Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Proper 17, Year B
August 29, 2021

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
This is an intimate love poem. It begins, “The voice of my beloved…” God is our beloved, and we are His. He leaps about like a stag, bounding and full of energy. He is the picture of abundant life. The winter is past and the rain is over and gone, The invitation is extended to come away with the beloved to rejoice. A time of fruitfulness ensues – flowers, singing, the voice of the turtledove, the blossoming of vines. This is the language of intimacy – to time to come closer and be at one with God.
In our own time of simultaneous catastrophes – pandemic, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings, government takeovers, terrorist attacks, quarreling about race, do we too not long to hear a voice that bids us to arise and come closer to the living God? Do we too not desire this chance for intimacy – this opportunity to step into the energy of life abundant? God stands outside the window of our heart and soul, peering in. He invites us into a time of fruitfulness. Our hard times are over. Arise! Come away! Leave struggles and fears behind! Join the boundless, energizing intimacy of God.
 
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
This song harkens to the joy of a wedding song and is the perfect response to the intimate love poem just presented in the Song of Solomon. Just as one might look with joy to a couple about to be married, one gazes upon the King adorned in his glory and wishes to extol the beauty of what one sees. The object of beauty rests on the highest pinnacle of quality. There is grace, gladness righteousness and beauty everywhere. Even the scents that reach our nostrils is pleasant (myrrh, aloes, cassia). The sound of music brings gladness.
In such a scene as the Psalmist has set, there is no room for fear and sadness – only joy and gladness. What is the view of your world? If your heart is not stirring with a noble song to the joy and gladness of God, it might be time to offer your heart to God and to His care. Take a few moments to rest and place yourself in His presence.
 
James 1:17-27
The Letter of James, although attributed to the half-brother of Jesus, was likely not written by him. Regardless of who the author is, this letter is an exhortation to the Church to be the Word of God in service. To be the Word of God in the world is a two-step process: first one must receive the word of God; second, one must engage in action for the sake of that word. In order to make one’s self ready to welcome the Word of God, one must prepare one’s heart to receive it. One must clean one’s heart of anger, sordidness and rank growth of wickedness and then meekly and humbly allow the word to be planted in one’s heart. But one cannot stop simply at receiving the word – one must receive this world and then step up to do whatever action the word prompts that person to do. As an example, Paul suggests ministering to orphans and widows – those who in Paul’s day were in danger of being cast aside and forgotten.
What needs to be cleaned out of your heart in order to prepare a clean place to receive the Word of God? Who are the widows and orphans of our day? Who is in danger of being cast aside and forgotten? How does the word, planted in our heart, prompt us to respond?
 
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Jesus is a prominent, public figure and thus is subject to much scrutiny particularly from those who wish to find fault with Him. The Pharisees and the Scribes are such fault-finders – they gather around Jesus to scrutinize Him. They notice that some of Jesus’ disciples are not following the strict tradition of Jewish elders which they hold of paramount importance. One of those traditions, for example, was the ritual, thorough washing of hands before eating. When they question Jesus about His disciples’ behavior, Jesus shines a light on their own behavior. He points out that they have cleaved themselves so strongly to human tradition that they cannot even tell that they have abandoned the sacred law of God. Then Jesus delivers a sermon to the crowd about the nature of defilement and uncleanness – humans are not made unclean by things they put in their bodies (that is, the things that they eat). They are made unclean by all that comes out of their hearts – all the things that are evil, self-centered, self-serving, wicked and prideful.
How much scrutiny do you give to public figures – watching them to see if they will trip up, if they are hypocritical if they are doing wrong? Do you judge them by human standards, by your standards, by God’s standards? What is more important to you? Whether people do what you want them to do or what God wants them to do? In your every thought and action, what proceeds out of your heart?
 
COLLECT:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.