The Rev. Tara McGraw
Aug. 23, 2015
Wow, God is really blessing us through the Old Testament readings this month. This week’s and last’s couldn’t be more directed to us if someone tried to go through all of the approximately 1,000 pages to select ones just for St. Paul’s. Which of course they didn’t. The lectionary we use is the Revised Common Lectionary, created by an ecumenical team for use by many Christian denominations so we are all hearing the same Scripture at the same time. It is a wonderful way to remember that we are part of the Body of Christ, the company of all faithful people. So we don’t choose what we want to preach on each Sunday; we ask the Holy Spirit to bring the message God wants brought from the texts given.
Today, the Old Testament story offers words that are so meaningful to us at St. Paul’s as we are in transition of lay and clergy leadership. The Holy Spirit does not have much work to do; the words themselves are gifts to us. Let’s open the gift!
In last week’s sermon, I asked you to pray regularly for St. Paul’s in this time of transition. Solomon’s own prayer in this week’s Old Testament reading is exactly that kind of prayer, and it is beautifully phrased: elegant and poetic. We can use it to pray to God for blessing upon St. Paul’s.
Solomon has built a temple for the people of Israel to worship the Lord, a temple in which the Lord may dwell to be present to the people. In our parlance, it would be a cathedral, which is a church. Like St. Paul’s building, it is known as “God’s house”. Solomon knows that God does not literally live in the church: he acknowledges to God, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” We know that, too. We know that St. Paul’s isn’t literally God’s residence. But for us, St. Paul’s is God’s place. It is the place we go to meet God together on Sundays and other times of fellowship or ministry. God’s presence is felt in this place and among the people of this place. It is the place we go to deepen our relationship with God. Although our church bears the name “St. Paul’s,” St. Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and so the name “St. Paul’s church” really means to us and to others, “God’s church.” Even the shoppers at our Farmers’ Market know this.
Solomon wants to come before the Lord to make petition regarding that place known as God’s house. He approaches God humbly: “Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today.” He then prays to God, “that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, “My name shall be there.” What a lovely way to pray for our church, to say, “Please, God, may your eyes be open night and day toward St. Paul’s,” the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
What would we be praying for when we ask that God’s eyes be open night and day toward St. Paul’s? … We would be praying that God remember St. Paul’s, that God be aware of St. Paul’s. And not only that God be aware of St. Paul’s, but that God respond to our desire to be connected with God, such that God feel the desire to be connected with us and stay connected with us all the time; that God’s gaze always include St. Paul’s. But there is more meaning. Why would a human look at someone or something constantly? Think of people who do that. What are situations in which people look at someone or something constantly?
A security guard or body guard. He or she is hired to keep someone or something safe. So when we pray that God’s eyes be open night and day toward St. Paul’s in this transition, we pray for God to keep St. Paul’s safe: not just our physical buildings, like from hurricanes, but more importantly the feel of St. Paul’s as a church family. Our ties to our church are much more emotional than physical. When we pray that God’s eyes be open night and day towards St. Paul’s, we are praying that God safeguard who we are together as a church family, and how it feels to be in our church family. We pray that God safeguard the reason we choose to be a church family. Some of you have said that your interaction with me is the primary reason you come. I know the depth of love and friendship in that statement, and it really blesses my heart. I do genuinely care for each of you, and I will continue to love and pray for you: I may no longer be your parish priest, but my feelings for you remain.
That having been said, now I have a challenge for you. You are each priests of God. With or without a collar. Every follower of Christ is a priest of God. Not a priest of the Episcopal Church; they have white plastic collars. But God relates to each of you as a priest: you are a priest of God to each other. I have been a vessel through which God’s love came to you. Dare to feel that directly from God. Open yourselves to God’s desire for relationship with you. God reaches out to you all the time, in welcome, in love, in understanding, in forgiveness, in peace, in joy, in encouragement. You received those things from me, but they were from God through me. They are there for you, directly from God.
And they are never just for you: they are meant for sharing. As I have been a vessel for you to know God’s touch, whatever touch of God you felt from me to you, you give to each other. Whatever magic you felt from me, now you make. Find the magic God creates within yourself and give that magic to others. If all of you do that, this place will absolutely come alive, and St. Paul’s will thrive as never before. God is willing. Are you?
Let’s get back to our previous question. When we pray that God’s eyes be upon St. Paul’s night and day, what are more things the prayer would mean? In what other situation would a human watch someone or something night and day? A care-giver. Think of a nurse at the cardiac floor of a hospital watching the returns from patient heart monitors throughout the night. Think of a mother and father who bring home their first newborn baby, how full of joy and wonderment and desire to provide everything the baby needs. Think of a wife watching her husband throughout their daily activities because he is unsteady on his feet and she wants to be able to keep him from falling. Think of a little girl who got for her birthday the present she’d been wanting for months: a Barbie doll, and she provides for it as her companion wherever she goes. Think of a hardworking couple with 2 children who finally accumulate enough money from double-working low-paying jobs to afford their first house, how they all focus on the house as they furnish it in great rejoicing and appreciation. We pray for God to give care for St. Paul’s in all those kinds of ways.
So when we pray for God’s eyes to be upon St. Paul’s night and day, we pray that God be aware of St. Paul’s, cherish and be kindly disposed toward St. Paul’s, and safeguard St. Paul’s and our experience of it: the St. Paul’s family. We pray that God care for St. Paul’s, know what its needs are and provide for them, delight in the people of St. Paul’s and all we do as church, guide us, inspire us with dreams and help us make the dreams come true. That includes inspiring each of you with a renewed sense of commitment and desire for your church and all its potential. And of course the prayer includes bringing you just the right person as your new priest.
You can think of other meanings yourself, and as you do, I encourage you to turn them into your own additional prayers. Solomon himself prayed other prayers at the time in the Old Testament story, some of which are not recorded, and the people of Israel were praying toward the temple at that time as well. So Solomon’s recorded prayer goes on to petition God to “hear in heaven your dwelling place” and heed “the plea of your servant [Solomon] and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place.”
Solomon even includes a request that God hear the prayers of visitors to the church. “[W]hen a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that … they may know that your name has been invoked on this house.” The temple and the wonderful things that happen in the temple are all from God and through God. They are not from the king that built it. But God often acts through people. God is still here. So is St. Paul’s. They are waiting for you.