Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflections on I Kings 8 – “The Temple Is Dedicated”

Reflections on I Kings 8 – “The Temple Is Dedicated”
Well, we have come to the end of the story.  King David died last week and his throne has passed to his son Solomon.  Solomon then initiates a series of building projects, the most of important of which is to build the Temple to house the Ark.  When it is finally complete it is an amazing structure, encased in gold and utilizing only the most precious and expensive materials.  Built with slave labor the work is now complete and today the text today is a portion of the story of the dedication and a part of the public prayer that Solomon prays.
In many ways this text is a good summery of all that we have experienced over the summer.  Many of the themes that we have touched on in previous texts are lifted up in this text as well.  The narrator, for example, makes sure we see Solomon’s faults: his grasping for wealth, his extravagance in spending, his use of slave labor and his absolute power.  These things will simmer throughout his reign and ultimately will be the spark that re-ignites the civil war between the northern and southern tribes that will eventually lead to a split of the nation.  But this is way in the future.  For on the other hand we also see the faithful, devout, humble and thoughtful side of Solomon in this text.  He is sincerely awed by the presence of the Lord and the 7 petitions in his great prayer lift up the need for confession and forgiveness, the centrality of community, the importance of openness and inclusivity in the community and the importance of compassion – to name just a few of the themes he touches on.  It is amazing actually that at this very nationalistic event Solomon the King calls on the nation to be a nation of people who are open and faithful to God and who regularly reach out to God to ask for forgiveness; and at the same time a nation of people who are conscious of their being a part of a community, who recognize their responsibility for one another and, not only that, but a nation where this community sensitivity is extended to visitors and strangers and those who are not part of the nation.  In short, Solomon calls on the people to love God and love their neighbor; to set aside their natural inclination to selfishness and embrace compassion, and to be ready to ask for forgiveness when they fail.
It seems like we may have heard basically that same message in different words in the Gospels:
When the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:34-40 – pew bibles, NT p. 19)
We call this the “Great Commandment,” and it is a passage that I suspect you have all heard before in some form.  By the way, it is not called the “Great Suggestion.”  It is called the “Great Commandment.”  In other words this is a gift from God to us that gives us a foundation for living lives that are full and complete.  It is not yet another rule to check off the list, it is rather a path that Jesus sets before us for entering into the life of God.  But we can also see that this is not unique to Jesus, but that Solomon also understands this and, using different words, is lifting up the very same thing.  Set next to each other the words of Solomon and words of Jesus give us a very unique perspective.  It could be argued that Jesus was addressing individuals or at least groups of individuals, while Solomon is addressing the nation.  But in both cases the message is the same: Love God and love your neighbor (and let’s not forget that when asked to define neighbor Jesus tells a story – “The Good Samaritan” - that makes it clear that we are neighbors to the entire human family, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or anything else!)
In the public and political discourse of our great nation I have noticed a very disturbing trend.  Following the lead of an American 20th century atheist philosopher (Ayn Rand) selfishness is being redefined as a virtue, and compassion is denounced as a sign of weakness.  We are turning inward more and more and focusing on our own selfish wants and desires.  Anyone who disagrees with us is condemned and anyone who is different than us is shunned.  And not only that, but certain preachers have tried to repackage this as a form of Christianity.  It’s not.  It is the most insidious of heresies – that which causes us to block out others and the needs of others.  But Jesus says that if we want to experience the Kingdom of heaven we should not only look outside of ourselves to reach out to help and care for others; and that we need to embrace compassion and recognize that God’s number one priority is people – human beings!  Especially human beings who are in some kind of need – hungry, poor, hurting , grieving, lonely, sick and so on.  And this is not presented as an option – it is a commandment!  It is the Great Commandment!
And Solomon lifts up the same and presents it to the nation.  According to Solomon, we as a nation are a community who takes responsibility for each other and who has compassion and cares for one another.  And when we fail, as we no doubt will, Solomon entreats the people to turn to God looking for forgiveness and Solomon entreats God to forgive and send us forth again seeking to reach out of ourselves in love, selflessness and compassion. We would do well to heed these words!
There are so many of us who are searching for God.  I see this in social media, and I experience it in different ways each and every day.  But most of us seem to think that we will find God inside of ourselves, or in solitude in nature, or in a set of dos and don’ts, or in political positions of one sort or another.  “I can be spiritual by myself,” we tell ourselves.  So, who needs church?  The words of Solomon and especially of Jesus resound loudly today with an answer to these questions. Who needs Church?  You do – because it is that community which is the foundation of your life of service to your neighbor and to God.  And where do you find God?  You can find God everywhere, but you will find God most intently and profoundly in your neighbor! 
 Thanks to Peace Lutheran Church is Sioux Falls, South Dakota for these wonderful graphics and permission to use them.
The sermon based on this text and outlined above was preached by me at Peace, on August 26, 2012.  The audio for that sermon - along with the Psalm - can be found and listened to on the media page at .

1 comment:

  1. In " Mollie's "book club we are reading "Our Divided Political Heart" by E.J. Dionne, and one part traces the idea of community and individual (communitarianism and individualism) in our national politics. Interesting, and Solomon had the same problems, universal problems.