I Kings 7-9, Psalm 100, Acts 15
My Utmost for His Highest
I Kings 7-9
In 1924 a short devotional book was published with a daily reading for each day of the year called My Utmost for His Highest. It has since become a Christian classic. The book contains 365 inspirational passages from sermons preached by Oswald Chambers, a Scottish Baptist, who was born in Aberdeen in 1874. The title was taken from one of Chamber’s sermons, where he said, “Shut out every consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only – My Utmost for His Highest.” After he died in 1917, Chamber’s wife Gertrude Hobbs compiled inspirational passages from his sermons to create the book, which has since been translated into 39 languages.
Solomon has built his Temple, and in today’s readings he builds his home and also a home for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he has taken in marriage. No expense was spared. While he took seven years to build the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon took 13 years to build his own home. Hmmm! Was it even grander than the Temple or were the laborers slower or did the king merely allow each of his 700 wives to have a say about how the house was to be built? We will never know.
We are told that the foundation of the house was made of costly stones (1 Kings 7:10) and cedar beams and boards were used throughout. Two pillars were cast of bronze, ten stands of bronze were made, and 200 pomegranates were carved in stone along with cherubim, lions and palm trees surrounded by wreaths. In the Temple, a gold table was crafted for the bread of the Presence. Lampstands were fashioned from pure gold along with golden tongs and fire pans.
Today, if you travel through Spain, many cathedrals have a treasury, where elaborate chalices and patens, reliquaries housing the bones of saints and other costly items fashioned from gold and silver often inlaid with precious jewels are on display. Sometimes it is over the top. One young man that I know said that he decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church after touring the Vatican Museum. “When I saw all the gold and treasures and wealth that had been collected after just an hour of touring the museum and seeing only a portion of what was housed, I decided to leave the Church. How could the Church hold onto so much wealth while people around the world suffered in such poverty?”
It is a powerful question to ask. It is good when churches construct their buildings to last for the ages, to reflect the glory of God and offer the best for our Creator. It is even better when they use much of their resources to alleviate the needs of the poor and to improve the world. Helping the poor does not mean training them to live lives dependent on handouts, but to know that they never walk alone and to give them hope and assistance which can make all the difference between succeeding and failing.
The Ark of the Covenant was then transported into the Temple and “the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:11) The shekinah or glory of the Lord was the most powerful thing that one could imagine. God was in the house! How powerful it is to enter a holy space and know that God is present. When we sense this, we find ourselves filled with awe. Solomon rightly said, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 7:27) God cannot be contained in our brain, in our books, in our liturgy, in our churches or in our theological arguments. All that these can do is point toward the glory of God, which surpasses all things.
Solomon dedicated the Temple. He told those in attendance,
If there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar; if their enemy besieges them in any of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer, whatever plea is from any individual or from all your people Israel, all knowing the afflictions of their own hearts so that they search out their hands toward this house; then hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts know you – according to all their ways, for only you know what is in every human heart – so that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our ancestors. (1 Kings 8:37-40)
Solomon was most wise. Like Henry VIII, he had a wise theological head on his shoulders. He knew that God dwells in heaven and is not limited to any building, including the Temple in Jerusalem. God knows everything. The Lord knows the thoughts of every human heart. It is what we bring to our encounter with God, our thoughts and our motivations, which illicit God’s love and forgiveness, grace and favor or which spark God’s anger and elicit the Lord’s punishment. What we do matters greatly to God.
Solomon functioned on the day of dedicating the Temple like the High Priest. After concluding his dedication of the building, he offered a benediction upon all those gathered saying, “The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors.” (1 Kings 8:57-58) He added, “Therefore devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.” (1 Kings 8:61)
The Lord appeared again to Solomon and said, “I have heard your prayer and pleas, which you have made before me… As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 9:3-5) We shall see that Solomon was not as faithful and righteous as his father David. Hence, God later promised the demise of Solomon’s kingdom following his death. What we do matters to God. All of our actions have consequences.
While psalm 95 is known as the Venite because of its opening words from Latin, “O come let us sing to the Lord…” (Psalm 95:1), Psalm 100 is known as the Jubilate because of its opening words from Latin, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord…”
When reciting Morning Prayer each day, Anglicans are instructed to recite either the Venite or the Jubilate each day, as a way of praising God first thing in the morning. Perhaps our arthritis is particularly bad today. Perhaps we have a difficult day of work or school ahead of us. Perhaps the weather is drab. Perhaps someone has cancelled meeting with us today, and we find ourselves thinking, “Woe is me.” Reciting the Venite or Jubilate lifts our spirits. We recall at once that we were put on the planet not to list our woes but to count our blessings and to acknowledge them before the Lord our maker.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord,
all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)
Recite this psalm every day for 30 days first thing in the morning, and it will change your outlook on life. It is impossible to pray these words of joy and not have them transform your life. Our inner attitude is the most powerful thing that we have to change how we see and engage the world and those around us. We must feed our attitude with healthy thoughts and feelings, if we are to reach our potential. Don’t feed your spirit with the junk food of sadness, despair, pity, regret and sorrow, but offer your spirit the very best nutrients of gratitude, grace, love, mercy, generosity and faith. It will make all the difference how you view the world and how you interact with others.
The Early Church was not all smooth sailing. There were bumps and hurdles all along the way. Decisions had to be made and theological questions had to be addressed. One of the first issues to decide was whether Gentiles had to become Jews first before they could then become followers of Jesus and Christians. Some early Christians maintained, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed and debated with them.
The important thing is not so much the outcome as the process. Too often throughout Church history groups have separated because they reached different conclusions and were not willing to accept the viewpoint of others or because leaders split apart after reaching different conclusions. When we look back on most of these arguments, we find a certain amount of irrationality and foolishness over matters which decades and centuries later which seem insignificant or somewhat trivial.
In 1873, the Reformed Episcopal Church broke away from the Episcopal Church. Led by Bishop George David Cummins, the breakaway movement developed as a reaction to the Oxford Movement, which they believed was akin to a Catholic virus spreading rapidly within the Episcopal Church. One of the main issues was the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration,” which today I can hardly explain.
Jesus spent most of his time healing, preaching, teaching, listening, walking alongside, conversing, forgiving, encouraging, praying and living with everyday people. He did not sequester himself with religious leaders. Jesus did not spend hours upon hours discussing theological doctrines and articulating complicated religious ideas. Rather, he served, loved and cared for those in need.
By 2009, the Reformed Episcopal Church had dwindled to 13,600 members. Nonetheless, it had six dioceses in the United States and Canada and 149 parishes along with missions and congregations in Cuba, Germany, Croatia, Serbia and Sweden. There are many Episcopal dioceses in the United States with more than 13,600 members in their own diocese. Hence, the Reformed Episcopal Church, which separated over issues that seemed important in 1873 but appear almost trivial today, has dwindled to a tiny presence.
What issues do you and I hang onto fiercely, which cause us to separate us from others, which perhaps over time may appear foolish reasons for cutting ourselves off from others? Are these issues motivated by love or by fear? So often it is fear, which motivates us to separate from others. Fear is the worst motivator of all. Love is always the motivation which Jesus calls us to follow.
The disciples conversed and debated with Paul and Barnabas and eventually agreed that they “should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20) Hence, they agreed to maintain Jewish eating laws, but circumcision was deemed unnecessary for Gentile converts seeking to follow Jesus. It time, even the Jewish eating laws were relaxed and no longer followed by the Early Church.
Still, there were factions. Barnabas and Paul disagreed over whether or not to take John Mark with them on their missionary travels. So, Paul chose Silas as his traveling companion for his journey to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took John Mark with him to spread God’s Word in Cyprus. We cannot do effective ministry with everyone. When we are with someone whom is extremely difficult for us to share ministry, perhaps the most gracious thing that we can do is to acknowledge our difficulties and part ways amicably and head in a new direction to share God’s Word with effectiveness, love and grace.
The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors. (1 Kings 8:57-58)
Therefore devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8:61)
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
It what ways are you offering your utmost to His Highest? How much money do you spend annually maintaining and decorating your home? How does it compare to what you dedicate to caring for the poor and the needy and to supporting your church? Do you begin each morning with words of praise and thanksgiving on your lips? If not, what prevents you from developing a new habit which will transform each of your days? What concerns threaten to separate you or have already separated you from others? Have you asked yourself whether these matters are truly worthy of allowing relationships to end? Can you do effective ministry with those around you? If not, has the time come for you to move with others in different direction?
Holy and Gracious God, you know the secrets of each of our hearts and our motivations for doing what we do. You read us like a book. There is nothing about us which goes unnoticed by you. Help us to surrender our wills to your will and to offer more of ourselves to you each day until our wills become so knit with your will that there is only one will operating within us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania