Lectionary Reflections for Sunday, August 26, 2012
1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Spirituality involves holy space and holy time. As the grandparent of a two year old, I constantly observe my toddler grandchild alternating between order and novelty. On the one hand, he is constantly growing, and nothing is safe as he explores everything within reach. Each day is filled with surprise and adventure. His learning curve is immense and constantly growing. On the other hand, he also returns to familiar rituals and places: to grandpa’s lap, to viewing the same DVD’s of Raffi and Thomas the Train, and to the companionship of his favorite stuffed animals.
The passage from I Kings 8 describes the enthronement of the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple. While once on the move, now the Ark has found a home in the Temple’s inner sanctuary. In his speech to the priests, Solomon recognizes the temptation to locate God’s presence in one place, rather than everywhere. It is easy to limit God’s presence to our places of revelation and to key moments in our spiritual journey or community’s faith. But, Solomon sees God as unlimited in presence and impact – “even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you [God].” No temple, rite, or doctrine can fully encompass the God of Heaven and Earth.
While spiritual is always personal and local, we cannot confuse our experiences and rituals with the totality of God. Entirely local Gods – limited by geography and history – lead to exclusionary ethics, denying hospitality to strangers and those who fall outside our norms. A universalist vision of God leads to global hospitality and affirmation. In the words of Solomon (1 Kings 8:41-43), foreigners are welcome among the people of Israel; they are able to experience the same awe and wisdom as God’s own people, the children of Israel. God is always more than we can imagine; God’s grace and welcome is always larger than humans can conceive.
Psalm 84 proclaims the joy of worship and participation in the life of God’s Temple. “How lovely is God’s dwelling place! How joyful it is to worship God with fellow believers!” Yet, God is more than the Temple or worship service. Our worship and places of worship are icons of holiness, windows into the divine, enabling us to experience God’s presence that transcends – yet energizes and enlivens – every human creation.
Ephesians 6 joins threat and protection. The world is filled with dangerous cosmic and human powers, which require followers of Jesus to surround themselves with the armor of God. God’s armor is a matter of worship, ethics, character, prayer, and lifestyle. God provides us for resources to creatively respond to – and confront – this present darkness.
Liberal and mainstream Christians are often uncomfortable with images of demonic powers. They remind us of fundamentalist supernaturalism and its fantastic images of Satan and his minions. While we seldom connect the challenges of life with the presence and activity of demonic forces, we can nevertheless recognize, without polarization or demonization of others, that there are destructive forces in our midst, powers that would destroy the social safety net, resort to violence to gain power, persecute strangers and members of the LGBT community, and roll back women’s rights. We need to be vigilant to respond quickly to institutions and power blocs that challenge God’s vision of Shalom. We also need God’s “armor of light” to maintain spiritual equanimity in times of threat and challenge. Our primary protection in a world of threat is prayerful God awareness and constant alert. Our spiritual centeredness enables us to forceful in affirming our faith and speaking out for justice without resorting to violence or character assassination.
“Words of eternal life” inspire us to live in companionship with God and to experience the world from God’s perspective. Could these words be the vibrations of divine creativity, in the big bang and the evolution of the universe? Could these words be life-changing affirmations whose repetition creates the songlines of our lives, opening us to hope and energy despite life’s challenges?
We can celebrate a global God who invites us to global hospitality. Humble before God’s infinite intimacy, we can reach out to others, learning from and appreciating their gifts and insights. The God who is everywhere – whose grandeur dwarfs our imaginations – can be found anywhere. The global God inspires us to think globally, while loving locally.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He is currently Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary, Patheos, and Ponderings on a Faith Journey. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.