Questions and Reflections

August 2015

A Reflection on 1 Kings: Solomon opens the Temple

Today's first reading is from 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43.

Last week, we were at the start of Solomon’s rule. Now, we're at the construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem. We’re skipping over how (and why) Solomon built the temple. Instead, we're watching God entering the sanctuary through through the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark is the large chest that contains the remains of the ten commandments. The commandments were broken when Moses caught the Israelites making a fake god while in the camp. The pieces were gathered up and placed in the ark. The people carried the Ark where ever they went. It went with the army, to to certain families to guard and hold. David strengthened his rule by moving the ark into his capital city. And now, Solomon blesses the Temple by moving the Ark into it. 

But moving the Ark into the Temple doesn’t guarantee God’s presence. Even though it looks like God is moving into the Temple, there's no guarantee that would happen. So Solomon says a prayer. He reminds God of the promises God made to David (see 2 Samuel 7). God promised to be present with the people and Solomon reminds God of what God said. 

Solomon, however, doesn’t limit his prayer to only the promises God made to David. He expands his prayer above, and beyond, the Jewish faith. The Temple isn’t only for Solomon and Jerusalem. The Temple is for all people, including foreigners, strangers, and people who are different. God’s house is never a house just for one kind of people. God’s house includes all people or else it cannot be called a place where God lives. God is a god for everyone, which is sometimes difficult to put into practice. But when we start limiting who God goes to, God has a habit of going where we won't go. Even this limitless God, who can't be contained by all of heaven, lived a human life with people, good and bad, poor, rich, and unwanted. The incarnation, God-with-Us, will always be ahead of us. Our job is to just catch up. 


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A reflection on 1 Kings: Solomon Begins

Today's first reading is from 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Last week we saw David's son, Absalom, leading a revolt against his father. Absalom is killed and David mourns. David's final years as king were filled with wars, revolts, and violence against family members. But his time as king is now over. He goes to sleep with his ancestors (which is just "bible speak" to mean he died of old age or illness rather than by violence). His heir is Solomon and Solomon, in verses we don't hear, secures his control over the throne. He eliminates his political enemies (including a brother), marries a daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and heads to Gibeon to worship at a one of Israel's many holy places. 

It's important to remember that Solomon isn't David's first born. David had many wives and many sons so there's no straight formula for secession (though typically the eldest son is made king). But Solomon has an advantage the others don't: his mom is Bathsheba. With God's help and her own cunning, she propels Solomon to the throne. And she's why we find Solomon today meeting God in a dream.

But instead of focusing on Solomon, let's focus on God. Part of God's character is revealed in today's text. Solomon makes a grand sacrifice and, in a dream, asks God how he can lead. He's new to a secured throne and he needs helps. And God listens. Instead of demanding Solomon to fit a specific pattern or to follow a certain recipe to guarantee God's love, God does something different. God takes Solomon for who Solomon is. Solomon is new to the throne so God promises to be in relationship with Solomon throughout his journeys. As Solomon finds himself in new places, with new responsibilities, and new duties, God promises to grant him the spiritual gifts he needs to thrive. Our gifts change because we, and our situations, change. The spiritual gifts that work for us when we're 17 are not the only gifts we need when we're 67. God promises a relationship where change is part of the plan. Because love isn't afraid of change. God understands that we won't remain the same. But God's love for us will always be there, no matter where our journeys take us. 


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A reflection on 2 Samuel 18: David vs Absalom's Revolt

A reflection on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

A month ago, I met with the Woodcliff Lake Police Department. I was doing a ride-along, touring the jail, meeting officers, and taking a ride with an officer during a patrol. When I asked my ride-along partner about challenges in the community, I heard four things. The heroin epidemic is real and police officers recently started carrying Narcan to treat Heroin overdoses. The department is struggling interacting with folks suffering mental illness. The officer was glad to share that he feels that drunk driving incidents have dropped in the 20 years he's been on the force. But he did mention one issue, off the cuff, that is always in his work. This issue has been consistent in quantity, and intensity, for 20 years, crossing all races, backgrounds, and whether someone is rich or not. He was talking about domestic violence. 

The story we read in 2 Samuel today is an attempt by the lectionary to condense 6 action-packed chapters into one short reading. Sexual and domestic violence (again) is tearing David's family apart. David's eldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. David refuses to punish Amnon so Absalom, another of David's sons, kills Amnon. Absalom flees but returns at David's request. Absalom, however, doesn't remain quiet. He raises an army, claiming he can be a better king than his father, and drives David out of the country. However, to cement his claim as king, Absalom commits his own sexual violence on David's concubines. David responds by sending his generals to defeat Absalom, asking them (in today's verse 5), to not kill his son. Joab doesn't take David's word seriously and, after Absalom's army is defeated, Absalom is killed. David, once again, loses a son. The cycle of violence continues devouring his family, countless soldiers, bystanders, and women. 

David's story is a difficult story because it is an honest story. Domestic and sexual violence is a reality that too many deal with everyday. The violence cycle passes from generation to generation, with children inheriting the violence of their parents. The church struggles with how to address this. Culturally, it sometimes feels like we just have to accept this reality as "the way it is." But I don't believe the story is recorded in scripture for our mere acceptance. David's story does what the gospel does: bringing light to the stories we ignore or are in darkness. This reality isn't what God wants and we're called to stop the cycle of David's violence. We're called to be like the king David - Jesus. We're invited to change our society so that the cycle of violence ends, domestic and sexual violence committed by men is stopped, and for all victims of this violence find healing, wholeness, community, and hope.


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Reflection on 2 Samuel: David and Nathan

Our First Reading is from 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David's violence continues this week and today's last verse comes quick. Nathan, a prophet, arrives at David's house and tells a story. David, not realizing that the story is about him, believes that the villain in the story should be punished. He convicts himself. Nathan quickly condemns David for his taking of Bathsheba. David, in a moment of realization and truth, quickly confesses. And then, in just a few words, Nathan absolves him. This absolution feels a little too quick.

But maybe that quickness is part of the point. God's forgiveness can only happen quickly. It trumps our expectations or even our ability to ask for it. Just as God can create the world in an instant, so can God grant forgiveness in an instant as well. God's love comes suddenly and powerfully. 

Yet God's forgiveness doesn't mean that the consequence of David's actions are washed away. The story of David's life after this point is full of death, violence, and rebellion. More women are attacked and David's own sons turn against him. Violence, instead of life, is the hallmark of the rest of David's kingdom. 

When we forgive others, we don't invite the community or others to forget what happened. The consequences of hurtful actions still linger and these consequences need to come about. Forgiveness doesn't focus on consequences; it instead focuses on life. Forgiveness provides the space where we can embrace God's future rather than our past. Forgiveness can come quickly or take years to develop and no one is allowed to tell others how, or when, they should forgive. God forgives David quickly because God is a God of life. God refuses to be focused on death and brokenness. God, instead, embraces life and new possibilities. With God's help, and God's grace, we might be able to embrace those new possibilities too.  


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