Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon August 26, 2012
1 Kings 5, 6, and 8:1-13 and Matthew 28:16-20

What do you know about King Solomon? Well, if you are like me the first thing that comes to mind is that he was wise. Scripture tells us that he was wise, that he had good judgment, and that his understanding of concepts was not to be compared. It was written that he was the wisest person living in his day. He was the author of 3,000 Proverbs and 1005 songs. People came from all over the earth, or as it was written in the Bible from all the kings on the earth, to hear his wise words. His knowledge base was not just that he was a wise ruler but he knew all about the natural sciences and could help people with his knowledge of trees, plants and animals.

In chapters five and six of 1 Kings we also learn that it was Solomon that was chosen to build the Temple for the Lord. This was a huge ambition to take on and a task that Solomon’s father King David had wanted to build but was unable to fulfill the job. But, now was the time to build the temple. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the Jews and Solomon felt called to build it in Jerusalem as a symbol of God’s abiding presence there.

And the descriptions in these fifth and sixth chapters of the materials and sizes of the temple are pretty intense. Although, as you know, the temple no longer exists, these chapters read like an architectural brochure for the visitor to the temple. So exacting are the descriptions that renderings of the temple are drawn in exegesis books on 1Kings and we can really imagine what it must have looked like. The dimensions that are given for it would have made it the largest temple known in Palestine at that time.

The temple project is dated the 480th year of the exodus. That would mean that about 12 generations have come and gone since the time of Moses delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. It took 11 years to build and hundreds of thousands of workers. Solomon started by placing 30,000 men into forced labor who knew how to cut timber from the cedars in Lebanon. He would send these men to Lebanon in groups of 10,000 for a month and then they would return for two months at home.

Besides the lumber jacks, Solomon had 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stone cutters and 3,300 supervisors besides himself to oversee this huge project. This project must have run like a well-oiled machine!

And the workmanship was beautiful! Everything was overlaid with cedar and was decorated with carvings of gourds and flowers. The most interior of the sanctuary was overlaid with gold. The furnishings were spectacular as well. The flooring was gold and the furniture was carved from olive wood with cherubs. It really must have been spectacular!

In the midst of these very detailed descriptions of the temple is a story of a dream Solomon had while the building was in progress. In Chapter 6 it is written in verses 11-13, “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.”” Richard Nelson, professor of Old Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg PA, writes in his exegesis of this passage that the dream is about the obedience to God and the freedom of God’s presence. If, and only if, God’s commandments are obeyed, the promise to David will be made good and God will dwell in the midst of the people and will not abandon them.

One gets the feeling that in the excitement of Solomon’s big project, God does not want the people of Israel to forget that it is to God that this temple is being built. God sends a message to Solomon to refocus on the big picture. It is really not about the temple, but about being a follower of God. Perhaps building the temple had become such an ordeal that God needed to remind Solomon exactly for what purpose what the temple was being built. I smile when I think about this as it reminds me of some of the pre-marital counseling I have done with couples before they are married. There is a reason for that counseling. It is because often the couple gets so caught up in the wedding and honeymoon plans that they forget the reason for the huge wedding. When you meet with them, they only talk about the wedding and never about the marriage. They can tell me all about the caterer, their colors and clothing, but need to be reminded that after their wedding and honeymoon, they will be a married couple for hopefully many, many years. That is what they are got here for. And in the same way, God wants to call Solomon back to the reality that once the temple is built, the relationship that the Israelites have with God is what is important.

Another meaning to Solomon’s dream was to counter the prevailing cultural experience of why a person would build a temple. Whereas other religions build a temple to their gods to somehow contain them and they bring offerings to their gods to manipulate their gods into giving them what they want, our God here makes it perfectly clear that a temple will not control of house our Lord. The God of the Israelites is in control and will not be manipulated by a temple or a king.

God’s message here is that God is not automatically as Israel’s beck and call. The whole universe cannot contain God. And God is only symbolically present in the temple. The temple is a concrete representation of the reality of the sovereignty of God. It is not and never will be a building to contain God.

This has theological implications for us. It is one of the uncertainties that we must allow our faith to take hold and believe is that our God is both immanent and transcendent. Just like Solomon, we all want to control God. We want a nice relationship where if we build a nice house for God, God will do God’s part for us. How can we trust that God is reliably present for us (whether God is immanent) without forgetting that God cannot be controlled and taken for granted (that God is transcendent). Our experience is that God is at one time both.

Chapter 8 tells of the dedication of the temple. This showy procession and impressive religious actions resemble many dedications I have been to before. Although the showy religious action here is “the slaughtering of so many sheep that you could not count how many there were.” The Ark of the Lord that had been carried by the Hebrew people throughout their 40 years in the dessert and kept without a home during these centuries since, was carried in with much pageantry. Solomon says in verse 12 and 13 of chapter 8 that “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell forever.” Clearly Solomon, for all his wisdom, still has not captured the message that God will not be contained within a building; that we God’s people cannot control God.

We Fairmounters have built an impressive temple to God as well. We love the beauty of this sanctuary, the gardens in the Garth, the chapel with its one wall of stained glass windows, and the charm of the English cottage architecture. We all drive by the building with pride and say to our friends, there is my church. This is where we come to be nurtured in Christian love; this is where we come to celebrate what God has done for us Sunday after Sunday. This is where we come to be with brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship. This is where we come to be educated in our faith and to be fed with God’s sacramental food. This is where we come to celebrate life’s transitions from birth to death. But we know that this is not the only place where we find God. We know most definitely that this is not the only place where God wants us to be. We come to our temple in order to go out. We come here so that we can live as Christians outside of these walls.

That is why the other scripture lesson for today is what we call “the Great Commission”. It is to remind us that while it is lovely that we have this awesome temple called Fair mount, we must remember that the reason for its being is not to hide within the beautiful walls. Inside these walls we are nurtured and fortified to leave them and go back into the world. When Christ commissioned disciples it was not to stay within the walls of a temple. When Christ told them of the ministry to which they were called, it was not to stay in a building and keep the faith. Christ promised that he would be with them as they went out and left the walls of their security. In Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

God is not contained within the walls of the temple and our place as disciples of God is to go out from them as well. Our work and ministry is to a world which desperately needs to hear of God’s love and Christ’s mercy. That is the ministry to which Christ calls us all. Amen!