Passage: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Date: September 2, 2018
Preacher: Guest Preacher
Guest Preacher: Rev. Eileen Parfrey
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Do you remember way back last spring when it was all royal wedding all the time? Television, newspapers, Facebook, supermarket tabloids—Harry and Meghan’s faces were everywhere. We referred to them by their first names! We knew everything about the wedding—who was invited, what they were wearing, what all the obscure customs meant. The British royals do ceremony well, and this particular event appealed to every romantic bone in our bodies. Beyond the love between two beautiful young people, here was the Mother Country and the Rebellious Colony, symbolically reunited, as the state Church of England (headed by the groom’s grandmother) invited the colony’s Episcopal Bishop, Michael Curry, to talk about the power of love to change the world. For that day at least, we really believed it was possible.
It’s a royal wedding today in Solomon’s Temple. Instead of golden carriages arriving with the happy couple, however, there’s a parade of priests and Levites with the Ark of the Covenant (sans Indiana Jones). The temple dedication is the peak of Solomon’s career, what ancient kings did to affirm to those governed, that the heavens approved their control of the throne: they built a temple to the deity and threw a big party. This day is, as Solomon reminds everyone, the fulfillment of two divine promises to his father, King David—that he would have an heir on the throne and that this heir would build the temple of which he dreams. Never mind that Solomon was the last king of a united Israel.
The problem with royal weddings is that they become royal marriages—alliances. You bring this to the marriage, I bring that, we combine our resources and consolidate our power. The nitty gritty of dowry and bride price on a socio-political scale. When the alliance is between religion and politics, the dowry and bride price begin to express power and advantage as Empire. Both institutions begin to think the marriage exists to perpetuate its own stake in the game. Rather than raising up healthy offspring, eager to make the world a better place for all creation, the marriage begins to look out for its own good, to the disadvantage of others. Things start out well enough, but pretty soon the Holy Roman Empire becomes the Hapsburgs, the Doctrine of Discovery becomes colonialism and Manifest Destiny. The Christian Church, at least at its beginnings, was intended to exist for those outside the institution.
One of the more remarkable things about Solomon’s dedication prayer is that he prays for immigrants. Not for their welfare, but asking that their prayers be answered unconditionally. The axe he’s grinding has to do with making God more evident to the world. And by the way, so they’ll know what a cool temple he has built, which is less than ingenuous, but understandable, so let’s set that aside. What better way for God to get good PR than for people’s prayers to be answered? God as Sugar Daddy. Which makes me wonder if that’s more Solomon’s view of the marriage than God’s. Does the God who cannot be contained in a building, the God who created the fjords and tsunamis and Mt. Hood and the salmon spawning run—does that God really need humans to point out the innate Divine coolness, even to strangers? Not likely.
So let’s return to what drives the marriage being celebrated this day—at least from God’s point of view. Apparently, alone of all the ancient gods of the Middle East, Israel’s God wasn’t so interested in tasty sacrifices and humans toeing the line so as to be able to control more effectively those rascally humans and thereby gain more prestige in the heavenly courts. Apparently Israel’s God wants an ever more intimate relationship with humans. Every good marriage has some driving force, some motivation that keeps the pair bonded and working together. Have you seen marriages like that? The longer the couple is married, the more deeply they seem to love each other? Not just finishing each other’s sentences and coincidentally wearing the same color clothes on any given day. But working in mutuality to encourage each other to greater creativity, more loving interaction with others, expanding the circle of blessing outward. That kind of marriage is apparently what Israel’s God wants with God’s people.
The marriage being celebrated that day in Solomon’s Temple was never intended to be the marriage of politics and religion. I’ve been telling you for weeks that being a Christian disciple isn’t a political act but that it has political implications. From God’s point of view, the marriage celebrated in the temple that day is the marriage God desires to be celebrated each and every time we gather. Not between politics and religion, but the marriage of God with the chosen people. Michael Curry’s wedding sermon called forth a marriage founded on the love that emanates from God. That is the force that drives our discipleship as Christians, what motivates our interaction with human politics and religion—God’s love. Think about the implications. If all of our actions and interactions were predicated on a desire to express God’s love, what would the world look like? We wouldn’t have the huge (and growing) global wealth disparity. Immigrants would be welcome everywhere, because their presence would be another opportunity to live out God’s stated love of immigrants, widows, and orphans. We wouldn’t be so afraid of each other that we felt the need to arm ourselves against each other. When justice was meted out, it would not be retributive, but would be restorative. Instead of a wall, as good neighbors,we might just have a privacy fence of trees. People would be fairly compensated for their labor. Because shalom and wholeness is God’s desire for the land and its people, healthcare would be a right, not a privilege.
As followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to subvert the black/white, either/or thinking of human politics. As followers of Jesus, our true citizenship is not with the United States of America. We are citizens of the kin-dom of God, for which we pray week after week, “Thy kingdom come.” As followers of Jesus, our role is to engage and transform our culture. But we do that as resident aliens (as immigrants), as persons for whom God is our first allegiance. We do that as persons formed through our religious practices—of worship, preaching, sacraments. We do that as an expression of God’s love for the world. May it be so.