Proper 16b 2015: Prayers of the sinful

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 Psalm 84 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
The temple that Solomon built was dedicated “in the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign,” approximately 953 B.C.; that is, about three thousand years ago. Solomon was David’s son – David of David and Goliath, of the psalms; the one who had Bathsheba’s husband killed so that David wouldn’t be caught in his adultery. His son. Solomon surpassed his father is some ways, gathering 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon’s life was not pure. Even so, Solomon carried out the building of the temple that David had planned.

A sinful man prays to God during the consecration of the temple. A “murderous Solomon,” to quote one writer (http://www.patheos.com//Progressive-Christian/The-Prayer-of-a-Dangerous-King-John-C-Holbert-08-17-2015?offset=1&max=1), prays to God. Sinful people pray – I find great comfort in that – and we are heard by our gracious God. Solomon’s prayer is quite beautiful in form and in asking:

Solomon praises God: he “spread out his hands to heaven. Lord God … there is no God like you on heaven or on earth … keeping your covenant … let your word be confirmed. We hear praise and a pleading to God to continue being God, keeping promises, staying with us.

The temple was built for God, in another (desperate) plea that God might live on earth, might abide with us. (We know this from a different story. Remember Peter on the mountaintop with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? Yes, and Peter says, “I know, let’s stay here! We remember these stories, backwards and forward in time.) At the same time, Solomon knows that there is nothing that could possibly contain God:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”
How often do we wonder whether or not God is here in this church, in this community, in the world?

The next part is the ancient version of “Lord, hear our prayer:” “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.” The temple is meant to be a place in which (toward) God hears our prayers. Hear, us, God, please! We set aside a holy place where God might be especially receptive to our prayers.

Solomon asks that the temple be a refuge for the stranger, “not of your people Israel … but of a far country … that all peoples of the earth may know you.”

We, in some ways, have the same prayers that Solomon did. The comparison is a simplification, of course, and we do not have a temple – there is no temple building/campus today, but we are sinful people who have tried to build a home for God, through God’s son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We, too, lift our arms in prayer to that same God. The temple that we know as Christians is the body of Christ; we consume that body so that we, too, may become the body: a place in which God can abide, our one God who is not bound into any human container of metal, or of our making. We lift our arms, we lift our hearts, hoping, praying, pleading that God will hear our prayers. We, the church, are the body of Christ. We, the church, are a refuge for the stranger. We, the church, cry, “Lord, hear our prayer.” And in faithful tension, we still wonder, how long will it take for us to truly become the body of Christ?

Being the body of Christ is not easy. We are asked to be disciples in a time when many seem to be walking away. Remember how the people walked away in Jesus’ own time. This chapter of John began with Jesus feeding over 5,000 followers. Today, Jesus is talking to the twelve who are left, those whom he personally called. Jesus asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” “Of course not, Lord,” Peter replies. I hope that Peter meant it; I hope that we (all) mean it when similar questions come our way. This is a day on which Peter got the words right. We celebrate as we reply with him: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

A find great hope in knowing that some sinful people – very sinful, we might add – prayed to God and were heard. God makes a covenant us anyway. God desires a place to abide with us, in sacrifice, not of animals, but in the more daunting and complete sacrifice of our lives. We are called to figure out how we are making a home for Jesus Christ. The temple was destroyed. God was not. Our Savior’s body lives in bread, in wine, in each of us. That is more mercy than our murderous hearts can bear. That is more mercy than our thankful hearts can express in words, and so to our words we add music, movement, liturgy; maybe flowers, stained glass, dance, art, silent prayer.

Thank you, God of creation, for everything. Thank you, God of creation, for the temple that will not be destroyed – for your Son Jesus Christ and for the Holy Spirit. Hear us, Lord, when we lift our hearts and pray.

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