Engaging the Word: Readings for 8/23/15 (13th Sunday after Pentecost)

By Barbara Klugh

 1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:55-69. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Solomon dedicates the temple, Paul counsels us to put on the whole armor of God, and many of Jesus’ disciples desert him.

King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant by B.N. Le Sueur, 1747. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant by B.N. Le Sueur, 1747. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43: In last week’s reading Solomon came to the throne after the death of King David, and prayed for wisdom to govern God’s people rightly.  Now we move forward  many years—Solomon has fulfilled David’s dream of building a temple for God.

In this week’s reading we have the story of the dedication of the temple.  In a grand procession, the ark is moved to the temple and into the inner sanctuary. When the ark is in place, God’s glory and presence is confirmed by the cloud that fills the Lord’s house. This brings to mind the cloud that went before the Israelites when they came out of Egypt.

Solomon stands before the assembly with his hands raised in prayer and gives praise for God’s steadfast love to Israel. He recalls the promises made to David, but also reminds his listeners that David’s successors will remain on the throne only as long as the people remember to follow God’s ways.

Solomon understands that God cannot be contained in a building:  “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you.” He asks God to look down and be attentive to the prayers of the people in this place, and also to the prayers of foreigners who come to Jerusalem because they have heard of the great name of the Lord,  “so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.”

At that time the Israelites turned towards the temple with assurance that God would hear their prayers. As Christians, we look to the cross of Christ.

Psalm 84: Our psalm, one of my favorites, is known as “The Pilgrim’s Way,” and overflows with the joyful anticipation of worshiping God in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple is a place of safety, where even the birds find a home.

Brahms included Psalm 84 as the fourth movement of his Requiem. Here is a video of the Westminster Abbey Choirs singing “How Lovely are Thy Dwellings Fair” at the Queen Mother’s funeral.

Christian with the Shield of Faith by William Blake (1757-1827). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Christian with the Shield of Faith by William Blake (1757-1827). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ephesians 6:10-20: This week we close out our readings from Ephesians with a well-known passage. Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges facing Christians. We need to “Put on the whole armor of God” in order to withstand the powerful spiritual forces “of this present darkness.” Using militaristic terms, Paul tells us how to equip ourselves to be ready for battle with the demonic forces of evil:

  • The belt of truth
  • The breastplate of righteousness
  • Shoes to make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace
  • The shield of faith to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one
  • The helmet of salvation
  • The sword of the spirit, which is the word of God

We must keep alert and “pray in the Spirit at all times.”   Paul asks for prayers for all God’s people, and also for himself, that his message may “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.”

John 6:55-69: This week’s reading concludes the Bread of Life discourse which Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus has been pushing the crowd and his disciples to go deeper spiritually. He 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.”

Word of Life Mural at University of Notre Dame. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Word of Life Mural at University of Notre Dame. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This teaching shocked and offended many of Jesus’ disciples. They said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus doesn’t back off. Oh, you’re offended? “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Jesus is speaking spiritually because “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” I think he is saying that our humanity is useless without the life of the spirit.

Yet Jesus is not surprised because he knew from the beginning who were those who didn’t believe, and even about Judas’ betrayal. As he has said before, “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

So many of his disciples deserted Jesus, and he offers the twelve a chance to leave him, too, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter answers on their behalf, “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.”

I’m not there yet, but I’m beginning to glimpse  a profound mystery here. (Maybe everyone else already thinks this way, or maybe I’m a heretic.) Jesus became flesh and blood here on earth. He went about doing good, preaching and teaching and healing. Then he was crucified and died. On the third day he rose again. To me, somehow it was through Jesus’ willing sacrifice of his human flesh and the spilling of his human blood  at his crucifixion that allowed his resurrection and provides the means of eternal life to all who trust in him. And it is through the Eucharist, that we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us.

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