Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2019)

1 KINGS 8:22-23,41-43


In the name + of Jesus.

     Under King Solomon, the nation of Israel built a temple for the worship of the Lord.  It was one of the most ornate and expensive buildings ever constructed, with panels of cedar, the interior overlaid with gold, and intricate designs cast into it.  Solomon offered the prayer of dedication.  The temple was dedicated to the Lord.  It was the place where the Lord put his name and would dwell among his people.  It was a place where only the priests of Israel could enter.  It was a place where only the people of Israel could offer their sacrifices.  It was Israel's temple for Israel's God.
     The Lord had chosen the nation of Israel to be his own.  This was not an act of favoritism—as if the Lord was disinterested in the rest of the world.  Israel was God's chosen people.  And chosen for what?  God chose them to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  Therefore, the Lord had made a covenant with Israel to set them apart.  It was designed to preserve them as a nation of God-fearing people through whom the Savior would be born.  It is an undeniable truth, and even Jesus says it: “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22); but that has never meant that salvation is exclusively for the Jews.
     When Solomon offered his prayer of dedication for the Lord's temple, he recognized that the Lord would gather in people from outside the nation of Israel.  Solomon's prayer was not that God would treat them with less interest or mercy.  Solomon recognized God's will is that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)  Therefore, Solomon prayed, “When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you...” (1 Kings 8:41-43)  The Lord's covenant is extended to all people.
     I don't know how shocking this petition was to the Israelites who heard Solomon's prayer.  It was easy for Israel to think that this temple was exclusively theirs, and that even God's mercy and salvation were exclusively theirs.  They had a hard time believing God was serious about this: The Lord's covenant is extended to all people.
     It is also very easy for us to think that the kingdom of God is exclusively ours.  It is especially true if you have grown up in the Christian church and have known nothing else.  You might feel that you are in God's kingdom because you have proven yourself.  You have put in the time, the money, the effort, and the prayers.  Therefore, you conclude, God made a good choice when he chose you—as if you were an investment that God made which paid off.  But this is wholly untrue.
     Your place in this world and particularly in God's kingdom is purely an act of God's grace.  Where you born in a Christian home?  Thank God for it!  For, God did not owe you life, much less a life in a Christian home where your parents brought you to church and taught you the promises of God.  You cannot say you proved yourself because these things happened to you.  Rather, these prove God's goodness to you.  While you have benefited from God's grace, God's good and gracious will remains constant: God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)  You are among those who are saved and have the knowledge of the truth.  But understand this, too: The Lord desires this to be extended to all people.
     King Solomon recognized that in his prayer.  He understood that people would “hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm.” (1 Kings 8:42)  Whenever the Scriptures speak about the Lord's mighty hand and outstretched arm, the image is not merely that God is powerful.  The image is that we have a God who saves.  God's mighty hand and outstretched arm in the Old Testament were most visible when God delivered his people out of Egypt.  God's people were oppressed and enslaved by the most powerful nation on earth.  But God rescued the Israelites from their enemies.  While Israel feasted with their Passover meal, the Egyptians were mourning the death of their firstborn.  While the Egyptians were burying their dead, the nation of Israel—men, women, children, flocks, and herds—walked out of Egypt unhindered.  When the Egyptian army chased down the Israelites and pinned them down at the shore of the Red Sea, the Lord drove back the waters.  The Israelites walked on dry ground to the opposite shore.  When the Egyptian army pursued them, the Lord returned the waters of the Red Sea and wiped the army out.  Israel had won a great victory in which they had done nothing.  The Lord won the victory with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and God's people benefited from God's work.
     God's arm has been revealed even more powerfully in conquering your enemies for you.  Jesus has come—the Savior of the Nations; for, God so loves the world.  And Jesus has taken on your enemies.  Jesus battled sin, death, and the devil for you.  Jesus carried your sins to the cross and with an outstretched arm has paid for them all.  Jesus went into death for you, but has risen from the grave with a mighty hand.  Jesus has overcome and released you from all your enemies.  Sin no longer condemns you; you are forgiven.  Death cannot keep you; Jesus has destroyed the power of death.  The devil cannot claim you; for God has put his name on you.  The devil cannot even accuse you; for Jesus has made you blameless in the sight of the heavenly Father.  You are now the chosen people of God.  Chosen for what?  You are chosen to be set apart from a cursed and corrupt world, set apart to honor God with godly lives, and set apart to receive God's salvation.  God has made known to us  “(his) great name and (his) mighty hand, and (his) outstretched arm.” (1 Kings 8:42)  He did not limit his salvation to a few; he won salvation for all.  The Lord's covenant is extended to all people.
     This salvation is found nowhere else.  That is why Solomon acknowledged: “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” (1 Kings 8:22-23)  There is no other forgiveness, no other way to eternal life, and no other Savior; for, there is no other God.  He has shown you his mercy so that you delight in his word.  He comforts you by his promises, and he conforms you so that you are eager to live according to his will.
     The Lord's covenant is extended to all people.  We are among the foreigners whom Solomon prayed for.  And there are many more who need this salvation.  God desires them to have it, and so do we.  Like Solomon, we do well to pray that this house which bears our God's name would be a beacon to which many more will come to pray to God and to receive good things from him.  They will only receive it, however, if God's name, God's mighty hand, and God's outstretched arm are made known to those around us. 
     The Lord's covenant is to be extended to all people.  This house bears God's name because God comes to us here through the good news which reveals his mercy, through the sacraments which bestow his blessings, and through the praises of his people who rejoice in his salvation.  You bear God's name because you are his chosen people.  And you and I get to declare the goodness of God whose mighty hand and outstretched arm have worked a great salvation for all.  Through our proclamation and praises, the Holy Spirit extends his kingdom to others. 
     The Lord's covenant has been extended to include us.  Let us commit ourselves to the labor of extending it to others.  For, God so loves the world.  Jesus is the Savior of the Nations.  Our Lord desires his salvation to be delivered to all people.  As this was the prayer of Solomon, as this was the mission of the temple, as this is the will of God, let it be our prayer, our mission, and our will, too. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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