Place

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The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
August 23, 2015

Somewhere in the attic of the lakeside lodge, in a place filled with dust and the invisible spirits of former inhabitants, lay the carved wooden chest with the angels on it.

I remember my trepidation at ascending the narrow stairs that turned 90 degrees once… then 90 degrees twice… before dropping me upon the landing right outside the locked chamber.

The scent of so many rare woods… cut to length decades ago in sawmills long since abandoned and dismantled, then carried to this piece of land and assembled to form the skeleton of the lodge… enveloped me as I reached for the keys and screwed up the courage to unlock the door and walk inside.

I half-expected the scurry of some rodent or perhaps the quick flash of a raptor’s wing, due to disturbing the peace of the space.

But it turned out that I was alone after all… alone with a carved wooden ark that had traveled across the mountains from the Swannanoa Valley to its new home here by the lake.

You see, our Diocesan camp, Camp Henry, had just come to the final stage in the process of moving from its original home, through a year of transitional wilderness at a borrowed camp, to arrive at Lake Logan, which would be its home for the foreseeable future.

I felt like a stranger witnessing sacred family treasures.

Even though I had made my home in Western North Carolina, I was, by most respects, a foreigner… I had not grown up in the diocese nor attended camp at its original home.

And yet, here I was, newly appointed Assistant Director of Camp Henry, set to begin a new ministry, at a new camp home… standing in a dusty lodge attic, face to face with the camp’s ark of the covenant.

It was a replica of the one seen in the Indiana Jones film and hand carved by former counselors and campers as a way to bid farewell to the old camp, its inner chamber bearing the symbolic gifts that could not be forgotten from the previous experience.

Photos, song books… sacred reminders for the community of who they were, who they wished to be, and who they might one day become again.

This day we were taking the ark out of the attic, and were going to process with it around the new property, stopping on occasion to pray and sing.

It was a procession I will never forget.

A deep line of campers, counselors, and staff, framed by towering pines and hemlocks, singing with feeling while carrying the ark around Lake Logan, asking for God’s presence and blessing in this new home.

Like the ancient Israelites who traversed the wilderness for 40 years, accompanied by the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, and who moved with the tent of meeting in tow… our diocesan camp had been accompanied by this symbol of God’s presence since leaving the previous camp.

The unspoken questions, in the midst of all the saying goodbye to what was before and confronting the possibilities of what would come, were: Will God be with us in the process and will God indeed dwell on the earth?

The ark was a symbol of God’s presence… a sign that God’s power and law would not ever fully abandon God’s people.

And the temple that Solomon constructed to house the original ark, which he we hear him praying over today in the first reading, was also a symbol of that presence… one that was meant to last for generations.

Good art and architecture inspire us to think beyond our human plane, and search for that which is greater than ourselves alone.

For Solomon and his subjects, the dedication of the temple was about hallowing and marking a permanent meeting place with God.

It was an outward symbol of the God of Israel’s power and majesty… the temple would show other nations that there was a God in Judah and Israel.

Solomon acknowledges that God will not be contained by this temple, this home, this place… and yet the place matters because God will hear Solomon’s prayer and indeed meet with the people there.

That is until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587, sending Israel into exile.

The so called wailing wall, or western wall, on the Temple mount in Jerusalem is all that remains of this once might place of meeting.

Where would God meet with the people after the Temple was gone? Where would God reside without a home?

The question of where God will dwell was under discussion in Solomon’s day, it was the question that all those campers, counselors and staff had when the ark was being processed around the new property, and it is the question that undergirds SO MUCH of Jesus’ ministry, that it remains before us today here at St. Paul’s.

And along with it the question: If God dwells, or at least meets us, on the earth… then what sort of God is God?

Citizen and foreigner have equal access to God under Solomon’s prayer, and Jesus continued in this line of receptivity.

That’s why I fell in love with Camp Henry and knew it to be a powerful place in which to meet God.

The markers of a good God, reflected in the photos and the songs that had traveled in the ark from the old camp to the new, were all around.

Respect, Dignity, Joy, Love.

All these fruits could not be contained by the carved wooden ark, and yet they most certainly travelled with it symbolically.

They took root, or dwelt in the new place, like the old, and were a convincing witness that God was there, willing to be met, and alive.

Likewise, we who ask the question today, wanting to know if God dwells in this temple, and if so, what is the character of that God…we must pay close attention to the fruits we nurture as a community and as individuals.

What will a foreigner/outsider/visitor find when they come into this temple for the first time and seek to find God?

What witness is there to God’s faithfulness, God’s presence, God’s power that can be felt and tasted here?

I see many witnesses… in your interactions with each other… in how you treat that foreigner… in the way you apply your gifts and passions to making this temple and its ministries great.

And I also know that it would serve us to be even more attentive to the fruits…the ones we cultivate together with God’s help as a church, and the ones that spring forth from the soil of our hearts.

Take this question with you this week and marinate on it… Does God indeed dwell with you, and meet with you… and do the fruits of your life reveal this truth?

As you travel through your life, through this week, and each day, be like Solomon and dedicate the temple of yourself to God’s glory, in thought, word, and deed.

Pray that God will indeed be pleased to dwell among us, and meet with us.

If we are a church, filled with people who ask and seek to answer that question, then the foreigners God sends our way will know that the Lord is indeed “with” us… in this beautiful space, and more importantly, able to be readily transported throughout the world within the ark of our hearts.

A mobile place of meeting, where God wishes to connect with us and with others.

Better than a smartphone… no battery required!

Jesus’ resurrection transformed a ragtag band of disciples into his Mystical Body, a global and moving place of meeting.

The God who dwelt with the campers, counselors, and staff of Camp Henry when they were at their old home, traveled with them in both the ark they had carved and the ark of their hearts.

Will God dwell with us at St. Paul’s… will God take root in the earth of our hearts?

What sort of God will meet those who come to this place, and who come to each one of us, seeking refreshment, respect, dignity, joy, and love?

The answers matter. Give your time and energy to attending to them, and no matter where you are, or where you go… God will be with you.

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