Holy places are important places

Over the last several weeks we have been learning about the early history of Israel when they were ruled by kings. We have heard about their first two kings Saul and then David and now we move to their third king Solomon. Solomon will end up being the last king to rule over a united Israel and Judah.

Many of us were taught about how Solomon prayed for wisdom when he became king and God blessed him with great wisdom. Most of us were taught a sanitized image of Solomon.

But just like we have learned in reading the stories connected to Saul and to David, this picture perfect image of Solomon is not accurate. Today we are going to be reading about Solomon building the mighty Jerusalem Temple.

King David was the one who wanted to build the Temple. However, David was instructed by God that he would not be the builder. That the temple would be built after David’s reign as king. The burden of building the temple ended up with David’s son Solomon.

The temple that Solomon set out to build was huge. It was a huge infrastructure project. And to build something that large, you need supplies and you need labor. You need a foundation so the Temple will be built using huge, massive stones. 80,000 men will be used to cut the stones.

On top of the stones will be wood. Solomon will contract with the king in Lebanon for cedar and cypress. The wood will be shipped to Israel from Lebanon via the water. The two kings will prosper financially from this insider deal.

And, of course, the other important commodity needed to build the temple is labor. Solomon will use slave labor to build the temple. Scripture tells us that there will be 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stone cutters. The laborers will work in both Lebanon and in Israel.

In addition to the stone and wood, Solomon desired an ornate temple. So there will be gold added as well as custom built bronze statues and intricate carvings. Solomon’s Temple will be big and it will be ornate.

Let us listen to this reading from 1 Kings 6:1-14 which describes some of the details of the temple.

Read I Kings 6:1-14

Where is your holy place? Where is that special place where you feel something different?

For some of us, the sanctuary over here is our holy place. And we are blessed with such a rich sanctuary here at Allison Creek. The generations of people who have worshiped here have maintained its beauty and historical significance.

People who repaired the roof torn off by a tornado and who have made improvements over 160 years while maintaining its historical charm. For many of us this sanctuary is a holy place.

Others of you may have a different sanctuary that is your holy place. Maybe it is the sanctuary of the church where you grew up or maybe one where you visited important family members. Sanctuaries can be our holy place.

We also recognize that church sanctuaries are not the only places that people call holy. Many of us love the phrase “the mountains are calling and I must go.” My wife Kathryn has that phrase on a Montreat shirt that she likes to wear. Many of us love to escape to the mountains which you describe as your holy place.

Others of us may find ourselves on a lonely beach somewhere and call it our holy place. We are blessed here in the Carolinas with beaches where you can catch a sunrise or maybe a sunset with only a scattering of people nearby. You describe it as your holy place.

There may be someplace else that is your holy place. So what makes for a holy place? Why is that place holy?

For most of us, we would say that our holy place takes us into a dimension outside of ourselves. A place where we connect to God. Even someone who calls themselves an atheist has a place where you feel a connection to something outside of yourself. A holy place.

Today’s text focuses on the building of a holy place. The Jerusalem Temple. A gigantic and very ornate structure. As I read the facts around the building of this structure, I find myself, however, feeling uncomfortable with so much of the story.

The extravagance of it all. The slave labor that was used to build it. The insider deals made between Solomon and the king of Lebanon that was financially profitable to them while the workers received little to nothing.

And then I compare this to my experience of actually visiting the Wailing Wall several years ago. The Wailing Wall is that part of the original Temple foundation that is a place where spiritual pilgrims place their prayers on paper that is stuffed into the cracks between the stone. The Wailing Wall is a holy place to many today.

After the Temple is finished being built, Solomon offers a prayer of dedication. In this prayer, Solomon invites the people to look toward the Temple. Interestingly, they are not in the Temple offering prayers. They are outside the Temple offering prayers toward the Temple.

And Solomon invites them in the prayer to pray for reconciliation with your neighbors. To pray to God when the nation suffers drought or other calamities. To pray to God when there is famine. And to create space for the foreigner to come and offer prayers to God as well so that the outsider experiences the holy place.

Solomon leads the people to pray to God by looking toward their holy place. I would see this as our invitation as well. When we think about our holy places, we may find ourselves feeling blocked from being in our holy places right now.

If your holy place is that sanctuary, then Covid is preventing us from having worship inside that holy place. If your holy place is in the mountains or at the beach, the current pandemic or maybe other restrictions may be preventing you from getting to that important holy place.

I read this week about Arzoo, a 7 year old child in Charlotte who has been asking her parents when they can go back to visit her grandparents in that special place where they live with the beautiful mountains and drink the unique tea. That special place where Arzoo was born and wishes to return for a visit is Afghanistan.

So many of us may feel frustrated or out of place right now because we feel separated from our holy places. But maybe we can follow the guidance from Solomon and learn how to pray to God by looking toward our holy places.

So if your holy place is worship with your friends in the sanctuary here at Allison Creek, maybe you gather by yourself or maybe with some of your closest friends and pray to God by looking at the sanctuary.

If your holy place is a specific beach or the mountains or maybe it is your homeland very far away, you can pray to God while looking at special pictures or maybe special objects that bring up important memories to you.

Holy places are important places. And they are places where we encounter something special. But we are invited to remember that God is not trapped in our holy places.

That God is bigger than our holy places. But that in recalling or looking into our holy places we can see beyond them to the God that we are yearning to see.

Today we celebrate our holy places. But, more importantly, we celebrate that God exists beyond our holy places.

We can look toward our holy places to discover the God who is still there but who is also still here. AMEN.

-Graff, Michael, https://charlotte.axios.com/269245/the-many-ways-the-fall-of-afghanistan-hits-home-in-charlotte/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axioslocal_charlotte&stream=top
-Given: August 22, 2021 in Allison Creek Presbyterian (York, SC)