1 Kings 8: 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:13-20; John 6:56-69
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 26, 2018 –Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
We get an interesting contrast of kings this morning. Solomon dedicates his great temple…the first and greatest Temple of Israel…and Jesus tells us that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we will have no part in his kingdom.
Solomon is celebratory: he has fulfilled the prophecy of Nathan to David. David had asked Nathan if he needed to build a Temple to honor God since he had built himself such a nice palace.
Nathan had told him that it was God’s plan that David’s son would build the Temple, not David. Solomon is that son and his accomplishment is magnificent in scale and spectacular in its execution.
People will come from all over the world just to see it. The Queen of Sheba comes and asks him about many things. He can answer them all. God’s promise to give him wisdom has also been fulfilled.
She says, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!”
Jesus has performed a different kind of miracle, and a far more mysterious one. He has fed 5,000 people with nothing but five loaves of bread and two fish. The people follow after him looking for more…the Messiah has come…he will give us bread to eat.
But Jesus does not have any great station in this world. He is no earthly king…just an itinerant rabbi who cares for the people of a very different nation in the world.
Solomon rules during the glory days of Israel’s victories and accomplishments. Jesus comes after the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Greeks and now, the Romans occupy the Promised Land and tell the people what they are and are not to do.
No kings have come to pay him homage since he was an infant… before ‘King’ Herod tried to kill him.
Solomon delivers his prayer…in a great Temple on a great occasion that has been months and years in the preparation. The official word has gone out and people have dutifully assembled to hear the words of the king who built it. They are not disappointed.
Jesus has not built a temple…he has only produced a meal. He is speaking off the cuff to the people who have been following him ever since he performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Some believe fully, some have never believed and never will, and others sit and watch and wonder at all he does and says.
It is a hard teaching that he has given us, indeed, and one that has led others to accuse Christians of cannibalism. We talked about this a bit last week, and this is one of the passages that has led me to read the scriptures as metaphor and not with word-for-word literalism.
In the first chapter of John…this same Gospel…we are told that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us.’ Unless we take in this word and make it part of our understanding of the world in which we live…and the love with which God created us…we will have missed the gift of life itself.
Our days upon the earth will be divided simply in two: the days we have already spent in one way or another, and the days that await us. What is missing from this accounting?
This day, this hour, this moment is something we skip over, never settle into, can barely bear to breathe in, let alone chew and swallow. We remain deliberately oblivious to our circumstances, which are a matter of grace, from beginning to end.
Yet this day is the only day we have. It is always today where we are. The only time we can do anything is now. And by obsessing on what has happened or what might happen, we deny ourselves the gift of the present, where we can do good and become better by acting … or refraining from acting…now.
This is not lost on Jesus or on John. When Jesus feeds the five thousand he begins by asking Philip what they should do. Philip says half a year’s wages could not buy enough to feed a crowd like this. Andrew says that a boy has five small loaves of bread and two small fishes.
What does Jesus say to his disciples next?...We better come back tomorrow?...No. Tell half of them to go home?...No. He knows the hour is now and the table is set for him to reveal God’s power in the only moment they will all have in common: Now.
He says, “Tell them to sit down.” He takes the bread, gives thanks, and gives it to the crowd. He does the same with the two fish.
We have all we need…here…now. We are immensely powerful when we can enter into the present to make a change for the better.
We can pay off a mortgage…feed 50 hungry people every Thursday night …provide good clothing to young people who discover the love and care their neighbors have for them, and redeem their own self-respect …in the gift of the precious present of kindness…community… and oneness with others, with each other and with their Lord and Savior.
We can send food and firewood to a whole tribe of people who feel cut off from the world…until they see the semi-loads of firewood, the semi-loads of potatoes, and pickup load after pickup load of diapers and jackets and gloves and mittens.
They then come to know…through their church…that they area part of the truth of the love God pours out for all of God’s children…eating the bread and drinking the wine of the covenant that makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
And we feel invigorated by it. The church becomes a vital place of action, not a place of remembrance or a place of hope in a better tomorrow.
Solomon, the great king who followed his father, David, the greatest king Israel would ever know, is a man to be listened to, a man to be feared. He is all-powerful with the powers of this world, but he knows that the power is not his. It has come from beyond. It is power that has him.
He prays: “And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.But will God really dwell on earth?
“The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God.”
The people hear their king beg for mercy. He acknowledges a Lord that is over him and all creation. He who has done so much with his wealth…and created such a wonder with his power…marvels in power and riches of One who is far greater and more everlasting than he is…or can ever hope to be.
But while he was on earth, Solomon did one thing that no one can take away from him: he created a place of worship for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I got a glimpse of how important a great temple can be when friends from Montana would come back to visit me in Washington, D.C. They would hand me their car keys and say, “Show us what we should see.”
I took them at their word and we toured the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the National Mall, the Smithsonian and so on…until they said, “Are we about done yet?”
That is when I would tell them there was just one more stop before we went to Clyde’s in Georgetown for a cheeseburger and fries.
We would drive up Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, past the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., past embassies from every country in the world…to National Cathedral.
They were overwhelmed by its size and when they heard that it was made of stones that were cut to sit on each other without any mortar between them, they had to look up and around one more time.
They forgot how tired they were. They forgot that food awaited them as soon as they were done looking around. They would touch the crypt of Woodrow Wilson, sit in the tiny shepherd’s chapel in the basement…one at a time…and be mesmerized by the mural in the chapel of Joseph of Arimathea…and we were refreshed…and ready for supper.
We had eaten the bread and shared the cup of the life and death of the one who called many away from comfortable circumstances so they could worship God as they understood him. The Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Puritans of New England, the Moravians of Georgia all sought one thing: freedom… freedom to pursue the truth… which to me is the same as pursuing happiness…with the gift of each day God had set before them.
Solomon gave much for his great Temple. He paid lavishly out of the national treasury and many people were conscripted…and many died …to complete the grand design he had decreed.
And Jesus gave everything…his body and his blood…that God’s will might be done…and God’s kingdom might come…to earth. You don’t have to travel half the distance of the world to see it. He gave it to you right where you sit… here…now.
What are we to do with such wonderful gifts? Paul tells us that God has given us the tools of Truth, Righteousness and Readiness, as a belt and a breastplate and sandals to do all the things that have been done…and to do even more wonderful things… as God’s children.
Here is the power. Here is the glory. Here is the kingdom forever …not in stone or bronze…but in reality. They are a free gift to all who will do what they don’t want to do…who will go where they don’t want to go…for Christ’s sake…for God’s sake.
The disciples know all about the first Temple and the second. They know about David and Solomon. And they know Jesus.
Many people said that Jesus’ teaching that day was a hard one. How do you get around the language and the commandment to do something that you find offensive…even unthinkable?
I remember Jesus as the way and the truth and the life, the Promised One, the bread of heaven, the Word made flesh…and then I am ready for the feast which I have heard described as a great hall with a great table laden with food, but the guest have been given silverware that is three feet long…too long for them to feed themselves.
But that is no impediment in heaven because they are wise enough to feed each other across the table set before them. Solomon tells us what power and wealth can do to praise God and cause the people of the world to pause and consider how they can best spend this day of their lives.
Jesus shows us how every heart can be changed and every soul can be saved by the Holy One of God. If we do not cling to him, even as we honor mortals of great achievement and accomplishments of great effort, where shall we go? If we do not listen to the Word made flesh even when it shocks us, where shall we go?
If we think we are shocked by what Jesus has to tell us, let us spend a little time trying to imagine how shocked Jesus must be at the things we do and say.
O Lord…Holy One of God…what is it that you want to do in this world through me this day? Amen.