For me our weekly service bulletins are a form of art. I put time and effort into the words, the pictures and the arrangement we find on those pages each week. It is, for me, an integral part of our offering of worship to Jesus Christ our Lord and of our experience of worship each week as we gather together. I make headings, based on the weekly theme and scripture, to help guide our thoughts through the service. I find and share quotes to help focus our thinking and prepare us to worship well together. I realize that in our fast-paced video-dominated culture asking people to do a little voluntary reading as part of their worship experience may be more wishful thinking than effective leadership on my part. I remember a conversation with a long-time Covenant member who was concerned that we weren’t preparing well enough for worship on Sundays. I pointed out that I had been printing words and pictures on our bulletin covers every week to do just that, and his response was to say that he never looked at that stuff. Though it may be a bit of an uphill battle, I can’t stop believing that reading and thinking well (rather than systemically bypassing our critical faculties with musical massage and media manipulation) is an important way we hear, respond to, and honor our God. “Jesus saves world: Film at 11,” cannot and will not adequately replace thinking God’s thoughts after Him by reading His Word and meditating for a while on what He has said and what He is saying now to us. It’s the motivation behind our Advent and Lenten devotional books, and until our elders tell me to stop wasting my time and that of others, I’m going to keep looking at our printed bulletins as tools for worship preparation and for actual worship. Soli Deo Gloria.
In our bulletin collection here in the CPC office we have one very peculiar bulletin. Some might argue there are others that are peculiar, but this one has its own odd story. It is from August 30th 2015. It presents a theme and a message from God’s Word under the heading “Love Song” about “The Drama of Love.” It promises a series of messages under this same heading. The message, the service and the series—heartfelt and undergirded with hours of study, research and prayer—never happened. All my preparation was set aside in favor of something for which I had no intentional preparation—a heart attack and subsequent period of recovery. During this time, you my church family stood by me, my wife and my family, with great love and unwavering support. Thank you, once again, friends.
Now, I think, it is time to go back to this bulletin, and this series of messages for our time of worship on Sunday mornings. Once again, beginning next month, I will attempt to preach for ten weeks through the little, beautiful, challenging and largely misunderstood book from the Wisdom and Poetry section of the Old Testament called “The Song of Songs” or “Song of Solomon.” If God stops me this time, I may conclude that He doesn’t believe me capable of doing sermonic justice to this book, and probably I will not ever try again. But if it seems good to God’s Holy Spirit as it seems good to me, I will proceed with this series between the first of the year and Easter.
Song of Songs. Isn’t that the “sex book” of the Bible? Why spend nearly three months focusing on it? And on Sunday mornings no less? Well, in the first edition of the “Love Song” study guides I am preparing for personal and small group use, I offer the following (for a fuller development of these reasons, please pick up your own copy of the introductory edition of my “Love Song” guides)…
…The Song of Songs is a difficult book. At the heart of this difficulty is the seemingly irreconcilable reality that it is both a lyric love poem and canonical Scripture (part of the Inspired Word of God). Both Jewish and Christian scholars have had great difficulty making sense of this Book, so why are we, a bunch of not-so-scholarly church people, going to spend several weeks studying this Book? Good question. Why Solomon’s Song of Songs?
- I am committed to preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God. This means that we don’t merely look, over and over, at the parts of God’s Word that we like or understand well. We look at all of it. So, since we (like most churches) have mostly avoided this Song of Songs book, we will now look at it carefully and, to the best of our ability, let it speak for itself. And it will speak with power and grace to us in our present circumstances…
- We live in a day and age, probably not unlike most others, where our understanding and practice of human sexuality and marriage is a pitiful imitation of the magnificent outworking of the grand drama of love God has designed and blessed for us. I hope and trust, with God’s help especially through His collection of love poetry called the Song of Songs, we will be able to recover some of the enormously positive and redemptive view of sex and marriage God offers to those—male and female—He has made. I pray we will remember well together—over and against the sexual battlefield of our culture—the glory and wonder and beauty of real, physical, emotional and spiritual human love and human sexuality under the creative and sustaining mind and will of the One True Living and Loving God.
- Then also, as we take this love-song book on its own terms first, I am confident we will discover a wondrous revelation of God Himself, His character and His purposes. Perhaps it is a God who is wooing His people back to Himself, like a lover, and who desires deep intimacy and ultimate union with us which is exemplified and even shared when a man and a woman fall in love, vow their faithfulness and come together in the holy bond of the marriage bed.
- Finally, the Song of Songs will inform and inspire us as we seek truly to live “in Christ,” to be Builders of Community, Blessers for those around us and Beacons of His Good News. Trusting in God, receiving and sharing His love, is a decision and a life fraught with fears and challenges as well as hopes and blessings, and these will be illuminated as we follow the drama presented in Solomon’s Song.
I love Song of Songs 2:10-13. The voice of the beloved groom calling his bride is so passionate and sincere and vital… “Come away with me!”… And then I remember the description of God’s Church as the “Bride of Christ” we read in the Book of Revelation. And I hear the voice of Jesus calling me, calling us… Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away…
I look forward to working our way through this beautiful and challenging part of God’s Word as we begin 2017 together. To God alone be the glory,