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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 21 - Year B
1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11) 22-30,41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary Twenty-One (Proper 16) B


1 KINGS 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30,41-43    Solomon succeeded in building the
temple in Jerusalem where his father, David, had failed. This event took
place about 950 BC. This passage tells the whole story as recalled from
centuries old traditions in the late 7th century BC when Josiah centralized
all worship in the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon's prayer is an
exceptionally creative act of worship presumed to have been recited by
Solomon at the dedication of the temple. 

                                             
PSALM 84                 This psalm celebrates the significance of the
temple for the individual worshiper. It may well have been written by one
of the lesser priests or Levites whose daily duties required him to be
there participating in the normal liturgies.


EPHESIANS 6:10-20        The issue for Christians in the 1st century to
whom this letter was written was whether they would worship God as revealed
in Jesus Christ or the Roman emperor who claimed to be a god.  In those
days too, the emperor's power was seen to represent cosmic forces.  In this
remarkable series of metaphors, the unknown author who was using Paul's
name encouraged his audience by identifying the spiritual equipment they
would need for their struggle.

  
JOHN 6:56-69             Jesus' discourse on the nature of the spiritual
life he offered to all who believed so challenged many that they turned
away. Would his disciples also leave him, an option he freely gave them?
Peter answered for the rest in a striking confession of faith.

But John added to his account of this incident that his disregard for Judas
Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus.  Undoubtedly  many in John's audience
also faced a similar challenge.

************

1 KINGS 8:(1,6,10-11),22-30,41-43   About 950 BCE Solomon succeeded in
building the temple in Jerusalem where his father, David, had failed.  1
Kings 5-8 gives the whole story of the building of Solomon's palace and the
temple with the help of King Hiram of Tyre.  That gives us a clue to the
design of the two structures, especially that of the temple.  Recent
research reported in the *Biblical Archaeological Review* (May/June 2000)
the discovery of a temple at Ain Dara in northern Syria which "has more in
common with the Jerusalem temple described in the Book of Kings than any
other known building."  Close by was a royal palace as was Solomon's.  Tyre
was a Phoenician city from which Solomon enlisted many artisans for his
enterprise.  It would appear that this was the model for the Jerusalem
temple rather than any other source such as a Canaanite or purely Israelite
design.

This passage gives the conclusion to the story as recalled from centuries
old traditions and perhaps some surviving chronicles in the late 7th
century BCE when Josiah centralized all worship in the temple in Jerusalem.
In the post-exilic period, when the temple was being rebuilt, a priestly
editor also made certain additions to the traditions from the point of view
of the Priestly Code with its penchant for proper divisions, categories and
liturgies. (E.g. The specific festival references of 6:1.)  Thus Solomon's
prayer at the dedication of the temple is an exceptionally creative act of
worship presumed to have been recited by Solomon at the dedication of the
temple.  The original dedication may have been in the form of a song
recorded in an ancient saga which the LXX says was in the Book of Jasher
(N.H. Snaith. *The Interpreter's Bible,* vol. 3, 71.)

The first part of Solomon's prayer (vss. 22-30) emphasized the Davidic
succession as a crucial element of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel.
The temple was but one more artifact symbolizing this covenant relationship
which gave all Israelites both the privilege of approaching Yahweh in
prayer and the responsibility of keeping the covenant law.

However, according to this prayer, the temple also had a missionary
function.  Vss. 41- 43 point to this role for the foreigner who came to
Jerusalem, recognized the temple as a symbol of the transcendent deity, and
joined in Israel's reverence for Yahweh's sacred name and the covenantal
faith. 

Why build new churches when so many old ones are virtually empty?  Who are
the foreigners who see our temples, so many minimally used as places of
worship?  In an age when our sanctuaries are left deserted more and more,
does not their very existence in every community point to a transcendent
reality without which humanity cannot exist?


PSALM 84    This psalm celebrated the significance of the temple for the
individual worshiper.  It may well have been written by one of the lesser
priests or Levites whose daily duties required him to be there
participating in the normal liturgies.  Lowest of the hierarchy of the
priesthood and representative of the whole people of Israel, Levites
performed two main functions: they assisted the higher order of priests and
the chief priest in the celebration of the liturgy by preparing for the
daily sacrifices and leading the singing of the worshipping congregation;
and they cared for and guarded the temple against interlopers who might
render the sacred precincts impure by their presence.  They did not serve
on a permanent basis, but each group attended according to a regular
schedule while living normal lives the rest of the year in various parts of
the country.  According to Exodus 6:21 and 1 Chronicles 6:22 & 37, and
Numbers 26:58, the Korahites of the psalm's superscription was an order of
Levites descended from Levi and resident in the region of Hebron. 

Obviously, the psalmist was very familiar with the temple, as a Levite
would have been.  He saw even the sparrows that nested in various crannies
of the building and likened them to those whose frequented the sacred
precincts (vs. 3).  He also knew the traditions about Israel's history,
referring to the valley of Baca as a place where Yahweh refreshed the
Israelites.  The name Baca is a variety of gum-producing "balsam trees." 
No valley of that name has been found, but the reference may be to the
valley of Rephaim, a rich agricultural area near Jerusalem mentioned in
several OT passages. 

The psalmists attention, however, focused on Zion and Yahweh's presence in
the temple.  There he had been a functionary who held his role in high
regard (vs. 10).  He saw this as representative of every worshiper who
sought Yahweh's blessing in keeping the covenant in both its liturgical and
its moral expression (vss. 10-11).  "This is our faith," he seemed to say
in his closing burst of praise.

Two laymen, father and son, gave distinctive leadership in local
congregations throughout long lives of nearly ninety-four and ninety years.
Bible class leaders, elders, evangelists in their workplaces, they were
stewards of their faith whose children and grandchildren have followed
closely in their steps.  At their funerals, I was privileged to read this
psalm as expressive of the joyful tradition which they pioneered.


EPHESIANS 6:10-20   The issue for Christians in the 1st century to whom
this letter was written was whether they would worship God as revealed in
Jesus Christ or the Roman emperor who claimed to be a god.  In those days
too, the emperor's power was seen to represent cosmic forces against which
the Christian community had to struggle as representatives of their
sovereign lord, Jesus Christ.  In this remarkable series of metaphors, the
unknown author who was using Paul's name encouraged his audience by
identifying the spiritual equipment they would need for their struggle.

One can imagine the apostle Paul himself and/or his disciple in prison
guarded by a Roman soldier.  The Book of Acts recorded such a scene several
times.  William Barclay suggested that the prisoner may well have been
shackled to the guard night and day.  Each piece of the guard's equipment
represented spiritual armor which every Christian needed for his or her
daily conflict with the evil forces seeking to dominate life.

The passage epitomizes the tension in which every life must be lived. 
While in faith we have accepted Jesus as Lord and subjected ourselves to
his sovereignty, this also remains an incomplete goal and a future hope.
For all of us, a moral and ontological tension exists between "being"
Christian and "becoming  Christian."  This is as true for the whole church
as for the individual believer.  We have not yet achieved the fullness of
Christ who is all in all.  So there remains a constant tension between
being incorporated into Christ and our earthly existence in a world that is
not yet subject to his dominion.  While believing and fervently desiring to
belong wholly to Christ, we still live in the "old age" as yet unactualized
in what faith tells us we shall become.  These weapons are the faith-
warrior's armament for today's struggle provided for us by our Lord through
the gift of his Spirit.


JOHN 6:56-69   Jesus' discourse on the nature of the spiritual life he
offered to all who believed so challenged many that they turned away. 
Would his disciples also leave him, an option he freely gave them? Peter
answered for the rest in a striking confession of faith.  But John added to
his account of this incident that his disregard for Judas Iscariot, the one
who betrayed Jesus.  Undoubtedly many in John's audience also faced a
similar challenge.

The basic issue in this whole discourse and the dialogue with the Jews that
runs through it was about the person of Jesus Christ.  John raised this
issue in his own way rather differently from the Synoptic Gospels.  They
presented it in the question Jesus asked the disciples at Caesarea Philippi
(Matt.16:13-23; Mark 8:27-33; Luke 9:18-22).  John placed it in a more
literary framework as one of several discourses characteristic of his
reflective style.  Who really was Jesus for the Christians at the end of
the 1st century?  Who is he for us today?

Again, it was Peter who responded, so the tradition about his primacy must
have been well fixed even at that early date.  Note, however, the unique
way John told of Jesus' question and Peter's answer.  Was there a wistful
loneliness in the question?  And a sense of love deeper than loyalty in
Peter's reply?  The term "Holy One of God" was a messianic euphemism.  In
the OT, "the Holy One of Israel" referred only to Yahweh, especially in
Isaiah and Second Isaiah.  In the NT the same term referred to the Messiah
(Mark 1:24; Acts 3:14; 1 John 2:20).  Here John altered the traditional
form, possibly for the benefit of his Gentile audience.

Jesus' simultaneous approbation of Peter response and condemnation of Judas
served John's purpose of setting before his audience the crucial challenge
everyone must face.  In every age the issue is the same: one is with Christ
as a disciple or against Christ as a betrayer.  The moment of decision
comes for each one of us. 

As this analysis was first being composed 3 years ago, the General Council
of The United Church of Canada was debating how to rearrange the criteria
for membership in the church and participation in the life and work of the
church, especially with respect to serving on congregational boards and
voting in congregational meetings.  Should adherents in a congregation who
have not yet made a profession of faith, but who sympathetically
participate in the life of the church, be granted essentially the same
privileges and responsibilities as members?  Is confession of faith in
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour a barrier to participation?  Is membership
in the church is becoming a "barrier" to involvement for some?

Does this incident recorded in John's Gospel have a clear answer to those
questions?  Did all who went away do so simply because they did not believe
all those difficult things Jesus had said?  Were there others who stayed
besides "the twelve"?  Even Judas Iscariot had not yet totally committed
himself.  Jesus may still have had an open mind about him.  At the end of
the 1st century, the case was closed as far as John was concerned. 

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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