Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 23, 2012

Daring to Build the House for God
1 Kings 7.51 – 9.3 – Solomon dedicates the Temple to God

            Construction began on the present Church Street United MethodistChurch on March 12, 1930. The people of the church might have used more caution, but no one realized the eventual impact of the Great Depression. So, the church forged ahead with plans to build the building we now see at the corner of Henley and Main. From the planning stages, the church intended to include stained glass windows. But, as the impact of the Depression made its way to Knoxville, it was soon obvious that the church would not be able to do everything it had planned. Many details, including the windows were delayed. Ten years later, the church returned to finish the original plan for stained glass windows. The first window was dedicated on November 23, 1941; the last two windows were installed in June, 1960.
            Stained glass windows have practical and teaching purposes. They bring light into the church where we worship. They also tell the Biblical story. Biblical events, pictures of saints and prophets, as well as symbols are used to illustrate the Gospel message. As a boy growing up at Church Street, I guessed that the builders knew boys like me wanted to look out the windows and daydream sometimes. I figured that they put pictures in the windows to give daydreamers like me something useful to think about.
            Over the coming four Sundays, we will focus on the stained glass windows. They are a great treasure for the church and the City of Knoxville. Seen from a distance, they are a grand sight and fill the nave with light. The blue in the window over the altar suggests that we are not merely looking up toward the sky; instead we are looking toward heaven.
            [WINDOW: HALLOWED HOUSE] Viewed up close each window tells its story, usually in several ways. This one is called the Hallowed House window. In the center, we see King Solomon holding the Temple which he built as a house for God. Above him, a portion of 1 Kings 9.3 is quoted, pointing to the scriptures. The window was presented by members of the church in honor of Charles Barber, the Architect who designed the building. The other figures show the various building tasks: sawing, measuring, and such. The top figure might be the young Jesus, holding the tools of a carpenter.


            I can imagine snickering in Heaven on the day Solomon, like his father David, proposed to build a house for God. All God’s angels would be astonished that Solomon thought he could build anything that God might need. “You want to build a house for God, the Creator of the Universe?”
+This is the God who creates stars and galaxies with a word, then casually tosses them against the vastness of space.
+This is the God that the Egyptians learned is not fenced out by nations or by loyalties to other gods.
+This is the God who appears as God will: to Moses in the burning bush, to the Children of Israel in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, to the boy Samuel in the voice that calls him to service, to the people of Roman-Israel in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
And you, Solomon, want to decide what sort of house God must show up in?
            Think about it: That you and I should decide what sort of house where God is to be worshiped and honored is a breathtaking claim. It is not to be taken up causally but reverently, discretely and in the fear of God.

            The Temple that Solomon built was ready for dedication about this time of year, possibly to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles. That Feast was recognized as the time for renewal of the covenant. The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant, which was the old symbol of God’s presence from the Exodus Journey; they placed the Ark inside the Holy of Holies. The Ark was portable with handles for transporting it as the Children of Israel journeyed to the Promised Land. For the 40 years of the Exodus, the people never knew what it was to be a settled people.
            This new Temple was built to be stationary; it stood as a sign that God and God’s people had settled down. Built by the King, the Temple suggested that Solomon was now the keeper of the faith in this God. The simple fact of building a Temple as a House where God should be worshiped says a great deal about what we believe about God and what we are willing to believe about God.
            Note that Solomon was careful not to declare the Temple as the place where God is located or where God is enthroned; it is instead a place for God’s name. It is a place where the symbols of God’s covenant with Israel are kept. The Temple is not so much the place of God’s presence as it is a reminder of God’s presence that is made good in the covenant.
            Beginning in v. 22, Solomon offers his prayer of dedication. Notice that he stands to pray; he does not stand with head bowed and eyes closed as we would do.
Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.
This is a reminder that there are many postures we can assume when we pray. We typically bow our heads and close our eyes; Solomon stood and faced the altar with his hands lifted empty and waiting.
            Then, in his prayer of dedication Solomon asks that God might respond to the prayers of the people, of sinners, even of foreigners. Several times Solomon speaks of prayer offered “toward” this house. Solomon carefully acknowledges that the Temple is not the only place where God is found and not the only place where the petitioner personally encounters God.
            [APPLIC:] Thus, Solomon is putting into words what we also believe. God is not limited to one church building or to all the church buildings across the land. God is free to move and act according to God’s will. God meets us in any place God chooses. Building a church expresses our conviction that our need to worship meets God’s willingness to be worshiped in this place.

[IV. The convictions behind building a church.]
            A. When we build a church, we say to ourselves and this community:this is our burning bush, the place where we expect to be called up short by God as Moses was.Sunday Church is remarkably predictable. The service does not change much from week to week; the same choir comes to sing each Sunday morning; the ushers who greet us at the door are somehow timeless. We don’t come to church because we are expectingto find something completely new each time. But, what we also expect is that anyone who stands along God’s way Sunday after Sunday runs the risk of meeting the Living God face to face. We might plan for the same old Sunday church, but God is able on any day to turn the world upside down. You have to be ready for such a God. You have to live a bit on edge all the time. Any Sunday might be the day that God chooses to stop you in your tracks with a call that you cannot refuse – any more than Moses could refuse that day when God addressed him from the bush that burned but was not consumed.
            B. When we build a church, we say to ourselves: This is the place where we expect to see God’s glory.This is the place where we expect to see God sitting on the throne, high and lofty, just the hem of God’s robe filling the Temple. Isaiah saw that vision years ago in the Jerusalem Temple, and he was moved to ecstasy.
            Sadly, we do not expect Isaiah’s great vision of God to happen again and do not expect that vision to be given in our churches. We rationalize our lower expectations by assuming such visions were for long ago or only in the Holy Land. But, that cannot be correct; we worship the same God that Isaiah honored. Our church is for us our holy place. Every church is a place of expectation.
            Now, in this Church or in the church where you worship, you and I are saying to ourselves and the community: this is that holy place of vision. This is the place where we will catch sight of the glories of God. This is the place where we will see a vision of all that God holds for us.
            C. When we build a church, we say to ourselves and to those who join with us: This is the place where we practice for eternity spent in God’s presence. Years ago, as I served a church in the mountains of Virginia, we had a tradition. Each time we sang the hymn, “When We all Get to Heaven,” we would leave our pews and go around the church shaking hands with everyone in the church. Their logic was this: If these are the same people with whom we are going to spend eternity, we’d better get along with them now. So,we got out of the pews to make sure these were friends.
            D. When we build a church, we tell the larger world, that though it has no way to offer or receive forgiveness, we have a way. Think about it:
+When we get into a fender bender, the insurance company cautions us not to admit that it was our fault. Let the company work that out. You and I should only exchange name and insurance information and call the police. Let the company determine who was at fault.
+When someone messes up on the job, the only solution the boss has to fix the situation is to fire that person. The only way to solve this problem is to exclude the mess-up from the company.
+When two people or companies disagree, the only solution the world offers is setting a dollar figure and going to court to settle the money damages. Isn’t it odd that we should reduce everything we do with others to dollar figures? Not everything has a dollar figure, you know. And not every hurt can be repaired with money.
What the world does not know how to do is how to forgive and restore. It has no mechanism to welcome the Prodigal home.
            In contrast to the world’s awkwardness, the church knows how to give and receive forgiveness. Why we practicesgiving and receiving forgiveness every time we gather at the communion table.As the church, we own the stories of welcoming the Prodigal home and going out to plead with the angry older brothers among us. We offer ways for traitors like Zaachaeus to make restoration and return in good standing. How strange forgiveness must seem in a world that has almost no categories to consider it any longer! When we build a church, we announce to the world, the forgiveness you can only imagine is found in this place.

V. When we built a church, we announce to a splintered world, that real and lasting unity can be found in this place. The world is deeply divided – divided by religions, by political systems, by party politics. The parties and the movements of this world are not interested in finding ways to work together; they are interested in gaining advantage over any not like themselves. In contrast to this atmosphere of division, Solomon built the Temple to unify the nation under the Lordship of God.
            The unity of this nation will not be achieved by the popularity of any candidate, not by a majority in the House and the Senate, and not by force of arms. Real unity will come as we the church of Jesus Christ offer God’s great vision of the Kingdom of God to the community and the world around us. Such unity will be achieved when we have the courage to live out God’s Kingdom in our time and our place.

            In 1930, the people of Church Street Church built a house where God might be honored. They built it of Crab Orchard stone so it would last. They added stained glass windows so that boys like me might have something useful to think about when we daydream. Like every church building this region, they built it – not just for themselves – but in the hope that it might be a house of prayer for all peoples. Like every church building in this region, they built it to bring unity and peace to the nation and the world.

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