Gathered for Worship

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
November 5, 2017
All Saints’ Sunday

1 Kings 5: 1-5, 8: 1-14 (CEB)
Because King Hiram of Tyre was loyal to David throughout his rule, Hiram sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that Solomon had become king after his father. 2Solomon sent the following message to Hiram: 3“You know that my father David wasn’t able to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God. This was because of the enemies that fought him on all sides until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. 4Now the Lord my God has given me peace on every side, without enemies or misfortune. 5So I’m planning to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God, just as the Lord indicated to my father David, ‘I will give you a son to follow you on your throne. He will build the temple for my name.’

Then Solomon assembled Israel’s elders, all the tribal leaders, and the chiefs of Israel’s clans at Jerusalem to bring up the chest containing the Lord’s covenant from David’s City Zion. 2Everyone in Israel assembled before King Solomon in the seventh month, the month of Ethanim, during the festival. 3When all of Israel’s elders had arrived, the priests picked up the chest. 4They brought the Lord’s chest, the meeting tent, and all the holy equipment that was in the tent. The priests and the Levites brought them up, 5while King Solomon and the entire Israelite assembly that had joined him before the chest sacrificed countless sheep and oxen. 6The priests brought the chest containing the Lord’s covenant to its designated spot beneath the wings of the winged creatures in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the most holy place. 7The winged creatures spread their wings over the place where the chest rested, covering the chest and its carrying poles. 8The carrying poles were so long that their tips could be seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary, though they weren’t visible from outside. They are still there today.9Nothing was in the chest except the two stone tablets Moses had placed there while at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they left Egypt.10When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the Lord’s temple, 11and the priests were unable to carry out their duties due to the cloud because the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple.
12Then Solomon said, “The Lord said that he would live in a dark cloud, 13but I have indeed built you a lofty temple as a place where you can live forever.” 14The king turned around, and while the entire assembly of Israel was standing there, he blessed them.

For many generations, the Israelites had been a somewhat nomadic people. When God made the covenant with Abraham that would be the foundation of Israel, part of the giving of that covenant was God uprooting Abraham and his family and telling them to go live in a different place. It was a pattern that would repeat itself over and over again in Scripture; whether because of God’s instructions or life circumstances. We see the same thing with Jacob and Joseph, and Moses. Then, when the Israelites leave Egypt, they wander in the wilderness for forty years before finally arriving in the Promised Land. It was only after the Israelites conquered Cana and moved into the Promised Land that they really began to settle and flourish. It was by no means a completely perfect time, but it was at least more stable than the past.

The Israelites knew and worshipped the God who had given them this land and brought them into it. God was at the center of the community, and the practice of worship was the way the people kept God at their center. However, through the Israelites’ earliest years in the Promised Land, the place of worship, “God’s house” was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and that was in the Tabernacle or the Tent of Meeting. The Tabernacle was really a relic from Israel’s days wandering in the wilderness. It was just what it sounded like, something temporary; a tent that was carried from one place to another and then “pitched” for worship in whatever place the Israelites found themselves. It’s only natural that with the Israelites firmly established in the Promised Land, thoughts would turn to a more permanent place of worship. Initially, it seemed that the building of the Temple would happen under the rule of King David, but it didn’t. Either because of the blood on his hands or enemies he had to keep at bay, the Bible is not entirely clear. But what we see this morning is that the building of the Temple fell to Solomon. And building this Temple mattered because of the importance of place—a place for the community to gather, a place to worship and focus the community on the power and presence of God in their midst.

Consider this again: a place for the community to gather. A place to worship and focus the community on the power and presence of God in their midst. On this All Saints’ Sunday, we recall the power of “place.” We know how important it is for us to have this place. We are here today because it is good for us to come together in worship. We are here today because this is the place and these are the people who above all others enable us to experience the power and presence of God in our midst. Even though God is not limited to these walls, just as God was not limited to the confines of the Temple, there is yet something sacred about this place for each of us. There is something about these people around us that for us make all the difference when it comes to our worship of the Lord and our life as Christ’s disciples. There is something about all those great Saints who were a part of this church and a part of our lives; we know that this church is what it is because of them, that our lives are what they are because of those people. And certainly, God is not limited to one place, but our experience of God is richer because of this place and the Saints who have been and are a part of our lives.

Today, in this sacred place, we remember those Saints and name them. I remember Dr. Bob Howard, the pediatrician who cared for me from my birth all the way through my teen years. It really was a pretty traumatic experience when I had to switch to an “adult” doctor. He ministered to me and my family through his medical care of me and my sister. We knew and trusted him because he knew and cared for us. I remember Pat Murdock, Martha Faye’s brother, and a member of East Ridge United Methodist. Pat was one of the hardest working, most selfless people I have ever known, and the best part was, he always greeted you with the biggest bear hug. I remember Chris Williams, who died just before Thanksgiving last year. Aside from the occasional funeral and the National Cathedral on the day of my graduation from seminary, Chris hadn’t darkened the door of a church in the last fifteen years. But before that he inspired my own walk with Christ and my own commitment to serve God by serving God’s people through the church. So much of what I am passionate about in ministry today is because of Chris’s own painful experience in the church. I want to be a part of building and serving a church that offers a place of love and healing for those who have been hurt by the church.

Each of these people has shaped me in some way. Their worship of God and service in God’s name has somehow connected me more deeply with our God. The same is true of those members of this church whom we remember and name today. The same is true of so many others each of you remembers and names in your own hearts today. Place is important, but it is that connection to the power and presence of God that really makes a difference in our lives. And it is those people, those Saints who have made that connection for us that we remember and celebrate today.

You know, this week, my family got some pretty horrific news about my Dad’s health. I don’t have any idea what the coming months will hold. I know that we will all have many rough days ahead, my Dad especially. I hate, really hate, that he feels just fine right now, but that the treatment he will have to undergo will make him feel terrible. And none of us have any idea right now whether that treatment will be effective or not. But here’s what I do know, and am so thankful for, my parents have an amazing community at Ebenezer United Methodist in Knoxville, and Ken, and Mary Ellen, and Owen, and I have these great communities here at Wesley Memorial and at East Ridge, and these church communities will be our strength and our support in the months ahead. That’s why place matters, the Temple, God’s church. Because you Saints will be the power and presence of God in my life and in the life of my family at a time when God may indeed feel very distant. And I know this because I’ve already experienced it. I know this because I know that you have experienced the same through the all the Saints who have gone on before us, and who have cared for you in those times when you needed to know and experience the presence of God more fully.

I think one of the things about the Tabernacle was that for the Israelites it kind of made them feel unsettled, like they were still wandering around. There’s just something about having that place where you can gather with your community that gives us a sense of peace, and helps us connect with God’s presence in Christ. I love to think that someday, twenty or thirty years from now, Owen will think back on all the people who have taught him about Christ and shaped who he is. And he’ll name so many Saints of this church who loved on him, and cared for him, and connected him to the presence of God. That’s what today is about. We are a church not so much because God dwells in this place, but because of gathering of the Saints in this place helps us connect with the power and presence of God.

So this morning, we are called to this place of worship. And even though our wilderness wanderings take us all different places, when we gather here, our focus is one. Together with all the Saints of God, we join as one, we gather as one, we worship as one. This worship helps us stay focused on our God, and the communion that we share connects each of us again and again with the power and presence of God in Christ Jesus.

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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