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Sermon for Proper 16 Year B First Option 8-26-18

Proper 16B 2018

August 26, 2018

          In our first reading we hear of Solomon at the height of his glory.  He has accomplished what the Lord would not permit his father David to attempt – he has built a house for God. The history of the Ark is worth reviewing to cast light on our readings today.  It was built in the Sinai Desert to house Yahweh as He led his people from slavery to freedom and safety. It was carried through the parted waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land. It was carried around the walls of Jericho before they came tumbling down.  When it was captured by the Philistines it did nothing but bring them woe – they couldn’t get rid of it fast enough and sent it back. After the victory over the Philistines and Saul becoming king, it was shunted aside and parked like a used car on a corner lot with a farmer named Abinidab. When David learned it brought Abinidab luck, he brought into Jerusalem.

            Today we learn of its enthronement of the Ark in the grand temple that Solomon has built with his immense wealth (conveniently next door to his palace.)  Solomon offers praise and prays that God will always be faithful to God’s people.

          We can see Solomon’s wisdom in his praise and prayers.  He notes that God’s promise of David’s lineal succession is conditional.  It depends on his children looking to their way and walking before God as David had done.  As happy as Solomon is to see the glory of God filling the Temple, he questions whether the Lord God creator of all can limit His dwelling to this spot on earth.  He knows that “even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less the house I have built!”  He also knows that the Creator of all cannot be asked to limit his attention to the Israelites.  He knows that foreigners will come to pay homage to God and that all peoples of the earth will call upon God’s name.  He prays that God hears them also.  Solomon wisely knows that no Temple, ritual or doctrine can fully encompass the wonder of God.

          While we humans are limited to living in a particular time, place and culture, God is not.  Entirely local gods – limited to a particular place and time and culture – lead to exclusionary ethics, to limiting or denying hospitality to others and to denigrating or even dehumanizing others.  Solomon wisely knows that God is bigger than that.

          It is informative to know that the Book of Kings was not written in Solomon’s times.  Most scholars concur that it was composed 500 years later during the Babylonian Captivity.  Solomon’s beautiful Temple and Jerusalem lay in ruins.  The last King of Judea died more than a generation ago and the throne was gone.  The authors of the Book of Kings attributed this to the kings and those in power forgetting God’s ways and the ethics of a Universal God of all Creation.  At the same time there were others in the community who wrote a different history attributing their current state to failing to follow the laws and rituals strictly enough.  Their God was an increasingly local God one limited to their people and culture.

          A theologian friend once said that people often prefer religion to God.  Now I don’t think these are opposing concepts.  Indeed they should be related in a vibrant and living way.  But to many, religion is about rules and power and control.  Rules can be controlled and enforced by those in power.  The certainty and confidence such religions inspire is illusory but it is comforting and it does given one a sense of certainty and of things being in control.  God for many can be too overwhelming and uncertain leaving them without a sense of security and order.  In today’s world there are both those who embrace a universal God who is bigger than our imagination and there are those whose God is a local God limited to their time and culture and place.

          We are hearing a lot in our public discourseand will be hearing more in the coming months about “a war being waged on religion.”  Personally, I do not think that is at all the case.  I think it is no coincidence that those speaking most loudly about their religious freedom being under attack often belong to religious bodies that are authoritarian in doctrine and practice and hierarchical in structure.  I also think is not a coincidence that many of these religious bodies exclude women from positions within this hierarchical structure. Where in this is the wonder and majesty of the God of all Creation?

          Our second reading from Ephesians has a lot of militaristic imagery based on the weaponry of the Roman soldiers of that time and a theme of a world filled with images of cosmic and demonic powers.  It is language that may make many 21st century western people uncomfortable.  We don’t live in that first or early second century world where people thought that God was up in heaven and we are on earth and the space in-between was filled with a chaotic blend of chaotic and demonic forces.  We can also recognize without belittling others that there are forces beyond the individual that are destructive and harmful.  There are forces of greed that would resort to violence or exclude others in order to gain power, that would value wealth over justice, that would incite fear in order to exclude or persecute others.

          The letter to the Ephesians tells that small Christian community to stand firm in their beliefs, to pray and to lead a disciplined life as protection against the forces that would devour their community.  We. too, need a prayerful awareness of the love and justice of the God of all creation in order to speak out for justice, especially justice for those whom others would silence, diminish exclude – or worse.

          I think this is what John is getting at in today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus is speaking the strong language of hyperbole.  The words he is using were meant to be shocking if taken literally.  Cannibalism was no less repulsive then than it is today.  Drinking blood is a major violation of the Jewish purity law.  Drinking human blood was unthinkable.  The language points to violence and physical brutality – something that did happen on the cross at the hands of those whose power Jesus challenged.

          But it points to more.  It points to the truth that our best protection from the forces of evil and injustice is to put Jesus at the core of our very being.  It allows us to see clearly and to have the values and ethics that will lead to true peace and justice.  When the many were frightened of this and left, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter’s answer is the greatest statement of faith.  When we have experienced the love and forgiveness of the living God, where else is there to go?  Jesus empowers us to see ourselves, others and the entire Universe as God’s beloved Creation.  That indeed protects us from the dark powers that would have us see otherwise.  AMEN