The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 26 August 2018

Track One:
I Kings 8:[1,6,10-11], 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84 or 84:1-6


Track Two:
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22

Ephesians 6:10-20
St. John 6:56-69

Background: The Temple

As we follow the history of Israel, their movement out of Egypt and their gradual insinuation into the Canaanite Levant, we continue to see the influence of the cultures around them, in their literature, their religious works, and in their architecture. One stunning almost recent discovery (1955) is the temple at ‘Ain Dara in northern Syria 67 kilometers from Aleppo near the Turkish border. Unfortunately, this example of Syro-Hittite temple building that dates from 1300 BCE was largely destroyed by the Turkish air force in January of this year. Nonetheless we can see in it, through the studies done by Ali Abu Assaf, we can see similarities with the Temple of Solomon that is described in the Bible.

The size, plan, and decoration of the Syrian temple seem to be a forerunner of the Israelite Temple. Both temples were built on large platforms of stone and have three functional areas: the porch (‘ulam) with two columns, the Sanctuary (heikhal), and the shrine (debir). The entire structure, in both cases, was flanked by a multistoried structure of rooms for the functioning of the temple. The ‘Ain Dara temple was built largely of basalt and had wooden paneling decorated with cherubim and sphinxes along with floral patterns common in the Ancient Near East. We can read about that imagery in I Kings 6:29The walls of the house on all sides of both the inner and the outer rooms had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.” The builders of Solomon’s Temple, Phoenician architects and craftspeople, would have most likely known the ‘Ain Dara building and would have been influenced by it. It was a building of great antiquity, serving from 1300 – 740 BCE

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 8: [1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43

[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. 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. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 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.]

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. 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, 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. 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 before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 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; 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. 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 and forgive.

“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 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 built.

This ceremony to which all Israel is invited would have happened during the festival of Sukkot one of the three pilgrim festivals that would draw people into the capital and its temple. Thus, the dedication happens on a day which describes the Temple’s future utility as a pilgrimage site. Solomon is described as using the traditional prayer gesture, “he spread his palms toward the heavens.” The initial phrases of his prayer are a recollection of what God has done for Israel, and what God had promised David. The prayer wrestles with an existential question, one that David and God wrestled with earlier, “can God really dwell on earth?” At the temple at ‘Ain Dara (see background above) the builders carved into the portico floor a pair of footprints that indicated the presence of a person some 65 feet tall. This however is not Solomon’s intent – the Temple is not God’s literal home. 

An interesting passage (verses 33-34) that is elided from the liturgical reading we get a clue as to when this pericope was written. When your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they sinned against you, and then they return to you, praise your name, pray to you, and entreat you in this house,listen in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel, and bring them back to the land you gave their ancestors.” This indication of the return from the captivity in Egypt would press a later date on when this work was written. What follows on that is an indication of the universalism that one begins to see during this period, Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land.” At this high feast of nationalism, Solomon is made to indicate that there is a welcome for the stranger as well. Would that our time understood this as well.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. To what have you dedicated your life?
  2. What do you think is missing in your dedication?
  3. Where do you find God in your world?

Psalm 84 or 84:1-6 Quam dilecta!

1      How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2      The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
3      Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4      Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.
5      Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of 
springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6      They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7      [Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8      Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9      For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own 
room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10    For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11    No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12    O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!]

This psalm brings a smile to my face. During my college years, the beautiful chapel at Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, kept being besieged by sparrows who would find their way into a spacious interior. One day I saw a note from the maintenance staff next to a pile of seed. It said, “Please do not remove this poison seed – it’s for the birds in the chapel.” The next day, the seed was gone, and someone had replaced the note with a piece of paper with this verse, “The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a next where she may lay her young; by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts.”

The is a love song, for the words describing the emotional reaction on the part of the psalmist to the Temple border on the erotic. It is more than the author who feels this, but represents the longing in the hearts of the pilgrims who made their way to the temple. Emotions represent a key part of this psalms content, “Happy are the people.” To reach the temple mount from the east, from the Jordan River valley one has to ascend a series of rocky and desolate hills, thus the psalmist’s description of the “desolate valley”. The anticipation of the delight of being in the Temple is the phrase, “(they) find it a place of springs,” a surprise in the wilderness. Once there the pilgrim finds it a place better than his or her own room and chamber. 

Breaking open Psalm 84:
  1. For what do you long in life?
  2. What have you longed for that dissatisfied you?
  3. What has made you joyously happy?


Track Two

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:

“Now therefore revere the LORD andserve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

In Joshua we are offered an account, or really accounts from at least two points of view on how the land of promise was gotten, and then how it was given out amongst the various tribes. These topics are addressed in two books of twelve chapters each. Our reading comes from the latter part of the second of these books. Its concern is the worship of YHWH alone. The people are encouraged to set aside any gods that may have accompanied them or their parents as they made their way to the promised land. The peoples’ response is a recollection of what God has done for them – the release from the slavery of Egypt and the salvation from other peoples who would have deterred their entry into Canaan. Written from the point of view of the Deuteronomist, this last section indelibly connects Israel with YHWH.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. Who are our enemies?
  2. Who are your enemies?
  3. Is there reconciliation possible?

Psalm 34:15-22 Benedicam Dominum

15    The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to their cry.
16    The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
17    The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.
18    The Lord is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
19    Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
20    He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
21    Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22    The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.

We have enjoyed a little lectio continua through the verses of Psalm 34. The comparison of the righteous and those who do evil continues. We should not be lured into thinking that we are beholding two separate individuals as we hear of the “righteous” and the “wicked”. Verse 19 seems to make it clear, although Robert Alter’s translation is unambiguous, “Many the evils of the righteous man, yet from all of them the LORD will save him.”[1]The psalm shoes the whole spectrum of our relationship with God. It is similar to Luther’s observation, “simil justus et peccator”at the same time justified and sinner. Beyond that there is the observation that those who oppose the righteous or righteousness itself will be held accountable for that opposition. But…there is salvation in those who look to God and take shelter in God. God is the one who shelters the downcast.
direction carefully.

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. In what ways are you righteous?
  2. In what ways are you wicked?
  3. How do you reconcile the two?

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In the psalm we see the characteristics of the evil, and in this reading from Ephesians Paul calls upon us to do battle with those who espouse evil. These are strong images. First there is the armor – the shelter and power that God provides God’s own. The foe, however, is formidable. A small Paul list stuns us: “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” As we struggle in our own time with evils that rob people of justice and dignity we realize that Paul’s time is very much similar with our own. The commentator I was reading for this pericope sees Paul’s list as only spiritual forces. I disagree – for even if they are spiritual forces they are still manifest in the earthly powers we see and read about in our newspapers. There might be an interesting discussion about what the protections that Paul proposes might mean in our time. What is the “whole armor of God?” What might describe it in terms that would be useful to us? The closing image is startling as we pan across from the armed believer to the suffering apostle. It is all of a thing.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What is your spiritual armor?
  2. Whom do you recognize in Paul’s list of powers that oppose us?
  3. How do you deal with these forces?

The Gospel: St. John 6:56-69

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This is the last Sunday in the Bread of Life series. As I said last week, this theology is all about incorporation – being a part of Jesus, being a part of God. We call this meal the Eucharist – but its essence is also well expressed in the word “communion.” Paul puts it so well in his first letter to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” This is sum of what Jesus teaches us here. The direction of this thought has two directions – incorporation with the Father and the Son, and incorporation with the people of God who share the meal with us. In a time that looks askance at exclusiveness or elitism, we might find some of this challenging our political correctness. To be certain God calls all – to attend the feast and to be fed to follow in God’s ways. Some find this difficult. Apparently, some of the disciples did as well, although I think their objections were all about the flesh and the blood. Some left at this point. Peter’s quote, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” is used in the Lutheran Liturgy as an introduction to the Gospel Procession. It is a question for our age, “where shall we find you, O God.” The answer is embarrassingly simple – in the bread, and in the wine. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Is the Eucharist the meal of the faithful only?
  2. Why?
  3. How does the Eucharist bring people together?

Point of Departure:             What is holiness? How does it connect or disconnect us?

First Question:                     If we follow God, as Joshua asks us to do – do we need to separate ourselves from others? (Track Two – first reading)
Second Question:                What does it mean to build a house of God? Who is invited to come in? (Track One – first reading)
Third Question:                   Who are those that we fight against? (Second reading)
Fourth Question:                 What does Jesus mean when he says that he is the way to God? (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with commentary, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 3090.


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