Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 13th Sunday after Pentecost.
Call to Worship
Father, as we enter into your gates
lift the clouds that obscure our vision -
from anxieties about Sunday dinner
to worries about world politics –
and may we be open to your glorious presence,
Creator and Sustainer of this vast universe;
Saviour and Friend of each individual person.
Hymn 510 vv. 1 and 2. Jesus Call Us Here to Meet Him
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Creator and Sustainer – we praise and thank you for this glorious world in which we find ourselves.
We are often muddled and anxious, silly sometimes, distraught at others,
but at all times you pour out blessings on our heads.
Shepherd and Lamb – we praise you for your loving concern for each person here
In this small village hidden in the hills you see us individually,
you reach out and touch us, you shelter us from spiritual darkness,
you hold out a glimmer of light for each one us as we carry our souls back to you.
Flame and Living Water – we praise you for your justice, for holding us all to account,
for your promise that you will burn off the dross and we shall glow like gold,
that we shall flourish beside still waters.
Father, Son and Holy Ghost accept these prayers of thanks and praise.
Reflection [An illustrated guide to Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea and how a children's story might help us to see "the signals of what is important and strange and valuable” is today's scripture readings. See video when it posted up after the service.]
Have you noticed how the term ‘Middle Ages/medieval’ is used as a synonym for crude/barbaric? The text we have just read from Kings is even older – probably more than a thousand years older. Can we dismiss it likewise as something crude and barbaric? I don’t think so. In fact, I suspect that people who lived 3000 years ago may well have had a better understanding of humankind’s place in the universe than we do today. In the last few centuries philosophers have sat smoking their pipes and ruminating about God – and if they conclude God exists at all they describe him in abstract/intellectual terms. But that’s not how God is envisaged in the bible. There are hints (eg Golden Calf story) that in the deep past the Hebrews envisaged God as a bull – and image of power – but there’s no actual description in this passage from Kings. By the time Kings was written they had rejected the idea of making any sort of image of God – though metaphors are impossible to escape! Whatever the case, there is a sense throughout this account of the institution of the Temple is of God as an awesome being – fascinating, powerful, unpredictable … even dangerous. Something, in fact, a bit like a mighty bull or, indeed, like a tiger.
In The Tiger Who Came to Tea the tiger arrives out of the blue. In the Kings passage there’s a sense of Solomon trying to entice God into the Temple, almost to trap him. ‘“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” Solomon wants God to ‘dwell’ in this particular place and to be available to him – so he has built this beautiful house to persuade him to be present – not, it is clear, to entirely leave Heaven but to have, as it were, an embassy in Jerusalem. Then, he hopes, with God on his side, present in a special way in Jerusalem, the House of David will last forever … to philosophers this story is a crude way of describing God and his relationship with humankind. For me, I must say, it all makes perfect sense – I can grasp the points that are being made – the thought that lies behind it – much more clearly than would be the case if I read a philosophical text.
Why does the tiger come to visit Sophie in the first place? Is it just that he wants something to eat? Possibly – though I don’t think that is entirely the case. The tiger may be rather scary, but Sophie is shown snuggling up to him too, as if he were almost a kitten. And he seems to like it.
Why, likewise, would God be interested in Solomon? Why would God be interested in humankind? What does God get out of it apart from a nice house/temple - and all those tasty sacrifices, the scent of which was supposed to ascend into the heavens?
A harder question perhaps. Certainly philosophers find it hard to answer. Since the 18th century they have inclined towards Deism, if they accept the idea of God at all. God is conceived as a distant Prime Mover who once, a long time ago, brought things into being but is not particularly involved thereafter. But that is not the picture painted in not the OT and the New. God is addressed passionately – “Give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.” This is not a philosopher talking! For Christians God is a God of grace, who loves us not because he gets anything out of it, but because that's just how he is.
Does God answer such passionate prayers? Yes, of course, though in some ways Solomon’s prayers seem, ultimately, not to be answered. He prays that the line of David will endure forever, though there is a qualification made to his request – his descendants must walk faithfully. They don’t and they – along with the glorious Temple – were wiped from the face of the earth.
End of story? Not quite. As Matthew points out Jesus belonged to the House of David and, as Paul emphasises, in him we find our king – indeed the King of Kings: ‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
Moreover, in Christian tradition, at the crucifixion, the curtain of the temple is ripped in two and God departs (escapes?). The new Temple is Christ himself – John 2. 19-21: Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
Christ’s body – the new Temple – may now, as I speak, be in heaven, but his spirit is with us still. I haven’t looked much at today’s Gospel reading – mainly because it overlaps with last week’s Gospel reading and Gordon teased out some of the meanings of bread/spiritual nourishment in his sermon.
At the end of The Tiger Who Came to Tea the mysterious tiger is gone and the house is tidied up - but it’s impossible for life to return to ‘normal’. Once you’ve had a tiger in the house nothing can return to normal! Sophie, when her mother goes shopping, buys a very large tin of tiger food, in case the tiger should come back. It’s hard not see an analogy between the situation at the end of Sophie’s story and the situation in the Gospels after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Something weird – something fascinating – something slightly frightening - happened to her (just as, in Christ, it has happened to us) – and the story, for both her and us, isn’t over yet.
Sophie has her tin of tiger food ready. We, too, have our food to bridge the gap between what has happened and what will happen – ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Through the Lord’s Supper we remember what has happened and look forward in hope to what is to come. Past, present and future united through the Holy Spirit.
Sophie buys her ‘very big tin of Tiger Food, in case the tiger should come to tea again’ – ‘But he never did’. Well, not yet anyway! And that’s how it is for us Christians – we have our food to keep us going as we both journey back to our Father and wait for Christ’s return. But it is spiritual food. And we don’t just have the Lord’s Supper – we have prayer, we have songs of praise – the Spirit has escaped from the Temple and is in our hearts – the Sprit is present with us now. The tiger is on the loose! Amen.
Hymn 396 (tune = Sagina) And Can it Be vv. 1 and 2.
Prayers of Intercession
This time on a Sunday gives us a chance to open our eyes to the grace and glory of God, but we can never shut out turmoil and distress, both personal and social, which surrounds us.
First of all lets take a moment to reflect on the our own sins – the mess which we’ve made of our own lives & too often the lives of others.
Father, we are truly sorry for our many sins. Look down on us with the eyes of healing and mercy and help us in the coming week to be kind and generous witnesses to your grace. Amen.
Let us take a moment to pray for our families and neighbours.
Our minds also return to the mess which humankind has collectively made to what should be a beautiful and contended place. Our fears are various – from endless turmoil and violence in Afghanistan, to blazing wildfires in California and Greece. Let us bring our individual prayers for the wider world to God.
Prayer of the Week Holy God, there is no God like you. Thank you for helping us to pray and deepen our awareness of your abiding presence with us. As we daily pray through this coming week may we do it with love and sincerity, in the sure and certain knowledge that you alone have the words of eternal life. Amen
Hymn 162 The God of Abraham Praise vv 1 and 2
A charge to keep we have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
Our calling to fulfill;
Oh, may it all our pow'rs engage
To do our Master's will!
May the blessing of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be with us now as we leave this holy place to serve the present age. Amen.