This week’s readings are 1 Kings 5:1-5 and 1 Kings 8:1-13.
We’ve skipped over the entire reign of David (which, honestly, is fine by me) and are now reading about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. Of course, it is not really Solomon’s Temple, it is God’s Temple. Though reading through the full narrative here, from 1 Kings 5 through chapter 8, it definitely seems like Solomon makes sure to put himself at the center of attention. He’s the politician who speaks for way too long at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He’s the capital campaign donor that makes sure the fanciest room in the church addition bears his name.
But I digress.
In terms of preaching this text this week, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and a lot of options from which to choose. There are at least two very significant pieces here related to the broader story of the nation of Israel: the kingship of Solomon and the transition from tabernacle to Temple. This week’s scripture readings provide an opportunity to share some background about either of these important aspects of Israelite history and explore their significance for the people of God.
These verses also give us a chance to think about our own religious structures, about church buildings, altars, icons, and other physical elements of worship. This is a particularly significant topic as COVID has caused us to adjust where and how we worship over the past year and a half. How has your community navigated the time when we could not gather in person in our sacred spaces, with our sacred objects? What have people missed most? What has surprised them? What have we learned about the role of physical spaces and objects in our spiritual life and worship?
There are also justice issues that arise this week. While we conveniently skip over this part, I Kings 5:13 tells us that Solomon used forced labor to build the Temple. In his commentary on 1 & 2 Kings, Lynn Jost suggests that the trade agreement of Israelite oil and grain for Phoenician lumber might have “contributed to the impoverishment of Israelite peasants” (78). What exactly was the social and economic impact of this construction project on the most vulnerable Israelites? Are there projects in your community that look good and are theoretically for everyone but that actually harm people in some way?
Finally, we could easily just focus in on Solomon’s words in 1 Kings 8:12-13. In verse 12 Solomon says: “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.” Isn’t that a magnificent image? What does it mean for God to dwell in “thick darkness”? Where else do we see that in scripture? Where do we experience it in our own lives?
And if we focus on verse 13, we get an entirely different sermon: “I have built you an exalted house, / a place for you to dwell in forever.” Is the Temple—are our temples—a gift for God, or an attempt to control God? Does God dwell more fully in some places than in others? What is the nature of sacred space? (I address these questions a bit in a sermon from 2011.)
What direction is most intriguing to you? What questions are you asking? Where is the Spirit leading as you prayerfully read and study these texts?
Whatever direction you decide to go in, these resources may be helpful to you in your preparations:
Working Preacher commentary by Alphonetta Wines
Working Preacher podcast from Rolf Jacobson, Craig Koester, and Kathryn Schifferdecker
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. She has, in fact, led the church through a significant building project, but it did not involve giant cherubim, gold leafing, or measuring anything in cubits. Her blog is Spacious Faith
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