Rev. Teri Peterson
1 Kings 5.1-5, 8.1-13
27 October 2013, NL 4-8, Reformation Sunday
Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David. Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, “You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build a house for my name.’ ”
When the Temple was completed, Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built for you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
Have you ever noticed that there are some places that have a feel to them? For instance, no matter which of our local baseball teams you root for, it’s undeniable that Wrigley Field has a feel. It’s almost like the place has its own energy, its own spirit. There’s something about it that just feels right, exudes Great-American-Pastime.
There are some holy sites like this too—when you enter, you can just feel that it’s different somehow, more holy. The air and the vibes are sacred, and not just because of the incense!
And then there are places that just feel ordinary. No offense to Sox fans, but US Cellular field is kind of like that—it’s just a ballpark without much character or atmosphere of its own.
And yet, if the conditions are right, the crowd is engaged, the game is good…magic can still happen there. It’s possible even for ordinary places to have an extraordinary energy, depending on the interplay of people and the experience. Or it’s possible for everyone to leave having seen a game but engaged at only the most superficial level, talking about nothing more than the weather or whether they liked the hymns or not.
When Solomon built the Temple, he was hoping for a place that could hold God, a place where people could seek God out but where God wouldn’t be too intrusive. Solomon built the biggest, shiniest, best building in the city. It took foreign investment and conscripted labor, but in the end he had a Temple to rival anything his ancestors had ever seen in Egypt. Now God wouldn’t be traveling with the people, moving around in the camp, going where the people went—God would live in one place and we could all go there to participate in assigned rituals at our assigned times.
How often do we think of church as the place where God lives? The phrase “the house of God” is not uncommon when talking about church sanctuaries. People often feel they need to dress up, watch their language, and be more reverent in the house of God than they do elsewhere in the world. We put on our best outfits and our best behavior, as if God is here and not there. We participate in the assigned ritual at the assigned time, and then go about our lives assuming that is enough to get us through the week.
But what happens at the Temple that first day is what we hope happens in the church building every day: the people there to worship have an encounter, an experience. In the midst of their sacrifices, God shows up in a tangible, palpable, noticeable way. The feel of the space changes, and they are literally forced out the doors of the place by the experience. They come face to face with the Spirit of God, and that encounter sends them back out into the world to carry that good news with them. However much Solomon may have wished that the Temple would hold God, nothing can. What Solomon, and all the people of Israel, got instead was a nudge to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit out among the people.
And it all started with an experience.
Do we come to worship expecting an experience? Expecting to meet God face to face? Expecting to encounter the spirit of the living God in a tangible way? Have we had that feeling of palpable presence?
The building is only part of the deal, right. Remember that while The Cell may be blah, the right interaction of people and experience can charge the atmosphere with magic. The same is true of church—especially when we remember that the church is not a building, but a people. If we expect to encounter God, whether in this room or in the board room, we just might. If we have the right mix of Spirit and people and experience, the atmosphere can change in an instant. But be ready, because when God shows up, we’re likely to be shoved out the doors to take that good news into the world.
This is what most of us are looking for, really: an experience of God. This is why people show up at worship for the first time, and why we keep coming back: we want to have an experience of the Divine, an encounter with the God who created and is still creating, who has done incredible things and continues to amaze. Coming to worship is not about feeling good, or singing my favorite hymns, or seeing my friends—it’s about seeing God, and practicing how to worship God outside these walls. We practice listening for God’s voice, so we are more likely to hear it when others speak. We practice repentance and forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking. We practice hospitality. We practice proclaiming the good news. And when God ushers us out of this sanctuary and into the streets, we’re ready to put that practice into action.
IF, that is, we’ve experienced God. There is no guarantee that every sanctuary or every church is filled with the Spirit of God, just as there’s no guarantee that a stadium is filled with the spirit of a great game. We heard about how a cloud of God’s glory filled up the Temple as the people made their offerings, prayed, and sang. What would it take for this church to be filled with God’s glory? Not the building, but the church. We might want to confine God to the walls like a time capsule in the cornerstone, but the cloud of glory overflows the holy of holies and will overflow our closed doors as well—and our closed hearts too.
What if the church was full of God’s glory? All fall we’ve been talking about ways we glorify God in our ministries here. We’ve seen God glorified from basement to rafters, in and out of the building, through PADS and pies, classes and songs, artwork and service work. What if we were constantly on the lookout for what God is doing, constantly on the lookout for where we can participate in God’s mission? What if we were to cultivate gratitude by naming something that God has done in our lives each day? What if we were to sing with all our hearts even if we were unsure of the tune? What if we were to reach out to someone who has hurt us and look for reconciliation? What if we were to call up someone we haven’t seen in a while and just chat? What if we were to actually pray for each other by name throughout the week? We just might find the palpable presence of God, right here, ready to be encountered and experienced by all who meet us.
Today is Reformation Sunday—the day we celebrate the ways the Spirit is working to transform the church ever more into a better glimpse of the kingdom of God. Interestingly, the Reformation was partly sparked by a building not unlike the Temple of Solomon: when the pope needed a fundraiser to pay for the building of St. Peter’s, he created the idea of selling certificates of forgiveness. He should have gone for a raffle, because the sale of these indulgences was among the top grievances of Martin Luther and others who would ultimately change the church forever with their insistence that God’s grace is never for sale, and that no building can contain the glory of God. Instead we can find God’s spirit dwelling among and within us, for we are temples of the holy spirit, made into a body that is the home of Christ. And so on this day especially, we look for what God is up to next, for we know that the transformation God has in mind will be amazing…and that we will have a part to play in it.
May we again encounter the Living God, who is making all things new, and may we be the church, a Living Temple, the dwelling place of God’s spirit, overflowing into the world.