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
In the northeastern section of the Old City of Jerusalem, in what is known as the Muslim Quarter, stands the Crusader-era Church of St. Anne. It is a simple but elegant structure with wonderful acoustics. It stands next to the archaeological site of the biblical Pool of Bethesda.
This pool was originally located outside the city walls. It has been revered as a place of healing since at least the 8th century BCE. At first, it was associated with Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. It later held the same significance for the Jews with their belief in the healing power of YHWH; and they incorporated it into Jerusalem itself. When the city fell to the Romans in 135 CE, the Romans continued to revere the site, associating it with the Graeco-Egyptian god, Serapis. The Byzantine Christians, based on a story of Jesus’ healing sign as told in John chapter 5, converted it into a church. That structure stood until the Crusaders took the city and built St. Anne’s in 1138.
It did not matter who controlled the site or what god or gods they worshipped. People, generation after generation, century after century, religion after religion, revered Bethesda as a holy site, as a place where healings took place by divine power.
Just a few hundred feet away from that ancient Pool of Bethesda, atop a hill that the Muslims call “The Noble Enclosure” and the Jews “The Temple Mount,” stands the magnificent Dome of the Rock: one of the most sacred places in Islam. Before its construction, a Christian church occupied the site. Before that, there was the so-called Second Temple, built under orders from King Herod. And before that, it was the location of Solomon’s Temple, about whose dedication prayer we heard in today’s first reading. Long before its construction nearly 3000 years ago, that identical spot may well have served as a sacred place for countless generations of humans, each longing to connect with the divine.
Throughout human history, people have identified certain locations as sacred sites: places where they have experienced an especially direct contact with God or the gods. That awareness transcends cultural and religious boundaries.
Even today, there are places which are considered to be sacred places; not all of them are dedicated worship spaces. Many years ago, when our older son, Matt, and I began another parish’s ministry serving dinner to homeless men at the St. Vincent Hotel, there was a clear set of unwritten rules among the guests on what types of behavior were and were not acceptable there. When one of them would start acting up, the other men would step in immediately and inform him in no uncertain terms: “You don’t go messin’ with people here. This is God’s place.”
We, too, treat certain sites as sacred and, in general, follow unwritten rules about the way we look, about what we say, and about how we act in those sacred spaces. Many people see themselves and those with whom they come together in these spaces as being blessed by their gathering in them. They are made holy by the place.
But maybe the converse is true as well. Maybe the place is made holy by the very fact that people of faith, people seeking to enter into the closer presence of God, gather there. Put into our context, we could say that this place of worship is made holy by the fact that we are here, that we gather here in Jesus’ name to enter consciously into God’s presence and be renewed by Word and Sacrament.
Both our place of worship and we ourselves are made holy by God; but “made holy” for what? The story about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple might give us a clue.
In Solomon’s prayer, he asks God to hear his prayer and the prayer “of your people Israel.” But his petition doesn’t stop there. He asks also: “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel…, comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you.” This place of worship exists and we ourselves exist not just for our sake, but so that the prayers of others, who are not members of the church, may be answered. And that is holy work.
What are those prayers? Aren’t they the same things that all of us want, the same things for which we pray: sufficient food for ourselves and for our families, a decent place to live, a life free from abuse and neglect, a good education for our children, an old age living in security and with respect? These are the needs for which the people of our community pray. And it is through us and through our ministries that God answers their prayers. God tells those so-called “foreigners,” those people in our community who are not members of this church, and who may or may not be members of any church, “Yes. I have heard your prayers. And yes, I will answer them. I will answer them in the lives and work and generosity of those who are called by my name, in the members of St. Mark’s Church and of all the other churches that comprise the one great church.”
It is for this reason that God has called us; it is for this reason that God has given us the gift of the Spirit; it is for this reason that God continues to strengthen us by God’s word and by the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood: that through us God might hear and answer the prayers of all those who pray, whether they are members of the church or not.
Like the temple built by Solomon, God has made this house of worship a holy place. And like the people of Israel, God has made us a holy people, so that through us, all the people of our community might come to know the God of all, and that, through us, God might answer their deepest prayers.