A Reading from the First Book of Kings (8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43)
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. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David. 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! Regard 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 toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes 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, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”
1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9 For one day in your courts is better than
a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (6:10-20)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:56-69)
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The story of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem is a high-point in the narrative of the Old Testament. It was the crowning achievement of Solomon’s rule, and the Temple would stand for almost four hundred years as a magnificent symbol of God’s favor toward Israel and God’s presence in Israel. The Temple was viewed, not only as the center of Jerusalem, but even as the very center of the entire world.
We have a lot of very talented people here at St. Mark’s, but I doubt that any of us here is going to provide the world with any accomplishment that comes even close to what Solomon gave to the world in building the Temple. But size and splendor and glory are not always the best indicators of what is most important and of what can have a powerful and lasting effect. Sometimes seemingly small things and apparently modest accomplishments can make the greatest difference.
Think, for example, of the experience of Jesus in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John. For five weeks, we have been hearing, Sunday by Sunday, small sections of that important narrative. The story began with Jesus multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of about 5000 people. Using that action as a starting point, he then went on to teach the crowds that he himself was the true living bread that had come down from heaven, and that it was by feeding on him that they would find the nourishment that leads to eternal life.
Today we come to the culmination of that long chapter, and we get to see the outcome of Jesus’ great sign and of his extensive teaching. Here he had gathered a crowd of 5000, had fed them from very limited resources; and, with that marvelous work to get their attention and to impress them, he had had a golden opportunity to bring them the message that he had received from God.
With all that as a background, we, as the hearers of the story, have been prepped to hear about a mass conversion of people, committed to Jesus, the wonder-worker and teacher, and prepared to follow him wherever he led. But, as the narrative reaches its end, we learn that all of Jesus’ careful preparation and work resulted in what we would have to consider to be a terrible failure. Most of those who had been fed, both by the bread and fish and then by his word, simple walked away. They just could not bring themselves to accept what he had said and to follow him along the way. And even those few who did decide to stay with him seemed unable to rally any real enthusiasm for him and for his message. When Jesus asked them whether they were going to leave along with all the others, the best Simon Peter could come up with was: “Well, I guess we don’t have any better option. Where else can we go? You are the one who has the words of eternal life.” It seems like a lukewarm endorsement at best.
If Jesus had accomplished anything in this series of related events, it was small in comparison with what he might have hoped for and with what we might have expected. And it was miniscule when compared with Solomon’s accomplishment in building the Temple. But Jesus did not seem to get discouraged by having only little victories and small beginnings.
In the stories told of Jesus in the gospels, he talks about the kingdom of God coming in small, even imperceptible ways: like a mustard seed, in the life of a little flock, in a tiny portion of seed that manages to find its way into good soil. And, by the time that Jesus completes his ministry, the great crowds that he fed and to whom he preached had shrunk dramatically to a small band of only moderately dedicated followers.
Yet, just as Jesus had started with just five, small loaves of bread and a couple of fish to feed the 5000, so he was willing and able to start with that small, unpromising group of disciples in his mission to transform the world.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once insisted: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That observation reflects Jesus’ own experience, and it offers a great deal of hope and encouragement to small groups of committed people, like the community that we call St. Mark’s Church.
As we bring this summer to a close and look toward the renewal of our life and ministry in our new program year which begins the fall, we are going to be looking at some exciting, very visible projects that our Vestry will invite us to join in together. But mostly, we will find ourselves engaged in making many small contributions to the mission of the church. Members of St. Mark’s will continue to serve meals to the hungry at the House of Bread, or resupply and restock shelves at St. Paul’s Food Pantry, or help a few children learn to read and do basic math at Kemp School, or visit and bring some light and joy into the lives of some of the low-income elderly residents at Canterbury Court, or engage in any of the other areas of service in which our members are involved in order to serve God’s people, week in and week out.
In general, these may seem like, and in fact are, small things. We touch lives, mostly one of two people at a time. But in the most effective parts of Jesus’ ministry, that is exactly what he did. We will be hearing about some of those life-giving encounters in our gospel readings this fall. It is our privilege, we who have been baptized into his death and resurrection, to share in that work.
Our response to God’s love given to us in Jesus is most probably never going to have the impact of Solomon’s building of the Temple. But unlike his work, which lasted only for about 400 years, our small services, done in Jesus’ name, are critically important parts of the building of God’s kingdom which lasts forever. Building that kingdom is the work that Jesus began; and, by God’s grace, it is now our work as well.