Beautiful Darkness

 Inspired by 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13

Last week we read the call of David, king 2.0, that did not go as planned, since he turned out to be just as corrupt as the previous king. This week we get king 3.0, Solomon, in the hopes that this king will get things right! Third times a charm, so they say! So how did that turn out? Well, this story that I just read gives us a taste of that answer but before we get into all that, it must be said that God really liked Solomon. But God also liked David, the murderous, idolatrous, sexual predator that he was. I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this, but God likes bad people! Or at least those that we would label as “bad people.” I mean, think about it, what do we do with murderers and sex offenders? We imprison them, we isolate them, they are outcasts for the rest of their lives in some form or another. Not God, God makes them kings! 

Now, I don’t what that says about us, but I know someone else that had a soft spot for the undesirables…Jesus did! We all know that he didn’t seek out the rich and famous or the most devout. He spent his time with what they called “the sinners” back then, the cheaters, the drinkers, the thieves, the poor, the terminally ill, all the people that no one wanted anything to do with. That’s a long pattern of behavior, from the way God is presented in the Hebrew scriptures to Jesus, and I have a feeling the Holy Spirit operates the same way today. I’d put good money on that! But let’s get back to Solomon. So, Solomon wasn’t directly chosen by God, he just took the throne when his dad died, but that seems to have been what God wanted. God also wanted Solomon to be a better king than his dad was but as my dad always says, if wishes were horses, we’d all be riding! 

On the surface, Solomon seems to be doing good work but if you take a closer look you’ll see he too has succumbed to some bad behaviors. First off, the passage opens with him allying himself with a neighboring king, even though Solomon was given explicit instructions not to mix with people of other religions. Solomon ignores that. Next, we didn’t read this part but Solomon basically uses slave labor to build his palace and temple. And where does he get his labor force from? His own people. He literally worked them to death. He was remembered by them as being even harsher than David was on the common folk. Solomon was also given explicit warnings against increasing his number of horses, increasing his wealth, and increasing his number of wives.  

Guess what, he does all three, and quite flagrantly I might add. I mean, he was known far and wide for all his wealth and women that he had around him. He didn’t even try to hide it! But these weren’t the worst of his transgressions, at least not in God’s eyes. He ended up, not just worshipping other gods, but building temples for them, under the guise of it being for his wives and their religions. Well, that was the last straw for God, and as you may remember, the kingdom splits shortly after his death. So, another bad king, and this one has grave consequences for the kingdom. But not before a temple is built for God, which is what our story for today centers on. And this temple comes with some surprises of its own, because as we’ve seen time and time again, God will not be told what to do.  

God will do things God’s own way. And as Lisa mentioned at Bible study the other day, sometimes God just does that on purpose! Sometimes God just does that as a reminder that we are not in charge here, as much as we might like to think so! So, Solomon builds this temple but don’t let him fool you, he may have said that he did this for God but this was all for him, this temple, like his palace, was yet another gemstone in the crown sitting on his very large head. Now let’s pause here and step aside from this story and into today, because what this brings to my mind is not only our temples that we build, but also the worship that goes on in them. As a pastor, I get to see both the most beautiful moments that our worship brings us, and the not so beautiful moments. And I often wonder if we lose sight of who or what we are actually worshipping. 

Do we come to this place ready and willing to allow God to work on us however God chooses to? Or do we come here hoping to just feel better about ourselves? Now, don’t get me wrong, both can happen, but not always. Look, I’m gonna be brutally honest with you here. When people leave the church because we don’t meet their expectations, because we don’t do things the way they’d like, the way they grew up, because their preferences aren’t met, I have a really hard time not questioning their priorities! If you are coming here, with yourself as the main focus, as the main need, I’m just afraid you’re gonna leave unsatisfied more often than not! And so, it’s no wonder so many people leave their churches for some of the strangest reasons! Solomon was in it for himself. And that didn’t turn out so well. Don’t be like Solomon.  

Let’s keep moving because that can be very challenging, and I don’t like to leave you without any good news. First, a question, how do you like the cover of the bulletin? I picked out that image all by myself, you don’t like it? And how about our image up on the screen? How many of you thought Jesha just forgot to put it up? Nope. That’s it! Beautiful, isn’t it?
Ok, ok, what’s this all about, pastor? It’s all about the last line of our Bible story. Solomon said, “Lord, you said that you would live in a dark cloud, but I have indeed built you a lofty temple as a place where you can live forever.” It’s always trouble when a sentence begins with, “Lord, you said” and ends with, “but.” That never ends well. God said that God would live in a dark cloud, but Solomon insisted on putting God in a big, glowing temple. So, let’s talk about darkness.

We have a tendency in our society to deem anything dark as something bad, as something negative, from the color of a person’s skin to a dark room. Did you know that even black dogs are much less likely to be adopted than dogs of any other color? Isn’t that the silliest thing you’ve ever heard? It’s even got a name, black dog syndrome! Look it up if you don’t believe me! As a society we have a serious issue with all things dark! And yet, that is where God chooses to live, in the dark. I love the way that on the first worship service of the new temple, it’s so dark inside that the priests can’t even do their jobs. If that isn’t God telling us that we’re not in charge here I don’t know what is. But more than that, I think it’s also telling us something about this darkness that we seem to be so afraid of. 

Today is Halloween. Yeah, I know it’s also Reformation Day, but even Luther wouldn’t want a worship service all about him. I think even on a day like today, he would want the good news preached, because he knew, unlike Solomon and the many people who leave churches when they don’t get their way, it’s not all about him! It’s about a loving God who shows up in the most unlikely of places, which is why I love Halloween so much. Halloween embraces the darkness.  

It is not afraid of it, it does not shy away from it. In the same way, my own tradition has Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Talk about something our society doesn’t like to talk about, death! Oh my goodness, do we have issues regarding death, don’t we! But that’s not the case in all cultures. Many Asian cultures have a healthy relationship with death. All we see is darkness when we think of death, but others see joy and hope, or at the very least, appreciate the acknowledgment of the darkness. 

Because for many, the darkness is not always joy and hope. For many, the darkness really does represent their pain and struggle. And Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and All Saints Day, can all be ways that we acknowledge the real darkness and pain in people’s lives. My youngest daughter Jesha and I share a lot in common where music is concerned. One of the genres that we recently discovered we both like is heavy metal, even some death metal. Over the past year I have noticed that a common theme in the music that I appreciate is any music that has an honest, less negative approach to darkness, whether I’m listening to Motown, electronic 80’s music, or metal. I think it’s why I love Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and All Saints Day so much.  

They’re all opportunities to look the darkness in the face, to look death in the face, and embrace it, give it a hug, without so much fear. Why? Because that’s where God lives. That’s where God chooses to live. And if God is there, then it must not all be bad. I hope you find as much comfort in that as I do. Whether your present darkness brings you joy or pain, whether it brings you hope or fear, whether it brings you peace or sadness, know most assuredly that God is there with you. God thrives in the darkness! So much so that God has chosen to live there. And so, for future reference, when you see darkness on the horizon, no matter what else it may bring, good or bad, remember that it also means that God is on the way. Amen. 

1 comment:

  1. Right on, Pastor. you hit the nail on the head with this one. Wonderful sermon!