A Dwelling Place

A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, August 26, 2012
John 6
Dirk Lange

In the name of Jesus. Amen. Solomon is overwhelmed. What does it mean to build the Temple of God? How can the God who is greater than heaven and earth dwell in a house?! Throughout Israel’s history, God has sojourned in the tabernacle, in that tent that was carried by the people through the desert on their exodus from Egypt. Solomon breaks forth in praise and calls the people into that praise. A praise that is so deeply aware of the people’s failure, and his own, to approach God: In the midst of his astonishment, at the altar of God, Solomon cries out: O hear in heaven your dwelling place, heed and forgive! In the midst of the Temple, Solomon affirms both God’s presence in this place but then acknowledges that the God who listens is also beyond in this place. And that the people don’t have any privilege that they can really claim as their own.

Solomon gives us an indirect warning! Perhaps he knew how quickly we hold onto our dwellings, the places of our identity, our home, our family, our community, our nation, our church (yes even our building) like security blankets! We make them sacred, almost equal to God! That is, we turn something that is given us for a time and try to make it eternal. Perhaps the two most obvious places where we do this is our religion and our nation – two major identifying markers! We will hear a lot in the next weeks about what it means to be American as the two parties hold their national conventions, God will be very mixed in with that discussion (without God choosing to be so!). We take religion, for example, and turn it into a set of laws and manageable ideas about what it means to be America. We take a constitution and revere it as divine. We equate God with a particular vision of this country. Unlike Solomon who praises God and laments himself when we observes the Temple, we praise ourselves and not God. We praise ourselves and do not call out (as Solomon did): O God heed and forgive!

Whenever we turn something provisional into something absolute, whenever we celebrate ourselves, whether our country, or as small as our congregation or even little insular family, whenever our identity is found in the confines of those created things, we shut the door to others. Families becomes self-centered. Congregations become social clubs. Nations turn the needy immigrant away. I want to say: we walk out on God.

In our midst however steps one who disrupts these narrows definitions. Jesus. His disruption is not always welcome. “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” the people ask and turned back and no longer went with Jesus. What was this teaching? That those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him and he in us. But here… Solomon’s question is finally answered! How O God can you dwell in this place? Yes, God dwells in this place but not enclosed by the walls of buildings or by national dreams. God dwells here in flesh and blood. God comes as the neighbor, as the foreigner, as the immigrant, as the seeker. If God only stayed up in heaven and we could somehow reach God through pious spiritual feelings, it would be to easy to turn God into our own self-image. God would be a successful white American male, a successful business man. But God dwells among us in flesh and blood, as a body, as the person next to us whom we cannot ignore or turn into something that we would like.

Luther puts it this way… “Nevertheless, God says: “I do not choose to come to you in My majesty and in the company of angels but in the guise of a poor beggar asking for bread.” You may ask: “How do you know this?” Christ replies: “I have revealed to you in My Word what form I would assume… no, I come down to you in humility. I place flesh and blood before your door with the plea: Give Me a drink!”[1]

Luther continues… Instead of giving a drink to the beggar, we build beautiful churches, nice organs, commission lovely churchy anthems to be sung! That is much easier to do! But eating his body and drinking his blood?! What a difficult teaching? But you see now where that teaching leads… it leads us away from our self-centered worship towards the neighbor, towards Jesus who comes to each of us in the guise of the neighbor.

To whom else shall we go? Shall we take refuge in our buildings? Shall we find our identity in patriotic feelings and culture? Shall we walk away and take comfort in our own constructions of the world? To whom shall we go? You – only you – have the words of eternal life! You, O Jesus, give us yourself in flesh and blood, in the neighbor, you open horizons, you disrupt our narrowness, you open borders and walls. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! Everyone – even the stranger, the immigrant, the raped and abused woman, the gay, the outsider, the homeless one – precisely the homeless one – all find a home! A day in your courts, a day around your table, with bread and wine, is better than a thousand elsewhere!

[1] LW 22:519-520, Commentary on John 4:9.