Midweek Advent 3 – 1 Kings 6:1-13
If you read the entirety of chapter 6 in 1 Kings, you can see the full list of details and materials used to construct the temple. And to be sure, absolutely no expense was spared in its construction. During the reign of King David, enemies were defeated and riches were stored up; so that during the reign of King Solomon, with no wars to wage and only the riches of peace treaties and conquered territories to concern oneself with, there were no inhibitions in building the most magnificent of temples.
And build a magnificent temple they do in chapter 6.
You couldn’t do that today, could you?
Any congregation or group that tried to build such a structure would immediately endure the wrath of one and all. How dare the church spend its money on such a project; could that money not be better used for missions? How many could be fed, how many could be clothed, how many bibles and catechisms could be purchased, with these few and precious funds?
Those are certainly fair and valid points. After all, there are several places in the New Testament where Jesus encourages the faithful to care for the poor and the destitute; Jesus makes it very clear that the Church is to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and care for widows and orphans.
By contrast, Jesus rarely has good things to say about the current version of Solomon’s temple. In our Gospel text, He is driving out the money changers and sellers of animals for sacrifices. Elsewhere, while everyone else is admiring the massive buildings and structures, Jesus says that there will come a day when not one stone will be left upon another.
Yes, building a brand new church, with all the bells and whistles one may desire, would probably not go very far in most voter’s meetings. Solomon bore no such distractions; he had the command from God to do so, and he had the unlimited government funds and resources with which to work from; and in case you were wondering, Solomon did not pay a living wage to his slightly less than willing laborers.
And looking on from afar, there were no doubt many, who shook their heads and wrung their hands and declared the whole thing to be a waste of money.
After all, did not God say to David that he was just fine dwelling in the tent that had housed the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant since the days of the wilderness wandering? Had not the people done just fine with such an arrangement? And besides, wasn’t it already clear in the hearts and minds of the people that God would be with them wherever they went? Why build a temple?
Those are the same reasons today for not gathering in the Lord’s house to worship, are they not? You can worship God anywhere; you can worship Him in the fields, you can worship Him in bed; you can turn on the radio or television, or even cue up the internet, and watch and listen and participate in all the ways you could otherwise at the time and comfort that suits you.
And you would have good reason to do so; for God is indeed wherever you call upon Him, and He is indeed going to hear you whenever you go to Him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. And just like everything else, church buildings can become idols, and worship in them can most certainly be conducted in vain.
So tear down these churches! Give the money to the poor! Worship God in the comfort and convenience that you so desire!
But not so fast.
It is important to note Jesus words in our Gospel text: Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade. Jesus does not condemn the temple, only the improper actions taking place therein. St. Luke quotes Jesus saying: My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.
What is the temple for? What are churches today for? They are houses of prayer; they are places for people to gather and to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts of grace and mercy.
Nonsense you say; you can do that anywhere at any time.
Indeed you can; but here, in the house of the Lord, you can be sure of it. You can be sure that the Lord is present here with His word and with His gifts. You can be sure that the Lord will be here when you are here; that He hears when you speak; that He gives what He promises to give here.
God has not promised to be in your living room; He has not promised to be at the lake or on a mountain. God has not promised to be at a game, or in the car. But He has promised to be here.
Why does God tell Solomon to build the temple? Not because the tent was cramped and getting old; not even because God saw the temples the false gods got and wanted one of His own.
God commanded the temple to be built so that the people would know where to find Him; that this is where God had promised to be and this is where He was going to be. Tents move around; God was not moving anymore. God was here, in the midst of His people, and He was here to stay.
Could the plans have been scaled back a bit? Could the budget been a little tighter? Sure; but building a church has more to it than just four walls.
The temple is a confession of faith. All the glitz and glamor and expenses are to show off that this is God, the creator of heaven and earth, and He is here in our midst and we are His people.
What do our churches confess? They confess the faith that we believe, teach and confess. They confess that God is here, in our presence, and that this is where He comes to us in His Word and with His gifts.
This is where God has promised to be; and so this is where we are; in good times and bad; rain or shine; dread of cold or scorching heat; hearing the word and receiving the gifts in the place where He has promised to give them.