1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 26, 2018
Many who want to know God better view going to church as detrimental to the effort. They say they find it easier to connect with God on their own.
So is it important and valuable to have a “house of God”, one in which to seek the Lord on a regular basis?
Solomon certainly thought so! That fabulously wealthy king put in an enormous amount of his own money, manpower and time into building God a house on earth. Today’s scripture records part of the prayer Solomon prayed at its dedication ceremony.
In his prayer Solomon praised God for a number of things, but most of all for creating a house where “all the people of the earth” might come to know God’s “name”.
Yet, in that prayer, Solomon speaks in a way that might encourage some people to think of a “house of God” as mostly an obstacle to knowing God well! For Solomon there notes that no place can encompass the unlimited greatness of the infinite and eternal God. Solomon prays, “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.” In other words, Solomon acknowledges, God is so big that, even when He regularly visits a place and meets with people there, there is always more of Him beyond that place.
Yet, it is precisely because God is too big to be contained anywhere that we need somewhere in which to come to know Him the best we can. We limited creatures need a place that brings His unlimited reality within reach. We need physical representations of His higher, spiritual reality. We need what we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch to perceive a God who surpasses our powers of perception.
In His essential being, God is too big for us to fully understand or relate with. But in His heart, God is too big not to come down to our level, and make it possible for us to understand Him and relate with Him, if not fully, still truly. Thus, God shows Himself by means of 1) a place, 2) a community and 3) a set of rituals.
We encounter God in the special places He has anointed with His grace, and that almost always involves one that is His house.
There are places where we and God can best rendezvous. In that, God and His people are no different than married couples or best friends. In every deep relationship, people return as often as they can to one or more places that remind them of why they were drawn to each other in the first place and that cause their love and mutual appreciation to grow.
Just last weekend, Adele and I celebrated 27 years of marriage and the love that sustains it. We did that by going to our favorite place along the California coast, a place where 24/7 you can hear waves crash on rocks and taste the salty tang of sea breezes. Every new experience we have of that place is colored and enhanced by the memories of previous experiences there; and our repeatedly going there over the years has made our new experiences there richer and more joyous – and has contributed to the overall happiness and the elevation of our relationship.
That’s how a house of God should work. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of it ought to bring us back to our first love of God and develop that love further. By our past and present experiences of God in it, we make future experiences richer and more joyous.
For each of us, there are places where God particularly shows up for us, and ideally one of those places is a house of worship. For a house of worship such as a church has an advantage over all other rendezvous spots with God. For it can create and sustain a community of love; and in such a community of love God is always to be found at its center, whether recognized or not. God shows up both in His house and in its community.
In a community of those who fear God, we catch a contagion of godly fervor from the faithful around us. We also are pulled out of the narrow perspective that our limited experiences and preoccupying concerns give us. A house of God brings together a wild variety of human beings, many of whom have come to know the Lord in different ways, and thus almost all of whom can teach the rest of us new insights about God and the possibilities of a life lived with Him. Our understanding is enlarged by their influence, and our devotion enflamed by their example.
Four days ago, we concluded our summer-long Bible club. Last Wednesday we finished by studying coral reefs, those colonies of living creatures that provide a home for a wild diversity of sea animals. We talked about how the church is meant to be like a coral reef: a community of mutual benefit and reciprocal support that enables each participant to fulfill his or her unique but God-given purpose and destiny.
To be that community we have to be together on a regular basis. That’s why Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to give up on meeting together. When each week we gather in a house of God, we help each other become all God hopes we will become; and together we all grow strong enough to make the difference He is looking for us to make.
God shows up for us by means of a place and a community. Last, He shows up for us by means of a set of rituals. What is a ritual? A repeated, symbol-laden activity reinforcing faith through the long practice of it.
Best friends and married couples have rituals. They go to their special places, listen to their special music, and express their love and appreciation for one another by special actions and words.
For example, a good husband tells his wife over and over how much he loves her, and his doing that with sincerity and regularity blesses her and their relationship. For, while words without love are but “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, love without words loses its music.
Yes, in worship we sing some of the same songs again and again, and say some of the same things again and again. But we are not stuck in a rut; we are engraving certain truths into our hearts and minds, and thereby setting ourselves up to grow into the people we’re meant to be.
We who want our love for God to be vigorous and ever-developing regularly use the same liturgies, scriptures and songs. We do it, not to maintain some spiritual status quo, but to build on a foundation of the past and the present to create an unprecedented future of fervor and faithfulness in following God’s ways.
And then there is this: Most rituals were shaped over several periods of history, in a number of locales, and by many different people. Thus, when we use them, we are availing of a larger pool of wisdom and insight, of godliness and spiritual depth, than any of us has on their own. We are taking advantage of a treasure store of grace from numerous individuals, generations and places.
God might show up anywhere. But we can always count on Him to show up when we gather in His house, as a loving community, in faithfulness to time-tested but innovation-inspiring traditions. When we meet together like that, God shows up and lifts us up. Let us pray.