1 Kings 8.1-21
Sometimes the lectionary passage is exactly what you need for the moment. For this story comes to us as we spend our last moments of worship together in our temporary space, and prepare to move into our new worship space, primed for a new day of worship and ministry together.
And so, I believe that this story can become an important guide for us over these next weeks. I Kings 8 is actually a sweeping, 60-some verse chapter that stretches over the course of a long celebration of dedication and worship. And so, I invite you to spend these next weeks exploring these verses with me. As we hear the words of Solomon, presiding over this ceremony of worship, let us learn from what Scriptures call one of the wisest men in the Bible. Let this be our guide to wisdom and vision as we move forward toward what God is calling us to be.
The first phrase that seems to speak to us directly today is from verse 6:
“The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant to its place”
The passage opens with a description of the ceremonial bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into the new Temple. It is actually a powerful companion narrative to the passage I preached from last week. For those of you who were here last week, you heard the narrative of the new King David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem for the first time. The victorious King David knew that this act would bring legitimacy in the eyes of the people. And now, King Solomon, David’s son, just like his father, brings the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple. Again, the Ark is a crucial symbol in the transition of the people from one era to another.
But I want us to pause and study that phenomenon a minute. The Ark of the Covenant was a powerful religious symbol. It held manna that rained down from heaven, and reminded the people of God’s provision, even in the middle of difficult challenges. It held the staff of Aaron that budded, reminding the people of God’s power and authority. And it held the tablets of the covenant: the Ten Commandments given by God. But one of the important symbols of the Ark that is sometimes unnoticed is the set of poles on the side of the Ark, used to pick it up and carry it from one place to another. From the beginning, the Ark was designed to remind us that God is on the move. From the earliest movable tabernacle, to the Ark moved into the Temple, through the Exile where the people were relocated and forced to worship beyond their comfort zone, the Israelites knew this intimately. The Presence of God is not a static one. The Spirit of the God is not meant to be trapped in one specific place, or contained within a literal box – or a figurative one.
Choon-Leong Seow says it this way: “God’s rule is not tied to one locale; God is transcendent and free of human manipulation…the existence of any sanctuary is a concrete representation of the possibility of God’s presence amid a community in worship, but God’s freedom transcends any building made by human hands – or any structure, any institution, for that matter.”
And so, as we prepare to make the move into the new sanctuary, we do well to remember that.
After all, it will be easy to enter this new space and assume that we can just relax. But just as our God in on the move, our faith is on the move. It is not meant to be static, either, but dynamic. Our faith demands that we put the poles into the rings on the side of the Ark and go!
I get nervous whenever I hear someone talking about the new sanctuary in terms like: “once we build it, they will come.” Because it sounds like the building itself is going to do the work of evangelism that comes next. Instead, I would suggest that our motto be, “we have built it, now let’s go.”
Let’s go into our community and invite them into our worship space, now free of many of the hurdles to hospitality.
Let’s go into the world with a renewed sense of purpose and vision, because we have gathered for worship in this space and have been renewed for the work ahead.
Let’s go into our surrounding neighborhood and make a difference.
Last Sunday, I offered a specific prayer for many of those in our neighborhood, including Sunset Hill Elementary as their construction has forced them to meet in another location. During the week, one of you shared with the administration that they were in our prayers. And a few days ago, I received a phone message from the principal, thanking us for our prayers. She said that the transition is going as well as can be expected, but our continued prayers are appreciated.
Our witness made a difference in our community! In our own neighborhood. Our faith demands that we do more than sit and stare at our new building. It demands that we go! Our calling to be and live and serve in our community still lies in front of us. Just like the Ark of old, our God and are faith are dynamic. Together with God, we are on the move!
The second paragraph that stands out to me is this one: “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.’”
A few years ago, I decided that I was going to watch the Perseid meteor shower in August. It is known as one of the most stunning and showy meteor showers of the year. But it is best seen at 2 or 3 in the morning. So, I planned everything out. I went to bed early. I set my alarm. I got up at 2 in the morning. And I went outside to see…a sky full of clouds. Nothing. Not a single meteor!
I hate clouds! I cannot tell you how many mountaintops I have climbed to the top of, only to see nothing but clouds. How many starry nights were ruined by clouds. How many cloudy days put a damper on my plans. Clouds are horrible. Who likes clouds?
Apparently God does. Throughout Scripture, the symbol of the cloud is used to signify the glory of God and God’s presence. The pillar of cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt. The smoke-filled throne room in Isaiah’s vision of calling. Mount Sinai, enveloped in clouds as Moses met with God.
Again and again, instead of bright sun, beautiful stars, or spectacular views: nothing but clouds. And now, in I Kings, we see clouds once again making their appearance. Here is this perfect moment that Solomon and the people have been waiting on, been working so hard to prepare for. And in their moment comes thick, dark clouds. But Solomon, in his wisdom, reports, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.”
Barbara Brown Taylor reveals this wisdom in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark:
those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness.
She explains that it is only in the darkness, in the obscurity, that we can truly see God at work. Otherwise, our eyes deceive us and make us think that we are truly masters of the world around us. At the dedication of the Temple, even in that moment of triumph, God obscured their vision. It was not the clarity of accomplishment, of perfection, of finally measuring up to the other countries who had their own kings and gods and temples and palaces. Instead, the smoke filled the room and only God’s glory was evident. Solomon’s wisdom reminds them that they must not simply dedicate the building, but dedicate their eyes, their vision, to see what only God can show them.
Let us hear this point about our new space. When we worship God together into that space for the first time, I think that God’s glory will be evident. It is a beautiful space, and it evokes the very Spirit of God just by walking into it. I look forward to that first moment of worship together there, and for many more moments for many more years!
Yet, may we remember that it is not our plans, not our accomplishment, not our triumph that causes us to celebrate, but instead the glory of the Lord, that is above our understanding and our knowing and our seeing. May we have eyes to see – beyond our own accomplishment!
A final phrase that helps us during our time of transition: “Now the Lord has upheld the promise that he made.”
Even though I preached about it just last week, David’s move of the Ark into Jerusalem happened a long time before this morning’s passage. David reigned for 33 years in Jerusalem. After Solomon took over, it took four years before he began to build the Temple. Then it took seven years to actually build it. Then they waited another year before they dedicated it.
You thought we had to wait a long time….
I Kings tells us that the Lord upheld the promise, but it didn’t happen as quickly as some people wanted. We get it, don’t we?
Two years ago, our church entered a difficult chapter. Exactly two years ago, many of us were donning work gloves to yank carpet out of the sanctuary. A few weeks earlier, we had received the report from professional mold testing, and it was not good. Years of water damage from a leaky foundation and roof had created a mold problem, with readings off the charts. We had to immediately stop using parts of the building, and begin tearing out carpet throughout. Remediation ran our total construction bill beyond our original planning. And it ran our timeline past the period of slow or no construction during the recession and into the busy-ness of the economic recovery. Thus, our designers’ and builders’ suddenly busier schedules, our own need to reevaluate our scope and vision, and the reality of construction that just always takes longer than it is supposed to, we are still not there.
But today, I want to show you a piece of paper. This is the construction permit posted on our site during these final phase of construction. And Friday, this last little box was checked off, signifying that the inspections are done, meaning that we can move back home.
Next Sunday will be our first week in the new space. Of course, there will still be a time of transition and adjustment. We must meet with the contractors for the final run through, before we can move chairs, and tune the organ and figure out what media needs to look like in the new space. The tech team met a couple of weeks ago and Anne Johnson had the best line of the night: “It’s just like when you move into your house. You put utensils into a drawer in your kitchen, but it takes a while to figure out where everything really needs to be so that you can actually cook.” So we will be adjusting some, trying out a few different configurations, experimenting with a few different “drawers,” readjusting the media with the new space, and soon we’ll get it figured out and ready for an official dedication.
But the point is this. Actually, two points. One, at least it didn’t take us seven years to build it! But, two, and this is the biggest one. “Now the Lord has upheld his promise that he made.” Just like with Solomon and the Israelites, it takes patience and perseverance to see what God is doing. We are constantly reminded that it is not our time, but God’s time. But even with the chaos of the last couple of years, I want you to hear this loud and clear. God is faithful. The prayers that we began saying over five years ago have been answered, and now is time to celebrate!
But it is a helpful reminder to us that it takes eyes to see what God is really up to. No doubt that some of the Israelites looked at the bare spot that David promised was going to be a Temple one day and said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But others, with patience and perseverance and vision, saw what could be. Saw what God was doing and what God would do.
That is the way that God always invites us to look at the world.
“Don’t look at what you see, but look at what I made,” God says.
“Don’t look at the present, but look at what I can make with the future.”
“Don’t look at the limitations, but look at my potential.”
As the words of our final hymn remind us:
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!