Sermon on 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13

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At the beginning of our marriage, Tyler and I moved a total of 4 times in less than 4 years.  We started out in a 1-bedroom apartment at the seminary.  When we found out we were going to be parents, we figured it would be good to have more than one room, so we moved to a bigger apartment on campus.  Then we moved to Sumner, IA for internship.  Then we moved back to Dubuque for my last year of seminary.  Then the seminary needed us to move out of our duplex to make space for new in-coming students before I found a call, so we moved to Madison where Tyler was already working.  Moving stinks.  We haven’t moved since.  There’s something about finding a home, a place to be, some stability. 


Israel did a lot of moving.  They moved to Egypt as refugees when there was a famine in their homeland.  They tried to make Egypt their home, but they ended up as slaves, and so God delivered them from that slavery and led them away from Egypt.  Then they endured 40 years of wandering in the desert.  I like camping, but that’s a long time to live out of a tent.  Then they kind of sort of settled into the Promised Land that happened to already be inhabited.  Even with judges and prophets and the first couple kings, things were less-than-stable for a few generations.  I can understand the desire for a stable home.  King David really wanted to build God a stable home, but God said David wasn’t the one to do it.  There was too much violence on David’s hands. 


So, David’s son Solomon inherited this task, and that’s where we are in today’s story.  David and Solomon wanted to do something good, they wanted to put God at the center.  They wanted a place to worship.  A place to practice their ritual sacrifices.  They wanted to build a permanent place where God would always be there to meet them.  After so many generations of instability, of wandering and then war, I get the desire for something permanent. 


Unfortunately, buildings cost more money than a tent.  How does one pay for a building?  Solomon paid for it with slave labor and demanding more, and more money from his subjects—even though he lived in a lavish palace.  The Temple was a beloved place.  It was a holy place.  Even in our reading for today, God entered the space in a profound way.  And yet, injustice was built into its walls.  In our desire to build things for God, we sometimes miss the mark, and need reform.  The voices of the prophets make up about a third of the Old Testament.  A prophet is a person who speaks for God, and most of the time, God had the prophets speak words of warning.  We humans like to pretend that everything is peachy, but God knows we need help.      


Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  A little over 500 years ago, the pope wanted to replace the deteriorating St. Peter’s Basilica with a new cathedral in Rome.  Something awe-inspiring.  A work of art.  The most beautiful thing that humans could create.  It would take over 100 years to build.  Again, the challenge with big, beautiful buildings is the cost.  How did the Roman Catholic Church choose to pay for it?  On the backs of poor peasants.  The over-simplified version of the story is that the church sent out people to prey upon peoples’ fear of Hell and Purgatory and convince them to buy indulgences (a sort of fire-insurance policy for the afterlife). 


A young, Augustinian monk named Martin Luther (yes, please remember that Martin Luther was Roman Catholic) questioned some of these practices.  He wanted to start a debate.  He wanted to see some things changed.  He posted 95 talking points, (a.k.a. the 95 Thesis), and with the help of the printing press, the conversation exploded.  We humans like to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re always doing everything right and for the right reasons, but God knows we don’t.  We’re more complicated than that. 


We are perfectly capable of doing things with good motives and at the same time be willfully ignorant of the negative consequences of our actions.  The Temple became so meaningful, and so important, that it was rebuilt 2 times.  To this day, the wailing wall (all that is left of the last Temple) stands as a powerful place to meet God.  Place is important to us.  And St. Peter’s Cathedral still captures countless people with its beauty.  It is still an awe-inspiring place that people are drawn to.  And yet, God is so much bigger than anything we can build.  God outlasts our buildings.  God outlasts our institutions.  God is more permanent than anything we can create. 


Lest we think all buildings are evil and our capital campaign is in vain, however, I want to posit a few “thesis” of my own.  Buildings can easily turn into an idol, but they don’t have to be.  Buildings can serve a greater purpose. 


So why do we still have buildings? 


First, for the reasons we don’t always think about, we have a beautiful space to offer to the greater community.  Every week, our building offers a safe space for an AA group.  Once a month our building welcomes people with dementia and their caregivers to come and find community and inspiration.  These groups may not be specifically religious, but they are still part of building up God’s vision of healing and peace in the world.  This building can serve as a refuge for people beyond just us. 


As for us, I like of our church building as a gym... it’s a place to work out our spiritual muscles and keep them in shape.  We need a place to come and build up our relationship with God.  We need a place to come and hold us accountable to the spiritual stuff we know is good for us, but we don’t always do on our own.  We need a place to gather as a community. 


We come here because we need help and practice seeing God.


We come because we need a place to learn the story of God and God’s people.


We come to learn about God’s mission to bless and heal the world. 


We come because we need a place and a prompt to say thank you


We come because we’re forgetful and we need reminders of God’s love and who we are as children of God


We come to train our eyes and ears to better hear and see where God is leading us out there.


Some weeks we come to lament. 


Some weeks we come to praise.


We come to help each other because this faith thing isn’t always easy, and we can’t always do it alone


We, all of us gathered here, are the church.  And we come together to praise God, and thank God, and to be called into God’s mission.  And at the end of our worship, we are sent out to be the church wherever we go when we leave this place.