A DAY OF HONORING GOD
1 Kings 8: 1,6,10-12; 22-26
Years ago, in 1956, an English minister named J. B. Phillips wrote a timeless and readable book he called Your God is Too Small.” In it, he addressed the way people in that decade, and to a large degree people in our decade, think of God. He has two parts to his book. Part One is called “Destructive,” said to describe our “unreal gods;” his chapter headings are intriguing: God as a “Resident Policeman,” a “Parental Hangover,” a “Grand Old Man,” Mr. Meek and Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” Managing Director,” and seven other chapters that he unpacks. He believes, as many in our day believe, that God’s role in our world is one or more of those titles. And to all of those titles Phillips calls out to the readers who believe that: “YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL!” He leads readers to new biblical insights into the nature of God, not the God people made him to be, but the one who God actually is. It is a temptation to make God into our image, instead of acknowledging that we are made in God’s image. To correct the misconceptions of the 1950 (and I suggest today as well,) Part Two of his book is called “Constructive,” with the subtitle: “An Adequate God.” There he gives more realistic chapters: “God Unfocused,” “A Clue to Reality,” ‘Is There a Focused God?” “Christ and the Question of Sin,” “The Abolition of Death,” and eleven other chapters! I think Phillips has a point, one enlightened by our 1 Kings text today. We want to keep God in our Bibles, or in our pocket with a cross, or around our necks, or in our sanctuaries or chapels. But God is bigger than that! In our Confirmation Class two years ago, Mary Ann and I would call out situations in the world that seemed impossible to solve. The kids will call out in loud voices in response to our despair: “God is bigger than that!” Today we learn that even in the days of the people of Israel, God was not just in heaven. God was with the chosen people. And later we learn how God dwelled on the earth … and still does! So let’s take the idea that God only resides in Heaven; that one can only approach God in churches or cathedrals; that we can create space for God to just live in a Bible or a locket, and learn today that “God is bigger than that!” Today we seek to honor the one true God!
This morning our sanctuary includes a replica of the Ark of the Covenant; it was a moveable box, built to exact specifications, according to God’s instructions, that would contain the tablets Moses received on Mount Sinai when God gave him the Ten Commandments. Israelites, and later the Jews, called those Commandments “God’s Law.” God’s people believed that God’s presence was with them when the Ark was in front of their journeys. This was not a box God lived in; it was an Ark that carried the reminder of God’s presence and protection. The Bible records that when the chosen people had battles with others, they honored God by keeping God present, not just with the Ark, but also in leather pouches lashed to their foreheads and spiritually in their hearts. They believed if they removed their sacred pieces from their bodies, or failed to put the ark in front of their battles, they would be defeated. In our day those who hear a message and believe it on Sunday, but live as if they have not heard it on Monday, will find God’s presence withdrawn from their lives as well.
The Israelites remembered, and put rituals into place, to honor God on the Sabbath: for Jews it was from sundown Friday until night on Saturday. They had a time for honoring God and places to honor God. If ever they were delivered from a foe, they thanked God for it and erected boulders that they called “altars,” or “standing stone,” to indicate to future generations that God delivered his people in that place from some calamity. You can find those stones (if they haven’t been destroyed) across Israel and neighboring countries. How do you remember times when God has delivered or healed you or someone else? Do you have a ritual for remembering what God has done in your life? A keepsake; a plaque; a diary or a blog?
The late German Theologian Gerhard von Rad describes “The Tent, the Ark, and the Glory of God” this way:
The tabernacle is not a tent in the full sense of the term….It consisted
of a massive frame of boards overlaid with gold ….Here stood the
Ark, a rectangular wooden casket, 2 ½ cubits long, 1 ½ broad, and
1 ½ high, which could be carried by means of long poles.
[OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY, Harper & Row, 1962, vol. 1, pp.
The poles were a very important part of the set up. God had not just picked a place, called it holy, and said, “I will live here; you come to see me here!” No; God said, in effect, “Take me with you; I want to be where you are, and you will certainly want me to be where you are!” That’s what the poles indicate. The Ark of the Covenant includes angels on top to indicate the presence of God. The Ark was not intended to be mainly a shrine for people to travel miles to visit. Those who were thinking that God would just live in a tabernacle or a temple were limiting our limitless God! But as the Jews settled around Jerusalem, they lost their need to travel and escape. So a Temple was built to protect the Ark and to invite the faithful to, symbolically, come closer to God. Likewise, even though our world has wonderful sanctuaries, cathedrals, and chapels where people can come for reflection or prayer, they are intended to point to God, be a catalyst for our spiritual lives and to lift our drooping heads up! They become destinations in and of themselves, place where people still go to find a sense of the Holy. Yes, we can take God with us, in a manner of speaking, as we carry Bibles, cell phones, crosses, or computers. But worship of God has a always involved a community! Some people say they can worship God on golf courses, in theme parks, or other places. They can; that is, if they set their clubs down, or their fast passes down, move to a corner of the property, gather at least three other people, set up a focal point of an altar, a cross, a bowl of water, or a table, and worship the God who is with you even there! It takes focus to honor God, not just a glib mention. Or you can go to a house of worship, where others come seeking God and community, and use that time for focused worship.
Houses of worship are built carefully and prayerfully. In 1 Kings we read about Solomon constructing the Temple of God, a task David was not allowed to do. Solomon believed that it honored God to create a house for God. And it did. But the poles on the Ark should never be forgotten: God always wants to go with us into the world, not be left behind! Like the Scripture tags children and youth got today as they prepare for school, think of God as going with you, not staying in church or in an Ark of the Covenant! Theologians say this chapter points to God’s immanence which means that God is near; and God’s transcendence, meaning God is here, there, and everywhere; that God is holy. Professor Richard D. Nelson asks: “How can the God who remains mysterious and awesome, who refuses to be contained by creation, still be closely present to love and save us? … Solomon insists that even the whole universe cannot contain God. God is only ‘symbolically present’ in the temple through the divine name.” [INTERPRETATION, First and Second Kings, John Knox Press, p. 59.]
An old hymn suggests: “Take the Name of Jesus With You.” But today’s text reminds us also that, through the ages, people have created inspiring places to honor God. That is good too. Find the place, find the time, and find the words to honor God. It can happen at church, at home, at work, at play … or at school. Call on, and praise the Living God!
Let us pray: Dear God: we are learning that prayerful reception is not really stronger in a church building than in our homes, but sometimes being in the midst of praying people helps our souls and lifts our spirits. We are glad to share this time, away from the din and demands of the world, with others. Teach us not just to talk in prayer, but also to listen; listen closely for your voice that is often best heard in silence. As the Psalmist said: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Jeffrey A, Sumner August 21, 2015