Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our Dwelling Place: Sermon on 1 Kings 5, 8

Scripture can be found here...

Again, in our project to read across the story of scripture, we have skimmed over lots and lots of material to arrive at today’s passage. Two weeks ago, we learned the story behind the birth of the prophet Samuel, who anointed the first two kings of God’s people, Saul and David. And today we are hearing a story of David’s son, Solomon, the third king to take the throne, and the one, at last, to build a temple for God.

It feels odd to skate past David in this way. For those of us who have been spending the past several months with him in Bible Study, he is an endlessly fascinating, and, yes, flawed character. But he is also clearly a man after God’s own heart, a towering figure, and an important link in the chain that, for Christians, eventually leads us to Jesus. But for now we are looking at the big picture of God’s people so far, and that, I would describe this way:

God creates the world and all that is in it.

God creates people and invites them into a special relationship, a covenant.

God’s covenant promises that the people will have a home, and that they will be fruitful, and that they will be blessed, so that they might be a blessing.

God’s people find themselves enslaved. But God remembers the covenant and provides release and rescue.

God’s people wander and stray and test the boundaries of that covenant. Think of toddlers, who engage in something developmental psychologists call “rapprochement.” They know that you, the parent, are home base, you are the safe place to be. But you’re at the playground, for instance, and they wander away, further and further, testing the limits of your bond, until you think maybe you’ll lose them, or some other terrible thing will happen. And then they come back. Because, you’re the safe place, home base, the place they know they are meant to be. God’s people wander and stray and test those boundaries in more or less the same way.

And then God’s people grow up some more, and want some things that they think will make them really happy. Let’s stay with the parenting analogy. Let’s say they want a car! And you, the parent, say, “Well, sure, you want a car, to get around in, but here’s what cars are good for: spending money. There are car payments, and there’s gas, and there’s insurance, and that’s a huge responsibility that might actually feel like a burden.” But they want a car, and they save up, and they get a car, and then they learn firsthand what that grown up responsibility really means.

Except, in the story of God’s people, what they want is a king. And God, the parent, says, “Well, I am your king, but apparently you want a human king. Well, here’s what human kings are good for: forced labor, taxes, harems, armies, war.”[i]

And the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah demonstrate the truth of that statement, again and again.

In the passage we skipped last week, David is finally, securely on the throne, and ensconced in his palace in Jerusalem. And it occurs to him to build God a house—that is, a temple. But God instead, informs David, “I will build you a house”—that is, a dynasty.  And the project of building a physical “house for God” is left for Solomon, David’s son.

This is where we pick up today. In the first part of our passage, Solomon is conversation with a foreign king about this impending project, the building of the temple. Then we skip to chapter 8, but in the intervening verses, we learn in detail the materials and d├ęcor of the temple. It is a grand project, and the process of building it takes seven years. Finally, we come to the celebration: Solomon assembles all the people of Israel, the leaders and the commoners, the laborers and the rulers. Solomon dedicates the temple with a prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting with bated breath to hear what Solomon will pray. By this time in the story, I’m a little nervous to hear what he’s going to say. The temple is sounding suspiciously like a royal vanity project—there are tens of thousands of forced laborers, and the prayer begins rather inauspiciously, with Solomon sounding an awful lot like he is looking for a quid pro quo—“Keep me on the throne, God,” he says, in so many words, “and my descendants after me.”

Thankfully, the wisdom for which Solomon is legendary begins to make itself known.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even… the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” [1 Kings 5:27]. Solomon acknowledges that even the most gorgeous of human efforts cannot “hold” God; God cannot be put in a box—even a beautiful one that takes seven years to construct. “Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive” [1 Kings 5:30]. Solomon’s prayer boils down to this very simple, and very heartfelt plea: Hear our prayers.

Hear our prayers. And not only our prayers, the prayers of your special people, your covenant people—but the prayers of all. Aliens. Strangers. Travelers and wanderers. Anyone who ventures into this place to pray, or even, who “prays towards” this place. O God, hear our prayers.

God creates people and invites us into a special relationship, a covenant.

God’s covenant promises that God’s people will have a home, and that we will be fruitful, and that we will be blessed, in order to be a blessing. For many of us, to have a home, and to be fruitful, and to have and be a blessing, means that we are members of a faith community.

Approximately 221 years ago, a group of people with roots in the Dutch Reformed tradition began to worship together along the banks of the Susquehanna River, not a quarter of a mile from here. They worshipped in a log building, where the people lifted their voices and hoped that God would hear their prayers. Today, the spiritual descendants of those same people worship here, at Union Presbyterian Church. Today, we too are part of God’s covenant, and together, we too lift our voices.

Hear our prayers. When we speak, we do so in the fervent hope that God will listen. We want God to hear our prayers. We want to be in relationship with God. It is tempting to call this building God’s house, and—full disclosure!—part of my task, my intention today, is to stir in you the desire to support the work we do together here through your financial gifts in the coming year. We want to hold onto God, to put God in a recognizable location, much like the people of Solomon’s day housed the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. But we can’t hold God. We can only let God hold us.

To be a member of a church, a place like Union Presbyterian Church, is to recognize that God is holding us. God is our dwelling place, the safe place, home base, the place we know we are meant to be. We are a part of God’s covenant. We too are called into a relationship with God that promises us that God will be our home, and that we will bear fruit in all kinds of ways we have not yet begun to imagine, and that we will be blessed for the purpose of blessing others, blessed so that blessing will flow through us and into God’s world.

Today I am asking you to recognize that you have been blessed by pledging to be a blessing.

Today I am asking you to let some part of that blessing come to Union Presbyterian Church… so that we, as a body, together, can continue to be a blessing, serving God and God’s people, wherever they may be. And all thanks be to God. Amen

[i] Rolf Jacobson, Podcast: “Narrative Lectionary 051, Solomon,” October 21, 2012.

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