When I was in seminary, I used some of my loans to take a trip to Rome. By the end of the trip, my friend Luke swore he would never walk inside another church again. We were all in seminary so that didn’t really work out for him, we had just visited so many every day for 2 weeks. Of course, these are often traditional-style churches, Roman Catholic churches, basilicas, and cathedrals. One of the things about churches of medevail design was that they were designed to inspire, to elevate someone to the experience of Heaven and the Divine. These traditional churches were often in the shape of a cross. they had high vaulted ceilings as if they reached to heaven. the windows were often colorful with scenes tell the stories of Jesus in their art. in medieval and Renaissance they began to be filled with art, by the artist we now consider staples and classics, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Caravaggio. They said it was all there to display the holiness and the glory, the magnificence of God.
The very first church we went into the first night we were there what’s the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s the largest church to Mary, although it might be the smallest of the 4 basilicas in the city of Rome. It was started building in 432. In the 16th century renovations, the ceiling was redesigned and gilded in gold that had been brought from the Americas by Christopher Columbus.
Christopher Columbus: formerly known as the discoverer of the Americas. But when we tell the honest history, it was brutal. Murderer, rapist, slave trader, and I don’t know what the noun is for one who commits genocide because “genocider” and sounds dumb but he did that too. we are at a time when we are called to look honestly at our histories. because too often they’ve been filled with shiny refined gold and don’t account for the whole truth. it always strikes me as surprising that the Bible doesn’t choose to do that.
Our reading today just skip over a few things, however, I’ll make sure we don’t miss anything. We have taken another jump from the anointing of David to the beginning of the reign of his son Solomon. Solomon is the son of David’s 7th or 8th named wife, while he had “many” only 8 are named. Solomon is the son of Bathsheba whom David married after taking her as if she were an object to possess and killing her husband. Solomon was the fourth son of all of his wives combined. he was anointed the next king of the unified Israel on David’s deathbed, in secret, while one of his brothers had already claimed the throne. Solomon claimed the throne began in bloodshed.
Solomon is known and renowned for his wisdom. The story is that God came to him in a dream and ask Solomon what God could give him and Solomon didn’t ask for riches or power but said wisdom. God was so impressed the God gave Solomon wisdom and power and riches.
David had built a palace and realized that perhaps he had should have built God a place to live. but God told him no, told him his son Solomon would build the temple. up until that point all sacred festivals and events and sacrifices took place in the Tabernacle or the tent of meeting. so Solomon took it as part of his personal mission and 4 years into his Reign he began work on the temple to the name of God.
but it couldn’t just be any building made with any random materials that they found. no, it must be built with only the best Lumber that comes from far off: so… expensive. and only the best stones mined and shaped and brought in: so… expensive. And then when the building was complete, all of the inside were lined and gold. Expensive. And even if we don’t know the costs of all of these items, some of the verses that we skipped explain that the labor costs, and by that I mean the quantity of Labor that was conscripted by the people of Israel, and by the Canaanites who were the native people of that land, was bourdensom, debilitating. It was so much that when Solomon died and his son Rehoboam took the throne the people of Israel said: “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” And Rehoboam basically said, “Hold my beer.” or ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” The united kingdom that they fought so long for will be ripped in 2. And both kingdoms will eventually fall. And in time this first temple will lay in ruins.
Solomon called at the temple to the name of God, but it’s worth asking who was really served as the gold was being placed and the stones were being quarried and the trees were being floated down river? God or Solomon’s ego? And even so when the time came, God filled that Temple with smoke or fog or mist. And Hebrew the word is Kavod which generally translates to the weight of the glory of God. It had mass and weight, so much so that the priests could not finish their work in that moment.
Our reading tells us that Solomon celebrated that he had built God a house to dwell in forever. And it makes me wonder if there is some tradition that Solomon thought he could contain God in this building, in the gold and the altar and the images of a garden–that the God who lives in this building would be accessible to him all the time, would support military work, would approve of the decision he made. And Solomon goes on, and it’s the longest prayer recorded in the bible and says 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! like he knows, he will never contain God, never convince God to be something God is not, never make God into something God is not.
So what is the point of the Temple, what is the point of the grand churches made with gold and bronze and the finest wood and stone, or chandeliers and screens? The purpose of the temple was to facilitate, to make a way for, to set the design for the relationship between God and God’s people. We have seen that God shows up in other places, but in this place, ther is a connection, there is ritual, there is a particular intimacy of the relationship. The temple was to be a beacon of hope: hope that God was with them, present, forgiving. And it wasn’t just for the Jewish people of Israel, but a hope for all the nations–their God was a God for all, offering forgiveness, the promises of reconciliation. The temple of a beacon of hope to the worship of the God who cares for those who are struggling, who are laboring on the outside and the margins, for those who were captive or oppressed and longing to be free, for those without a home that they might find a family. That is the promise of the temple of God.
That is what we find when we come together. We don’t claim that Emmanuel is THE home of God but that it is a house of worship, a house of the community of God, a house for the people committed to the worship of the God a beacon of hope to the worship of the God who cares for those who are struggling, who are laboring on the outside and the margins, for those who were captive or oppressed and longing to be free, for those without a home that they might find a family.
And we trust and believe that God will show up here in big or in small ways. And we believe that God shows up and is present outside of these doors, in and amongst all that God as created, but there is something special about the church, about people gathering, about the prayers, about the music, about the liturgy–which means the work of the people. So when we come together to learn and grow, to confess and forgive, to reconcile and practice peace, to do works of mercy and justice, to advocate and protest, to co-create the kin-dom of God revealed in the teachings and life of Jesus.
And it was Jesus who told his followers, and us, that the temple lives within us. That when we go into the world we are carrying the God of all creation, the God of the matriarch and patriarchs, the God of our ancestors, the God of justice and mercy with us. So when we make peace, when we go into the world, when we show up in and with our community to be of the work of God–the God of the outsider, the oppressed, the struggling, the forgotten and bringing them into the midst of who we are and all we do.
The church is filled with flawed people, sometimes failing, sometimes filled with a less than perfect past, sometimes justifying means for the sake of the ends. The church is also filled with people with the best of intentions, rectifying, reconciling and reforming, apologizing and forgiving, being the church in the world, being that beacon of hope of the God of the outsider, the oppressed, the struggling, the forgotten, those without hope. The church, the building, the community, the people are the beacon of hope.
So, beloved community, be the church.