A REQUESTED MEETING
I Kings 8:22-30
8/26/07 University Presbyterian Church
A Sermon by Carol Gregg
It changed this week. It was quiet all summer, then filled with activity. I am referring to the Terrace Room, the main meeting space for the Presbyterian Campus Ministry, also known as “PCM.” If you were nearby you heard frequent squeals of delight as separated friends reunited and, if your line of sight permitted it, you saw innumerable hugs, even one four-person hug. (If you need a demonstration on that one, I will see if I can find some volunteers later.) PCM is a meeting place where all are welcome, a place where deep friendships are formed. Several students, both graduate and undergraduate, have said that their closest friends at UNC are ones they met through PCM.
Of course, there are a variety of meeting places. Tomorrow, public schools begins and I am sure there will be many warm embraces as students start the new year and exclamations of joy as syllabi are distributed. J This week, others will meet at a golf course to continue life-long friendships, some will visit neighbors, and others still will gather at the bedside of one they love. An article recently published in the News and Observer claimed that churches should look to a coffee shop, nicknamed “St. Arbucks,” as an example of a hospitable meeting place. 
One characteristic all these meetings have in common is that they are requested and dependent on the response of the participants. We invite university students to come, but cannot force them through the door. The state requires students to go to school, but not all comply. Golf partners and family members still have to show up. Even the smell of good coffee cannot lure everyone.
In First Kings, Solomon requests a meeting. The passage read earlier is Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple. The book of Kings begins with a power struggle as David nears the end of his life. His son, Solomon becomes king; four years into his reign, he begins building the temple, a project that took 7 years to complete. Once it is complete, he did what we continue to do with new buildings; he had a dedication ceremony with a crowd of leaders, priests, and elders, a variety of rituals, and a prayer. In his prayer, Solomon requests God’s presence in the temple. As he prays, he wonders aloud, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” (I Kings 8:27a)
“Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” The question sounds global, asking a major philosophical question that affects all of humanity. It is that, but I think at its heart the question is local. Solomon has overseen the building of a fabulous temple and he wonders if God will look with favor upon that particular building, in that particular time. The King wants to know if God will hear the individual prayers, which are offered from that place. Yes, he is asking a global question about God’s presence on earth, but he is also asking a local question about the Creator’s attention toward a particular people, time, and place.
Solomon’s question is obviously and ancient one. His reign began approximately 970 BCE. So at minimum the question is 3,000 years old, but the question is not only an old one, but also a current one. Don’t we each wonder if God interacts with us? Isn’t it hard to imagine that the Creator of the universe would notice that we are struggling, grieving or lonely? Isn’t it easy to think of God as an absentee landlord since our world is burdened with war, famine, and disease? Will God dwell on earth?
According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, undergraduates are increasingly asking these questions. The Institute’s current study on spirituality in higher education has engaged over 100,000 students nationwide in an effort to understand the spiritual search of college students. According to the executive summary,
“The study reveals that today’s college students have very high levels of spiritual interest and involvement. Many are actively engaged in a spiritual quest and in exploring the meaning and purpose of life. They are also very engaged and involved in religion, reporting considerable commitment to their religious beliefs and practices.” Three/fourths of students claim to be “searching for meaning and purpose in life,” 80% believe in God and attend services at least occasionally, and 50% say they are seeking, conflicted or doubting.
These results reveal that college students are actively engaging an ancient question, one that resonates with us all.
King Solomon articulates the question “Will God dwell on earth?” in the context of asking God to do just that. Solomon is praying, pleading, on his knees, asking God to meet the people in this new temple. As Solomon prays, he is also making a case as to why the divine answer should be “yes.” He is trying to build a convincing argument.
Solomon begins his case by speaking of God’s covenant and faithfulness. He identifies the temple itself as the fulfillment of the promise made to his father, David. God had promised to make David a house, which has the intentional double meaning both of a royal dynasty and of a physical temple. (I Sam7:11) So, given this promise, Solomon reasons that God should look favorably upon the temple.
The next point in his case is human need. Solomon seems to be striving to influence God’s actions by pointing out how much humans need God. As part of the prayer, he lists seven circumstances that would prompt the prayers of the people, circumstances that cover a wide range of human need: war, injustice, illness. He lists seven circumstances because in the ancient world the number seven represented completeness. So because of the totality of need, Solomon asks for God’s favor.
In his prayer, Solomon makes a case based on the physical building itself. Solomon’s temple was grand and glorious. It was a focal point for the people of
"As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world...
situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
and the foundation stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded."
While Solomon makes a case that God should dwell among the people, it appears he also recognizes that God’s answer should be “no.” Immediately after he asks if God will dwell on earth, he affirms, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (I Kings 8:27b) Despite the fact that he built a large ornate building, he is rightfully humble enough to know that it could not possibly contain God; just a no structure could ever contain God. In fact, he knows that nothing, not even the universe as a whole is big enough to do so.
Solomon reflects this same spirit in his prayer. He fully recognizes God’s transcendence, and knows God to be above and beyond all that we can see and touch. It is as if he has a deistic worldview, that is one in which the divine and human never interact. Deism can be contrasted with pantheism in which the divine and human are actually the same. That is the God is in nature and in us view.
Christianity is neither deism nor pantheism, as evidenced by God’s answer to Solomon. Solomon asks if God will dwell on the earth, strives to make a case that God should answer “Yes”, but even as he does so he knows that his case is weak. He knows that humans are rarely faithful to covenants they have made, so it is as if he cannot imagine that God would be faithful to the divine covenant. For that reason, when God gives answer at the conclusion of the prayer it is astounding. “The Lord said to Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me: I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (I Kings 9:3) God says “Yes. Eternally Yes.” Not “OK for now” or “Maybe” or “I’ll be there next Tuesday.” Instead a profound “Yes.” My eyes and heart will be there for all time.”
God’s “yes” is a divine choice, based on the nature of God not on the elegance or persuasiveness of Solomon’s prayer. It is a “yes” that shows that God who cannot be contained by the universe, let alone a temple, has nonetheless chosen to meet the Israelites in a particular time and particular place and a particular temple. This is a “yes” that demonstrates that God chooses to be immanent, close, present. This is a “yes” which leads to a theistic worldview, one in which divine and human are distinct, but divine chooses to intersect human plane to meet us where we are.
While this passage in Kings is wonderful, it is not the best that God gives. God’s most profound “yes” is in Jesus Christ. In time, Solomon’s temple was destroyed. Jesus said, ““Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”...He was speaking of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19, 21) Jesus describes his resurrected body as a temple. We speak of the body of Christ, Christ’s resurrected presence, as the communion of the faithful. So Jesus’ temple, the body of Christ, is still a meeting place. It is the meeting of believers and the intersection of the divine and human.
I hope that this coming year the Terrace Room and the
Be assured. God’s answer is “Yes.” Eternally Yes.
Thanks be to God.
 “What Churches can learn from
 The Spiritual Life of College Students, A National Study of College Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose, Executive Summary, Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, www.spirituality.ucla.edu