This passage conveys, perhaps, the question of the life of faith - "where will we find God's presence?" Solomon builds God a temple, a place to house the ark of the covenant, the sacred box that contained the tablets of the law; it was a symbol of God's presence for the nation of Israel. Yet God didn't want a temple, a permanent place to house the ark. God wanted the ark to remain in a tent. God was a God that wanted to be on the move, unencumbered with the human propensity to "localize" God into some static place. God's presence was to be found in the human life of following the Torah (law), not in simply adoring the Torah. But God finally relents and says "ok" to Solomon, and so the temple is built and the text comes from the dedication of that temple, with Solomon musing, pondering the majesty of God, "can this house really contain the presence of God?"
This text is often read at the consecration of church buildings. It was read at the consecration of our sanctuary in 1995. It is the question of every faith tradition: "where will God be found?" Will God only be found in new sanctuary? Can God be found in places, objects, rituals, songs, clergy, holy lands? Scripture seems to debate that question with both a "yes" and a "no." As human beings we seem to need places and objects and pictures and statues, and holy lands and people to convey God's presence. We have a very human need to localize God in this world on the journey of life. We need God to be "HERE." We need as my grandson says, to go to "Jesus' house." There is a sacramental need in us of needing "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual graces." We do feel connected to God when we walk into St. Andrew's, Jesus' house, and we listen to God's word and taste the bread and the wine and sing songs, and greet one another's flesh with hand shake or a kiss. So God says "yes," the temple will be a place where you can come and know my presence.
And yet there is a warning voiced too by God - "as nice as it is to have holy objects and places, do not forget you must become a living sanctuary, a holy place, housing the mystery of God's presence in a holy life." What happens so often is that the holy thing becomes an end unto itself. The holy thing, or holy land, or holy person takes the place of living the faith. For example, for some, Communion becomes an end unto itself as they say, "well, I took communion today." That is wonderful, but the continuing question is "now what are you going to do about it, will you become what you ate? Will you become a broken open life, sharing what you have with others?" Throughout Israel's history, one prophet after another said of the temple to their people - "do not say we have the temple of the Lord, or we sacrificed at the temple, or we have the ark of the covenant, God really despises all of that "end" making of things, adoring the Torah without living it; what God wants is for justice to flow like a mighty river, mercy to be given to the poor and the weak, and for you to live the Torah." "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary." There has never been a truer song than that hymn.
The Rev. Dr. David E. Thayer