We are almost to the end of our journey through 1 and 2 Samuel and into King Solomon. Today we have the completion of the temple and the placing of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holy’s. If you recall David wasn’t allowed to build God a house because David presumed to know what God needed. David’s obedience turned to arrogance and God sets the record straight. How God does this isn’t through discipline, but through grace. David isn’t allowed to build God a house, but God turns around and promises to build up David’s house. God promises that “If” David’s offspring are faithful to God and follow God’s commands then David will always have a descendant sitting on the throne. After some significant bumps in the road; such as Bathsheba, and a coup by his son Absalom, today it appears as if God’s promises to David are coming to fruition. Solomon, David’s son, has built the temple, and the ark of God is residing in a permanent home, for now.
When Solomon builds the temple he pulls out all the stops and it appears as if Solomon’s priorities are in the right place. No expense is spared, and attention to detail is beyond measure. Craftsmen from all the tribes come together to weave, build, sculpt, and paint. Cedar is brought in from Lebanon, and gold and bronze sought. The whole idea of the temple is to not only make a resting place for God, but to create a sacred space.
We hear the word sacred a lot. People say that battle grounds are sacred, memorials are sacred, even football fields are considered sacred. The problem with using sacred to describe these places is that these are all secular sites and are not ground set apart for the worship of God. It is not to say that God is not in these places, just they are not set apart for the express purpose of worshiping God. When you stop and really think about what sacred means, “Set apart and connected with God and worthy of veneration.” The space is to embody God and point to God. One doesn’t venerate the place, the place creates space to venerate God. The temple is the space God directed Solomon to build so that God could be worshiped. The building is a tool to point to God, but the building is not to be worshiped. That is why all the symbols in the Temple point to God and there are no symbols pointing to Solomon, which is amazing because Solomon had quite the ego, but he held his ego in check when it came to the temple.
The tradition of creating a sacred space has continued for thousands of years. Just look around this sanctuary. Our sacred space, for that is what a sanctuary is a sacred place. In this space set aside for the worship of God, where we can venerate God, there are no secular symbols. In this place, this area, we worship the creator, and not creation. We have the altar, baptismal font, candles, banners, paraments, all things that have their origin in Solomon’s temple. We are not to worship any of these things, but we are to use them as tools to worship God. These symbols are signs pointing to God and God alone. We need this space in our lives because beyond these doors we are bombarded with symbols, messages, and secular worries that prohibit the proper veneration of God. In this sacred space those images and messages are simply not welcome.
Solomon’s intentions of keeping the temple sacred were honorable, but over time he was incapable of keeping his promise to God. Solomon allowed foreign gods to enter into Israel, and foreign temples to be built and worshiped. Granted, these images didn’t enter the temple, but it entered the country and foreign gods entered the temple through the people. One cannot worship one God on the Sabbath and then other gods during the week. Those who were to do the venerated forgot about the first commandment. Over time this behavior led to Israel’s downfall. God could demand a sacred space, but keeping his people faithful was a bit more than we could do for him; which leads us to Jesus.
Today Jesus teaches the difference between religion and faithfulness. By Jesus’ time the consequences of Solomon’s actions, and his descendant’s lapse of faith, led to the Israelites fall and exile. Because the Jews couldn’t be faithful to God’s commandments the kingdom fell, and the people spent 70 in Babylon. Upon the Israelites return they swung hard the opposite direction and demanded obedience to the law. Over time people began venerate their religion and not God. Religion is to be a means to venerate God and not what is to be venerated. For example we worship as Christians, but we don’t worship Christians. Our style of worship is to always play a second to how we are to be as Christians.
Jesus takes to task religion for religion sake. Jesus points out that just following all the decorum and etiquette doesn’t cut it in God’s eyes. Looking faithful and being faithful and two completely different things. The religious leaders were policing everyone and making sure they were following the law. They weren’t doing this to be obstinate, they were doing it because they felt that only by following the Law to the t’ would God bless them. Unfortunately, they forgot that the Law was to be fulfilled in the heart and not by actions. Jesus explains to them that it is the things that come out of our hearts that defile us and not the things from the outside. Unclean hands and unwashed pots are just things, but an unclean heart that destroys relationships.
As Christians we are to take stock of our attitudes and our actions. This sacred space is here to venerate and worship God, the Father of Jesus. We are to live out our lives as faithful followers of Christ and keep our priorities in check. This space and our worship doesn’t make us faithful, it is our actions. True followers of Christ use this space to keep our priorities in order, refuel, replenish, and prepare to be faithful beyond these walls because Christ has created sacred space in each and every one of us.
Through our baptism and through Christ we are now the temple of God. In each and every one of us God has set aside his own sacred space and empowers us to go out into the world and bring peace. The relationship between worship and service is united in us through Christ, by the power of the holy spirit. How do we know when we are living faithfully? We know when we are doing the work that God has set out for us to do. In James he is specific and says that we are to serve the poor and disenfranchised. We know we are not doing God’s will when we focus on “How” we are to worship, and “How” we are to dress, and “How” we are to think, and “How” we are to behave. When we focus on policing others and not serving them, then we have missed the mark.
We are called, claimed, and sent into the world as sacred people into a secular world to distribute peace. When we can keep our priorities straight, good things happen. Today when you come up to receive the bread and wine, remember what you are receiving is sacred, it is the means through which God empowers you not just to worship him alone, but to follow his will. Become the sacred that this world is yearning to receive. Embody the means of grace so you can be a blessing to others.