Reverend Joe Moore, on placement with us, preaches his first sermon at St Mary's
1 Kings 8 (1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43
Here we are, in the first book of Kings, both books however cover more than 400 years of Israelite history, from the death of David, and the accession of Solomon in the tenth century, to the release of Judah’s exiled king Jehoiachin in the 6th century.
The story of Kings testifies as a whole to the divine purposefulness in the messiness of history. Despite the impression that the affairs of the world are determined by political manoeuvrings and military strivings of rogues and scoundrels, it is God who will have the final say when said and done. History moves inexorably according to the will of the sovereign God.
And we are in the point of the story where King Solomon dedicates the Temple, the Temple being the heart of the old Jerusalem, and at the heart of the temple was the throne, the kapporeth, or mercy seat- the empty space between the ark of the covenant, between the two golden cherubim. It was the most potent sign of Israel denial of idols, the great speaking absence between images. In the middle of the life of the covenant people is the space where God is. To go and see God in Jerusalem, is to look at the curtained holy place and to know that behind it is the empty space from which mercy and promise come forth, ‘help from the sanctuary.’
How do know that God is here? What is it that signals to you his presence with us?
You may know the story of the small girl who is sitting in the kitchen with her mum after school one day. She asks:
‘Mummy, is God everywhere?’
‘Is he in this room?’
‘Yes of course, he is with us now.’
‘Is he right by me?’
‘Yes, right by you.’
‘Is he is this empty glass?’
The girl slams her hand over the empty glass on the table.
So often we as individuals, the church as an institution, has attempted to control God, to reduce God’s vibrant, life giving, life-for-us, to rituals, formulas, strategies, rules, and practices, catchy strap-lines and vision statements. This is true of Catholics, Protestants, emergent types, Charismatics and Pentecostals.
God is free. Beyond any control of manipulation. But in worship the true God chooses to be what he longs to be for us.
The dedication of the temple is a key event in the life of the people of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant, the Law, is a sure sign of God’s immanence and his power over all and in all. The thick cloud is a visible manifestation of God’s nearness, of God’s care for his people. In the prayer of dedication, it is affirmed that God dwells in Jerusalem, he is not going to leave but has settled in, and it is forever. The people of Israel, and we today need the assurance that God is no far off, but so very close, not unknowable but relational.
We have learned more so than ever over the last year and a half that the church is not simply the building, but the community of faith which gathers to worship the living God. The church on earth is the spiritual successor to the temple, as gorgeous as our church buildings are, and as much as they provide us with a space to come and meet with God in word and sacrament, the bricks and mortar are not the be all and end all. We come here to meet the Lord through his word, and through Holy Communion, to praise and to pray, to be with and for one another in the presence of God.
We as Christians are stones of the living temple, and our bodies are temples of the living Lord. We gather in order that we might scatter to make known in the world the presence of God who is nearer to us than our very breath, who longs to know us and be in relationship with us. A God who searches out the lost, and those who don’t feel good enough, those are the margins, those who are uncertain. Already I have seen in this place the deep sense of care and love for one another, the sense of welcome, hospitality, community and joy in being rooted in God here.
In the new Jerusalem, there is no temple, because its temple in the Lord God and the Lamb. The place of atonement and promise is the whole space of the city, the whole common life of the redeemed community. The light of presence is not a sanctuary lamp but the light in which the people of God see each other’s faces.
Clement of Alexandria spoke of the goal of our life as a coming to be at home with God- a state where is no gap between knowing ourselves, knowing each other and knowing God. In this city beyond our history and our imagining, we will not be the prisoners of our memory; even its pains and traumas will speak to us of God.
Meantime, we live between the Old Jerusalem and the New.
In the life and death of Christ, the Lamb of God, we know there is no more need for a mercy seat, the veil of the sanctuary is torn down.
The merciful freedom of God steps into the world and becomes a physical hand outstretched, a name, a meal shared, something resisting all our own categories.
The space is occupied, not between two cherubim, but between two criminals. The life, and death and empty grave are the mercy seat.
Jesus is our holy place. Jesus is the presence of God amongst us. We are his.
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