Mother Ann’s sermon preached on Aug. 22, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Aug 22, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

Imagine More

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Aug. 22, 2021

The Bible is brilliant at expressing what it’s like to journey with God. For example, listen to Yahweh speaking through the prophet Hosea: ‘When Israel was a child I loved him…I taught him to walk and took him up in my arms…like a father lifting an infant to his cheek…I bent down to him and fed him…Though Israel is bent on turning away from me, how can I give him up? My compassion grows warm and tender, and I will return my people to their homes. For I am the Holy One in their midst.’

The parent-child imagery is unmistakable here; and as all families recognize, over time the linkage between generations flexes and grows. The same is true in life with Yahweh. As young Israel progresses, God’s self-giving adjusts to their changing needs. Inevitably this flexing shifts the partnership onto a new footing, and then young Israel must catch up with the new thing God is doing, which resulted from the new thing Israel is doing. The dance goes on.

This morning we cut in on a glorious step: the dedication of the magnificent new Temple in Jerusalem. The giant limestone blocks glisten in the sun.  Trumpets blare and choristers trill. The Temple courts and gates brim with Jews from every tribe in the nation of Israel.  All eyes are riveted on King Solomon as he strides forward to speak.  But before we listen in, there is something we need to know.

Earlier in Israel’s life this scene never could have happened.   Back then, when Israel was very young, the Hebrews lived as twelve separate tribes of desert nomads. Moses had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, clambered up Mt. Sinai to receive God’s commandments for them, and led them to the threshold of the Promised Land. From there they fanned out on their own, each clan to its own territory.  Each dedicated its own shrine for worshiping Yahweh, and elected its own judge for settling disputes. In this simpler, earlier stage of Israel’s development, relationships were personal and direct, and it was perfectly natural to pray to God as the ruler of one’s own tribe. 

Fast forward a few generations, and roaming Israelites began noticing scouts from nearby empires, sent out to claim their homeland.  The twelve tribes armed themselves helter-skelter to defend their way of life, but local militias proved no match for disciplined imperial troops.  And so the Israelites cried out to Yahweh, “Give us a king like the other nations!” From their lips to God’s ears.  This would change everything. A royal court would erect a royal capital, and with time all eyes would turn from the countryside to Jerusalem. No more prayer meetings under a tent, no more sacred story telling around the campfire. God’s people would come to think of themselves as the King’s people.

And so King Solomon steps forward to speak.  His task is to help young Israel imagine something more for themselves, to mentally shift their grassroots partnerships with Yahweh onto this new imperial footing. Knowing that many minds are still offended by leaving behind the prayer tent and the sacred stories around the campfire, Solomon boldly raises his hands and prays: “Will God indeed dwell on this earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this Temple that I have built! …But let your eyes be open night and day toward this house of prayer, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there’… Hear 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.”  With God’s unprecedented blessing, the majestic new Temple would be replacing the old tent and campfire as Israel’s meeting place with God.

Solomon’s prayer indeed carried the day, and Israel rallied around Jerusalem. This accomplishment might have been enough, yet the King imagined more.  He foresaw a time when God’s chosen people would shine like a light that enlightened surrounding Gentiles, and turned old mortal enemies into new spiritual allies. Afire with Israel’s fresh calling, he stretched out his arms and prayed on, “And when any foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name … and prays toward this Temple, then 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…and know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

At the time he prayed over the new Temple, what Solomon imagined was only a pipe dream.  In fact in coming centuries these same empires overran the Holy Land, and Roman flunkeys came to occupy the palace itself, and usurp worship at the Temple.  Yahweh now must again shift gears to meet the people where they are.  God sends a latter-day scion of Solomon’s family, Jesus of Nazareth, to serve as a new kind of king for Jews of a new day. Jesus takes his Good News out on the road, meets people where they are, and teaches about a Kingdom not of this world.  The peace he promises passes all understanding, and his power knows no bounds.

Jesus even offers immortality, a way out of the death of all human dreams.  Many of his followers find this prospect totally unimaginable, and walk out on him; but the inner twelve—led by Peter—make the leap of faith to catch up with what God is now doing. “Lord, whom else can we follow?” Peter pleads in today’s Gospel. “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Following the Resurrection Jesus’ followers fan out around the Mediterranean, and with time even the Roman emperor becomes a Christian.  Though barbarians overrun the empire, the Pope rallies the Church to regroup and go on mission to a damp, gray island they refer to as “the end of world,” and we refer to as Britain.  A new branch of the faith takes root, sporting a bit of an Irish brogue, and sends new shoots to the New World where it spreads from sea to shining sea. Not the least of its fruit is a lively Episcopal congregation nestled at the foot of the Issaquah Alps. 

 “Imagine more,” Moses had urged the slaves trudging toward the Holy Land.  “Imagine more,” Solomon had pressed the crowd at the Temple dedication that day.  “Imagine more,” Jesus had prodded his followers as others were falling away.  We serve a God who is determined we’ll remember that “When Israel was a child I loved him…I taught him to walk and took him up in my arms…like a father lifting an infant to his cheek…I bent down to him and fed him…Though Israel is bent on turning away from me, how can I give him up? My compassion grows warm and tender, and I will return my people to their homes. For I am the Holy One in their midst.’  Amen

© 2021 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.