Sunday, June 2, 2013

Second Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43
Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded!

David was not allowed to build the Temple. His history of violence was too great. It was perhaps a necessary evil, since it was David who served as the commander who established Israel as a strong and independent nation. God send David to the battlefield, ordained him to lead the army to victory over and over again. He shed the blood of thousands. In 1 Samuel, the dancers greeted David with the song, “Saul hath slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” This was the moment when Saul lost his mind over David, but David’s accomplishments were not his own. His victories were given to him by God, so why did God keep him from doing such a wonderful thing, which was building a Temple?

For one thing, David shed innocent blood, particularly the blood of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. But the ordinance against David’s wish to build was not a punishment for his sinfulness. The Temple required a life, and builder, of peace not war. And David may not have built the Temple, but it was his offspring that did so. Solomon was the one to take everything David collected, the materials, the people and the place to build the house. Solomon may have been the one to complete the work, but David was not left out completely.

We join the story in today’s Old Testament lesson at the dedication ceremony of that Temple. They have just taken the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies, and Solomon prays to God in thankfulness and praise. He does so with the humility of a man who recognizes that God can’t be confined to the space of a Temple built by the hands of men. He knows that all the heavens and the earth cannot contain God, but he also knows that this building was built by His grace and to fulfill His desire to dwell among the people He loves.

We hear these words on the first day of the Church season called Pentecost. For the past few months we’ve studied the story of God. From Advent, to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and finally Easter, we have heard the stories of God’s love for His people, of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, of His ministry among people. We’ve seen how God sent Jesus for our sake and learned why. We recognized our own sinfulness and received God’s mercy. For the next few months, until Reformation, All Saints and then the beginning of Advent, we will see what this means for our life of faith. Who are we? Who is the Church? How are we to live? What are we called to do? In these coming weeks we’ll read through many of the letters sent by the apostles to the churches. We’ll see Jesus and the disciples doing the practical ministry of the Kingdom as recorded by Luke.

I suppose in many respects it is sad that we do this during the summer months when so many people miss church due to vacations and warm weather activities. Families will be busy with soccer and others will decide to use Sunday morning to do the things that they do not get to do during the week, like visit the golf course or sleep in. It is sad because these next few months are so important to our growth as Christians. While I would never want to remove the stories about God in the first half of the Church year, these are stories with which we are so familiar. We know about Christmas. We know about the Wise Men. We know that we need to search ourselves to seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We know the cross and we know the empty tomb. But do we know stories like today’s episode with the Centurion? Do we see how it relates to our Christian life in the world?

The Centurion was not a Jew, but he’d heard about Jesus and recognized in Him something of value. He knew that Jesus had authority that others did not have. He was a powerful and wealthy man and could have paid any of the doctors to care for his servant. Instead, he sought Jesus, somehow recognizing in Him something real. Despite his power, the Centurion knew that he was unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence. He also knew that Jesus needed to only speak the word and his servant would be healed. That’s faith.

Do we have that kind of faith? Do we have the kind of faith that allows us to accept that Jesus can change our world without standing beside us? Or will we continue to demand in these coming months the constant reminder of Jesus’ story? In other words, can we be like the disciples, continuing to do His work even while He has left earth to sit at the right hand of God?

We certainly know that God is with us. While Solomon pondered why the eternal God would dwell in a measly house on earth, we should have the same humility to wonder why He would choose to dwell with us. We know that Jesus lives in our hearts. We know that the Holy Spirit guides us and gives us all we need to continue Jesus’ ministry in the world. But are we ready to go out in faith to do that work, even if we do not experience that presence of ‘feel’ that Spirit? Do we trust, like Solomon, that God will keep His promises?

In our texts for this week we are reminded that Jesus came for more than the Jews. He came for all nations. He came for us, even those of us who are not from the nation of Israel. He came for the world. In the Old Testament lesson, Solomon prays, “Moreover concerning the foreigner, that is not of thy people Israel, when he shall come out of a far country for thy name's sake; when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calleth to thee for.”

We also learn that Israel, and all nations, are blessed with faith for a purpose, “…that all the peoples of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as doth thy people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.” We are blessed to be a blessing. We learned these past few months how God has blessed us, now we will learn how we can be a blessing.

How can we be a blessing? Is it enough to live quietly and attend church on Sunday? Is it enough to be kind and charitable, to be respectful of authority and those over whom we are given responsibility? Is it enough to be a Christian or do we need to live like Christ?

Are you likely to buy a product just because you’ve seen something on television? Advertisers spend a fortune creating incredible “mini-movies” to sell their products, with effects that draw your attention and jingles that stay with you long after the commercial is over. Despite the money spent on advertisements, advertisers rely on word of mouth; people do not believe the claims of a product just because the ads are fantastic. Even if the product is supported by plenty of evidence obtained through testing and research, people want to hear it from someone they trust. Consumers want to the testimonial, especially from someone they. They are more likely to believe someone who says, “I tried it and I liked it” than if the advertisers spend millions of dollars producing a documentary proving its worth.

One of the things celebrity endorsers are often asked is whether or not they really use the product they are advertising. Some people refuse to tout a product they don’t believe in, others are willing to sell their name for anything. However, the people that really believe in the product are the ones who are more likely to make the sale. They have a passion for it; they speak with honesty and integrity. Advertising is much more believable when the speaker tells what the product has done for them rather than what the product can do to others.

Evangelism is the same way, which is why testimonials work so well. A person trapped in the web of guilt and sin is more likely to listen to someone who was in the same position. This is why the former alcoholic can reach the alcoholic much better than someone who never liked to drink. Guilt is often so entrenched that the sinner who needs forgiveness can’t accept Christ’s mercy from someone with whom they can’t identify. They think it was easy for Christ to save the goody-two-shoes, but impossible to save them. It isn’t enough to tell the stories of Jesus over and over again. We have to admit our own frailty to our neighbors and show them how Christ changed our lives. We have to be like the Centurion, humble enough to admit that we aren’t worthy, but faithful enough to know that Jesus can heal us anyway.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if we lived daily singing praise and thanksgiving to God for what He has done for us, admitting our unworthiness and shining His grace? Those open to the Gospel message will see our joy and want to know from whence it came. We are blessed to be a blessing, called to be His witnesses in the world. It is not enough to tell others why they need Jesus, or even to tell them what He has done for them. We are called to live daily in the reality that He has done it for us, so thankful for His grace that we’ll continue His work in this world. Our testimonial will help others to realize their own need and point them to Jesus who can change heal them, even if He seems far off.

Half of the Church year seems to focus on gathering around Christ, hearing His story, experiencing His presence, sharing in His sacraments. Though we continue to gather around Christ for the season of Pentecost, this is now our opportunity to take what we have learned and experienced into the world. We are not blessed to dwell inside the buildings we built, as if God is confined to those spaces. We are blessed to take God out into the world.

Solomon realized that God was too big to dwell in the room he built, but the reality of the New Covenant is that God dwells in an even smaller place: our hearts. He dwells in our lives. He guides our hands. He blesses our work. He provides the opportunities we have to share His grace with the world. He doesn’t live in our church buildings or in our rituals and practices. The church in Galatia had a problem. They had false teachers who were demanding that the new Christians become Jewish first. They were demanding adherence to Jewish law before the believer could then become a Christian.

The problem with this point of view is that it diminishes the work of Christ. If a person has to accomplish anything to receive the gift freely given by God, then the work of Christ is pointless. If a person can inherit God’s kingdom by their own work, then the cross was pointless.

God’s word is firm and right and true, but human understanding is lacking. His promises are true and He is faithful. He has promised that His grace will fall on whomever He chooses, and that His salvation is available to all nations. When we read God’s word, we transpose our own understanding, experience and interpretation on what it says. One verse might mean one thing to one person and mean something completely different to another. A seeker can visit a number of churches with the same question and get a different answer from each one. We might even see something different in passages during different times in our own lives. However, sometimes people make God’s word fit their own desires. They take passages and twist them to mean what they want them to mean. They create a different gospel, just as those teachers were doing in Galatia.

God did dwell in that Temple, the Temple He called Solomon to build in Jerusalem. But God was never confined by that Temple. Now, because of the work of Christ, God dwells in the New Temple, our hearts. He is with us when we gather together in our church buildings, but He also goes out with us into our daily lives. He calls us to believe in the Gospel of forgiveness, to live in faith and to share that grace with the world. Let us begin today being the blessing we’ve been blessed to be so that the world might know that God is worthy of worship and praise.

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