So after Samuel anointed him king, the boy David grew up, as boys are want to do. And after some things happened and then some more violent things, he did indeed eventually become king. He had some wives, and one who was someone else's, and some children. He fought in many wars, and through those wars. And some small amount of diplomacy established Israel as a nation among her neighbors.
When his wars had settled down and he began the work of setting up Jerusalem as the seat of his government. He built a palace there and wanted to build a house for God there as well. But God told him that this task was not for him. David was just a little bit disappointed, but he was wise enough to not attempt to build something God specifically told him not to and that was the end of that.
So after some time, David died, as boys are want to do, when they are old men. His son Solomon became king after him, after a few not so minor disputes, involving swords, and a small amount of bloodshed. Something that is want to happen, when a country has not yet established a clear process concerning the passing of power from person to another. After this many more things happened, many of them deemed to be very wise, because Solomon was known for his wisdom. Some of them were not so wise, but of even the wisest among us do some very unwise things. Anyway, Solomon decides it is time to do the one thing his father had wanted to do, but was forbidden to do, build the temple. God had always said that God did not need a dwelling place made of wood and stone, but since it was something that seemed to be important to David and to Solomon, God would choose to abide in a temple if he were to build one. So after seven years and no small amount of forced labor (again sometimes wise men do some very unwise things), the temple is finished. And it has come time to dedicate it.
On that day, they brought everything up out of the tabernacle. That is the mobile tent, in which they had worshiped since their long journey through the wilderness, when God brought them up out of slavery in Egypt into the land in which they now resided. After they had brought up all the implements of worship, they brought up the Ark of the Covenant, which was basically a very elaborate box, on which sat two carved cherubim. Inside are two tablets onto which were written the covenant God had made with the people and the people with God. It was often the preferred meeting place for God and Moses throughout the wilderness wanderings. The bringing up of the Ark, symbolized God coming into the temple. From now on God would meet the people here in the temple Solomon had built.
The Ark is taken into the temple and put in the inner most room, the most holy room, the room set aside for God. It was placed there, set between two great cherubim, underneath their outstretched wings. It was there in that space, above the cherubim atop the Ark and underneath the wings of those that towered above, in that dark, innermost, windowless room, God would “reside.” Once they had it all set up, it was perfect. The room neatly contained the Ark and even the long poles which had been used to carry it all those years. It all fit beautifully in the room. You could just see the poles, but all that was considered most holy was contained in that one little room.
During the days of their travels, God had led them with a pillar of cloud. It was said that the very presence of God was in the cloud, that it was the physical manifestation of God, leading them, guiding them to the land God was giving to them. That cloud of the presence of God had always been with them, until they had settled and taken up residence in the land which God had promised to them and to their ancestors.
When the priests had finished putting everything in its place and the priests had just come out of the room. Then with all the priests and the elders gathered there something happened, something unexpected, something, just a bit frightening. The presence of God filled that place. Here, on the day of the dedication of the temple, as soon as they had finished putting the Ark of the Covenant, the meeting place of God, into the inner most, holiest part of the temple, that same cloud filled the temple. God filled the temple. And everyone left. The scripture says, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud.”
God came into the temple. God had come into that most holy of places, just as they had desired. But God did not stay there. They had built the room perfectly, it was just big enough to hold the cherubim and the ark and even the poles of the ark, but the room was simply not big enough to hold God. God came into that room and came pouring out filling the entire place. They had built a room to contain God but it was just not big enough.
They had wanted God to come. They had invited God to come. I mean they had built the whole place for God, but they are surprised, frightened even, when God actually shows up. And they are surprised when God does not stay where they put God. They are surprised when God does not fit in the room they had provided. They are frightened when God is bigger than they expected. They are frightened when they realized that God cannot be contained by anything which they have built.
They wanted God to show up but are chased out of the temple when the presence of God actually arrives. I want you to hear me, Church. God is bigger than anything we build. God is bigger than our sanctuaries. God is bigger than our buildings. God is bigger than anything we can imagine. Our God is bigger. Whatever it is, God is bigger.
We are probably not surprised that the God of the universe; the God who hovered over the deep, at pre-creation; the God who spoke the world into existence, who created light itself and the dark as well; who flung the stars into the sky and who reached into the dust of creation and formed humanity, breathing into us, giving us life; that God cannot be contained by anything we have built. No tent, no house, no temple ever devised by the human brain and then built with human hands could ever hold God. I can think of little else that makes as much sense as that.
The largest failing of religion, is that through religion we attempt to understand God. We think that by building walls of theology, doors of dogma, rooms out of articles of faith, roofs with manuals. We think that if we search enough, discuss enough, explain enough, think hard enough, we can place God right where God belongs in our holy of holies; that we, by understanding God, that God can be contained in our understanding. We think that God can be seen and held, that by wrapping God up with thoughts, ideas and words, with theses, and creeds and articulations of our faith, that we can build a place where God can safely reside. But God cannot. One of these days we, as the people of God will see, that all these doctrines, creeds, and articles are good pursuits, but that expecting God to reside within the walls of our understanding is a vain pursuit. As soon as we set up the walls, the perimeters, no matter how holy our pursuit, when God comes in, God is bigger, so much bigger.
The temple was a great idea, setting up a place most holy was a great idea, it is a fair and honest endeavor to provide a place where the people of God can come to meet God, to give the people a place where they can come to seek to understand God. But we should never be surprised when God is bigger than that. At some point in our seeking, in our understanding, we must realize that we can never wholly understand God. We although seeking God is a holy and blessed endeavor, God cannot be found, in any hiding place. We can never call out, “Olly, Olly, ox and free” and expect God to come out in all God's glory so that we can see God in God's entirely and know God completely. Our God can be sought, but can never truly be found.
We seek God so that we might know God, so that we might catch a glimpse of this one who we worship; this great and mighty God of the universe, who chooses to draw near to us, who chooses in some small, yet great way to reside among us. We hope to know so that we might understand the one who desires to be in relationship with us. But in knowing we must come to see that in seeking we do not find, in knowing we never truly understand. But yet the endeavor is never worthless, it might be our complete undoing, but what an undoing! To be undone by the one and only most holy God of the universe. The God is bigger than us, bigger than anything we can build or imagine. The God who is simply bigger.
I want to be clear, neither the priests, nor the elders, not even Solomon called God to come, and then God came. I say this because my language and even the language of the text might lead us to believe this. Language is a funny thing; it is imprecise and often lacking. It does not often convey the very things we are attempting to convey, even when we speak of mundane, common things. But when we come to understand that God is bigger than anything we can create this also includes language. When we speak of these things our words are a small and confining as that room in which they attempted to house God. When we speak the things of God, the presence of God comes pouring out of the small words, and statements we use, breaking their meaning and confusing their meaning, leaving them but poor broken vessels unable to contain that which we are attempting to relay. Solomon did not build a house for God temple in which God could reside and then invite God to come. The elders did not bring God into the temple when they brought all the holy things up out the tabernacle. The priests did not bring God with them when they carried the ark into the holy place. God did not come trailing after them like an obedient child moving house because his parents have relocated. God did not go because God was instructed to go. God did not come because God was invited.
Every Sunday we gather every Sunday, here in this sanctuary, this place which has been built for us to come and see God; to stand, if but for a moment in the presence of God. At the beginning of the service I speak an invocation, a call to worship. But I am always very careful in my language, lest any of us think that God is summoned to be among us. I am very careful to not presume that it is I, or you, or us together who invites God in to this Sanctuary. No matter how our language through liturgy or through song might lead us to believe. It is not wrong to speak thusly, but we must speak or sing realizing that at some moments our language because it cannot contain God, fails to correctly convey the mysteries of God.
We ultimately believe that this is God’s sanctuary, God’s house. It is not God who meets us here; it is us who meet God here. We do not invoke God to join us; we do not call out to God and beg God to join us. We come, we gather, we worship, we pray, we praise, because God has invited US, God has gathered us, God has called us. We are the Church because God has made us the Church. We come, we go, we gather, we scattered because that is how God the Church to move. We come into the presence of God because God calls, and have heard that call today. God does not come because we have called; we come because God has called. God is not here because we have gathered, we have gathered because God has called.
When God came to the temple God not only filled the temple to over flowing but the presence of God forced the priests and the elders outside into the streets where the people were. There is no indication that they were able to go back in so Solomon’s prayer which follows, the service of dedication, the worship that occurs throughout the rest of this chapter, happens out there on the streets among the people.
God’s presence forces them outside the walls of the temple. God’s presence forces them out into the streets. They could not minister there in the temple and were instead forced by the very presence of God to minister outside, in the streets among the people.
I want you to walk with me for a minute here this morning. Today is reformation Sunday. And although I am hesitant to celebrate the church divided, even if it is a side effect of much needed reform, I am going to mention it this morning, because one of the things Luther heralded in his 95 theses is the priesthood of all believers. The priesthood of all believers says that all the church, every one of us who claims Christ as Lord, can stand before God as priest. That means that because of Christ the division between God and God’s people has been broken down. Each of us can stand before God ourselves. We do not need anyone to stand for us. We can pray, we can worship, we can be in the presence of God in the ways that only priests of the Old Testament could before God.
You might notice in this passage that although all the people are gathered, that only the elders can take anything into the temple, and only the priest are allowed to carry the Ark in to the holy place and it is only the priest who had remained to be chased out. The priests stood between God and the people. The people are unable to stand in the presence of God. But in Christ we do not need anyone to stand between us and God. The presence of God resides with all God’s people, because we are called to be the Church and the Church is called to be a holy priesthood taking God to all the peoples of the earth. We are all priests, in that we can all stand in the presence of God. When we come into the sanctuary of God, when we gather to pray, to worship and minister, each of us are doing so, in the same way the priest of old did. We can stand here this morning because in Christ all of us, each of us, are priests of God, gathering, worshiping and praying together in the very presence of God. This is one truth that was made clear in through Luther in the reformation, and for that we are thankful.
As God’s priests we are called us to gather, we come into God’s presence to worship God, to come to understand God, to be the people God is calling us to be, to minister, but ultimately no matter how many times we are called in, no matter how often God gathers us, the presence of God sends us out once again, into the streets, among the people to minister. We are called to be a holy priesthood to the nations, to all the people of the earth bringing God to them. Carrying the symbols, the signs, the words (no matter how faltering) that will share the presence of God with them. But we cannot do so here, with in these four walls. Inside these walls we are contained, we are hidden, like the ark with its poles, within the holy place. We cannot stay here. We may come because we have been called, we may gather because God has gathered us in, but in coming we encounter, the great, the mighty, the frightening presence of God and it is the very presence who calls, who gather, who sends us out, who scatters us in among the people of the world to minister. To BE priest, to show them the one whom we have encountered, to carry the invitation, God’s invitation to them, so that they might hear the call, so that they might know that they too may come. So that when we gather they too may come with us. The presence of God gathers, but it is also that same presence that scatters, it is God who calls us, but it is also God who sends.
We do not come here each week simply for the purpose of coming. We are not called here simply to worship and pray. We are not gathered so that we can study and come to understand God. The Church is not created for itself. We are not here merely for our own edification. We are plants, God nurtures us, gives us all that we need, food, water, sunlight, so that we might grow. But we are not here simply that we might grow, we do not grow so that we might merely be bigger, taller, greater. We grow that we might mature, that we might produce fruit that others might also grow. That God’s Church might multiply and grow. Come here in the presence of God so that God’s presence might drive us out into the world into our common everyday task, into our jobs, into our schools, into our neighborhoods so that there we might minister among the people that next time we come we might bring one with us, that she too might come to know the God we know, that he too might become a priest alongside of us, that they might come to know the God we know, love the Christ we love. The presence of God came into the temple that day and the priests were driven out in to the streets by God’s presence to minister there. We have come here today, and encountered this God who is bigger than we, we have encountered this God who is greater than our imaginings and let us like the priests who have come before us also be driven out into our world to minister in God’s name!