Now, in our lifetime, scientists are finding ever newer evidence for what some religious people called presence in the very organizing energy of the universe—from fractals, to holograms, to electro-magnetism, to force fields, to gravitation itself—all of which invite us into a certain degree of mystery and non-explainability—and also participation!I am quoting David Benner, who continues in his book, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life:
The great scientists are revealed in their contentment to live provisionally with a certain degree of mystery! I wish we as Christians [i]were as patient. We seem to like certainty and answers—now. In our too literal attempts to explain and control presence, we often explain it away, and most people just lose interest in the deeper journey because they are told, in effect, that there is no “deeper” to be had!
Meanwhile, the scientists still search for the pattern behind the patterns, the seeming vibrational fields that hold all things together. We from the religious world often call these vibrational fields the divine presence or perhaps the Holy Spirit. As usual, religion intuits and gives metaphor to what science is now confirming and illustrating on ever new verifiable levels. Remember, truth is one (Ephesians 4:4–5) and will necessarily and in time be seen from different angles and at different levels—with ever more appreciation. How blessed we are to live in our time![ii]
Solomon’s prayer dedicating the Temple is full of treasure. The glistening gold nugget of seeking God’s presence is obvious. The ancient world had an appreciation for the presence of the divine. Astronomy today can verify why geometry was a study of the sacred before it was secularised.
I had the privilege of living in San Diego, California for nearly 2 years. One of my favourite things to do was to visit Balboa Park. Balboa Park is like the Auckland Domain – but on steroids! Just like Auckland has its War Memorial, Museum and Winter Gardens, so Balboa has 17 museums, 19 gardens and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. That doesn’t include its dog parks and playgrounds, walking trails and eateries. Its sites are majestic!
I visited the park weekly and took in a different museum each time. One of my favourites museums to visit was the San Diego Natural History Museum, fondly referred to as theNat. It explores the real world, past and present. I purchased a book from its gift shop that I have read several times. It is titled: Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmoslogy. I want to share a couple images from the book that illustrate sacred geometry. They are hints of God’s presence.
Other than the Sun and Moon, the brightest point in the sky is Venus. We call it the morning and evening star. She is our closest neigbhour, kissing us every 584 days as she passes between us and the Sun. Each time one of these kisses occurs, the Sun, Venus and the Earth line up in such a way that after 8 years – exactly – a pentagram of conjunctions is drawn in the heavens of the harmonious whirling of Venus around the Sun. They draw an astonishingly beautiful pattern!
As Venus and Earth dance from their closest and furthest distance from each other, they create a pentagram we associate as the figure of a star.
These are some of the things they don’t teach you at school. With the Sun in the centre, let us look at the orbits of Venus and the Earth. Every couple of days a line is drawn between the planets. Because Venus orbits faster she completes a whole circuit in the same time that the Earth completes just over a half-circuit. If we keep watching for exactly 8 years, the sun-centered version, a beautiful five-petaled flower appears.
There are so many patterns in the heavens. Mercury and Earth; Jupiter and its asteroids; Jupiter and Saturn: they all illustrate God’s presence in the universe.
However, there is gem I wish to unearth that is often overlooked when we read Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple. I intentionally isolated the section within the lectionary passage. That was the Bible reading you just heard read. It is a garnet of inclusiveness.
Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land … and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.
The role of the foreigner is the surprise gem of 1 Kings 8. Foreigners were often associated as problematic for God’s people. But Ruth’s placement in Israel’s story is now fully justified. Solomon is a descendant of a foreigner as Ruth was a Moabitess. Now it is clear that God desires relationship with us all and encourages us to relate to those around us.
God is God of us all.
There are no limitations. In Christ, we are neither Samoan or Pelangi. In Christ, we are neither Maori or Pakeha. In Christ, we are neither male or female. In Christ, we are the image of God. Solomon is tapping into that very fact – that the story of creation in Genesis 1 tells us God created humankind in his image. We don’t read about the creation of Jews and Gentiles. In the beginning, God created humankind as neither Black nor white but all as God’s children.[iii]
1 Kings 8 teaches Christians that the presence of the Lord has no political borders. Neither should our love. Obviously, the land of Israel had political borders throughout the reign of Solomon. Yet these borders did not prevent Solomon from affirming the presence of God in the midst of non-Israelites. The prayer emphasizes the kindred spirit of those who “Come from distant lands because of your name” (1 Kings 8:41). By entreating God to hear their prayers, Solomon effectively makes them a part of the worshipping community as he asks God to show them hospitality and kindness.[iv]
We are currently under the 4th government lockdown due to Covid-19. The longer we remain in isolation, the more we begin to feel like a foreigner. May those feelings help you to understand the loneliness of such position. May Angelou, that famous activist, describes those feelings in her poem titled, Alone.
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
At St Johns, we offer a safe space for everyone, no matter where they are at on their journey. We do this because we understand that God is God of us all. Please stay in touch with each other. Please spread Christ’s love to those you know even those they do not attend St Johns (or St Pauls). They are still a part of God’s creation. They are still loved by Christ. Jesus died, was buried, and rose again from the dead for them as well.[v]
Prayer of Application
|although we once were strangers,
you receive us as friends and draw us home to you.
Set your living bread before us that,
feasting around your table,
we may be strengthened to continue the work
to which your Son commissioned us. [vi]
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Sermon delivered during online worship service conducted 22 August 2021 linked here.
[i] Original quote reads “we clergy”
[ii] David G. Benner, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life, Brazos Press, 2014.
[iii] Garrett Galvin, Working Preacher, 23 August 2015, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-21-2/commentary-on-1-kings-81-6-10-11-22-30-41-43-4
[iv] Roger S. Nam, Odyssey Networks, August 17, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20151024013808/http://www.odysseynetworks.org:80/on-scripture-the-bible/immigration-love-without-borders-1-kings-8/
[v] Maya Angelou https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay For Maya Angelou’s life and writings see http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/87.
[vi] https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//prayers.php?id=216 (Scripture, Series 1)