by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Narrative Lectionary Reading for Sunday, October 28, 2012:
1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:27-30, 41-43
King David wants to build a temple, but God doesn't want a temple, so David doesn't. Here we are, a generation later, and Solomon builds a temple.
We might ask ourselves why humans want to pour so many resources into a building. Psychologists would likely tell us that its our desire for permanence or maybe it's our desire for safety. Creativity theorists would tell us that humans have always had these kind of projects; what could be better than a building to design and decorate?
Solomon stops to consider where the nation of Israel has been and what the temple represents. What interests me most about his prayer is this passage from 1 Kings 8: "41 ‘Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, 43then 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, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built."
I find this idea of the foreigner interesting. Who is likely to be a foreigner to our churches and temples today? Someone from a distant land? Or the people who drive past the buildings every day?
I've been thinking of this NPR story which reports on the actual religious practices of U.S. residents, half of whom say they attend a religious service weekly. But when researchers look at what people actually do, they found that only 25% actually attend.
In our time, foreigners are likely to be our neighbors. We might ask ourselves what our buildings tell those foreigners as they zoom by. Perhaps that idea explains the magnificence of some religious buildings.
We might also ask ourselves what the activities that occur in the church building tell the foreigner. What values are we promoting through our activities?
We might also ask ourselves what happens should a foreigner actually attend one of our services. Would they feel welcome? Would they be able to follow the service? Will they feel the Divine presence in our midst?