A Dwelling Place

August 22, 2021

Series: August 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Today's Scripture: Selections from 1 Kings 8 and Psalm 84

Today's Sermon


"A Dwelling Place"


Selections from 1 Kings 8
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Have regard to your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day towards this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays towards this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling-place; heed and forgive."

Psalm 84:1-2, 10-12

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; God bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Many scholars think this Psalm was written by a pilgrim … someone who had traveled likely quite a distance to come to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple.  To experience the presence of God at the temple.  We can hear in these words the Psalmist’s delight at encountering God there, in the courts of the temple.  Just one day there is better than a thousand elsewhere. Just one day in God’s dwelling place.

It may seem strange for someone to get so excited about a temple, but in those days, the temple was a big deal.  Karen read for us parts of the temple dedication ceremony after it had finally been completed under King Solomon.  This was no ordinary structure.  Earlier in the scriptures, in fact, God gave King David (Solomon’s father) very specific instructions for how the temple should be built.  Using only the finest of materials and the most skilled of laborers, this temple was a masterpiece.  Not just a human masterpiece, but a masterpiece built to God’s specifications.  This was a special place.

So, the temple is built, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant, that very important and sacred symbol of God’s presence among the people, and put it in the inner sanctuary of the temple – often called the Holy of Holies.  When the priests come out of that holy place, a cloud fills the space. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, especially in the book of Exodus, this cloud is a sign of the presence of God. God is certainly present in this very sacred temple.

Later, though, during his prayer of dedication, Solomon is very careful to distinguish between the fact that the temple is a place where someone might experience the presence of God, but it is not a place where God permanently dwells.  Solomon knows that God is much bigger than a temple – even a temple as magnificent as the one he has built.  Solomon prays, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” 

So even though the Psalmist pilgrim arrives at the temple and sings, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts,” we are aware that the temple is certainly not the only place where God dwells.  It makes me wonder, where do you find God’s dwelling place to be?  Where are those places that you encounter the presence of God? Where are the “thin places” for you, to use a Celtic term?  Those places where heaven and earth are just a little closer together?

During the first year of this pandemic time, I was surprised by how much I missed this space – our sanctuary.  I heard that same sentiment from several of you.  To not be able to worship in this special place – this dwelling place of God – was a big loss.  For a while, we on the church staff were recording the weekly worship videos from our homes, but then we started coming into the sanctuary to record our individual worship pieces.  We heard so much positive feedback from all of you about how meaningful it was for you to be able to at least see the sanctuary on video, even if we could not yet be back here in person.

I’m curious, when this sanctuary was not available to us, did other places become more important to you as dwelling places for God?  Did you notice God’s presence somewhere special when you could not worship in the sanctuary?  (responses from the congregation …)

I noticed, that my definition of “place” was expansive during this time.  I encountered God’s presence whenever we were able to gather together as a church community.  It didn’t matter where we were, just that we were together.  I think about a family gathering we had at a church member’s house. Several gatherings in our parking lot outside.  Even with the traffic whizzing past, God’s presence was with us.  Confirmation classes in the playground and Frost Garden area.  The place was unimportant – the people and the community were what was important.

Quaker theologian Thomas Kelly offers a reflection on God’s dwelling place, not in terms of location or people, but in terms of time.  Kelly encourages us not to worry about our past failings and to not have anxiety about what the future may bring but instead to stand in this “holy Now – joyous, serene, assured, unafraid.”  And we can do that, says Kelly, because “within the Now is the dwelling place of God.” Yes, God was with us in the past. Yes, God will be with us in the future. But Now, in this moment, is where God dwells.  “In the Now we are home at last,” says Kelly.  “The fretful winds of time are stilled.”[i]

This practice – noticing, finding, giving thanks for God in the Now - has been incredibly important to me over the last year and a half.  I have shared with many of you that I am a planner.  I like a schedule and a routine.  I like to know what is coming.  It seems like none of that was possible with the pandemic, especially in the early months.  We just didn’t know what would happen.  In many ways, we still don’t know what the next many months will bring. 

I would like to tell you that all that uncertainty was no problem for me, because I knew God was dwelling with me in the Now, and I didn’t need to worry about the future.  I would like to tell you that I just danced with the Spirit wherever it wanted to take me.  I would like to tell you that, but that would be a lie.  In fact, I struggled mightily with the change of routine and the inability to make any long-term plans.  But, on my good days, I was able to take a few deep breaths, remind myself of God’s presence with me in the Now, and be grateful … be grateful because, truly, one day with God is better than a thousand elsewhere.  This is a practice that I hope to continue, even as my life gets more blessedly predictable.

I hope we all know deep in our souls that God is in fact present in all places, with all people, in all times. Such is the wonder and transcendence of our uncontainable, indescribable God.  Thanks be to God for that.  And, as both of our scripture passages this morning express, there are specific places, people, and times that are special dwelling places of God for each one of us. May we be aware of God’s presence with us always, and may we find those dwelling places that are most meaningful to us, where we can encounter the divine in a new way, where we can join with the Psalmist as our heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.  Amen.

[i]Thomas Kelly, “A Testament of Devotion.”