A sermon for Proper 16 B
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11),22-30, 41-43, Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18, Psalm 84, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69
When I see a series of commas and parentheses in the lectionary, I know I’m in trouble because I really do not believe in reading bits and pieces of anything. So I went back and read the entire story of the building of the Temple. I found the dimensions of the Temple, 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits. For some reason, I was inspired to look up the size of the Ark, which is 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. A bit later I read Solomon’s Palace was 100 cubits, by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. What it is about 30 cubits, which is only 45 feet? Perhaps it’s a tower of Babel and some height thing, but there is no obvious connection. Who knows maybe it is a symbolic reminder that God cannot be contained.
The story opens with the Ark being brought to the Temple and put in its most holy place. As soon as the priests leave the room is filled with a cloud. If you recall, a cloud that leads Israel out of Egypt; that a cloud cover the top of Saini when Moses is consulting with God; and a cloud is in the Tabernacle Tent when God speaks to Moses. We know the cloud marks God’s presence. If you read all the verses you will read about glory, God’s name and deep darkness, all of which, along with the Temple itself, are marks of God’s presence. We might like a cleaner, clearer depiction of God’s presence, but we can’t have one. Solomon himself says:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
So while the Temple or any other human construct may represent God’s sovereign presence, it cannot contain nor constrain the divine presence (Epperly, Petersen and Gavenat, Nelson, Seow).
However, because of their presence we are reminded of, we are assured of: God’s freedom to intervene; that we are free to come into God’s presence; that we are free pray to God’s presence in the face of whatever calamity may have befallen us. (Seow)
One unusual feature in Solomon’s dedication prayer is the inclusion of foreigners. The Temple is a place all Israel and all the nations of the world may come to and offer prayers or may offer prayers towards. In short he is telling all the world God will listen to your prayers.
We shouldn’t be surprised, we know God created all humanity in God’s image. (Gen 1:26) What is hard for us to remember is the divine image in the other, in the ‘them’ over there. It is hard to remember that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us includes us being in the same loving relationship with everyone around us. (Galvin)
As we know from the recent violence in Blytheville and Mississippi County, it is oh so easy to get caught up in fears, self-interest, vengeance, greed, and self-protection. When we live in that, fear our souls can shrink.
From our Christian Sacramentality, we may see Eucharistic symbolism in the story. As with the Temple, we believe in the real, abiding, though mystic, presence of God in Eucharistic elements. (Whitley) We also know they cannot contain the totality of God nor constraint God’s presence. Through the Gospels connecting Jesus to the Temple (Matt 26:61, 27:40, Mark 14:58, 15:29, John 2:19) we see how both point towards the true living presence of God that is revealed through manifold salvific acts.
While the story is framed as Solomon’s dedicating the Temple, it is significant his first response to the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence is to pray. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) Verses 31 to 40, which we did not hear, are a list of prayers Israel may offer to God covering everything from resolving disputes to seeking help while in exile. Solomon would expect us to take all our emotional responses to the recent and ongoing challenges in Blytheville to God in prayer. He would expect us to acknowledge that we continue to be radically dependent on God. (Galvin) In the Celtic Christianity, there is a prayer tradition of drawing a circle around yourself as you pray. It is not a barrier of protection. It is a reminder that Christ is above, beneath, behind, in front, to your left and your right, all around you, all the time. It’s not a magical act that banishes fear. It is an empowering act of faith in God that does allow us to subdue our fears so that we can live with them and not allow them to control us and how we respond the world and our interactions with people around us. As one bit of wisdom puts it
when we are afraid we do not need to be afraid of being afraid because people who love you and God are with you. (Epperly)
The other option of an Old Testament reading is from Joshua where he asks Israel, who they will follow, and they robustly proclaim they will follow God. He tells them they cannot. He’s right. The rest of the Old Testament is the continuing story of peoples and kings failing to follow God. It is also to the story of God’s continuing presence. If God’s is not constrained by the Temple, if God’s presence is not constrained in sacramental elements, God’s presence is not constrained by the sinful mess of the world. So, we are justified by being frightened, or concerned, or whatever adjective you chose to use, by the violence, injustice, oppression and all the other forms of inhumanity towards each other. However, through prayerful seeking we can know God’s loving presence and therefore we will not allow the fears of the world to determine our response to the world. Through prayer we will glean the loving response to ‘them’ over there God is calling us to. We might even glean God’s guiding response in their lives.
Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16, OT 21, Cycle B. 23 8 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. Pentecost 13 _ August 23, 2015. 23 8 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/>.
Galvin, Garrett. Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43. 23 8 2015.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. 1 Kings 8:1-43. 23 8 2015.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 23 8 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Not Just Bread Anymore. 23 8 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Nelson, Richard. Interpretations: First and Second Kings. Ed. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miller and Paul J Achtemeier. Louisville: John Know Press, 1987.
Petersen, David L and Beverly R Gavenat. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010.
Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreters’ Bible: First and Second Books of Kings. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. 3. Abingdon Press, 1999. 12 vols.
Whitley, Katerina. “The Word Made Flesh – Proper 16(B),” 23 8 2015. Sermons that Work.