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A study in contrasts

Today’s readings are a wonderful example of how confusing contradictory scripture can be.

Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

We are about to hear a passage that has nothing to do with the law or sacred history. The people who collected the books of scripture into what we have as the Bible argued for centuries about the merit in including the Song of Solomon. It is a book about erotic, human love. At best, it reminds us that our experiences of human love give us insight into divine love…  hopefully!

8Look! Listen! There’s my lover!

Do you see him coming?

Vaulting the mountains,

leaping the hills.

9My lover is like a gazelle, graceful;

like a young stag, virile.

Look at him there, on tiptoe at the gate,

all ears, all eyes—ready!

10My lover has arrived

and he’s speaking to me!

Get up, my dear friend,

fair and beautiful lover—come to me!

11Look around you: Winter is over;

the winter rains are over, gone!

12Spring flowers are in blossom all over.

The whole world’s a choir—and singing!

Spring warblers are filling the forest

with sweet arpeggios.

13Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,

and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.

Oh, get up, dear friend,

my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!


Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

After that steamy reading we now turn to an episode in Mark’s Gospel that is fraught with conflict and ugly accusations. It couldn’t be more different in tone and content from the previous reading. Why on earth are they together on the same Sunday? In this passage Jesus is in a shouting match with a group of Pharisees that is full of name calling and righteous indignation.

1The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. 2They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. 3The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, 4with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scouring’s they’d give jugs and pots and pans).

5The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”

6Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,

but their heart isn’t in it.

7They act like they are worshiping me,

but they don’t mean it.

They just use me as a cover

for teaching whatever suits their fancy,

8Ditching God’s command

and taking up the latest fads.”

14Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. 15It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”

21obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness— 23all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”


Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.


Sermon – “A study in contrasts”


I want you to think back about one week.

Does a news item come to mind?

Naked Prince Harry in Vegas.


On the same news report we heard of Prince William rescuing a Canadian woman hiker with a broken leg in Wales.

Could two brothers be any different?

Have you ever heard either of them speak of the other in words other than loyalty, devotion, support, acceptance, love??


This story helps illustrate my message today.

I don’t really want to focus on the content of our 2 scripture readings but, more, on their tone and the lesson this had for us.

Song of Songs

= a sappy love song – full of erotic images – about passion, physical attraction – animal magnetism => more the stuff of magazines in plastic covers or TV shows at 3 am!

For more that 3 millennia people of faith have argued about whether it belongs near anything holy much less in the Bible!


Mark 7

– is about nasty allegations, rudeness, anger, conflict, name-calling. It’s more ‘Hatfield & McKoy’ than ‘Mother Teresa & St. Francis’! one side is crude and unclean – the other is phony and a fraud.


I honestly don’t know why the committee that decides which scripture readings will be assigned for this Sunday (Committee on Church Union) put these together but the fact that they are together has given me pause.


I want to suggest that they prompt us to reflect on how life is full of contradictions and that God, in God’s wisdom, allows that to be revealed in scripture too.


This faith of ours did not unfold with fairy tale simplicity -> yes, there is love & peace, but also scandal & tragedy.

It has never been a flat, level evolution but rather an eruption of peaks & valleys.


For those of you who are or have been married, was your relationship always the same? Was it always conflict-free, stress-free?

Just think about toilet seats gapping open or pantyhose hanging on the shower rod…


Have you ever uttered epitaphs under your breath?


Living with contradiction is one of the greatest challenges of the human condition.


Author Susan Classen was prompted to write an autobiography of sorts after she watched butterflies dancing near vultures in search of cadavers.

The book “Vultures & Butterflies: Living the Contradictions” follows her journey to live with Christian faith and hope in the dilemmas of life.


The fact that Song of Solomon is butted against Mark 7 today = a reminder that perhaps we can discover God in the complexity of our complicated world -> perhaps faith will guide us to find balance amidst the tension.


It is the antidote to the question – where is God in this mess? -> God = HERE – God is prompting us to think and act with faith and wisdom.

Categories: Sermons