Aug. 22, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43

[1Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 6Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.] 
  22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.23He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
  27“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
  41“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

Psalm 84

1How dear to me | is your dwelling,
  O | Lord of hosts!
2My soul has a desire and longing for the courts | of the Lord;
  my heart and my flesh rejoice in the | living God.
3Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest where she may | lay her young,
  by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king | and my God.
4Happy are they who dwell | in your house!
  They will always be | praising you. 
5Happy are the people whose strength | is in you,
  whose hearts are set on the | pilgrims’ way.
6Those who go through the balsam valley will find it a | place of springs,
  for the early rains have covered it with | pools of water.
7They will climb from | height to height,
  and the God of gods will be | seen in Zion.
8Lord God of hosts, | hear my prayer;
  give ear, O | God of Jacob. 
9Behold our defend- | er, O God;
  and look upon the face of | your anointed.
10For one day in your courts is better than a | thousand elsewhere.
  I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents | of the wicked.
11For the Lord God is both sun and shield, bestowing | grace and glory;
  no good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk | with integrity.
12| Lord of hosts,
  happy are they who put their | trust in you!

Ephesians 6:10-20

10Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
  18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

John 6:56-69

[Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
  60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
  66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

First Kings continues the story where 2 Samuel left off. Chapters 1-2 complete the presentation of the reign of David and the succession of Solomon. Chapters 3-11 depict Solomon’s glorious reign, highlighted by the construction of the temple.

Up to the time of King David, the presence of God had been represented by the Ark of the Covenant. It had been a movable tent structure. David successfully moved the Ark to Jerusalem, where his son and successor Solomon built the magnificent Temple now housing the Ark of the Covenant.

In previous chapters it was highlighted that Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were worshipping at Canaanite worship centers. This was not ideal because people might end up worshipping Canaanite gods rather than their own God. So, Solomon in building the Temple has removed, or tried to remove, that confusion inherent in worshipping at Canaanite centers. Israel now has its own worship center at a place that the Israelite God seems to have approved. 

After completion of the building of the Temple, Solomon leads the people in a dedication ceremony. The selected portions of this long chapter focus on some significant words in one of Solomon’ sprayers. Solomon is acutely aware that God who transcends creation cannot be contained in a building no matter how magnificent the building is. He prays, “But will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”

This statement gets to the heart of so much of what we and many other congregations have wrestled with this year, right? We know that God cannot be contained in a building. With the Sawtooths, Whiteclouds and Lost River Ranges all within a few hours’ drive, we might relate better than most to the biblical stories where people encounter God on a mountain. 

Furthermore, this year we encouraged you all to make home altars. Some of you already had nooks in your homes with Bibles, a candle to light, perhaps some devotional books. But last year everyone was encouraged to use whatever suitable props you could find to make a space holy. Does the glory of the natural world and the possibility of creating holy spaces in the home then mean we citizens of the 21st century do not need church buildings? Yes and no.

The Temple did not take the place of God, neither is it equivalent to God. It is not to be worshipped, but God is worshipped there. This is a place where individuals and the community will find divine forgiveness. In the portion that is skipped, Solomon highlights certain occasions for prayer that include; reconciliation between neighbors, national defeat in battle, drought, famine and various plagues; war, including when a foreigner comes to pray. Anything sound familiar?

The inclusion of foreigners at the Temple is an interesting one because of the exclusive nature of Israel pronounced in the Old Testament and also because of the non-coercive nature of the inclusion. What I mean is that it is not a militant conversion of non-Israelites but an openness that welcomes foreigners in a sacred space.

Solomon’s prayer deals with some of the mystery and the paradox involved in thinking about God’s presence with us. It starts from something that is presented as objective reality: a cloud filled the house. A cloud is a common symbol of God’s presence. It is a useful symbol because it is both a sign of God’s being present but also a practical means of protecting people from the overwhelming, blinding, electrifying effect of being in in God’s presence. 

Other books in the Old Testament talk about a column of cloud accompanying the people on their journey from Egypt, about God being in a cloud or thundercloud at Mount Sinai and speaking to the people from there. That same cloud is present in the temple in such a way as to signify that God’s presence continues to accompany the people. 

We do not know how literally the story means us to take this picture. Perhaps we are to picture the priests withdrawing from the temple because they knew God was coming there, so that speaking of the cloud is a metaphor. Of this we can be sure, God certainly became present there. From here on out, Israel could know they could come to the temple court and offer their sacrifice there and know they did so before the God who was present in the sanctuary. 

Talking about the temple as a place where God will live could imply that the Israelites had unsophisticated ideas about God. However, Solomon himself later makes explicit his awareness that the idea of God’s dwelling in a house on earth is silly. Nor did the Israelites naively think that God lived in the sky. The entirety of the heavens could not contain God, Solomon comments. 

Instead of trying to figure out exactly what the temple meant to the ancient Israelites, this passage’s greatest gift may be an invitation to keep reflecting on sacred or holy spaces in our own lives, especially but not only this sanctuary.

Our leadership pondered about sacred spaces when people voiced their appreciation for seeing our sanctuary during pre-recorded or live streaming worship last year. This led to us offering times when people could come sit in the sanctuary in silence—a weekday morning and a Sunday afternoon. No one signed up. Interesting.

The yearning for the building made me just a bit nervous. Some of us have belonged to churches with different architecture, histories, and degrees of attachment to buildings. I whole-heartedly agreed with the sentiment expressed all over my social media feed, “Buildings are closed. But church is open.” 

For weeks I could not get Jay Beech’s The Church Song out of my head, “The church is not a building where people go to pray; it’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay….The church, it is the people living out there lives, called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.”

Most of us know whole congregations or individuals who make idols of buildings. Besides breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments, idolizing a building is simply not healthy for our relationships with God or the life of faith. 

I thought about sacred spaces once more while cleaning up after the second Sunday worship our congregation held on our lawn. We also held an evening Lament service and an evening Pet Blessing service. In addition, several teams had meetings on the lawn. I reflected that the lawn has become a sacred space for me in 2020 and it is because I have so consistently spent time there with other bodies hearing scripture read, praying, and discerning. 

What of this space? Is the presence of God evident in our worship space? How? Is the purpose of the space clear to all who enter it? Is the nature of the God worshiped in the space evident? Put another way, what would a newcomer guess about the god we worship by looking around the sanctuary? How welcoming is our space of worship to those who feel lost, to those we consider as outsiders? Can the prayers of those who do not think, act or pray like “us” feel validated and heard? What is important in our spaces? Is it the space itself or the presence of God in it? Who or what is worshipped; God or the space itself?

Today, I am thankful the larger church has consistently had people and events to remind us that God is certainly in the everyday, which includes our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our gardens, and lawns. The ordinary can be and is sacred. 

At the same time, we are always going to need sacred places to gather with others—homes, sanctuaries, and pilgrimage sites. Instead of an either/or answer, this continues to be a time for both/and. It is a time to remember that the ordinary can be sacred space andwe should gather with other bodies in spaces (natural or built with human hands) that hold beauty or history or awe.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.God of courage, bless all leaders of your church. Make them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace and strengthen them to preach your loving word. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of creation, bless fields and orchards. Protect the land from drought and bring life-giving rain to support growth. Instruct your people in wise treatment of the world you have provided for all your creatures. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of community, bless all who seek justice between nations and peoples. Give guidance to bridge-builders, heal divisions, and inspire cooperation in times of crisis, disaster, and war. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of compassion, bless all who are in any need. Accompany all who are lonely and feeling abandoned and remind them of your abiding presence. Accompany all who are persecuted and exploited and open us to their cries. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of change, bless our transitions. Guide all who are embarking on new stages in life such as a new job, new school, or new community (especially). Sustain enduring friendships and kindle new relationships and interests. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of comfort, bless all who mourn the deaths of their beloved ones. We give you thanks for the saints who have gone before us (especially). Renew our confidence in your promise of resurrection and life in the world to come. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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