The Uncontainable God
Read the Text Here - 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13 - Solomon Builds the Temple
We just celebrated my daughter’s 6th birthday. We…ok, I…envisioned this beautiful birthday party in the park. I intentionally wanted to keep things simple and unfussy but still special. Preparations definitely started out that way, but then I remembered that given the opportunity I will fuss and fluff as much as there is time. So I scoured pinterest for activities and décor ideas. As the day grew closer, we worried about the weather and ran all around to gather the little things I decided were necessary.
Somehow our simple celebration required my husband and I going on covert ops to haul off tree trunks from our neighbor’s trash pile and chainsaw them down into perfectly charming cake stands. On the big day I got her flowers and a big balloon, because I do want her to know that this day is special and I want her to feel honored and cherished. And I think she did experience that through all the fanfare and fun. But our love for her is reflected best…not by lavish gifts or on a single special occasion, but in the daily minutia of living in love. She experiences my love even more profoundly when I put down my phone, look her in the eye, and listen to the drama of her day as we build legos together. Our relationship is honored and nourished when she gets to tell me about her friends, the people that she loves, and we all get to spend quality time together.
King Solomon builds this grand temple which God is indeed worthy of, but misses the mark because he does so at the expense of real people and real relationship. In between these chapters we know the Solomon uses oppressive labor practices that are eerily similar to the Israelites bondage in Egypt. The stunning temple is built on the backs of the underpaid working poor, and the priests and elders get all the glory in the end. Solomon stops really listening to God.
We hear Solomon proclaim, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” It’s as if Solomon thinks he has outdone God by finding a way to contain the uncontainable, for with Solomon all things are possible. His motives are warped into an aim of making God proud, and he at least subconsciously holds the expectation that building a glorious temple would give him a bit of an edge in the market on God. But the Lord’s presence amidst the dark clouds re-asserts divine freedom, especially against the temptation to idolatry, which is another word for the human attempt to limit divine freedom and manage divine access. God’s glory disrupts all activity in the temple because God cannot be housed by it, cannot truly live in it, nor be contained by it, let alone forever. God extends beyond these walls to inhabit the amorphous and unstructured, uncontainable cloud.
It’s a lesson that apparently we never quite learn. When the Lord our God gave our spiritual ancestors, the Roman Catholic Church, rest on every side we set our sights on rebuilding St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome into the stunning structure it is today. I have walked the sacred halls of that place for myself and was indeed more inspired than I ever thought I would be.
But the oppressive cost of grandeur was again born by the most vulnerable. The temple would be financed, at least in part, by the sale of forgiveness which most affected the poor. Construction began in 1506, and by 1517…tensions bubbled over. 500 years ago Martin Luther took a hammer and nail to the pretty temple doors in Wittenburg and posted his 95 Theses – 95 statements of faith, a list of 95 ways in which the church had deviated from its call to be a carrier of the Gospel and must now return to its true self, to re-focus the church on God. In these statements, Luther reminds us of the limitations of people and priests to proffer salvation and lifts up the limitless grace of God.
Essentially Luther claims that no one can buy or sell forgiveness, no gold can achieve salvation, no grandeur can fully capture God, no one has a corner on the God market, not even Lutherans. And thus, no human being can be denied direct access to the divine. This is true especially, ESPECIALLY as the means of grace are exploited and abused at the victimization of the most vulnerable, the poor. People were buying the thin illusion of salvation before they could care for their basic needs or the basic needs of others. At its heart, the Reformation speaks against a containable and compartmentalized God and thus a compartmentalized faith.
God is boundless and so is our way of being in God. God’s loves for us extends to our whole selves and so we are wrapped up in a love, a faith that isn’t only on paper, not just in our heads, or only when we step inside a church building…it is how we live and move and have our being.
From the splendor of Solomon in the Old Testament, to the temple veil being torn in two at Jesus’ crucifixion, to the affluence of the European Renaissance, and into our own time… God invites us to imagine that the temple is not the building, but Christ. Place matters, but it is not our center. God is our center. The kingdom of God is not brick, but embodied. We can be a part of building a house for the Lord our God, but it is built not of stone, but of people. God dwells not only among pillars or tablets, but in us and around us. Many church buildings look like fortresses, but the true stronghold resides not within walls, but in God. Our relationship with God in honored and nurtured by grace, not grandeur. God’s love is experienced not just on special occasions but in the day to day realities of life.
It’s easy for me to shake a stick at the other, the historical “them” apart from me. But I hear the words again and I wonder…how often do I buy things for a thin and shallow semblance of goodness, while neglecting the care of relationships, of financial and physical health, of others in need, of my soul?....
The Reformation isn’t only a moment in history, but an ongoing movement that continues to shape us. We are a resurrection people. Our identity is rooted in allowing the old things to pass away and in being made new every single day. It’s who we are. It’s how we are. Because of God. Because of Christ. Luther felt compelled to speak up when it seemed as though the people of God placed all their eternal hopes on the Pope and on paper rather than the Gospel. For Luther, the way to re-center the church on Christ was to value scripture over tradition, faith over works, and grace over merit. We still miss the mark. We forget our true foundation. What do we need to do to re-align ourselves again with Jesus? As individuals and as a church. It won’t ultimately save us, and it won’t give us the corner on the God-market, but perhaps it will reveal the ways in which the limitless love and pervasive presence of God dwells among us.
So I wonder….
What would it look like to build a temple, a church, a people, a way of being for our God that honors and nurtures our relationship with the divine and with the world? What is most important? What would you nail to the church door?
How has the church failed to be the body of Christ? How would you express the Gospel, the good news of Christ in your own words? How would you finish the sentence, “God is _______.”
The splendor of Solomon’s temple cannot compare to the majesty of your heart. Show your heart in this place, that we might worship you with joy and gratitude. Amen.