon that is, at its heart, an invitation to notice, to pay attention, and to respond to the love of the beloved with singing. As you plan worship for this week, consider how this worship gathering, in particular, sets the stage for the whole series. How do the images of mountains, hills, gazelles, rain, and flowers in this text invite us to pay attention to God’s love all around us? If the writer of Song of Solomon lived in your region, would these be the images he would use? Or might he have spoken of the beloved coming over sand dunes and mesas or through marshlands and rivers? Would he have written of the end of winter and the coming of spring or the end of the summer heat accompanied by the crispness of autumn air? How do your people encounter God in creation and how might you use that in the images, liturgies, and songs to invite the congregation to encounter divine love and wisdom in the midst of nature?

And, of course, if there was ever a day to emphasize singing, this is it! But notice that the time of singing accompanies the beloved’s invitation to come away, to come close to the one who loves us. Consider how congregational song and instrumental music might accompany the congregation as we accept and respond to God’s gracious work of forming us in love and wisdom as the Body of Christ. You might plan to sing a hymn that explores how we encounter God in creation, such as “How Great Thou Art” (United Methodist Hymnal, 77), or that calls those gathered to pay attention to Spirit’s loving call, such as “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” (United Methodist Hymnal, 544). You might also consider choosing a hymn that will accompany your congregation through the whole series, such as “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning” (The Faith We Sing, 2004) or “Wellspring of Wisdom” (United Methodist Hymnal, 506). Think of ways instrumental music might accompany a prayer or meditation that opens individuals and the community to Wisdom’s teaching. The time of singing has come, so let us sing, create, and worship together as we seek God’s wisdom as a community in Christ!

Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.

In This Series...


Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes