I Kings 8; Ephesians 6:10-20
When Solomon, the tenth son of David ascended to the throne, he accepted the task of building a Temple. His father had wanted build the first edifice to Yahweh, but tradition tells us this honor was given to the son. Tradition also tells us the prophet Nathan predicted that the Temple would be more for the men who ran it than the God it was suppose to honor. Some could make a good argument that Nathan was right. With the Temple, the Mosaic cult of the wilderness quickly dissolved into an institutional religion that adopted many of the customs of the Canaanites. Solomon’s Temple became both the central place for worship and a symbol of the nation. The Temple was destroyed by foreign invaders three times and rebuilt twice. Today, the site of the original building is the foundation for the famous Muslim shrine, The Dome of the Rock.
Solomon’s idea was to bring tribal worship under one roof. David had attempted to establish a nation but Israel remained divided into twelve tribes. David had hoped to unite the people when he established Jerusalem as the capital. Solomon wanted to continue this unification by centralizing the worship of the nation. On completion of the Temple, Solomon erected a new Palace beside the Temple. The symbolism was unmistakable. The King and the King’s God stood united.
Solomon, allegedly the smartest man in the kingdom, somehow wasn’t smart enough to figure out that God doesn’t go out on double dates. Solomon filled the Temple with men loyal to the King. The religion of the Wilderness was based on a strict moral code. The religion of the Temple was established by the man in the palace. Those who occupied the Temple quickly learned two things. Their first allegiance was to maintaining this new institution. Their allegiance was rewarded with wealth and power. So what happens when a house of worship is turned into a institution bent on self-survival? It collapses upon itself.
The Apostle Paul knew his Bible. He speaks of the conflicts that arose between the prophets of Israel and the men who occupied the Temple. As a Pharisee, he originally was persuaded that Jesus was trying to tear down the religious establishment. But once Paul he saw the light, he realized those occupying the Temple were more interested in self rule than God’s law. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that the church was established to celebrate God, and warned against it becoming a house overrun by corruption. Using the image of a Roman soldier, Paul paints a vivid picture of a follower of Christ. “You are to fasten the belt of truth around your waist. Adorn yourself with the breastplate of righteousness. Grasp the shield of faith, wear the helmet of salvation, hold onto the Word of God and proclaim the Gospel of Peace. Begin and end your day with prayer and supplication, always giving praise to the one who is Lord of us all.”
Paul implores this congregation to stand strong in their convictions, strong in their faith, and strong in the Godly moral code of the wilderness which always lifts up the powerless, the young, the widow and the orphan. This focus on being a people of integrity, this desire to maintain a pure heart, upholds the original intentions of the early prophets who warned that the way of God has nothing to do with maintaining institutions and everything to do with conforming to God’s tender mercies.
Maybe congregations should start listening to Paul because I believe our clergy leadership is failing us.
As someone who has dedicated his whole life to the purity of God’s church you cannot even imagine how horrified I was to wake up to the news that Bishops in Pennsylvania tried to hide the molestation of over 1,000 children by more than 300 priests. We know that number is low because in the past years we heard similar reports from Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland, Denver, and Washington. Children are abused and churches keep covering it up to protect the reputation of the institution. If this is all the church stands for, I am amazed folks keep showing up on Sunday Morning.
Monday I heard a Cardinal remark that his thoughts and prayers were with the children who had been molested. While I am a great believer in the power of prayer, his remarks fell on deaf ears. A child who has been molested needs more than prayers particularly if those prayers are spoken by the institution protecting the predators.
I am aware that no one wants their Sabbath disrupted by such horrific thoughts, but the truth is silence has been a co-conspirator in this evil. Imagine how many children spoke, only to have their words silenced by those who found the truth too horrible to hear.
Four years ago our Personnel Mission Team, led by Amelia McCulley, Bill Nevill and Sue Fulton began the tedious task of developing guidelines to assist folks in breaking the silence should an abusive situation occur in our congregation. We know that this epidemic is not just something going on in the Catholic Church. Each denomination has its horror stories. Two years ago a booklet outlining the policies of our session was complete. Many of you have taken a workshop to be introduced to the document. It can be found on our web site. Yet some still wonder if going to this extreme was really necessary.
Ask any of those children from the Pittsburg area. Ask Ann Mische or Wendy or Ron Culberson who were members of Vienna Presbyterian Church. Ask any woman who has felt uncomfortable in her minister’s office. Ask one third of the Irish population who have stopped attending Mass in the last ten years because of clergy abuse.
This place, this holy place, from the beginning was created to be a sanctuary for the weak and the broken. It is where we come to be lifted up and restored. It is a place where trust is paramount. Only a few have betrayed that sacred confidence. But what does it matter if 99% of our clergy are trustworthy if you have encountered the 1%.
I grieve that churches are hiding behind silence to protect the institution. I grieve that that many predators have been relocated to other churches. I grieve that the clergy cannot monitor itself because silence is easier than confrontation. Most of all I grieve that I have to preach this sermon. Members of my vocation, not you, are the guilty. So I ask, no, more than that, I beg you to be both mindful and watchful. If at any time my words or actions seem inappropriate, please tell me. If I ignore your warning, tell Sue Fulton, our Clerk of Session. It is my job to earn your trust. It is my job to insure my reputation is unblemished. 1% of my colleagues have eliminated any forgiveness or second chances for the rest of my peer group. Clergy has proven that it is incapable of reporting colleagues. So it is up to you. For the sake of our children, for the sake of members both male and female, for the sake of God’s church, do not be silent. For if we are silent, our grandchildren will never enter this temple we claim to be holy. TGBTG Amen