1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
A Cathedral in Time: A Future with God
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1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
A Cathedral in Time: A Future with God
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today’s first reading recalls one of the great days in the history of God’s people. Solomon dedicates the temple at Jerusalem. He does this in the presence of a huge congregation gathered for one of the annual festivals. As part of the liturgy, he and the people offer a wealth of animal sacrifices. At the center of the celebration is a prayer Solomon offers as he stands before the altar with his hands spread out to heaven.
The reading we heard minutes ago provides only a part of this lengthy liturgical prayer by which Solomon sets apart and consecrates the house of the Lord he has built in response to a divine command. What he dedicates is, for certain, a place, not only a place for worship, but a place toward which to pray. Yet the language of Solomon’s prayer is less concerned with place than it is with time. The grandeur and centrality of the temple come across as secondary in comparison to the vast and indeterminate future about which Solomon prays to God.
The twentieth century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke of how Judaism builds its cathedrals, not in space, but in time. These cathedrals are not buildings of wood and stone, but sabbaths and feast days. And so in this prayer offered by Solomon, sanctification of space readily gives way to sanctification of time. Solomon invites the Lord, invites the Lord repeatedly, invites the Lord imploringly into the people’s future, asking the Lord to forgive their sins, relieve them in their difficulties, sustain them through the days ahead.
Judaism has produced gorgeous sacred architecture. So also has Christianity. But in both religions the sanctification of holy places is far overshadowed by the sanctification of time, liturgies of the day and the week and the year and the lifespan. Like our Jewish siblings in faith, we Christians build our best and most magnificent cathedrals not in space, but in time.
Solomon’s prayer—a lengthy liturgical utterance offered by an ancient king for the dedication of a central shrine—this prayer may seem remote from the worship we offer here in this assembly and the worship we offer by thought, word, and deed throughout ordinary days of our lives. But Solomon’s prayer can teach us much that is of practical value.
First, his utterance can remind us that the prayer we offer has much to do with the future before us. Our prayer as well as his can insist that the future we enter must be a joint project between ourselves and God. That future does not belong either to God alone or to us alone.
Through faithful prayer, we acknowledge our part in the future. We do so recognizing our sin, our blindness, our selfishness, our inadequacy.
And we invite and implore God’s loving cooperation and manifest involvement in that future. We place ourselves before God in prayer. We place ourselves before God with our plans and desires and passions, knowing our prayer does not change God, but that through our prayer, often God changes us and brings about a future in accordance with God’s heart and our own.
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It is a glorious thing that people can shape places—houses and buildings and cities—using stone and sod and wood and metal given to us by the Sustainer of all things.
But it is still more glorious that people can shape time—making their future through dreams and goals and plans, but above all through open-hearted cooperation with the Lord of all ages, through that risky partnership we call prayer.
The utterance by which Solomon dedicates the temple is a reminder of this. But it also offers specific advice, advice especially helpful for times when, so to speak, we do not have a prayer about how to pray, when prayer seems a dead language, an embarrassment in a world of technique.
Solomon’s prayer is built upon a foundation of wonder, gratitude, and obedience. This triad underlies the entirety of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. It is essential to both Jewish fidelity and Christian discipleship.
Wonder, gratitude, and obedience appear in the eucharistic prayer we offer this morning when we ask not only that bread and wine be consecrated, but that we who receive them be consecrated as the temple of Christ’s body, his people at work in the world.
Wonder, gratitude, and obedience. If our life as a parish, if our life as people is to be a prayer to God for partnership in building a future, then wonder, gratitude, and obedience must characterize our life.
A word, then, about each one.
When we allow it to happen, anything can serve as a catalyst causing us to wonder.
• An ant, for example.
• Or a solitary flower, such as Wordsworth celebrated in his poem about a flower growing from a crannied wall.
• Or each new Astronomy Photo of the Day available on the internet which reveals in color yet another glorious scene from the expanses of space beyond our planet.
• Or what I saw yesterday outside my office window: students and their parents carrying furniture into apartments at the start of a new year at Penn State University. Yes, it happens every fall. But the arrival of each student is the sum of thousands of wonders that occurred beforehand. If you don’t believe me, then note the tears in the eyes of those parents.
These wonders I have mentioned and countless more—most of them outside the pages of the Bible—are the work of God.
At any moment we can be open—or closed—to wonder.
Meister Eckhart, an influential mystic of the Middle Ages, taught that if the only prayer you ever said was “Thank you,” that would be enough.
Perhaps the Last Judgment will address more than faith or concern for others. Perhaps it will also address whether we deeply enjoyed life and whether we were deeply grateful.
Perhaps on the Last Day, Christ the just and compassionate Judge will plead with us about what we enjoyed, will ask us whether we were ever grateful for the beauty of a particular summer day in the year 2009, or for the soaring music of the Nittany Valley Symphony at a concert we attended, or for his own kind words spoken to us by some perfect stranger. Perhaps this is what he will ask us, like a solicitous hostess inquiring after her guests. For make no mistake, Christ provides life’s banquet, and the food he gives us is himself.
At any moment we can be open—or closed—to gratitude.
The term itself can be off-putting. Yet this obedience leads to service which itself is perfect freedom. It is response to the call of the God who loves us.
All of us prove obedient to something. It may be something that makes us far less than we could be. It may be something that corrupts and destroys us. The question is not whether we will be obedient, but whether we will be obedient to the One who is the sole source of life.
Wonder and gratitude are meant to bear fruit in how we live our days. The name for this delicious fruit is obedience, vocation, not staying stuck, but moving into the unknown future where all we know is that God awaits us.
At any moment we can be open—or closed—to obedience.
We practice this triad when we come together, as we have today, to celebrate the Eucharist. Through our prayer together, we stand as royal persons in company with Christ our Sovereign. We do not simply obey his command to keep this feast, but we also keep his command not to be afraid, not to let fear run our lives.
We claim our partnership with God in making a future happen where grace can flower and blossom and bear fruit. We commit ourselves to building a cathedral in time, a future with God. We commit ourselves to welcoming Christ’s reign of justice, love, and peace.
At any moment we can be open or closed to this, yet it is always near.
Copyright 2010, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.