"Here and There. Now and Then"
“Here and There. Now and Then.”
August 23, 2015
What a wonderful day this is and how
good that you have come here to share it.
We stand on the edge of a new school
year, with all of its possibilities and opportunities and limited parking. With
the state legislature’s decision leading to our public schools aligning
themselves with the University calendar, everyone from kindergarten children to
post-doc adults are poised to begin—people of all ages ready to stretch and
And even those of us who are not a part
of this vast educational enterprise that gathers us—students and parents and
teachers and administrators and all manner of support staff—even those not a
part of all of this know the way that the school year influences all of our
lives in this community. It is the beginning of the year for all of us.
And it is good that we begin in this
place in this way.
Yes, there are many other ways to spend
this time—from sleep to sports, from brunch to books, the options are almost
But we know that what happens here can
give shape to the rest of the week—and if we engage in worship on a regular
basis, it will shape the semester, it will shape our lives.
Here and there, now and then, we stop to
ask where God is in all of this—in our lives, in our world.
Here and there, now and then, we pause
to be still and seek the awareness that we live and move and have our being in
the presence of God.
This is one such place, one such time.
It is good that you are here. And if you are student joining us for the first
time or returning, we’re especially glad that you joined us today.
Here and there.
Now and then.
The words casually suggest when and
where we might experience the living God.
Not so much in all places at all times.
Such an awareness might be too much for most of us.
And not always in the places or at the
times that we might expect or plan.
The stories we tell, the tradition we
live out of suggests this as well. The world may be shot through with the
grandeur of God, but we can only take so much.
This morning’s scripture lessons—two
readings from First Kings—wraps up a summer’s worth of reading through much of
First and Second Samuel, concluding last week and today with two prayers of
Solomon found in First Kings. It may seem strange, as we stand ready to begin,
to be finishing a sermon series. But maybe it is appropriate, since this ending
begins with something new.
The Temple that David proposed building,
the Temple that his son, Solomon, was able to build, is now complete.
Here and there.
Solomon brings the Ark to the Temple. The
Ark, you will remember from Sunday School or the adventures of Indiana Jones,
was the vessel that contained the tablets of the Law given to Moses. Sculptures
often depict the gods of other nations in the ancient Near East as enthroned
upon cherubim—winged creatures who appear to be protecting and worshipping the
deity. The people of Israel knew better. And the people of Israel knew that as
sacred as the ark was, it was not God. Nor were the contents of the Ark divine.
The scripture lesson makes this clear, stating bluntly, “There was nothing in the Ark except the two
tablets of stone that Moses had placed there.” The tablets were important. They
But they were not God, the One who made
the covenant with the people.
It is out of this sense that Solomon
addresses God. After many years, he has built a house, a dwelling place, a
Temple for God. And yet, even while surrounded with the glory of this place,
Solomon knows that God does not dwell here. A temple cannot contain God. The
earth cannot contain God. Even heaven itself proves insufficient.
There is something here that is echoed
in the great Protestant “Yes” and “No.”
We recognize places as sacred—This
sanctuary, for instance, seems to exude a sense that it is a sacred place.
Often enough someone will walk into this space and feel something that they
don’t always feel in churches—a sense of presence. It has been described as the
result of nearly 150 years of prayer in this place. And to many it is a palpable
sense. It is felt in the late afternoon when the sunlight streams through the
stained glass—a feeling of the “holy”—of something other than usual. Others
have told me about looking at the Tiffany window and feeling it taking them
beyond this sacred space into the world of natural beauty and creation’s wonder.
And then there is just that—nature’s
beauty. The recent Perseid meteor shower, the super moon that will rise at the
end of this week, the vastness of the heavens, the ocean, the prairie—all speak
of something greater, more eternal than our small finite lives. They tell of a
Creator that is beyond all that is, beyond even the heavens, the place to which
we would confine God. We speak of our prayers ascending to heaven, but even the
highest heaven cannot contain God.
Yes. And no.
We affirm that we ultimately know the
God without constrictions, the God without limits in Jesus. All year long,
really, we announce that strange Easter message that even death could not
contain the crucified Jesus who was God with us. And if death cannot contain
God, then we have the hope—the confident
hope that God will be with us—here
and there—in our joy and sorrow, in all that is a struggle, in all that feels
to us like a time of testing or trial, in all our fear about what we might lose
in the future or grief over what we have lost in the past. Because God is here
and there—and neither here nor there—we can be bold and courageous as we seek
justice, we can move forward in loving kindness and showing mercy, because the God
who is not contained is the God who is present for us in all the places of our
It is in some way a matter of
expectancy—of putting ourselves in those places where God might be encountered:
places of prayer, places of action, places where simple human decency might be
shown to our neighbors, known and unknown, places that give free reign to the
imagination and to the creation of beauty, places of exacting science and open
exploration of truth.
Here and there—in the sanctuary, in the
world—God is present to us as we seek to make ourselves present before God.
We are not quick to say “This is what God is doing.”
We are not quick to say just how God is speaking in our time.
But at Congregational UCC we maintain an
open and receptive spirit.
Here and there.
Now and then.
After the procession, after the
sacrifice, after the speeches, Solomon prays. And, as with many prayers, this
one does go on.
In the interest of time, I read only
part of it this morning.
Again and again, through seven major petitions,
Solomon asks that God—who is and is not in the temple—would hear the prayers of
the people and would forgive them and maintain them.
Solomon speaks first of what might
happen “if the people sin,” but as
the prayer continues he turns to saying “when
the people sin” adding the rhetorical, “for who does not sin?” It is as if in
praying, the realization that all sin becomes clear. And God is asked to
forgive—which is part of how the Creator maintains those of us who are created.
We sin—that is we miss the mark in our
actions, we fail to do what we should, we are quick to do what we should not.
Sin—as I have said often enough, and others have said before me—sin is not the
particular act, but the condition of living separated from God, from one
another, and even from the best in ourselves. That is our human condition. And
from time to time out of that condition we lie or steal or cheat or betray in
ways far too numerous to mention. I’m sure, however, that if you take a moment,
you can think of a few ways that have been your own choices—see, you just
thought of one or two right now, didn’t you?
We hear two quite astonishing things in
First, Solomon seeks God’s forgiveness
not only for the people of Israel, but also for the foreigners in the land. We
are, of course, at one of those times in the life of our nation in which
concern about and fear of foreigners is growing. We heard it in the speeches at
the State Fair this past week. We hear it in the news.
Through his intercessions, Solomon is
clear that this temple for the uncontained God is a place of prayer for all
people. Even at the height of Israel’s national power, God’s compassion and
forgiveness will not be limited to one people. This is the God of all people.
Solomon’s prays that in this place, in
this time, God will forgive. We affirm that God continues to bring a new start
to all our dead ends, that God continues to take our failures, our human
frailty and make of them far more than we can or would on our own.
And here’s what I find even more
astonishing: this prayer concludes with an intercession for the future—for
centuries after the time of Solomon, an intercession for a time when the temple
has been destroyed and the people carried off into exile.
Yes, it is far more likely that the
later compilers and editors of the Books of Kings added this prayer than that
Solomon looked into the future. But this is something to marvel at. The
scripture that we read is not something that was quickly written and set for
all time. It developed slowly over centuries, responding to new situations, new
difficulties, presenting new hopes in changing times.
So we hear of Solomon praying for the
people now and the people then, for the people of his present time and the
people of the future.
And this is our tradition. We seek to be
open to the new ways that scripture speaks to us now. And we are still
speaking—that is, we come out of a tradition that adds to what was, that
interprets and reinterprets scripture for “now”—whenever “now” may be. We are
not captive to what was or what is.
We don’t go about rewriting or adding to
the Bible. But we recognize that scripture is not complete until we let its
story and its hope interact with our lives in our own time. We let the words
speak to our despair, our trials, our sin. We are still speak with Solomon the cry to God: “Hear.”
“Hear and forgive.”
It is an ancient hope.
It is our modern hope as well.
We find strength and courage for all
that we will do in the days ahead in this hope as we encounter God here and there,
now and then.