Proper 16, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 26, 2012
|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:|
|1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43||Psalm 84||Ephesians 6:10-20||John 6:56-69|
By Mary Ricketts
The main section of this reading (22-30) is Solomon’s dedication prayer for the temple in Jerusalem. The verse that comes before this section sets the scene for the temple dedication that occurred in the seventh month, which means this dedication service was held off for nearly a year after the completion of the temple and coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles. This Feast was a ceremonial renewal of God’s covenant with the chosen people. At this year’s celebration, the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the city of David to Jerusalem. In verses 10 and 11 it describes God’s presence as a cloud which symbolizes God within the temple, but not contained by the temple.
This understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God is central to the section of Solomon’s prayer in verses 22-30. Solomon gives thanks for God’s continuing faith of the covenant make with David and continuing presence with all future generation who will rule the people of Israel. So, Solomon affirms God’s immanence with God’s people, keeping covenant and responding to their cry. At the same time, verse 27 declares that God cannot be contained by heaven or earth, much less the temple that has been built to house the Ark of the Covenant which represents God’s presence and power.
Solomon’s prayer continues beyond verse 30 with seven specific requests for situations that will be encountered by the community of faith. The situation included in the lectionary pericope discusses the inclusion of foreigner in one who can come to worship and have their prayers heard in the temple.
For me it is inspiring that even the earliest articulation of our Judo-Christian faith, God was seen as a covenant keeper who cannot be contained, even by the temple in Jerusalem. At times in my ministry, it seems as though the building becomes much more important than the worship that occurs within it. Perhaps it is easier to talk about brick and mortar details instead of the elusive lure of God that calls us to covenant relationship? And how welcoming are we to the stranger into those building, who come to worship this ancient God who is forever present and forever opening new possibilities to us, perhaps through that same stranger?
Today’s psalm is a good complement to the Hebrew scripture lesson. The psalms are often called the emotional voice of the scripture. So, if this text is paired with the I Kings passage it could be the formal prayer juxtaposed to the emotional song to the temple.
This psalm was most likely used as a pilgrimage song for people who traveled to the festivals in Jerusalem. It is filled with love and devotion to God as well as a hope and longing that God will care for the pilgrims. This psalm has the often used phrase, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” (verse 10)
There is such a deep and poignant beauty to this song of faith. In my earlier years I was a part of charismatic worshipping communities. Although I no longer feel drawn to their theologies, I do sometimes miss the joyful abandon I felt in worship. I have often thought that in the churches I served that too much emotion was suspect and seen as anti-intellectual. Yet, if we are to gather our concepts of God from all that is around us then certainly our emotions are part of that experience package.
The emotion of the psalmist resonates with my feelings of joy, such as when my sons accomplish good things, when the beauty of a bird or butterfly captures my heart, or when, in the midst of a favorite hymn, tears come to my eyes. I like the idea of lavishing this emotion on God.
Eugene Peters’ translation is wonderful for verses 5-7, “And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion! God in full view!” What a great song to keep in our hearts and minds on our spiritual journey.
Today’s text finishes up the letter to the church of Ephesus with words of instruction and encouragement. It is clear, that for first century Christians, The Way was a difficult and sometimes dangerous choice. It is interesting that even as the church is prosecuted by real Earth bound authorities, the writers say their battle is with “the cosmic powers of this present age.” I think this seen of battling unseen but ever present evil should resonate with anyone watching the daily news. There are so many ‘civil conflicts’ around the globe, so many mass shootings in our country, and the effects of climate change has destroyed many people’s lives.
But, as we listen to the admonition of the Epistle writer to take up the whole armor of God, perhaps we recoil from this militaristic image. Yet, this is a vivid and familiar imagine from their culture, something that would have been seen on a daily basis. Actually this text makes a great children’s message with lots of cool objects that can be made and shown to the kids.
What imagine would inspire us to be clothed in our faith and ready to stand up for what we believe God is calling us to do? A power suit? An Olympic swimsuit? A clergy alb? What would be our belt of truth or breastplate of righteous? I like the image of shoes. The choice is left up to the listener for whatever wills them to get the good news of peace proclaimed. I know the last time I bought shoes I didn’t think about whether they were the best shoes to carry me into the world to proclaim the peace and blessing of God.
Finally, what is our shield of faith, helmet of salvation, or sword of the Spirit?
I think if we consider these imagines for our times and the people in our church, we can give them the concepts to help them in a world that continues to challenge those who try to walk in the Way. Also, the final words of this pericope encourage the listener to pray. They speak often with God, to find our way through God’s lure and keep alert for how we can share the good news of God’s peace.
This week’s reading completes the reading from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. The concept of Jesus as God’s manna from heaven continues in these verses. The harsh phase from last week’s lectionary is given again for this week. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
This week we also have the reaction of the crowd. In verse 60 we are told that many of the disciples heard this teaching and parted ways with Jesus because of it. Perhaps this pericope answers one of the questions of the early church: why, if the Son of God is on Earth doing all the miracles described in this gospel, didn’t everyone follow him?
I think it might be easy for us to sit from the distance of 2000 years and wonder if we would have followed Jesus. Maybe we even think it would have been an easy decision to follow this charismatic rabbi. But, I think this passage points to the completely radical ideas that Jesus was proclaiming as he walked from town to town. Not only the concept of complete immersion and dependence on the life of Jesus, but also ideas of peace and love to a people who were occupied by a brutal enemy.
The poignant response of Simon Peter finishes this week’s reading, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Sometimes I wonder who I go to for sustenance and answers? I think it is not always to God.