Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Faith Works 4-28-07
Jeff Gill

Gathered, Step by Step

When civil religion is invoked, the text for the message of the day is often II Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

This is the voice of God, appearing by night to Solomon, son of David, king of Israel. Days and weeks of celebration and consecration have just ended for the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and if you have ever put on a big event like an anniversary or groundbreaking or commencement . . .

There is a moment of letdown after the crowds have dispersed and the dignitaries have gone home. You’re tired, but satisfied; you no longer worry at each turn what’s been forgotten, and you’re barely aware of your own thoughts starting to tend back to an arc towards the future.

For Solomon, he is at his bedtime prayer, or perhaps dreaming in the night – the context is ambivalent. What is certain is the sense that God is speaking, in the wake of the completion of the Temple first dreamt by his father and fulfilled during his reign.

“If my people, who are called by my name,” speaks to the set-apart nature of Israel, the land chosen to fulfill promises made in Haram and Egypt, a place where the unity of God would first be preached abroad.

“Humble themselves,” is the command, just as a place of beauty and opulence is finished atop the highest spot overlooking the City of David, itself a rocky ridge above the Gihon Spring.

“Pray, and seek my face,” a proper request in a Temple, but an odd thought when the record shows that “none can look on the Lord’s face, and live,” but the command is to “seek” that same soul-scorching sight.

“Turn from their wicked ways,” said just above a place to be known as Hinnon, or Gehenna, an ever-smouldering trashdump on Jerusalem’s edge, already a metaphor for lasting, enduring destruction.

“Then I will hear from heaven,” God says from above the Temple, to a king in a palace just below the hilltop, overlooking the citadel and the valley below.

“And will forgive their sin and heal their land…” with not just a spiritual good feeling, or an emotional adjustment, but a promise that Amazing Things Will Happen if these requests are answered by the people.

Thursday, May 3, is the 55th anniversary of the National Day of Prayer, going back to a Congressional Procalmation signed by President Truman. Different communities each have their own way to mark this occasion, often on the steps of civic buildings, and the Newark Area Ministerial Association will gather again on the steps of Newark City Hall (or to the council chambers just inside if the weather is inclement). Their plans are to begin at 12:20 pm, and be in prayer until 12:40 pm.

Whether there or at your own municipal building, there will be prayers for the nation, our local officials, safety forces, judicial system, schools, churches, and special observance of the memory of those serving overseas, and the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Wherever you pray, and whatever your faith tradition (there have been Buddhists and Jews involved in the Newark gathering in years past), don’t forget the promise of God that comes in the next verse, following II Chron. 7:14: verse 15 -- “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your community worship events with him at