Rev. Stacy Swain
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Solomon, who we meet in the passage from 1 Kings this morning, is big picture thinker. He and the Hebrew people have big plans and they are committed to bringing them about.
Solomon is the son of King David, who upon David’s death became King of Israel in the later part of the 9th century BCE. The passage Emily and Cindy read for us this morning is a small section of a much wider chapter where it is determined that the time had come to build a Temple, a House of the Lord. And so Solomon drew out the plans. It was to be a great temple of cypress and cedar, gold and stone. Laborers were organized. Supplies retained and in the fourth year of Solomon’s rule, building commenced.
When the last great stone had been put into place, what was created was a wonder to behold, massive, with gold leaf shining in the bright Mediterranean sun; a work of art and engineering genius. But as splendid as it was, it was really nothing more than a building, a lifeless structure until, the Ark of the Covenant was brought up and placed within the Temple, placed right behind the inner most screen, in the spot of the Holy of Holies.
It was not until the Ark of the Covenant was in place that the structure came to life, so to speak; until the Temple became that epicenter of the Jewish faith — where heaven and earth kissed, where the glory of God resided, where the power and presence of the Most Holy could be found.
So, now with this glorious Temple, Holy alive and with the Ark within and God’s glory about, Solomon raises his hands and in praise and prayer to God, says “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.”
When I read those words this week, I could really feel Solomon’s wonder and joy.
As you know, we too are at the end of a year of planning and building, of creating works of wonder with master builders, tireless laborers and gifted artisans. And when I look at all that has been created how magnificent it is to behold, how good and alive it all is, well I want to throw my hands in the air like Solomon – and thank God for keeping covenant and steadfast love for all of us who walk before God with all our hearts.
But even as I share Solomon’s wonder and joy, this passage got me thinking. What is it that makes this place more than just a beautiful building full of master works, laborers and artisans doing good and beautiful works? What makes this place, like the Temple of Solomon’s time, a living place where heaven and earth kiss, where the glory of God resides, where the power and presence of the Most Holy can be found, a place pulsating with vibrant life? What is our Ark of the Covenant, so to speak, that brings it all to life?
I have always been fascinated by the Ark of the Covenant. And not just because of that Indiana Jones movie that wrapped it with such mystery and power. I have been fascinated by the Ark of the Covenant because I believe it physically then and metaphorically now, encapsulates the what it is to be a faithful people.
But first, what actually was the Ark of the Covenant of Solomon’s time? Well first it is a gorgeous and rather large box with holders for two long poles to slide through so that it can be carried. It is called an Ark because it is the vessel that holds, carries forth and preserves life. Just like the Ark in Noah’s time saved all living being from the waters of chaos, and Moses’ little ark saved him from the death decree of pharaoh, this vessel carries the way to life. That is why it is called an Ark.
What is the life it carries? Well the text tells us the ark carries “the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb.” The ten commandments. Keeping commandments, living in right relationship is central to the preservation of the life of faith.
But now this raises the question, if this is the life preserving vessel that contains the commandments, why isn’t it called Ark of the Commandments? Why call it the Ark of the Covenant?
Because faith is not just about following the rules of right living it is also about being in Covenant. Covenant vow of love that we make to God and that God makes to us. We will be God’s people and God will be our God. It is this pairing of Covenant and commandment, Love and Action that embodies faithful living. That is what enlivened the Temple and drew God’s glory upon in. Covenant and Commandment together in the life preserving Ark.
It is no coincidence I think that many church sanctuaries, including this one, resemble the inside of an Ark. For this place is a life preserving and sustaining vessel carrying us through the often chaotic waters of our own lives and the world.
And inside this glorious space we too have an ark of the covenant. It may not be as grand as that magnificent box there behind the screen in the holies of holies but it is just as powerful and life giving. It is there in your bulletin. It too is the coupled commandment and covenant that says the welcome, acceptance, sharing, authenticity, forgiveness and loving challenge we experience in our covenant with God and each other is how we are commanded to be with each other and in the world. So all the good work we do flows out of the love we have for God and for each other; and our love of God and each other is fortified and nourished by the good work we do together.
Now a final teaching in the passage for us today is that this coupled living of commandment and covenant is not a closed a closed circle. Even the Foreigner, even the Centurion is included. No one is outside the embrace covenant and commandment.
So where does that leave us? I think it leave us “all in!” Let leaves us with a relationship with each other and with God that asks that we be alive to each other and to God — living the holy trinity of God, self and other, letting Holy Covenant and steadfast love course through us and inform how it is we are to live with each other. And it asks leaves us with the command to remember that “all are in!.” That whether we are sure in our beliefs or surely do not know what to believe, whether we are well acquainted with the walk or just learning to walk; whether we metaphorically reside in Jerusalem or are a foreigner from foreign lands. No one is outside the reach of God and the embrace of this community.
And if that doesn’t make you want to throw your arms up in thanksgiving and praise I don’t know what will!