Theme: As the default dwelling of the Lord on earth, the church can claim its original temporal role modeled by the temple, a place where God’s people reconcile themselves with their own covenant with God.
Purpose: To help members find a role for themselves in this election process.
This September 11, 2016 will mark the 15th anniversary of the the 9/11 attacks that one could say ideologically introduced us to what we know so far of the 21st century, an era marked with the persistence of terrorism, the upheaval of the Middle East, and religious phobia that has spread to most urban centers of this country.
We will use this September 11, which happens to be on a Sunday, to kick off a series on the Exile, the Babylonian exile that began in 586 B.C. and marked the end of the nation of Israel AND the American church in exile which, you could argue began on 9/11 and is marking the end of the established church in America as we know it.
But I digress. Let me ask if anyone knows what took place in our Nation’s Capital on September 15th, 2001. Anyone?
It was called a Day of Prayer and Remembrance and was recognized with noontime memorial services, the ringing of bells at that hour, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils. But the signature event, that event that the most prominent leaders of the land, political and otherwise, attended, was at a specific facility here in Washington D.C.
Not the capital. Not the white house. Not the Lincoln Memorial, not RFK stadium. Not even on the mall.
The Day of Prayer and Remembrance was officially memorialized by the President and others in the Washington National Cathedral, the nation’s church, as it were.
And on this July 4th weekend, I thought I’d take the liberty of diverting from our Summer series in the Psalms to reflect on the place of the church in the nation’s conscience.
Not so much the official relationship between church and state. The policies governing the limitations of these two institutions on each other is the topic for another day.
Rather, I’m thinking practically. Or more to the point, why on the occasion of this the greatest national crisis since The Vietnam War did our increasingly secular society decide to stroll on down to this sacred space? What was it about the steps of the capital, or the reflecting pool, or the Washington Monument mount – all arguably holy space of a kind – that just didn’t cut it this time. Why the church?
While we still like to call ourselves a nation under God, it has become less and less vogue to be overtly religious.
Invocations at public events are passé.
Heads of government are less and less interested in what the church has to say on controversial issues.
Even what were once unanimously endorsed phrases like “In God We Trust” or “God Bless America” have moved to the margins.
And yet, why is it that whenever there’s a real crisis, we always seem to scurry back to the sanctuary to work through our worst fears?
Where did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference hold their town hall meetings when the Civil Rights Leader-in-Chief, Martin Luther King Jr., came to town? The local church.
Where is the final battleground over the validity of same-sex marriage? In the church.
And as our latest spree of racially-motivated crimes comes to a head, it is not inappropriate albeit regrettable that the most lethal incident happen in a Sunday School room in Charleston, SC.
Ex. The homeless man who has given up on the social services of the state and comes to the church office as a last resort.
I don’t think any of this is coincidental; instead, I think it forces us to consider what, on a really practical level, is the role the church ultimately plays in the life of society.
And on that question, we turn to our passage at hand in 2 Chronicles.
Solomon’s dad felt bad that he was living in a palace but the dwelling place of God Almighty was in a tent. When it came to living standards, he wanted to give the most to the Holy Ghost.
But the Lord insisted that he wait a generation.
Well, his successor, Solomon, has ascended the throne, the work has been done, and it’s time to dedicate the new digs.
Lots of flowery words are spoken, lots and lots of animals are sacrificed; Solomon goes all out to celebrate the occasion.
But when the Lord speaks, he talks about the role of the temple.
We don’t use temples today but the church is the Christian counterpart. We still refer to it as the house of God.
And what does the Lord say?
Well, as is his common practice through Genesis and Exodus and Deuteronomy and throughout the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, the Lord hearkens back to his covenant.
As we’ve discussed before, there are numerous covenants that the Lord makes at different times with different individuals in the development of the Jewish faith.
But the covenant laid out in Deuteronomy lasts for centuries and stands in Solomon’s day.
And it’s very simple:
Follow my commandments and you will prosper in the land.
Break my commandments and you will bring the land to ruin; you may even lose the land.
And the aspect of this covenant to note here with both of these consequences, one positive and the other negative, is that they are the default result.
It doesn’t say, if you follow my commandments, then like Santa Claus, I will tally your good deeds, make an assessment, and then decree your prosperity.
Or alternatively, if you break my commandments, I will come and assess and make a judgment about the negative consequences that should ensue.
No, on the contrary, there is no intervention necessary to bring these results; they just happen. And the same holds true today:
If you don’t pay the people fair wages, the people will revolt.
If you don’t treat aliens with the same respect as your own, bigotry and racism will follow.
If you oppress the poor, you will be overthrown.
If you don’t worship the living God, the land will spew you out.
It’s not ‘if’, it’s when! It could take years, but it WILL happen. And it doesn’t matter if your government is founded on the U.S. Constitution. As good as that document is, it doesn’t trump the Word of God!
Practice greed, and injustice, and idolatry. Pollute the land. Forget your God. And you will destroy your country. God doesn’t have to intervene; you’ll bring it on yourselves! It’s an inside job!
However . . .
However . . .
If, perchance, you see the downward slope . . .
If you’re looking out across the years and you sense that things are going South . . .
Now, I’m from Maryland and I’ve never considered myself a true Southerner so I never really knew how that phrase came across to a Southerner: “to go South.”
I’m in Virginia now so maybe the phrase should be: “If you sense that things are really heading North . . . “
That the natural progression of your country’s current actions will go from bad to worse …
That your countrymen and women are consciously or unconsciously heading to hell in a handbasket . . .
If, my people, who are called by name, One Nation Under God,
If my people humble themselves
If they humble themselves, pray, seek my face, turn from their wicked ways,
Then I just might hear from heaven
I just might forgive their sin
And I just might alter the covenant, make an exception, cut some slack,
And reverse the natural progression of things and instead, intervene, and heal the land.
And if they’re serious about that order, that magnitude of an intervention,
If they want to ask for an intervention of that scale,
Then the least they can do is come to MY house to ask for it.
Hence, the purpose of the temple. Hence, the most practical function of the church.
Most of what happened in the temple were not praises, or meditations, or sermons, or commissions.
The vast majority of temple activities were sacrifices. Animals killed to atone for sin.
Ordinary citizens asking God to make up for their waywardness, not to bring on the natural consequences of their behavior.
God’s house was a house of prayer, yes. But not primarily prayers of adoration but prayers of pleading: “Please God, heal me, heal us from our own folly!”
Folks, there are about four months left of the 2016 presidential election.
The next four months will put America’s true colors on full display. I don’t think I have to stand here and convince you that it will not be pretty.
If you are disappointed in either of the two candidates, or both, don’t just be another finger-pointer; be disappointed in our country. After all, they are a reflection of who we are, who we’ve become.
You are about to witness some of America’s dirtiest laundry hung out to dry.
This may be one of the most shameful elections of the century.
And so it is imperative to remember our Christian calling as spelled out 1 Corinthians 3: 16:
“[We] are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in [us]!”
And as God’s royal priesthood, we are called to play that role in our country these next four months.
Which means that when an American, a friend, a compatriot, decides to step out of the ring, take a break from the mudslinging, the slander, the backbiting, the vicious taunts and angry epithets, the shame, the demoralization that they find in the debates, on the headlines, on Twitter, on Facebook, in bars, in public forums . . .
If they want to go in a different path . . .
We are the ones called to stand at the doorway of God’s house and say, “Come. Sit. Rest. Reflect. Humble your hearts. Pray. Turn from wrong. Seek goodness. Reconcile yourselves to the God who still cares.”
This is no easy chore.
We will want to join the fray.
We will be tempted to throw back facts, figures, statistics, historical events that we will call ‘truth’ but will be thin disguises for our own rage and anger.
If not careful, we will start hating back.
We will become the very thing we despise.
As Christians, what does it mean in the next four months to provide a place for people to heal? Whether they come into our sacred space or not, how can we provide sacred space for them?
What will it take for us, like our Savior, to have ‘eyes open’ and ‘ears attentive’ to the prayers made around us?
Prayers that don’t end ‘in Jesus’ name’ but are prayers nonetheless. Prayers like “Can’t we all just get along?” “Can we make America great again?” or “How long do we have to put up with this?”
How do we do this?
Well, let me offer some practical things we can do to provide this sort of space in the public arena
a) WE repent of our sins
b) WE provide forums for humility and sober thinking
c) WE provide models of contrition and forgiveness
d) WE convene space for reconciliation
e) WE offer connections and/or reconnections to the Almighty God
“If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray, seek my face, turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”
There is still a need for sacred space in America. Never doubt it.
Let’s begin this Fourth of July, as we remember what is healthy and wholesome and honorable about this country, and let’s embody that spirit of humility and repentance that accompanied our last national crisis 15 years ago and give that spirit away to a people in desperate need of healing this hour.