|Christ the King, Year A||November 23, 2014||Christ the King, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46|
|Pentecost 23, year A||November 16, 2014||Proper 28, Year A||Matthew 25:14-20|
|Pentecost 22, year A||November 9, 2014||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, 2014||November 2, 2014||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12|
|Pentecost 20, year A||October 26, 2014||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36|
|Pentecost 19, year A||October 19, 2014||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Pentecost 17, year A||October 5, 2014||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 16, year A||September 28, 2014||Proper 21, Year A||Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 14, year A||September 14, 2014||Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 13, year A||September 7, 2014||Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 11, year A||August 24, 2014||Proper 16, Year A||Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 10, year A||August 17, 2014||Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28|
|Pentecost 9, year A||August 10, 2014||Proper 14, Year A||Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 8, year A||August 3, 2014||Pentecost 8, year A||Matthew 14:13-21|
|Pentecost 6, year A||July 20, 2014||Proper 11, Year A||Romans 8:12-25|
John Hines sermon
Sermon Date:February 11, 2014
Scripture: I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13
Liturgy Calendar: Daily Office
This past week, as the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics began to unfold in Sochi, Russian TV star Yana Churikova greeted the crowds with these words.
“Welcome to the center of the universe!”
And as Russia’s vast landscapes, rich history, its culture and its traditions unfolded in dramatic pageantry, every Russian in the audience must have felt a heart throbbing recognition that in spite of the disappointments of the past several decades, that at least for the moment, they, along with their country, really were at the center of the universe.
If you’ve ever visited Jerusalem, sooner or later you will hear from someone that Jerusalem is the navel of the world.
And the navel of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount, and the holy rock that rests beneath the Dome of the Rock, the rock that is the traditional sight of the Jewish temple, first built by King Solomon.
Our reading today from First Kings takes us there, to stand with Solomon before the altar of the Lord at the dedication of the brand new temple he has built, a house constructed from strong stone.
Inside, the floors are overlaid with cypress, and the walls are paneled with cedar, into which craftsmen have carved gourds and open flowers, and all of the temple is overlaid with pure gold—so that the whole house of the Lord might be perfect.
And Solomon spreads out his hands to heaven and begins the prayer that will dedicate this temple to the Lord.
What impresses me about the opening part of Solomon’s prayer is Solomon’s admission, right up front, that God certainly might not even look toward this place, much less dwell in it, in spite of its glittering perfection. Solomon knows that God, who cannot be compared to anyone or anything else, cannot be contained even in heaven and the highest heaven.
And so Solomon prays with humility, “Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling-place; heed and forgive.”
Solomon, wise king though he is, is not perfect. Before he ever prayed to God for wisdom, Solomon sacrificed and offered incense at the high places –and yes, God was worshipped in these high places before the building of the temple, but other gods were worshiped there as well.
Ultimately, Solomon’s downfall was his worship of the gods of his many wives. Not only did he worship these gods, but he followed them, and in so doing broke his covenant with his Lord, the Lord who had bent down from heaven to enter into a covenant relationship with the people of Israel.
Those of us gathered here today have come, as did the people of Israel so long ago, to stand before God’s altar, and to seek God’s presence.
Whenever we gather as the people of God, and open our hands as celebrants and as the ones receiving the bread of heaven, we have come to the very center of the universe, part of an endless company of those who have a desire and a longing, in the words of today’s Psalm, for the courts of the Lord, a desire and a longing even just to stand at the threshold of God’s house.
And when we bring listening hearts to this center, along with our hands spread to heaven, we long for nothing except for God’s glory to fill this place, and to fill us so that we can reflect God’s glory in our own lives.
After we have confessed our sins and asked for God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of one another for the petty meanness of our lives, we begin the Great Thanksgiving with the familiar words of the Sursum Corda.
Lift up your hearts.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
When we enter into the Great Thanksgiving with humble and grateful hearts, we are more likely to see the unfolding of the vast landscape of God’s love, the dramatic and gracious history of our salvation, and the very presence of Jesus in our midst, the one who has delivered us from evil and has made us worthy to stand before God.
How often we forget, and it’s no wonder, given “The Process” and all of its judgmental rigor, that we priests did not earn the privilege of standing before God’s altar with our hands spread to heaven.
Our ability to jump through hoops of fire and survive the scrutiny of various committees—and then later, pride in our educations, our intellects, our knowledge, our accomplishments—with all of these things we convince ourselves, and our church’s culture feeds this misconception, that we have earned the right to stand here before this altar—When in reality, we stand here, lifting up our hearts to God, only by God’s grace.
And all of us who make the choice to come into God’s presence and to be in God’s dwelling place can fall into the trap of thinking that we are doing God a favor by taking time out of our busy schedules to come and worship—when in reality, we are here only because God, in God’s mercy, has drawn us here.
Jesus had no patience with the Pharisees in today’s gospel. He called them hypocrites, because these judgmental Pharisees had become caught up in human tradition, and in the process of honoring and enforcing their traditions, their hearts had wandered far from God.
Jesus told them that their worship was in vain, not because of their attention to tradition, or even their love for their tradition, but because they had replaced God with their traditions.
Part of becoming a good priest and part of seminary study is to learn about and to apply the traditions of our particular Anglican culture in our worship, part of our service to God in this part of the Church.
But beware! Traditions can too easily become an end in themselves, like the pure gold with which Solomon lined the interior of the house of the Lord.
The glitter of being single mindedly obedient to tradition can lure us away from humbly lifting up our hearts in thanksgiving and praise when we come into God’s presence.
Jesus reminded the Pharisees that their love of tradition kept them from loving God and from loving their neighbors.
And today, our attention to tradition and to tradition only can lead to what seems to be perfect worship—which ironically, is not perfect at all, unless that worship draws us more deeply into longing for God, and the desire to serve more fully our fellow human beings and all of God’s good creation.
Solomon knew that providing a perfect dwelling place for God was no guarantee of God’s presence.
In fact, by the time First Kings was written, Jerusalem had been destroyed, the temple was a pile of rubble, and David’s monarchy had come to an end.
In our most honest moments in prayer, when we come before God with listening hearts, God reminds us that we are incapable of building an earthly temple perfect enough to contain God.
God reminds us that none of the blessings of our callings, our intellects, our educations, or our accomplishments, all of those things with which we line our hearts’ interiors, make us worthy to stand before God. All we can do is to ask for forgiveness, and gather anyway, in spite of our inevitable unworthiness, because we desire and long for the courts of the Lord.
When we gather with humble hearts, we trust that as the Great Thanksgiving begins and the vast landscape of God’s love and the gracious history of our salvation opens before us, that we will find that God is truly present among us.
We trust that Jesus will be known to us in the breaking of the bread,not because we are worthy, but because of God’s everlasting covenant and steadfast love for us who desire to walk whole heartedly before God and to follow after Jesus with holiness and righteousness all our days.