Sunday, June 19, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "The Temple"

1 Kings 6:1-14

In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites left Egypt, in the month of Ziv, the second month, in the fourth year of Solomon’s rule over Israel, he built the Lord’s temple. 2 The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high. 3 The porch in front of the temple’s main hall was thirty feet long. It ran across the whole width of the temple and extended fifteen feet in front of the temple. 4 He made recessed and latticed windows for the temple 5 and built side rooms against the temple walls around both the main hall and the most holy place. 6 The lower walls were seven and a half feet wide. At the second floor the walls were nine feet wide, and at the third floor they were ten and a half feet wide. He made niches around the outside of the temple so the beams wouldn’t be inserted into the temple walls. 7 When the temple was built, they did all the stonecutting at the quarry. No hammers, axes, or any iron tools were heard in the temple during its construction. 8 The door to the stairs was at the south side of the temple. Winding stairs went up to the second floor and from there to the third floor. 9 He completed the temple with a roof of cedar beams and cross-planks. 10 Then he built the side rooms all around the temple. They were seven and a half feet high. He attached them to the temple with cedarwood.

11 The Lord’s word came to Solomon, 12 Regarding this temple that you are building: If you follow my laws, enact my regulations, and keep all my commands faithfully, then I will fulfill for you my promise that I made to your father David. 13 I will live among the Israelites. I won’t abandon my people Israel. 14 So Solomon constructed the temple and completed it. (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel,” Week Four

By this point in time, you have likely heard all sorts of words from all sorts of people about the massacre of 49 souls at Pulse, the GLBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, simply because of who these 49 people were, who God made them, and who they loved.

You’ve probably heard some words from me as well, whether last week, at the beginning of worship, or on my blog, or on my Facebook page.

Today, I want you to hear from one of the people who was killed that night, a young man named, poetically enough, Eddie Justice, who was in one of the bathrooms with the shooter and took a couple of fleeting opportunities to text his mother, Mina, to tell her what was happening.

These are Eddie’s texts, with no editing by me:

Mommy I love you/In club they shooting/Trapp in bathroom/Call police/Im gonna die

His mother Mina texted back:

Calling them now/U still there?/Answer your phone/Call me/Call me

Eddie replied:

Call them mommy/Now/Im still in the bathroom/Hes coming/Im going to die

This cataclysmic realization that their space was no longer a safe space was visited upon both the victims and their families, as their loved ones tried desperately to reach them to no avail, as that sinking realization must’ve set in that they had just lost someone dear to them. From Andy Carvin:

CNN just described something I’ve never thought of: as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still there where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all the deceased (persons) phones ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them.

What I am going to talk about today—what we need to, have to, must talk about today—is the role of a safe space, a sanctuary, for God’s people. And this starts with Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

This is a new sermon series for a new season in the church—spring is moving into summer, and just like a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we’ll once again take on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative will be the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ll get a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem to his eventual downfall. We began by spending two weeks with the story of how Solomon comes by his divinely-bestowed wisdom for which he is eternally famous and then with Solomon applying that wisdom in this well-known story of two mothers, then last week we saw the beginning stages of planning out the Jerusalem temple, and now it finally gets built.

The temple served a similar purpose as our sanctuary, to be God’s house here on earth where God’s people could gather to worship in relative safety, security, and stability. It did that for near 400 years.

Until the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II came to sack Jerusalem in 586 BCE, Solomon’s temple served as a dwelling place for God and a place for God’s people to come and gather at the altar. It had a use, a purpose, a calling, to bring in those faithful pilgrims whose faith dictated that they should find God where God is said to dwell.

Without a temple, though, or far away from the temple, local houses of worship arose; in the Israelite Jewish tradition, we know them as synagogues, and for us, of course, they are churches.

But the part of the church building in which the main event takes place, the worship that sets us apart from any other sort of nonprofit organization or community agency, that takes place in what we call our sanctuary, and this sacred space did not come by that name by accident.

There is a long tradition of claiming safety by entering a sanctuary—safety from people hunting you, safety from the devil, safety from that which in the world would seek to do you harm. That is why sanctuary is not just a place but something that people claim—claiming sanctuary. It is a tradition that stretches at least as far back as the ascension of Solomon himself, when his father David’s army commander Joab claimed sanctuary from Solomon’s own army commander Benaiah by grasping the horns upon the Ark of the Covenant.

Joab’s claim for sanctuary was unsuccessful, though, and Benaiah slew him down right there before the Ark of the Covenant. Not unlike the 49 souls taken down in a hail of gunfire in Orlando.

Because for GLBTQ people, specially set-aside spaces like gay bars, gay nightclubs, and gay community centers were where they could go and know that they would be safe, safe from harassment, safe from bigotry, safe from a world still unprepared to accept them for who they were.

Those places like Pulse are sanctuaries in the truest sense of the term for GLBTQ people. Yet now, after Orlando, many of them are concerned again of what may happen to them, even in a sanctuary.

These places served such a function in large part because churches—with their sanctuaries, their “safe spaces”—had cast out their gay and lesbian population, forced them to rise and confess, to undergo unsound reparative therapy and emotionally scarring exorcisms, to endure scorn and ostracism and banishment, to be told they could not serve in any sort of leadership capacity, to be preached at that they were an abomination to the God who made them…the safe spaces for GLBTQ people were made out of necessity, and that necessity was the harmful and hateful message the church preached at them and is still preaching at them, from Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and the hateful ilk at Westboro Baptist Church all the way down to local congregations everywhere.

Spaces outside of church became the sanctuaries and the temples for GLBTQ people because we in the church would not permit them to make our churches their sanctuaries just as we have.

And when GLBTQ youth are two to four times more likely to be physically assaulted, to be bullied, to become homeless—not by choice but because their parents have disowned them—and to commit suicide, our behavior as a religious people is not taking place in a vacuum. It has had very real, very lethal consequences on a great many people.

And yes, the shooter pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was Muslim, although by many accounts not a very devout one—his ex-wife says he rarely practiced, and his imam said he had never sought any spiritual advice from the imam.

But there is a saying about stones and glass houses that comes to mind. We may not summarily execute GLBTQ people like in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but our treatment of them has for damn sure still caused many of their deaths all the same. And if you think death by gunfire in a nightclub is still somehow better than death by beheading in a public square, see if you can call up one of the parents, or siblings, or significant others of one of the 49 people we lost this weekend at Pulse.

We do not get to push for bathroom laws and adoption bans and marriage bans on GLBTQ people one day and then claim to be their champion the next. That is bearing false witness at its very worst.

Solomon builds his temple, and God says to him, “I will live among the Israelites. I will not abandon my people Israel.” As long as Solomon walks in the ways of God—and even when he stops doing so later in life—God does not abandon God’s people.

Yet this is what the church, for decades, centuries, has said to queer people: because of what you do, you are not walking in the ways of God, and God has abandoned you, and God will punish you. We did not take to heart the lesson of Solomon—and of his father David as well—that God does not abandon God’s people quite so easily as that.

Let me be unequivocal: if you are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender, God loves you exactly as much, in exactly the same way, as God loves me. Period. Full stop. That’s the only way grace works.

So may we make this sanctuary live up to its title and its billing. Only when our welcome is more extravagant even than our Gothic revival architecture will we be living up to what God demands of us and what God demanded of Solomon at the building of the temple in Jerusalem.

A temple…a house for God in which God may dwell among us, as our creator, our rock, and our salvation. For all of us.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 19, 2016

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