A sermon on 1 Kings 8: 1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43, preached August 26, 2012 at First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
(C) Christina Berry
1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of
the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites,
before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of
the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.
8:6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to
its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place,
underneath the wings of the cherubim.
8:10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD,
8:11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the
cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence
of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.
8:23 He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in
heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love
for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,
8:24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as
you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day
fulfilled with your hand.
8:25 Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my
father David that which you promised him, saying, 'There shall never
fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only
your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked
8:26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
8:27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the
highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have
8:28 Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O LORD my God,
heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today;
8:29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the
place of which you said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may heed the
prayer that your servant prays toward this place.
8:30 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
8:41 "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name
8:42 --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and
your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this
8:43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all
that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth
may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that
they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have
When I was thirteen years old, I was given a wonderful opportunity by
friends of our family. They were going to Chicago, for the Associated
Milk Producers Convention. Would I like to go along? Oh my goodness!
Would I ever! We were going to fly on an airplane from Wichita. We were
going to be in downtown Chicago, and while I had seen cities from the
back window of the station wagon while on various family vacations, I
had never visited a big city. We would be staying in a luxury hotel,
just down the street from the John Hancock building, which was still new
then, and still the tallest building in the world. I think I spent that
entire weekend in a state of awe.
We saw Lake Michigan, and we went to Old Town. It was a convention,
so of course there was a banquet and a keynote address. The speaker that
night was none other than Richard Nixon. I will never forget the moment
that Nixon came into the hall where we were gathered. The crowd rose as
one, and there was thunderous applause as we stood, and all the wonder
of that trip was concentrated in that amazing moment, when the President
of the United States of America entered the room. I was completely,
breathlessly overwhelmed. And though it seems funny to me now, I was on
the verge of tears, so wondrous was that moment.
It was not because I had any great devotion, at the age of thirteen,
to President Nixon or to the Republican Party. It was not because I was
overcome with a love for the man who, as it turns out, had cut a shady
deal with milk producers to drive up the price of milk in return for a 2
million dollar campaign contribution. My awe and wonder, however, were
genuine. And I confess that now, more than forty years later, when I read
scripture like the one we’ve just heard, this description of the
dedication of Solomon’s temple, I recall those feelings vividly.
Perhaps you too recognize that feeling, whether you experienced it
seeing a celebrity, or in a forest or a cathedral, or at the birth of a
child, or in a moment of prayer and worship. It is the feeling of awe
and wonder, and it is the feeling we have when we experience holiness.
It is the way you would feel had you been there, when “the glory of the
LORD filled the house of the LORD.”
We’ve come to the last sermon in our summer series on the life of
David, when David’s son and successor, Solomon, dedicates the great
temple in Jerusalem. It had been David’s dream to build a temple, but
Solomon was the one given the blessing of doing so. It is impossible, I
think, with our modern sensibilities, to convey the amazement of this
moment. Solomon had spent years building the temple, and had waited
nearly a year for this dedication. In spite of his father David’s many
failings, Solomon knew that the unified kingdom of Israel,
with Jerusalem as its capitol, was entirely due to God’s favor for King David, a man after God’s own heart.
The temple was an amazing sight to behold – it takes the book of
Second Kings two chapters to describe it in vivid detail. For example:
“The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty
cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold. He
also overlaid the altar with cedar. Solomon overlaid the inside of the
house with pure gold, then he drew chains of gold across, in front of
the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. Next he overlaid the
whole house with gold, …he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten
cubits high. Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and
five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten
cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. … He put the
cherubim in the innermost part of the house; …He also overlaid the
cherubim with gold, …” You get the idea.
The innermost part of the house, the center of the temple, was the
holy of holies, a windowless sanctuary which would house the Ark of the
Covenant, in which resided the stone tablets given to Moses, and which
was accompanied by the tremendous and mysterious presence of God. That
ten-foot square gilded room was so sacred that only the high priest
could enter it, and then only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In
that inner sanctum, that room lined with gold and decorated with golden
cherubim, the high priest encountered God Almighty. Just to be in that
room was so powerful, and so dangerous that when the priest did enter
the Holy of Holies, they tied a rope around his leg, so that if he died
in there, his body could be dragged out. Sometime, when you have a half
hour or so, read the sixth, seventh and eighth chapters of First Kings,
and see if you can imagine that temple, that amazing structure which
Solomon built as a dwelling place for God.
As is appropriate for the dedication of such a splendid place of
worship, Solomon stood to offer prayer, seven beautiful petitions:
When someone sins against a neighbor, hear, O God, and forgive.
When Israel turns away from you, hear, O God, and forgive.
When there is drought and the people pray, hear, O God, and forgive.
When there is famine, and the people pray, hear, O God, and forgive.
When the people sin against you, hear, O God, and forgive.
When the people go out to war, hear them, O God, in your dwelling place.
When a foreigner offers prayers to you, hear them, O God in heaven.
Solomon began his prayer standing, with his arms outstretched, but by
the time he finished, he was on his knees. When Solomon concluded the
prayer he said: “Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before
the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain
the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each
day requires; so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the
Lord is God; there is no other.” (1 Kings 8: 54-61)
I don’t think there can be any doubt that Solomon had had an
encounter with the living God of Israel, and if you had been there that
day, you would have, too. Now, we Presbyterians are people of the book,
people who love God with our minds, and we get a little nervous when we
start talking about worship and prayer that is so overwhelming, so
sensory and so mysterious. We’re used to the preacher getting up front
and giving an inspiring talk about something sweet that Jesus said, or
an engaging, well-researched account of a historic event of the church.
We have some coffee and we go home, and we have not been overwhelmed, we
have not been speechless, or at the point of tears, or had chills go up
and down our spine for the entire 65 or 70 minutes we have spent in
worship. Though often our musicians have offered up music that can move
us, and every now and then the Holy Spirit helps me with a sermon that
really captivates people, for the most part we leave worship ready to
get on with our lives, after a pleasant interval singing and praying and
opening God’s word.
We rarely think of ourselves as “stewards of the mysteries of God.”
And it is probably better that way, better that we do not have to endure
such awe for the entire service, better that we do not remember that to
approach God is to risk one’s life, better that we do not think to
remove our shoes and stand in terror as we say the call to worship,
better that we are not quaking with dread as we are ushered into God’s
presence. Probably, we are better off this way.
But what if we are not?
What if we are missing something that is right here in front of us,
the immanent presence of our transcendent God, powerful enough to
annihilate the universe with one breath, yet as close to as our own
breath? What if we are like Jacob, who woke from his dream and said,
“Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it”? I think Annie
Dillard is right when she says, “On the whole, I do not find
Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of
conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so
blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The
churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear
straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash
helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they
should lash us to our pews.”
Of course we all know that Sunday morning worship is not the only
place where we encounter holiness and the presence of God. But what if
we arrived every week expecting that to happen? What if, when we offered
up our prayers, we anticipated God’s presence, with a mixture of
breathless anticipation and terror? Of course, our prayers are not a
leash we yank, to drag God into the room with us, not a magic spell to
charm God into obeying our wishes. Our worship is not meant to be
terrifying. Our experiences are fleeting, and as my story of Nixon
illustrates, not all of our moments of awe are brought about by divine
But those experiences, those overwhelming feelings, perhaps might not
be so rare if we recalled that every time we worship, we are invoking
the presence of our awesome God, in the original meaning of that word –
not “totally awesome” like a meal or a movie, but awesome as in
extraordinary, amazing, and inspiring. It is not our experience or our
emotions or even our resolutions which transform us, after all, but the
presence of God among us. It is this for which Solomon prayed, at the
dedication of the temple. It is this for which we might well all pray,
as we enter into worship, whether here or in the silence of our own
hearts. It is this transforming presence that comes only from God, the
source and ground of all being.
And the way we encounter God’s holiness and splendor without crash
helmets, without a rope tied around one leg, is through the incarnation
of God in Christ. It is because of the person and work of Jesus Christ
that we may come within reach of God. In Jesus Christ, we may approach
the throne of grace with boldness, so that even in our great wonder, we
may trust in God’s great benevolence. In the early part of the
seventeenth century, a Puritan preacher delivered a sermon titled "The
Incomparable Excellency and Holiness of God" which, by my reckoning,
must have lasted about an hour.
That preacher said: “study the mystery of the gospel. Make use of
Christ that the glory of God's holiness may not be to your terror but to
your comfort.” I would amend his words slightly, to say, “be open to
the mystery of the gospel.” When you worship, when you pray, as you may
do at any time, and any place, whether it be Sunday morning in church or
on any otherwise ordinary day, in any ordinary place, open your heart
and your mind to welcome and receive the transforming power of the
presence of God.
That preacher also said: Has the luster of the infinite holiness of
God ever shone upon your heart and drawn your heart to Him? And has your
heart ever leaped at the sight of the brightness of His holiness? Is
this why you love Him? If so, you know God correctly and your heart has
been correctly drawn to Him.”
May our most Holy God grant that it be so for each one of us.