Old Testament: 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.”
The Response: Psalm 84
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!
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
This week as we approach Labor Day weekend, people in our society bring their summers to a close. Today, our Lectionary seems to be in-synch with that transition as we bring three series of readings to a close. Ever since June, our first reading has been taken from the books of Samuel and Kings. Since mid-July, our second readings have been from Ephesians. And for a total of five weeks, our gospels have come from John chapter six. After today, all of that will change. But, to use T.S. Eliot’s words (“The Hollow Men”), they all end “not with a bang, but a whimper.”
In our first reading, Solomon dedicates his magnificent temple, but acknowledges at the same time (1 Kings 8:27): “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!” Even this legendary, architectural wonder had major limitations.
Ephesians, which has been proclaiming and celebrating the glories of the risen life that we already share in Christ, ends by warning about a continuing struggle against the evils in the world. Again, its conclusion is a bit of a let-down.
And John’s “Bread of Life” discourse concludes, not with a scene of triumph and mass conversions, but with many, apparently most, of Jesus followers walking away from him. At the end of that disheartening scene, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks whether they are going to go away, too. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His words have always struck me as a response that says, “Well, we wish we had a better option, but I guess we’re stuck with you.” It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
If Jesus had accomplished anything in the events of this chapter, it was modest in comparison with what John’s readers might have expected. He began by feeding 5000 people with bread and fish and proclaimed his message to that vast audience. Yet, at the end, it seems that only a relative handful of them remained; and even their response was lukewarm at best.
Yet Jesus did not seem to be discouraged by his small successes. According to John’s account, he hardly missed a beat. The story and his mission boldly marched on from there. Jesus willingly accepted relatively minor accomplishments and modest victories, and he proceeded to build on them.
That attitude seems completely in keeping with his teachings in the gospels. He spoke about the kingdom of God coming in small, almost imperceptible ways, like a mustard seed. He described his followers, not as a vast movement but as a little flock. He painted a portrait of a farmer scattering seed, pointing out that, even though most of it would never bear fruit, at least a little would find its way into good soil. Over and over again, Jesus focused on the importance of seemingly small accomplishments in the great work of building up the kingdom of God.
That is something that we sometimes tend to forget. Our natural tendency is to focus on the attention-getting, big, even monumental events in our world. But for the most part, the small initiatives, the often unnoticed acts of kindness and self-sacrifice are the ones that make the greatest difference in the lives of people.
We at St. Mark’s obviously don’t have the capacity for solving the problem of hunger in our community, but we can and do make a significant difference in the lives of the families and individuals who come to the Food Pantry at St. Paul United Methodist Church through our gifts of food and money and through our hands-on service there. We cannot solve all the problems and issues faced by the low-income elderly in our community, or even those of the residents of Canterbury Court; but we can and do touch their lives in healing and life-giving ways by serving lunches, by providing amenities to improve their lives, by caring for their gardens, by helping to host special events, by joining with them in some of their activities, and simply by being there with them, providing them with a caring presence and with a sense of dignity and respect. We cannot address all the needs of organizations in our area that provide vitally important services for some of our struggling neighbors; but we can and do work countless hours on events like our Yard Sale, so that, each year, we might have several thousand dollars to give away in order to support their efforts.
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 assertion reflects, not only what Jesus taught, but the very principle by which Jesus himself carried out his ministry. And that, in itself, strongly suggests that it is a good principle for St. Mark’s Church to hold to as we continue to carry out our ministry to God’s people.
The work that we do might seem at times to have modest results. Seen within the context of the seemingly endless needs of the people in our community and our world, they might seem small. We aren’t changing the whole world or even our local community in a dramatic way. But, with God’s help, we are touching and changing lives, maybe one or two people at a time. And, as we do, it is imperative that we remember that, in the most effective parts of Jesus’ ministry, that is exactly what he did. This fall, we will be hearing in our gospels about more of those life-giving encounters. It is our privilege, we who have been baptized into his death and resurrection, to share in that ongoing 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 400 years, our small services, done in Jesus’ name, are critically important parts of building the kingdom of God which lasts forever. Building that kingdom is the work that Jesus began; and, by God’s grace, it is now our work as well.