1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
(this is my original homily; which was edited and modified. However, it provides a wider background to my point so I am publishing it)
IF God is everywhere, why do we need a Temple (or churches)?
Because... Because God wants to encounter us. And the world and the people in it are in space and time.
Remember Eden. Humans had daily contact with God, but there were challenges (subduing and tending) on earth and most of the time "God was not around." Already we are alerted to the paradox of God's Presence! Then Original Sin changes everything. They broke faith with God. It wasn't just breaking a rule (though it was that) it was a choice to reject God. God could no longer trust the Humans because they did not trust Him. They took their hearts from Him and turned to their own desires. The "not presence" of God creates space for "godlessness." It impacts their marriage. It impacts their kids (Cain killed Abel). It impacts the whole world. If we do not love God first then we cannot love one another...
The world, emptied of God's "near" presence devolved into chaos, confer the Noah story. People are evil. Even so, the absent God remains invisibly present. He chooses a particular man--Abraham--and sets him apart as a solution. Abraham, God said, will be a great nation and he will be the source of blessing for the world. This particular man in that particular time is where salvation of everything takes another step forward---where divine absence gives way to divine presence. The story of Abraham is revelation God works in the limitations of time and space....
Yes, God is already providentially present sustaining creation; but God is absent as well. Absent especially from the minds and hearts of the human race who seek and serve other gods. God's Kingdom is "outside" and must "come" "break in" (Jesus' words). There is a "prince of this world" (Jesus' word) or a "god of this world" (Paul's term) who reigns. The world is ruled by Satan, a usurper in league with the rebellious humans who have turned their backs on Him and His love. These NT words are true in the Jewish Scripture as well.
Joseph saves the descendents of Abraham . Then, a new king in Egypt comes to the throne, one who forgets Joseph. He views the Hebrew family as a swarming and dangerous infestation of the land and oppresses them. God, hears their cries in Heaven and comes to save! Pay attention: the idea of God being in Heaven, far away, is another metaphor trying to capture the paradox of "presence/absence." He "comes down" to one man, Moses. Again.
In the book of Exodus we learn that God is in a tent with His people. God makes a covenant at Sinai. The salvation was grace, unmerited love, but the covenant is conditional. Ongoing salvation is governed by the expectations of the Ten Commandments and the Torah. He is now among His people through the written Word. This is an ongoing presence!
God is also present in the exodus in Cloud and Fire. These are also outward signs of His invisible spiritual presence. God speaks to Moses in the tent. The ark of the covenant is another human construction in and through which God makes His presence palpable. Over and over we see God is at present but His full divine presence is limited and veiled... One needs a sacramental worldview is to discern His presence and activity. [more on that in Sunday school]
The God present in the mobile ark reminds us that God is on the move, He is not contained or under our control. The ark is 'sacramental' presence, but the ark is not all there is to God. Solomon is chosen to build the Temple for God. Why, well because ancient people need a Temple for their God. God (who is everywhere) must be present in time and space for encounter. Three detailed chapters describe the construction. Chapter 8 (today's first reading) is the dedication ceremony. We read that the ark of the covenant is brought into the Temple along with holy vessels. (v10) [Note, the long poles remain--God is not in a cage] As in the Exodus, a cloud fills the house of the Lord and the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. In the verse, 12, we get more information about the cloud. It is araphel (thick darkness) (cf Ex 20:21 and Dtn 4:11). God is surrounded by impenetrable darkness. This is a second expression of the bi-polarity of Divine reality: God is absent/present, light/dark. The human mind can know God, but we can not understand this paradoxical God.
Solomon says (13) "I have surely built you a place to dwell in, a secure place for you to abide forever," but later we learn that God does not live in the Temple, it is God's Name which is there (v. 18, 19,29) The Name and the Glory of God are in the Temple. It is a "partial" presence or better a "lower intensity" presence. [the brightness of light is an apt analogy] Verse 27 expresses the dilemma, Solomon says, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You [God], much less this house that I have built."
This is the problem. God is too big but we want to explain Him with our 'little' theories and theologies. Look at this box. [visual effect the size of cigar box] Can I get into it? Yes, but only a bit of me then it would be crushed or fall apart. It could hold only a small part of me, but we could stuff it with information about me: letters, keep sakes, or photos, for example. I have heard people say, "All I have left of my spouse, or child is in this box." And we know what they mean. We also understand that no box can really contain a person. The physical, mental, emotional, spiritual dimensions of a human person cannot be stored in a box. What is true of us is even more true of God. Solomon knew that and God revelation to us in this Scripture text is the wonderful reminder that God is bigger than our whole world. God is too big for a "box" the size of the galaxy... .
I believe that much of our personal agitation and confusion is generated by our refusal to deeply believe this. We still want God to "fit into" our boxes and think He will "be and do" what we want Him to be and do. If He is God then we expect a 'perfect' church, or a 'perfect' Bible, a 'perfect' minister and a 'perfect' theology (it goes on and on). We are disappointed (consciously or unconsciously) with God because the real world of our experience does not match up with our fantasy world. We think that if "God is here in this" that means God in the fullness and perfection of His divinity is here---so we ignore the real world and fantasize what it "should" be like....
No Temple can contain God, except the "human Temple" Jesus! But even in Jesus the fullness of God is somehow limited; it is poured into a human container. The completeness of God is lived within the limitations of a frail human being. Humanity is where God can best be present. It is in the first story of the Bible words spoken at creation: Let us make man in our image and likeness. God abides in the human temple of Jesus because humans are the image of God. We are more open to His presence than written words or holy things because we are alive.
This is why I say Jesus is The Sacrament of God
and the church is The sacrament of Jesus
and that we, you and I, filled with His Holy Spirit, are the living sacraments, in and through which Jesus works in the world today.
and the Word and seven sacraments are powerful points of sacramental encounter with God
and the very nature of created reality is sacramental so God works in all things...
But not even the heavens can contain God, so every sacrament hides far more than it reveals... And the limitations of created reality--"the not-God-ness" of everything--means we never see the full perfection of God this side of the Kingdom...SO be patient, but be hungry for more!
Be hungry for the Bread of Life.
Jesus said, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them." Many left because the teaching was too tough. Jesus knew who would stay and who would go. Most of us refuse to believe it. We refuse to fully believe that Jesus is in us and able to continue the same amazing ministry in and through us.
We are not perfect. We are not totally complete. The fullness of God's presence in us will be be limiting factors of what God does, but (good news)
He can continue: setting sinners free, healing and exorcising, reconciling people to God and one another in us and through us.... Anything Jesus did then Jesus can do now. The only thing stopping Him is our own "Temple guard"--you know, the doubts, fears, indifference of our hearts. The false ideas and lies, the negative hopeless feelings which block Jesus' work.
YOU are a temple of God.
Jesus abides in you. today. now. already.
Think about the amazing possibilities...