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First Impressions: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-23, 41-43

August 18, 2009

This week’s Lectionary text describes Solomon’s dedication of the Temple.  I am considering several possibilities for preaching, including discussions of God’s faithfulness, God’s holiness, prayer or the theology of our modern sanctuary.

Though this was God’s moment, Solomon took center stage.  Some might say he co-opted the event for political purposes.  I suggest you read the entire chapter, 1 Kings 8, and make your own determination.  As usual, I am inclined to alter the Lectionary text.  There are so many bits and pieces that I think the designated pericope damages the lesson and makes it choppy and difficult to hear.

8:1 This is an event in which the entire nation took part because the Temple was more than simply the sanctuary of a local church.  It is the locus of the community’s belief that God had chosen them, rescued them, guided them to this land and given them rest.  The Temple represented not only God’s presence, but also God’s grace.  It was religious space and nationalistic space, something of a combination of the Vatican, and the Washington and Lincoln Memorials.

8:5 The lectionary leaves this verse out, but combining Solomon’s sacrifice of so many animals that they could not be counted with his thousand burnt offerings from last week, I perversely imagine that Solomon would not be one of PETA’s favorite people.  Obviously, that’s not preachable.

8:10-11 I love this image of the cloud symbolizing the glory of God filling the Temple so powerfully that the priests were driven to cover.  Even though Solomon had built this house to contain God and the Ark of the Covenant, God would not be confined within the proscribed limits.  These verses are wonderfully preachable.  How often do we seek to make God knowable and accessible only to discover that God’s majesty escapes us?  God is not a lap dog, even though Solomon tried his best to control the deity.

8:22-23 Solomon seems to acknowledge that God is indeed greater than can be imagined, but the Lectionary leaves out the most politically shrewd verses.  In 17-21 and 24-26, Solomon reminded God which king actually built the Temple, and also encouraged God to remember the promises made to David, particularly that David’s line would always continue on the throne.  The speech seems self-seeking.  Nevertheless, these verses might lead into a discussion of God’s faithfulness and our confidence in God.  We often err when we begin to doubt that God is paying attention anymore and then try to do things our own way.  God’s purposes are often long delayed.  Can we believe that the fulfillment will come to pass?

8:41-43 These verses are part of a long prayer to God, asking God to hear all those who pray in the Temple, including foreigners who have heard of God’s greatness.  Solomon primarily described prayers of need—famine, drought, war—but also included prayers of repentance.  The refrain often repeated in verses 27-53 is “O hear in heaven.”  Our modern refrain is “Lord, hear our prayer.”  If you choose to expand the reading to use some of these verses, you could construct a sermon on prayer.

I may use the text as a springboard to jump into a discussion of the theology of our modern worship space.  Most mainline churches have a designated sanctuary, and worship is sometimes the only activity in that space.  From a practical standpoint, sanctuary is wasted space, used only for a short time on one day a week.  Why not simply worship in a gym or warehouse?  At least then it could be rented out on other days.  We have chosen to set aside a place with permanent fixtures for one reason.  How are our sanctuaries similar to and different from the Temple?  What do we believe happens there that generally does not happen somewhere else?

If any of you have any good references for the theology of worship space, please pass the titles along to me.

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