Old Testament Reading 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Epistle Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel Reading: John 6:56-71
Sermon: “A Place Set Apart”
There is a hymn in our books, #404, that I doubt you have ever heard, but the words fit perfectly with our theme today. The hymn was written in the late 60’s by a Dutch Jesuit priest named Huub Oosterhuis. It’s title is a question that might be asked by a person who has never seen church before: “What Is This Place?” It answers the question by describing what it looks like a what goes on in it. The 1st verse goes like this:
1 What is this place, where we are meeting?
Only a house, the earth its floor.
Walls and a roof, sheltering people,
windows for light, an open door.
Yet it becomes a body that lives
when we are gathered here,
and know our God is near.
As we consider the story of the marvelous structure that Solomon built to the glory of God, I want you to also be thinking about this place in which we gather today. The temple at Jerusalem was built, among other reasons, to fulfill a covenant made between David and God, to provide a focus for the worship of the Israelites and to facilitate the worship practices of the day. It was of course also a testament to the wealth and power of Solomon, but we’ll talk more about that issue next week. We heard in the reading part of what Solomon said about the temple and also about God whom it honored. I think Solomon got that part right. And it seems that God thought so too. Perhaps you recall how it came to be.
One very important ally of Solomon was king Hiram of Tyre. As 1 Kings 5:1,8-12 NLT tells us:  King Hiram of Tyre had always been a loyal friend of David. When Hiram learned that David’s son Solomon was the new king of Israel, he sent ambassadors to congratulate him. 1 Kings 5:2-5 NLT  Then Solomon sent this message back to Hiram:  “You know that my father, David, was not able to build a Temple to honor the name of the LORD his God because of the many wars waged against him by surrounding nations. He could not build until the LORD gave him victory over all his enemies.  But now the LORD my God has given me peace on every side; I have no enemies, and all is well.  So I am planning to build a Temple to honor the name of the LORD my God, just as he had instructed my father, David. For the LORD told him, ‘Your son, whom I will place on your throne, will build the Temple to honor my name.’
King Hiram was able to grant Solomon’s request for which he was to be paid in food and grain from the fields of Israel  Then he sent this reply to Solomon: “I have received your message, and I will supply all the cedar and cypress timber you need.  My servants will bring the logs from the Lebanon mountains to the Mediterranean Sea and make them into rafts and float them along the coast to whatever place you choose. Then we will break the rafts apart so you can carry the logs away. You can pay me by supplying me with food for my household.” … So the LORD gave wisdom to Solomon, just as he had promised. And Hiram and Solomon made a formal alliance of peace.
The temple that was built was impressive: three stories tall: 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Solomon built a complex of rooms against the outer walls of the Temple, all the way around the sides and rear of the building. The inside was richly decorated: (1 Kings 6:18-27 NLT)  Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.  He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant would be placed.  This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar.  Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place.  So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.  He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary.  The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long.  The two cherubim were identical in shape and size;  each was 15 feet tall.  He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He even covered the floor of the inner rooms with gold. The whole thing took 7 years to build.
The furnishings were equally lavish, made by an expert metal worker named Hiram from Tyre. Huram set the pillars at the entrance of the Temple, one toward the south and one toward the north. He named the one on the south Jakin, and the one on the north Boaz.  Then Huram cast a great round basin, 15 feet across from rim to rim, called the Sea. It was 7 1⁄2 feet deep and about 45 feet in circumference. The descriptions of all the articles goes on for a whole chapter. The temple was an architectural jewel without peer anywhere in the world. It would shame the proudest of the European cathedrals today.
So what did Solomon build? A house for God to live in? No, Solomon knew better than that as he himself said: (1 Kings 8:27-30 NLT)  “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today.  May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place.  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.
What was it? A house of prayer, a meeting place with God, a focus point for the nation to remind them of God. A place to celebrate and remember God’s saving acts. Solomon’s vision for the place stretched beyond his own people as well. (1 Kings 8:41-43 NLT)  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name,  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple,  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name… May the Lord our God give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors.  And may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the LORD be before him constantly, day and night, so that the LORD our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs.  Then people all over the earth will know that the LORD alone is God and there is no other.  And may you be completely faithful to the LORD our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.”
The temple was to be a place of prayer, and of forgiveness and of witness to the glory of God for all the peoples of the earth. A place of unity and peace. No wonder Jesus got upset when the court of the Gentiles in his day was turned into a marketplace and a shortcut for merchants coming into town. God’s presence was dramatically demonstrated that day when the temple filled with a cloud just as God had appeared in the wilderness and on Mt Sinai. God accepted Solomon temple and blessed it far more than all the fine words and multitudes of sacrifices made that day. So, that was then. The temple is no more. It was destroyed by the Babylonians and the ark was lost. It was modestly rebuilt after the exile by Zerubbabel and then grandly rebuilt again by Herod the Great a generation before Jesus, only to be completely obliterated by the Romans in 70AD. Some say it must be rebuilt before the end of days and even now in Israel a society exists with that goal in mind. But that is beside the point for today.
My question for us goes back to the words of the hymn I read to you at the first of this message: What is this place? This building where we are gathered? Is it God’s house? Certainly it is a place set apart for the things of God, but it is no more God’s house than was Solomon’s much grander place which could not contain the glory of God. This place of course holds many memories for most of you. It has likely become sacred ground for you and that is fine and good as long as we remember that what makes it alive and useful to the kingdom of God is not the walls, ceiling and pews, but rather the living vessels of God’s holy presence that are gathered here today, for that is what you are.
You see, we have no need of animal sacrifices. God has come in the person of Jesus Christ his son to reveal God’s own essence in human form. He offered himself as the one sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world – once for all time. It is what the temple and the tabernacle before it were built to point towards all those years ago, but now we have not a symbol and a promise but accomplished truth. We also have even more than sacrifice and atonement. We also have the living presence of the Holy Spirit given to each who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Holy of Holies, that was the meeting place of God and humans is now among us as the body of Christ in the world. We need no priest to offer sacrifices on our behalf and offer prayers for us. Jesus Christ prays for us and his Spirit within us guides our prayers. We have direct access to God the Father Almighty through the grace of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. Paul says it so well when he describes us this way: Romans 8:26-27 NLT  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
So then there is one more thing that must be said about this place, and that is the reason that we are gathered together. Our relationship with God is not merely an individual one. We are called together into the body of Christ of which this congregation is a part. We are called to be together, to teach each other, to lift each other up, to live each other and forgive each other as Christ has done for us. We are the family of God, brothers and sisters together. Christianity cannot be a only a solitary exercise, it is defined by love. Love for God and Love for each other. And you can’t love others if you isolate yourself from them. This also means that the true church on this earth is never complete. It is always under construction, always being shaped and formed, always reaching out to others.
This place then is a house of prayer, a meeting place with the people of God, a focus point for this family to remind us of the things of God. A place to learn, to celebrate and remember God’s saving acts. It is a work in progress, God is not done with us yet. It is a mission station where the kingdom of God reaches out to a broken and hurting world. It is all these things and more, but it does not need cherubim and layers of gold leaf to do those things. What makes it holy and special is the Spirit filled souls that gather within it.