1 Kings 6:1-13
“In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits wide, across the width of the house. Its depth was ten cubits in front of the house. For the house he made windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary; and he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the third was seven cubits wide; for around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house. The house was built with stone furnished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax now any tool of iron was heard in the Temple while it was being built. The entrance for the middle story was on the south side of the house: one went up by the winding stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it; he roofed the house with beams and planks of cedar. He built the structure against the whole house, each story five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar. Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”
Our scripture lesson this morning from the 6th chapter of the 1st Book of Kings appears nowhere in our lectionary. The lectionary, as many of you know, is a three-year cycle of scriptural readings used throughout numerous denominations. It is a wonderful tool that allows the church to examine much of the bible over three years, but it does not contain or examine the totality of the Biblical corpus. One of the passages missing from the lectionary is the entirety of 1 Kings 6 that details the construction of the Temple around the 10th century BC. When Jason contacted me at the beginning of the summer, asking me to preach this Labor day weekend, I was thrilled knowing that I would have the opportunity to share God’s word with my home church. But with his invitation came a caveat: you must pick a random, little known story from the Old Testament. So I figured that not only would I pick a random little known passage about the construction of the Temple, but also I would find one that is never read in churches according to the Lectionary. This is God’s Word for us. It contains the brilliance of creation, the formation of life, the grief of loss, and the necessity of love. Even in the mundane, God acts abundantly in our lives.
The Lord be with you.
Gracious God, may word the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Four hundred and eighty years after the Israelites had made their way out of Egypt, in the second year of Solomon’s Kingdom, the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem began. According to 1 Kings the Temple was to be built with cedar and cypress timber, great stones were to be quarried to lay the foundation, the inner altar was to be overlaid with gold, the inner sanctuary contained two cherubim of olivewood, each ten CUBITS high, etc. All in all, it took 7 years to complete the construction of the place that was to play an incredibly pivotal role in Israel’s future. When reading through this passage in 1st Kings it is as if the construction of the Temple marks the fulfillment of the Exodus story. The grandeur and level of detail in the biblical record is amazingly precise. This was not just an altar built in the wilderness to consecrate and celebrate a moment in the history of Israel, this was a Temple worthy of the Lord who had delivered His people from Egypt and established them in the Promised Land. In fact Solomon declares in the previous chapter that his father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with his enemies that surrounded him. Solomon began construction because God had given him rest on every side; there were neither adversaries nor misfortune. Finally Israel had ascended to the level God had ordained for them.
This past year, my first of three working towards my Masters at Duke Divinity School was amazing. I took classes in Koine Greek, Church History [from Pentecost to the present day], the Old and New Testaments, and Forming Disciples in the Wesleyan Tradition. One of the primary emphases of Duke Divinity School is to fully immerse one’s self in the biblical, social, and theological works of which we are learning. In conjunction with our course load we are also required to meet regularly with spiritual formation groups. To balance our academic work we are required to work at a field-placements during the summers to give us the best education we can receive. One of the things that Duke offered me this past year, which has a direct connection with today’s scripture, was the DiVE tank. DiVE stands for Duke immersive Virtual Environment, a 6 sided virtual reality theater. All six surfaces, the four walls, ceiling and floor, are used as screens onto which computer graphics are displayed. For virtual worlds designed for this system, it is a fully immersive room in which the individual walks into the world, is surrounded by the display and is capable of interacting with virtual objects in the world. While studying the Old Testament, each student in my year was invited to an hour-long session in the DiVE tank where we would virtually explore the Temple from the time of Solomon. Thanks to the incredible detail provided by the writer of 1 Kings, researchers and computer programmers were able to reconstruct the biblical temple in a virtual medium whereby we, 3,000 year later, could travel through the Temple and see what it would have looked like. Upon entering the DiVE tank with some of my peers, my first impression was of the majesty of the Temple, especially in light of its surroundings. The Temple stood erect in a large open place, being built of massive stones, all lending to the perception that God was to dwell in this place indefinitely. We traveled through the outer perimeter examining the details within each room until we made our way to the holy of holies. There sat the Arc of the Covenant, surrounded by two cherubim each 15 feet tall by 10 feet wide. Even in a virtually projected reality, the experience of the Temple left me with Goosebumps. The Temple was a dark and mysterious structure, conductive to a sense of awe. It stood in a large open place, signifying its unique reflection of God. After being in the DiVE tank I began to understand how those walls seemed to guarantee that God would never wish to depart from Jerusalem.
Unfortunately they also encouraged those who saw them a few millennia ago to rely more on the outward symbols of God’s presence than on the pious performance of his commandments and the heartfelt loyalty to his covenant that his prophets continually demanded.
Solomon was able to create a situation, through the construction of the Temple, in which everything was already given, in which no more futures could be envisioned. He established a controlled, static religion through which God and the Temple became part of the royal landscape. The sovereignty of God was fully subordinated to the purposes of the king who compartmentalized the Lord into a building. This was the greatest sin committed by Solomon, he attempted to take the God of omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience and limit him to a building on top of a hill. There was no longer a notion of God’s freedom to act out against the status quo. God had been affectively placed “on call” where access to him was controlled by the royal court. Passion had been removed from its connection to God.
It became obvious, therefore why the prophet Jeremiah would one day lash out against the Israelites screaming: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh!” The Israelites had been so duped by the monarchy to believe that the temple contained more power than God himself! The prophet Jeremiah was given the unenviable task of reforming a nation who had placed all hope in a building rather than the mercies, love, depth, and brilliance of a living and magnificent God.
In Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination he draws connections between the reign of Solomon and our current Post-modern culture. Just as with the time of Solomon we live in an economic situation of affluence in which we are so well off that pain is not noticed and we can eat our way around it. Just as with the time of Solomon we see politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or are dismissed.
Brueggemann leaves it there, but I would go so far as to say that just as with the time of Solomon, WE find ourselves with a religion where God has been compartmentalized into our churches.
Let me explain. I love the church. I love this church. But I’m afraid of us believing that we can only find God in this building. Or maybe even worse, I’m afraid that we might only live out our faith when we are in this building. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it is not enough for US to just show up to church every week. I say US because this most assuredly applies to me as well. It is very easy being a Christian while at Divinity School. I am constantly surrounded by majestic buildings, scripture quoted above archways, like minded peers whose lives are oriented around the Gospel, learned professors who are known throughout the world, and a collective identity fixed towards the fulfillment of the Christian message. It truly is a wonderful atmosphere through which to learn about the Lord, the Word, and the World. The problem is, as soon as you get off campus, it’s so easy to forget your Christian identity.
Just this past Friday, I called Jason to complain about one of my classes this fall. Greek Exegesis of the Gospel according to Mark, where this week I have to translate the first 15 verses of Mark 1, read my professors introduction to the Anchor Bible Commentary to Mark [~100 pages] and read William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret to then write a 2,000 word review of the book. All of which are due by Thursday. When in actuality I have the greatest job in the world. I get to spend hours everyday learning and reflecting on the glory of God. This is not something to complain about, it is something to celebrate.
We are called to live out our faith in the world. Whether that means living out the Gospel outside the walls of Duke Divinity School, or simply loving our neighbors as ourselves. The role of the church is to reveal the Word of God so that we might know God. We then, in church, respond to God through worship. Finally we must take what we learn about God and proclaim it through our living! We come to know God through our lived experiences within the walls and especially outside of the walls of the church. Being a Christian is not a one-hour a week endeavor; it is about dying to the old self and being clothed in the new self where Christ is all and in all! [Col. 3] It’s about presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It’s about not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds [Romans 12]
God is not hidden in this building. Yes, God is reflected and resonated through aspects of our church. But we do not come here to find God alone, but to experience God and live out our lives through God as soon as we leave.
“Enter to worship; leave to serve.” This is a common phrase found on signs posted in and around churches. Doing the first part “enter to worship,” that parts easy. It’s leaving the church to serve the word of God, that’s the hard part.
In a few moments all of you will be invited to partake in the Eucharist. This practice of participation in the Lord’s Table is one that has been taking place for centuries. When we come to the altar to receive the bread and juice, we are not coming to simply be forgiven or joined together with other Christians. We are receiving the grace of God through the Holy Spirit so that we might leave this place being filled with that same grace.
We have the responsibility to proclaim and live out the Word of God in our lives.
In the adapted words of Cleophas LaRue, a homiletics professor at Princeton Theological Seminary:
Live out the Gospel when you are up and when you are down, when all is well and when all is hell, live out the Gospel when you are received and when you are nowhere believed, Live out the Gospel until sinners are justified, until the devil is terrified, until Jesus is magnified, and until God is satisfied!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.