Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 23 August 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 16B/Ordinary 21B/Pentecost 12 August 23, 2009 Textweek

1 Kings 8: 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

If we follow the Old Testament readings that continue the readings we have been sharing the last few weeks, we see that the Temple has been built, just as David wished. In his time, the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s presence, was brought into Jerusalem after the city was conquered. The Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s presence, was placed in the “city of David” (v. 1), as it was then known, in the “tent of meeting” (v. 4). The Ark is now moved, with great procession, into the newly-built Temple. It’s placed in the Holy of Holies (“inner sanctuary”, v. 6). So there’s that amazing movement, and today we hear Solomon’s prayer of dedication: it is here and we now dedicate this place.

So one of the questions that comes up is, where to now? With the temple established in Jerusalem, is that the end of the story, and if it is, what does this say and represent in terms of God’s dwelling place?

In the Jewish tradition, there is a looking forward toward the construction of The Third Temple in Jerusalem, and that looking forward is in anticipation of the coming of the Jewish Messiah. So they’re looking for the third temple; it almost parallels the Christian tradition of the second coming of Christ.

In every tradition, there are holy places that carry great significance. The temple at Srirangam in India is the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines of Lord Vishnu and it is also considered the most important of a hundred and eight temples dedicated to Vishnu. In Celtic spirituality we often read of “thin places”, places where God is uniquely present to inspire and protect. They’re marked, these thin places, you certainly see them throughout the UK - cairns, stone circles, and holy spots, holy places such as Iona, Glastonbury, and Findhorn, places where it is said that the Divine energy is focussed, places of transformation. Is this what we see when we hear Solomon dedicating the Holy of Holies in the temple that’s just been built in Jerusalem? It is the Holy Place, the dwelling place, of the God of our tradition. And in the prayer Solomon uses to dedicate that place, he points to a deeper reality of God: “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built.”

So we have this huge movement that we’ve been reading about to establish a temple, the Ark of the Covenant, which has been with the people as they sought direction, as they sought life wandering in the desert, the Ark has been brought into that temple, it is declared the holiest place, for there God dwells, and that’s signified as the Ark is placed in there, the Holy of Holies fills with a cloud.
So why is Solomon saying, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built.”? He says this in response to his own question in v27, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth?" And I think what we see in that prayer of dedication is Solomon’s mystical understanding of the Divine, and it’s an appreciation of God that breaks out of the confines of the ritualistic religious practices of his time. It is a new way that is identified by Solomon as he dedicates the temple in Jerusalem.

He continues in that prayer, with what must have been an amazingly challenging understanding for those who saw themselves as God’s own people. This is God’s chosen people gathering together, almost for the pinnacle of what they’ve been struggling for for years – the temple is built, God dwells here – and Solomon says,
41 "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name."

As we hear these words of Solomon in the present moment, so too they invite us to look beyond our temple, to look beyond those who worship like us and with us. And so also to look beyond some of the understandings in our tradition that confine our understanding and appreciation of God. Solomon opens out, in fact he breaks out of the traditional understanding. And it begins, and maybe we should begin, by asking Solomon’s question; “will God indeed dwell on earth?”
And if the answer is yes, we think God will dwell on earth, then the question becomes, how do we think this realisation will take place? Can we be drawn by Solomon’s words into an appreciation of our Temple as pointing toward, rather than being a place of ritualistic destination? The ‘Where to from here?’ question, as we follow the journey of life through the scriptures, is not answered by going TO church, but rather by going somewhere AS church. This is not the destination; this is where we come to receive food for the journey. Going into tomorrow with an appreciation, with a desire to manifest, make manifest, the Divine indwelling.

Paul asks us, calls us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” That wonderful image of Paul suggesting that we clothe ourselves so that we might be and be seen fully for who we are. He does not suggest that we take out insurance, he does not suggest a program of risk assessment, and there is no promise of compensation if things go wrong, for these are the clothes of those who live in fear. We’re called, and Paul calls us to be dressed differently from the world.

Soon, very soon, we will start building here; we will change the shape and the appearance of St Paul’s as we build toward tomorrow. We will knock walls out, we will rebuild walls; the shape will affect the whole precinct. We have employed a builder to do the outer work, the work of fabrication and structure. WE have ourselves to do the inner work. As we give new shape to the church building, perhaps there’s an opportunity to use the exercise for the reshaping of ourselves. What Solomon saw, we too might seek: temple that does not contain what even heaven cannot contain, temple that will draw the foreigner into the outstretched arm of the Divine. And a temple that will point us, each of us and all of us, toward wisdom, strength and prayer.
Today as we come together to share Divine food, as we come to receive the sacraments of Bread and Wine, as we receive the Divine blessing of the whole community through the hands we have set aside, let us leave behind the ritual of our cultic confines and hear again in our hearts the truth that gives life:

“those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, abide in me, and I in them........”

As we receive communion, may we be drawn through and beyond each and every temple.

Peter Humphris