Note: After I preached this sermon, I noticed that this was probably the furthest departure from what I wrote to what was actually preached during the services. For those of you who reference my sermon blog posts, you might find a bit of a disconnect. Things didn't sound quite right during the 8am service--and I was deeply affected by the story of Lucy and the "Backpack" food program in local schools--so I hit a better stride during the later services. I hope the message of God's grace comes through celebrating the stories of God's action in our lives.
1 Kings 8
This story from 1 Kings 8: 1-8 is the beginning of the story of the dedication of the Temple. This passage has specifically chosen because it mentions the Ark of the Covenant carrying the Law and promises of God as Israel moves from slavery to freedom. As Fretheim and Walter Brueggemann share, the Ark and the Temple reveal an interesting and complex contrast about the presence of God. In the Temple, the Ark will rest in the Holy of Holies, a place where God is enthroned--a final resting place for God and the place to which all followers of Yahweh direct their prayers. Yet, the Ark is a symbol of the transient and portable nature of God.
The dedication takes place in the midst of a huge celebration--postponed 11 months after the completion of the temple, because of the desire to celebrate during the most grand celebration of the year. Famous people from all over the region are invited, and there is lots of feasting and celebration.
I think it's interesting that the dedication of the Temple is postponed so that the best possible celebration can be had for the Temple. This celebration speaks to the power of God, the transience and mystery of God, but that also this power of God is lived through God's people in the midst of a huge celebration. Celebrations are not frivolous, they are an important part of what it means to be human. Celebrations are an opportunity to give witness to the goodness and generosity of God. It gives us an opportunity to give thanks to God and for one another.
Sometimes in the midst of a congregational transition, the celebrations are not as grand, or even skipped. This sometimes happens in our personal lives if we lose a loved one or we move to a new place. Christmas or Thanksgiving become muted when the loved one is not there. People suffer from raw grief or even "survivor guilt. In congregations experiencing a transition, sometimes people don't know how to celebrate because the beloved former pastor has left--or they are so focused on the goals of the future that they forget to celebrate, or they are so desperate to get the new pastor involved they forget to celebrate.
We don't necessarily celebrate the presence or departure of the pastor, but we celebrate the goodness of God.
For the time of the transition between slavery and freedom for Israel, the Ark served as a deep part of the worship life. It served as a reminder of the presence of God. The Ark was paraded as part of worship processionals and/or recessionals. In the Ark contained the promises of God, the order of their lives, and an object lesson for the power, presence and deliverance of God.
These stories of presence, deliverance and promises carry great power.
This week during The Buzz--I shared part of my own faith story. One part in particular regarding being a drop off Sunday School kid and how drop off Sunday School kids can frustrate congregational life. Someone in this congregation encountered drop off Sunday school kids and said her perspective was affected by my story of how God was active in my life.
My wife, Melanie, came to Church Council this summer and the first thing she shared was about the personal faith stories that are part of Council meetings each month--an testimony to the living God.
A testimony also occurred during the Animal Fair and Blessing this week when at least 50 people came to witness to God's activity in their lives through their pets.
Give people numerous opportunities to witness to the activity of God in their lives, and you will gain clarity on what it means to be a community of faith as FLCC moves forward in its transition--as well as in the path of your life.