Psalm 129; 1 Kings 12:25-13:22; John 16:17-33

 Psalm 129: There is an inescapable immediacy to this psalm, which speaks on behalf of the nation of Israel: “Much they beset me from my youth —let Israel now say— much they beset me from my youth,” (11) More than 2500 years later, this psalm is surely being read in synagogues this week following the brutal murders of five people while they worshipped in Jerusalem.

And even in great tragedy, there is assurance: “much they beset me from my youth, / yet they did not prevail over me.” (2) The striking, almost gruesome image–“My back the harrowers harrowed, / they drew a long furrow.” (3)–that suggests a blade being run figuratively through the very body of the nation remembers that “the Lord is just” (4a). And that justice will ultimately prevail against the enemies of Israel as well: “May they be shamed and fall back, / all the haters of Zion.” (5).

Unlike Israel, these nations are ephemeral: “May they be like the grass on rooftops that the east wind withers.” (6) The psalmist does not wish the worst for these enemies, not in terms of military triumph over them, but merely observes that they will pass away because they have rejected God and “no passers-by say, “The LORD’s blessing upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD.” To be without God’s blessing because we have rejected Him leads to only one place: they will wither and blow away.

 1 Kings 12:25-13:22: Now that he’s king of the northern tribes, Jeroboam fears that the people will stay loyal to his rival Rehoboam down in Jerusalem because they go there to worship at the Temple. So he sets up two alternative worship sites at Bethel and Dan using the ever-popular golden calves. He even creates a festival so that people will come there.

A prophet, who is identified only as “a man of God” comes to the altars and prophecies that “son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name” (13:2) who will tear down the altar. Jeroboam is more than unhappy, stretches out his hand saying, “Seize him!” and his hand withers. Realizing the error of his ways, Jeroboam pleads, ““Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, so that my hand may be restored to me.” (13:6) God, through the prophet, obliges and the king’s hand is healed–proving that God is more powerful than the golden calves.

Jeroboam invites the prophet to dinner but the prophet declines saying, ““If you give me half your kingdom, I will not go in with you; nor will I eat food or drink water in this place. For thus I was commanded by the word of the Lord.” (13:8,9a) And the prophet departs. Another, older prophet in Bethel hears of the man of God and invites the traveling prophet to dinner. The man of God replies as he did to the king. But then the older prophet lies and says an angel said it was OK. Hearing this, the younger prophet agrees and goes to dinner. But the older prophet is suddenly seized by the word of God and tells the man of God, “you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment that the Lord your God commanded you,” and therefore, “your body shall not come to your ancestral tomb.” 

So what’s the point of this story besides suggesting there was rivalry among prophets? I think it teaches that if one has the gift of prophecy, one must be careful when discerning the word of God and that absolute obedience is mandatory. The younger prophet was fooled by the older one. The lesson for all of us is practice careful discernment through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is too easy to be led astray!

John 16:17-33: Jesus announcements, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me” and “Because I am going to the Father” lead to sidebar discussion among some of the disciples, wondering what on earth Jesus means. Jesus overhears and “knew that they wanted to ask him,” so he compares what is about to happen to a woman in labor: there is pain now, but joy later. And he tells them, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  (22)

Speaking, I believe, of his post-resurrection appearance, Jesus says, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” (25) And that they will truly believe Jesus is who he says he is, reminding them, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (26)

And then Jesus plainly states what John says in the opening words of his Gospel: “ I came from the Father and have come into the world; again,” But then he appends the core of his message: “I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” (28) At last, the disciples get it: “Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” (30). Jesus reminds them that they will abandon him, but “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” (31) Then Jesus speaks the words of encouragement that the disciples will remember in the darkest hours and that will come to change their lives forever: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (33)

And words for us to remember in this world that is increasingly post-Christian. We must never forget Jesus’ words to take courage for he has indeed conquered the world!

Psalm 128; 1 Kings 11:26-12:24; John 16:5-16

Psalm 128: This psalm of happy domesticity celebrates the joys of a man and his family, who “walk in His ways” (1) The family eats because of “of the toil of your hands” and is happy. (2)  This simple life–and the food they eat–“is good for you.” (Perhaps the only line in the psalms that could be construed as giving nutritional advice as well.)

Two simple metaphors, both symbolizing fecundity, describe the the man’s family: His wife is like a fruitful vine because of course the occupation of the wife in society of that time was to bear children, hidden from public view “in the recesses of your house.” (3)

And the blessing of God was to sit with children around the dinner table–perhaps one of the most peaceful images since Psalm 23.  And all this comes back to one simple requirement: “Look, for it is thus / that the man is blessed who fears the LORD.” (4)

The psalm ends with a benediction “May the LORD bless you from Zion, /and may you see Jerusalem’s good all the days of your life,” (5) and a final blessing that gladdens my heart, perhaps the greatest blessing of domesticity in one’s old age, grandchildren: “And may you see children of your children.”

And in the final line, something we so fervently hope for even today: “Peace upon Israel!”

1 Kings 11:26-12:24: Jeroboam has had charge of forced laborers under Solomon and “was very able.” (11:27). He encounters the prophet The prophet Ahijah the Shilonite on the road who tells him that God is punishing the sins of Solomon by dividing the kingdom of Israel after Solomon dies. The prophet tells Jeroboam, “I will take the kingdom away from his son and give it to you—that is, the ten tribes.” (11:35).  As always, there is the covenantal command: “ If you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you, and will build you an enduring house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (38).

Solomon hears and tries to kill Jeroboam in order to protect the dynasty for his son, Rehoboam. Solomon then dies after reigning for 40 years.

Rehoboam becomes king and Israel comes to him, promising loyalty if he will lighten their workload, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” (12:4) Rehoboam consults with Solomon’s older, wiser counselors, who advise him to do so. But then “he disregarded the advice the older men gave him” and consults with his younger buddies, “who had grown up with him and now attended him.” (11:8). They tell him to turn the screws harder in the scary but memorable phrase, “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” (12:11)

Whereupon Israel rebels and Rehoboam is forced to flee to the safety of Jerusalem. And thus the ten northern tribes, which becomes “Israel,” break away. The united kingdom ruled over by Saul, David and Solomon is no more. Such is the price of Solomon’s sin and Rehoboam’s arrogance. Interesting how God carries out His plans through the actions of unwise men.  And of course, even today, the young are too often unwilling to listen to the counsel of older, more experienced men–the ugly fruits of which we see today in the highest reaches of political power.

John 16:5-16: Jesus promises the arrival of the Advocate (the ‘Helper’), who cannot come unless Jesus goes away. Upon the Holy Spirit’s arrival, Jesus promises, “he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (8) He then explains what he means by each of those three realities, their upshot being that there will be an entire new order in the world with brand new definitions of sin, righteousness, and judgement. I think Jesus is talking about the seismic shift from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant here.

In the next verses we encounter the Trinity, which although it has always existed is being revealed for the first time to human beings: “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.” (14,15). For me, Jesus’ words are complex and puzzling here. Perhaps it is because the concept and interrelationship of the Trinity is complex and puzzling. 

But at the end of this section, there is Jesus’ clearest promise yet of his resurrection:  “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” All of the promises Jesus has made to his disciples and to us cannot be fulfilled until this seminal event occurs.

 

Psalm 127; 1 Kings 11:1-25; John 15:18-16:4

Psalm 127: The psalm is dedicated to Solomon probably because of the reference in the first verse: “If the LORD does not build a house, / in vain do its builders labor on it.” We have seen how much effort and materials were expended on the Temple. (Alter tells us that the Hebrew word for “house” also means “temple.”) But the lesson is clear: if God is not involved, our labors are in vain. So, too, watching over a town or even those of us who are dedicated and get up early and work hard: “In vain you who rise early, sit late, / eaters of misery’s bread.”

All of us who worked long hours, attempting to build our careers and putting aside other things that interfere with our job, become “misery’s bread.” Just ask any father who has skipped his children’s school plays and sports events because he was not there–and suddenly they have grown and left home. But when we undertake life’s activities with God at the center, we build, we watch, we work in a balanced way and God restores our energy: “So much He gives to His loved ones in sleep.” (2)

The second half of this psalm is the joys of progeny that arise when God is at the center of our lives: “Look, the estate of the LORD is sons,/ reward is the fruit of the womb.” (3) In that patriarchal society, sons were the best, but I think it is completely fair to believe that God rewards us with sons and daughters. And now, as I am older and looking back, it is clear that the psalmist os absolutely right: “Happy is the man who fills his quiver” with children. In the end, it is relationships that matter most.

1 Kings 11:1-25: But not all was glory and honor and wealth for Solomon for he strays from God. Israel has reached its political apogee under this king, and allows sexual love to trump God’s command not to intermarry. Because as soon as that happens, Solomon starts to follow other gods. One of the saddest verses is this book is, “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done.” (6)

God appears to Solomon, not once but twice, but Solomon pays no heed. Finally the punishment is meted out: “I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime.” (11,12) Notice that God is granting Solomon grace “for the sake of your father David.” The sins of the father will be visited on his son. But troubles begin and Hadad and others become Solomon’s adversary. The glorious kingdom that Solomon built begins its long descent.

As the psalmist above told us, when we do not follow God, we become eater’s of misery’s bread. And Like Solomon we reap misery not just because of bad things that happen to us, but that we have failed to keep God at the center of our lives. And some 3000 years later, we continue to fail to learn that simple lesson. Pride and false love lay at the bottom of all of it.

John 15:18-16:4: Jesus has hard words for his disciples–and for us. We have a choice: we place Jesus at the center of our lives or the world. But when we place Jesus at the center we have excluded the world. And the world will hate us for it. And by extension, the world that hates Jesus hates the Father as well.

These must have been incredibly hard words for the disciples to hear. As they are hard words for us to hear. We’d really like to have it both ways: Love Jesus. Love the world. And that’s pretty much how I behave most of the time.

Jesus promises the gift of “the Advocate,” which in that pre-Pentecost time must have been especially puzzling. But I’m particularly struck by verse 27: “You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus gives a very specific command to the disciples in that room: they are to testify.

John was in the room and he knew at that moment that he was to testify about Jesus and writes the most theologically profound book ever written. Yes, Paul expounds, but John testifies. And he writes the most profound section of his gospel–the Upper Room discourse–which forms the core, the essential basis of our understanding of the relationship among Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

And not just the Trinity, but the essentials of our own relationship with Jesus and through Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us. Human imagination could not have made this up. And that is why I know it has come from Jesus himself.

Psalm 126; 1 Kings 9:20-10:29; John 15:9-17

Psalm 126: Probably written from Babylonian captivity, this psalm reveals the longing of Israel for God to return them to times and places that have been lost:

“When the LORD restores Zion’s fortunes,
we should be like dreamers.
Then will our mouth fill with laughter
and our tongue with glad song.” (1,2)

For me this speaks of loss that only God can restore. Rather than the loss of a kingdom and of a land, it is the loss of faith. That God is not who He says he is or that the universe really is empty of Anyone greater than what we can see physically. That I have been abandoned to my fate in an empty universe where humans believe they know it all.

But then, a person says something kind to me or I witness the grandeur of the stars at night from a dark place (as I just have at Mono Lake), and I realize  that “Great things the Lord has done with [me].” (3) Faith is dynamic and many days it can wane. The day may begin like the farmer who “walks along and weeps, the bearer of the seed-bag.” But then, God makes Himself known, usually in small, unexpected ways, and I “surely come in with glad song bearing his sheaves.” (6) We may sew in doubt but we reap in assurance.

1 Kings 9:20-10:29: Solomon has conscripted the “all the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel” (20) as slave labor to build the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This will come back to haunt Israel in later years as the Israelites intermarry and adopt the customs and religions of these other tribes and races.

As noted before, the author if I Kings seems to be an accountant and certainly an admirer of Solomon’s business acumen; now he describes Solomon’s commercial activity and trade with other nations down through the Red Sea that results in accumulation of vast wealth for Israel that ends up mostly in the king’s hands.

Our author lovingly describes the shields of gold, the ivory throne and the “fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.” (10:22) Peacocks? We also learn the price of chariots imported from Egypt: 600 shekels each (10:29)

Solomon’s fame spreads far and wide and the admiration in which is best represented by the visit of the Queen of Sheba, who surely speaks for all the other nations when she says, “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard.” (10:7) Interestingly, it is the queen, not Solomon who gives credit where it is due: “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” (10:8)

Trade with other nations is what built Solomon’s and Israel’s–wealth. It’s worth noting that Israel today seems to be following Solomon’s example as it exports everything from produce to technology. Written from the deprivation of captivity, these passages must have created intense longing among the Jews for what had been and what had been lost.

John 15:9-17: The segue from Solomon and worldly wealth with Jesus’ disquisition on love–“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (9)– makes us realize that there is something far greater than the acquisition of material things and of power. It is the power of love.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Jesus’ statement here is the juxtaposition of love and commandment: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” (10a). Our society pushes its idea of “love” about as far away as it can from the idea of “commandment.” After all, “love” is supposed to be all about “freedom.” But as anyone who has been married for a long time, love is about commitment and “commitment” is pretty close to “commandment.”

True love is not airy-fairy flitting of sweetness and light. True love is the hard work of faithfulness and commitment.  Because, as Jesus says, out of this commitment comes joy. Not just joy, but “complete joy.” Which I take to be a joy that is not temporary, a response to the moment, but a permanent joy that suffuses our entire being.

Then Jesus tells us what the commandment is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (12).  This is perhaps one of the most famous verses in the New Testament, but one whose context is essential. Jesus makes it clear that his disciples are not servants, but friends. And we are his willing disciples because we love Jesus.

The question then obtains: if Jesus is my friend and I am his disciple am I willing to lay down my life for him? Certainly the martyrs of the early church and those still dying today because they proclaim Jesus Christ in a hostile place know better than I exactly what the cost of discipleship actually entails. And yet they do it willingly.

 

Psalm 123; 1 Kings 7:34-8:16; John 14:1-14

Psalm 123: Slaves keep their eyes down except when they raise them to the Master: “To You I lift up my eyes, / O dweller in the heavens.” God is clearly in the heavens, up above, although this may be more indicative of God’s superior position than to his geographical location.

We–men and women–are like supplicating slaves: “like the eyes of slaves to their masters, / like the eyes of a slavegirl to her mistress,” (2). And we are asking for one thing only: grace, which is repeated three times: “until He grants us grace. / Grant us grace, LORD, grant us grace.” (3)

In this case, I take “grace” to me “relief from,” as the psalmist prays for relief from being “sated with scorn” (3b). Unlike many psalms that are asking for relief from more specific oppression, this one is more general, because “our being [has] been sated with the contempt of the smug, the scorn of the haughty.” (4)

There is always this great divide: those who follow God and acknowledge our slave-like status (as Paul makes clear elsewhere) or those who live in their own self -sufficiency, believing that makes them better that those people who need the “crutch” of belief in God. Many of us know this scorn and haughtiness personally.

1 Kings 7:34-8:16: Hiram the bronze maker casts an amazing number of furnishings for the temple: basins, pillars, stands, 400 pomegranates. So much, that “Solomon left all the vessels unweighed, because there were so many of them; the weight of the bronze was not determined.” This must have distressed our author, who seems to be an accountant by nature, as he turns to describing the golden altar, golden table, lamp stands, and “the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and firepans, of pure gold; the sockets for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple, of gold. (7:50)

The Temple is finally complete and the Ark of the Covenant is installed at last. Amidst all this splendor, the ark is splendid in its simplicity: “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb,” (8:9) God is pleased and “a cloud filled the house of the Lord,…for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (11) Solomon makes a speech, making it clear that because God “chose David to be over my people Israel” (8:16), Jerusalem is where God will now be residing.

It’s difficult for us, who think of God being omnipresent, “omni-everywhere,” to consider that as far as Israel was concerned, the presence of God was in just one spot. Yet, that is exactly what the Temple was all about. And with the Temple, more so than ever since up to this point, the Ark had been portable. Jerusalem may have great symbolic meaning for us Christians, since that’s where Jesus was crucified and rose. But now we think of Jesus as being everywhere among us. But for Jews, Jerusalem has even deeper meaning: this is where God dwells.

John 14:1-14: Supper is over; Judas has departed and we come to the centerpiece of John’s already highly theological Gospel: the Upper Room Discourse. But it is so much more than theology: it is Jesus giving us promise after promise.

We tend to get so hung up on 14:6 ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” that we lose it’s context. First, there is the wonderful promise that although jesus is going, he will return: “I will come again” But more than that, he returns and “will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (3). Thomas, ever blunt, ever honest, admits the truth that each and every one of us must admit: ““Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” If we fail to admit we do not know where we are going, Jesus’ answer makes no sense at all.

Here is where John’s opening sentence back in John 1:1, “and the Word was with God,” comes down off the theological mountain and is expressed in human terms: Jesus is not somehow blocking the way to God (which was how I thought about it for many years) but Jesus is opening the way to God because he is the human expression of God. There’s a good reason why the early church called itself “The Way.” And it’s right here.

And again, 14:6 does not hang in splendid isolation; it is the introduction to Jesus’ disquisition of his connection with the Father. Which ends with another promise: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me  for anything, I will do it.” (14)

I have pretty much ignored that promise most of my life. Like the “smug and haughty” of the psalm above, I’ve been pretty convinced I can do it all myself. But as I think about it, Jesus’ promise is the operating principle of grace.

 

Psalm 122; 1 Kings 7:1-33; John 13:31-38

Psalm 122: Ancient cartographers drew their maps with Jerusalem at the center of the world. This psalm provides good evidence of why this was so. It is a song sung by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship God: “I rejoiced in those who said to me: “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”” And this can happen only in Jerusalem, “”where the tribes go up.” (4)

There is a very real sense of something extremely special that happens when pilgrims anticipate crossing over the threshold into the city: “Our feet were standing / in your gates, Jerusalem.” (2) This is unlike any other place in the world.

Jerusalem is not only where God resides, but it is also the political center, where power resides, for “there the thrones of judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.” (5) And unlike virtually ever other ancient city; Jerusalem’s special status continues today. It has been fought over for millennia and it remains the center of Judiasm, and Islam claims its special place, not to mention it is the city where the Holy Spirit descended on that band of disciples and apostles following Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And it is still the nexus of political battling, that makes the prayer included in this psalm not only pertinent but heartbreaking:

May there be well-being within your ramparts,
tranquility in your palaces.
For the sake of my brothers and my companions,
let me speak, pray, of your weal.
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
let me seek your good.

1 Kings 7:1-33: While the Temple only took seven years to build, Solomon takes thirteen to build his own house. Which includes of the House of the Forest, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of the Throne, and his own residence  “in the other court back of the hall, ” as well as as separate residence for his Egyptian wife. As we just read in the psalm, Jerusalem is both where God resides, but it is also the center of political and temporal power. Clearly, through these magnificent structures, Solomon made a statement to the rest of the world that Israel was wealthier and more powerful than all the other nations and that these buildings were ample proof that Jerusalem truly was at the center of civilization.

Not only buildings, but furnishings., especially the bronzework made by Hiram of Tyre, all described in loving detail by our author. The bronze and copper molten sea,” a laver that was 15 feet in diameter and 7 1.2 feet high, resting on 12 bronze oxen, must have been particularly impressive.

When we realize that I Kings was written during the exile in Babylon, we can only imagine the author writing with a mix of passion and bitter nostalgia of what had been and was never to be again.

 John 13:31-38: Judas has “gone out,” and only the band of true disciples remains in the room. Jesus is making it clear that his end is near, “I am only with you a little while longer.” And then the rally bad news, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Which for me is a reference to the entire chain of events that will be occurring over the next few days, ending finally at his ascension. But in his impending absence, Jesus gives the disciples something that will fill the void of his physical absence: love.

Loving each other is not just a suggestion; it is a commandment. I forget this a lot. Because as a commandment, it means we are to love the unloveable, and worse, to love those who are our enemies. In this regard, Jesus turns the world upside down with this simple single commandment. Even those who don’t accept Jesus died and was resurrected, are forced to confront the absolute truth of this commandment. They cannot deny the verity and wisdom of what Jesus is commanding.

And of course our collective inability to truly carry out Jesus’ command is exactly the proof of why Jesus came to earth, lived, died and rose again. As Jesus is about to demonstrate, that is where a greater love than any other human has been able to accomplish. Because what Jesus is about to do is the highest expression of the love of God.

But Peter, being Peter, completely ignores what Jesus has just said about love. His steel-trap mind got stuck on why he can’t accompany Jesus and his fierce loyalty to his leader. And Jesus effectively tells Peter (and us) that absent the love that he has commanded our desires and intentions, Like Peter’s, are hollow. But I also know this: I would have responded exactly as Peter. And I would also have denied Jesus–as I have done so frequently in my life.

Psalm 121; 1 Kings 6; John 13:18-30

Psalm 121: This magnificent psalm, stunning in its simplicity, and verses often used in benediction, opens with one of the most famous questions in the Old Testament: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains: / from where will my help come?” This line resonates for so many reasons, not least of which that I can see Mount Diablo out my office window, behind which the sun rises every morning.

Which as it rises, is my daily reminder of the psalmist’s question: “My help is from the LORD, / maker of heaven and earth.” This short line brings out the marvelous breadth and depth of God: Our unfathomably great God, who is creator of heaven and earth. And the God who knows the number of hairs on my head (decreasing daily), but more importantly is there to help me. No issue that I face, even if it is a single stumbling step, is too small, too inconsequential for God.

God, of course is everything we are not–and in this verse he is God who is ever-alert: “Your guard does not slumber.” The remainder of this psalm focuses on God as our guard–the word is repeated eight times–ever on the lookout for us, our protector form natural harm and the from wiles of those who would harm us.

“By day the sun does not strike you, nor the moon by night.” (6) The image of God as shade is particularly appropriate in that desert climate, and when the psalm was written, the belief was that standing out in the full moon would lead to mental disorder (whence ‘lunacy’). Above all though, is God’s constancy, guarding us humans who are so inconstant: “The LORD guards your going and your coming, now and forevermore.” (8)

1 Kings 6: Solomon builds his eponymous temple in seven years. Compared to descriptions we will read later in Ezekiel and elsewhere, this chapter, describing its size, construction, material and furnishings is blessedly brief. I’m grateful to the author, who in the middle of the description, reminds us of its real reason for being built:

Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. 13 I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.” 

Notice again, that unlike his father, who appeared to have had actual conversations with God, for Solomon, it is “the word of the Lord” that comes to him as a pronouncement. These verses are God’s restatement of the Covenant that is the foundation of the relationship between God and Israel. I think by inserting it here amidst all the description of the Temple’s construction details and description of its furnishings, he is reminding us that it is the Covenant that is the single most important furnishing in the Temple. And we can imagine the pain that was evoked when the Jews, exiled in Babylon, read these words that recalled the  beauty and magnificence of what Solomon had wrought, but above all, of the Covenant that they had broken.

As we should reflect on the magnificence of the New Covenant that Jesus forged out of his death and resurrection–and that we so casually forget or worse, ignore.

 John 13:18-30: John gives us a detailed description of the dynamic and the conversation that transpired when he identifies who will betray him. If we accept that it was the apostle John himself who wrote this gospel, it is here that we get his small personal biography. “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him;” (23) John is reclining next to Jesus and is in the best position to hear what Jesus said, apparently sotto voce rather than to all of the group. Peter can’t completely hear what’s going on and asks John to ask Jesus to identify who Jesus is talking about.  So, it is John who asks the crucial question: “Who is it?” Jesus answers with a gesture rather than words, handing Judas a piece of bread.

This is the moment Leonardo DaVici captures in his great painting of the Last Supper. As I read it here, Jesus handing the bread to Judas becomes a kind of reverse communion–a gesture that dismisses Judas once and for all;  the opposite of our experience of coming to Jesus through the bread and wine.

John tells us that it is Satan who comes into to Judas. And it is at this moment that John makes us understand that what is about to happen is a cosmic battle between God and the powers of evil. Judas and the ones to whom he betrays Jesus, and who actually carry out the events to follow are the means of setting events into motion, but neither Judas nor the Temple officials or even Caiphas or Pilate are more than pawns in this great battle.

The last words in this passage say it all: “And it was night.” Darkness more dark than any night in history has descended.

Psalm 120; 1 Kings 4:29-5:18; John 13:1-17

Psalm 120: Our speaker is in trouble but knows that God will respond as He has before: “To the LORD when I was in straits / I called out and He answered me.” (1) The psalmist’s reason for praying is that he is the object of slander: “LORD, save my life from lying lips, / from a tongue of deceit.” (2) The deceitful words of other are painful and burning, like “A warrior’s honed arrows / with broom-wood coals.” (4)

Again and again, the psalms come back to the power of words and of speech–and how they can injure. This psalm reminds us that they wear others down to the point where, like our psalmist, we feel, “Long has my whole being dwelt / among those who hate peace.” (6) And no matter what is said, the conflict cannot be resolved: “I am for peace, / but when I speak, they are for war.” (7)

At first reading, this last line suggests some sort of failed diplomatic mission, but I think  the hurt is much closer: this relentlessness of hateful words could be in a personal relationship; even one nagging spouse to the other.

Above all, though, is the utter futility of slanderous and angry words to bring any kind of resolution: “What can it give you, what can it add, / a tongue of deceit?” Hateful words accomplish nothing but tearing down the their object.

1 Kings 4:29-5:18: 3000 years later we speak of the wisdom of Solomon, and these words here are doubtless why: “Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else,” (4:30, 31) He receives visitors from all over the world, an accomplished sage, writer, composer and–something we don;t hear about as much as Solomon’s other gifts–scientist: “He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.” (4:33)

But there is a darker side to Solomon that his PR agents don’t highlight. Now that Israel is at peace with its neighbors, he decides to build the long-delayed Temple: “So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David,” (5:5) and he names King Hiram of Tyre’s son as the general contractor. It is a joint Israel-Tyre project, “My servants will join your servants,” (5:6) and Hiram’s subjects will be paid by Solomon: “I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants.” (5:6).

Hiram’s quite happy with this big contract and “he rejoiced greatly.” They begin to cut down the cedars of Lebanon. However, he was a bit less magnanimous with his own people: “King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men.” (5:13) Those were just the lumbermen. “Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country.” And as usual things are well organized and managed, “Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work.” (5:16).

As king, Solomon had every right to conscript forced labor, but for me, anyway, it’s too much of an echo back to Israel in Egypt building great monuments to Egyptian royalty. Perhaps the forced laborers were paid a wage out of the immense wealth of the treasury; our author doesn’t say. But it just doesn’t seem right.

John 13:1-17: Although John doesn’t say, it’s fair to assume we have arrived once again at the Upper Room where Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (4,5). While this was the custom of that dusty place, I’m struck by how this act of humility and magnificent demonstration of servant leadership is also about baptism. This act is Jesus’ sign to his followers that they are no longer just followers, but now have become integral to the reason he came; they are the first members of the Church. As Jesus says, they are clean (except for Judas).

I think Peter realizes this other dimension of the foot washing when he says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (9) Peter, despite his denials later that night is “all in.”  And Jesus’ reference to “one who has bathed does not need to wash,” is as usual, at two levels: physical bathing to be sure, but also the bathing of baptism. When we have been baptized, we are clean forever. But as we walk on earth and fall and sin; our feet become dirty, and by our confession it is the forgiveness of Jesus Christ that washes our feet again and again.

Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Kings 4:1-28; John 12:37-50

Psalm 119:169-176: Finally! The last section of this long, long psalm. And we get The Big Thematic Wrap-Up.

1. We pray for understanding: “Let my song of prayer come before You, LORD. / As befits Your word, give me insight.” (169)

2. We pray for rescue: “Let my supplication come before You, as befits Your utterance, save me.” (170)

3. We praise God, who is our teacher: “Let my lips utter praise, for You taught me Your statutes.” (171)

4. God is a God of justice: “Let my tongue speak out Your utterance, for all Your commands are just.” (172)

5. We can choose to follow God and God’s word: “May Your hand become my help, for Your decrees I have chosen.” (173)

6. Following God and God’s word is simultaneously salvation/ rescue and joy: “I desired Your rescue, O LORD, and Your teaching is my delight.” (174)

So, 176 verses later we acknowledge again that our chief duty as God’s man (or woman) is to praise and live according to God’s Word. Only there will we find salvation. “Let my being live on and praise You, and may Your laws help me.” I am convinced that the end of the psalm is John’s jumping off point for his insight that “In the beginning was the Word.”

1 Kings 4:1-28: This passage gives a detailed glimpse into the sophisticated management system that Solomon has put into place. The Kingdom is finally at peace, “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy.” (20) And the extent of the Kingdom at its height: “Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt: (21)

Solomon has brought peace and prosperity: “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees.” (25) Moreover, Israel was the dominant power in the region and the nearby countries “brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” (21b)

The author gives us a tantalizing glimpse of Solomon’s wealth just by describing the size of his stables: “Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.” (26)

We can only imagine the feelings of deep longing and bitter remembrance of the glories of the past that the readers of this history must have felt as they sat there in exile in Babylon, heirs to the fallen Kingdom that God had once blessed –squandered because of the sins of the Kings after Solomon and the sins of the people, who were so poorly led.

John 12:37-50: John dips back into Isaiah to explain why Jesus was being rejected by so many, especially the leadership of Israel: “so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,  (39,40)

He also reminds us that “many, even of the authorities, believed in him.” We would presume this includes Nicodemus. But the sway of prevailing thought was in the Pharisees camp and “they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” (42)

We are exactly like those who believe but will not confess our belief aloud because we fear. In Jesus’ time, they would not confess because they’d be banned from the synagogue. We will not speak up because we fear we’ll be put out of mainstream society because we do not go along with the prevailing social winds. To accept Jesus means having to be willing to be put out of the “synagogues” we value and to be seen not just as societal outcasts, but worse: as unenlightened and intolerant.

Psalm 119:161-168; 1 Kings 2:39-3:28; John 12:20-36

Psalm 119:161-168: This penultimate section begins to summarize the themes of this long, long psalm. It is a love song to God’s precepts and the consequences of that love and discipline: “Lies I have hated, despised. / Your teaching I have loved.” (163) That love of God’s lessons leads to a action: “Seven times daily I praised You / because of Your righteous laws.” (164) That action is rewarded with a well-lived life: “Great well-being to the lovers of Your teaching, / and no stumbling-block for them.” (165)

This love expresses itself as longing that leads to discipline: “I yearned for Your rescue, O LORD, / and Your commands I performed.” (166) Which circles back again to love: “I observed Your precepts / and loved them very much.” (167)

But the question remains: Is this love of God or is oit love of God’s teaching? Or are the two one and the same to our psalmist? I don;t think they are for me.

1 Kings 2:39-3:28: We all know about Solomon’s wisdom, which is clearly expressed in his prayer, “ Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (3:9) And God gives Solomon the wisdom he has prayed for because, as God says, ““Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right.” (3:11). But I think we too easily skip over the context in which Solomon prays this prayer: “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” (3:7)

Solomon prays in deep humility–quite frankly a humility we only get a brief glimpse of in his father, David.  Solomon doesn’t [pray for wisdom because that’s the politically correct thing to do; nor does he pray in false humility. Solomon instead acknowledges his inexperience before God. How much better that I would acknowledge my own inexperience rather than pretending I know and then trying to bluff my way through my ignorance.

The proof of Solomon’s answered prayer lays, of course, in the famous story of the two mothers and the single child. One of the things I had not noticed before is that the women were both prostitutes. (3:16). Which is of course the only was this fatherless situation could have arisen. But that fact gives us the briefest glimpse into the underside of Israel society–not so very unlike our own.

John 12:20-36: Again we read things not recorded in the Synoptics. Some Greeks wish to meet Jesus and politely ask Philip, who goes up the chain of command to Andrew. Philip and Andrew go to Jesus, who replies with what basically seems to be a non sequitir. John doesn’t tell us if the Greeks were present or not to hear Jesus’ soliloquy, which seems to be a summary theological treatise. Only in his last sentence, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (26) suggests that Jesus may have spoken in the hearing of the Greeks because he says “Whoever,” which seems quite inclusive.

Then another bizarre incident. With the crowd gathered round, Jesus asks, “Father, glorify your name.” (28) And God replies! Although many hear God’s voice only as thunder. Jesus then says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (31) To the crowd he seemed to be speaking treason against the Romans, but he must be speaking of Satan. In one sense this is John’s version of the wilderness confrontation between Jesus and Satan. And without Jesus, darkness / Satan / death will indeed overtake them all. John resorts to his favorite image as Jesus doesn’t just compare himself to light, but asserts he is the light. 

So, here in just a few verses, we hear the voice of God, Jesus’ most direct statement yet about how he will die and his assertion that he is the light of the world. The crowd’s brains must have been exploding at this point. And while John doesn’t say, any member of the inner circle had to be convinced that Jesus was insane and best and dangerous at worst. No wonder “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” (36)