Sunday, August 2, 2009

Proper 16 Year B

Proper 16 Year B

I King's 8:(1,6,10-11),22-30,41-43; Psalm 84


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

Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

David's deferred dream to build a permanent place worthy to house the ark of the covenant is now fulfilled by his son, Solomon. A grand procession conveys the ark from its tent tabernacle to "the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place...." After it is placed in its splendidly designed setting, "a cloud filled the house of the Lord," (an allusion to the cloud that accompanied God's people in the wilderness, Exodus 40:34-35), which brought the ministrations of the priests to a stop "for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." Solomon now prays "before the altar of the Lord." He acknowledges that "there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath." The distinguishing traits that make God God are "keeping covenant and steadfast love...." Specifically Solomon recalls the promises made to his father, which are fulfilled this day and will continue as David's succession "if only your children look to their way, to walk before" God. He then acknowledges Israel's ambiguity about the Temple. It is not possible for us to make a place for God to "dwell on the earth." But he continues by asking God to keep "Your eye on this place day and night" because it is the sacred place to which God's people turn for prayer and because God promised "My name shall be there." And, because even "foreigners" will be drawn to this place, hear their sincere prayers as well, he prays.

To be sung on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, this psalm expresses an aching longing to see the temple. The lyric envies the birds who have made their nests in its many crook and crannies. "Happy" are any on pilgrimage as well as those who have arrived because they are making a parallel pilgrimage "in their hearts." Longing motivates the pilgrim. To actually arrive just at the threshold for one day is better than a "thousand [alternatives] I have chosen."


Having completed his life's mission of conquering and settling most of the land promised by God to Israel, Joshua prepares to die by addressing God's people one last time. He challenges them to chose between all other gods or "the Lord." The people join Joshua in reaffirming their allegiance to "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."

The psalmist depicts the Lord as alertly listening for and responding to "the righteous" while turning the Lord's back on "evildoers." "Near is the Lord to the broken-hearted," but "Evil will kill the sicked."

Reflecting the accepted explanations for evil as a cosmic battle between good and evil and humans as mere pawn or foot soldiers, the writer to the Ephesians concludes his letter to these new Christians urging them to to "battle" against "the cosmic power of the present darkness... the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." But the armor he selects for this battle is unexpected to those who have not heard the gospel and got it but fully expected by those who have. The follower of Christ arms him or her self with truth, righteousness, "the gospel of peace," faith, salvation, the Spirit "which is the word of God, and "at all times," prayer.

John's lengthy commentary by Jesus after the miraculous feeding of 5,000 concludes with assertions so stupendous that those who have followed him to this point are forced to make a choice. Jesus so insistently and adamantly has declared himself to be an even fuller expression of God's abundance than "your ancestors ate, and they died" that now even his "twelve" closest are becoming uncomfortable. Jesus confronts their discomfort directly: "the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (John here inserts an allusion to one who will reject completely Jesus' words, Judas.) Many of those who had eagerly been following Jesus to this point now turned and left. Jesus asks the remaining "twelve," if they, too, will leave. John gives Peter the role of a hero of faith when he responds for himself and others: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."

John's long discourse by Jesus after 5,000 were fed and there were even more leftovers than the fish and bread with which they began is pivotal to his narrative. Jesus has asserted that he is God's love "in the flesh." He pushes the assertion to the extreme when he said that anyone who "eats" this flesh and "drinks" this blood will live forever. But for many he went too far when he insisted that he was an even greater expression of God's love than they had know throughout their long and glorious love affair with God. Now he encases these assertions in a medium that will endure when he says "the words I have spoken to you [and lovingly put in writing by John and others] are spirit and life."

Solomon's majestic dedicatory prayer for the Temple in Jerusalem describes, once again, the reasons to establish such a place. Although no place built by humans can contain God on earth, it is sacred because it houses the words that guarantee that God "keeps covenant and steadfast love...." And it is that place where God has a Name.

Joshua's life-long mission concludes by repeating the words of Israel's "creed": God brought our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and did it all in our sight.

The writer to the Ephesians equates God's Spirit as "the word of God."

Words, memory, and story are literally our lifeline in every sense. At the earliest possible age, we learn fundamental words like hot and cold so we do not endanger ourselves. Words become stories and memories are put into words. This is how we navigate life.

One of the ways we define ourselves over a lifetime is by the stories we "long" (to use the psalmist's language) to hear over and over again.

But the source of this "longing" is not nostalgia nor even merely religious. These words, these stories heal, orient, motivate; they bring joy, passion and purpose. They actually do actual things in our lives here and now.

Writers regarded as postmodern dwell on words, memories and stories almost to the point of (healthy) obsession. Hans-Georg Gadamer made his own unique contributions, but he also serves as an eyewitness to the development of Heidegger's most important ideas. Summarizing Heidegger's insights about art in general and words in particular Gadamer writes: "A work of art does not 'mean' something or function as a sign that refers to a meaning; rather it represents itself in its own being so that the beholder must tarry by it." ["Long" to be in its presence?] As long as something is mere stuff awaiting its rendering, it is not really present, that is, it has not come forth into a real presence. It only comes forth when it is used...." "It is not simply the manifestation of a truth, it is itself an event." (
Philosophical Hermeneutics, pp 222-224)

Jesus says "the words that I speak are life and spirit." We do not strain to recover an "original " meaning, we eagerly and naturally study, sing, repeat verbatim, interpret, preach these words for the impact-- they put things and us back together in some coherent way so we know what to do and how to do it (with the "armour" designated by the writer to the Ephesians) and are pleased and "happy" (the psalmist says) doing it! They heal, restore, motivate, inspire. These words, memories, stories "do things" here and now.