Summary: Solomon built the Temple using foreign gifts and foreign artists. Each of us brings to today’s church the limitations of his own culture, and must learn to ask for and trust the gifts others can give. Working together we learn to savor God’s greatness.
The Latin poet Virgil, in his epic poem, The Aeneid, has one of the Trojan warriors murmur, when a giant wooden horse was offered as a gift by the Greek armies outside the city walls, “I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts.” “I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts.” That is a statement of fear and of suspicion. That is a culturally prejudiced statement. If it comes from somebody different from me, I don’t want it. I am afraid of it. Gift or not, I don’t like it. There is something of us in that: “I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts.” I fear .. whoever .. even when bearing gifts.
Several weeks ago one of our church families, a family that does lots of gardening, gave Margaret and me a mess of collard greens. Another member found out about that and said, with a twinkle in his eye and his tongue firmly in his cheek, “I didn’t know you all ate collard greens.” I decided to play it straight. “You-all”? Who is “you-all”? Preachers? Kentuckians? People named Smith? Who doesn’t eat collard greens? Well, you know what he meant, and so did I. He was singling out collard greens as one of the favorite tastes of African-American people, and was suggesting that maybe Margaret and I wouldn’t like collard greens because we were melanin-deficient.
Of course I set him straight on that, and assured him that, yes, indeed, there was nothing in the Caucasian palate that would choke on collard greens. They tasted good to us too. They garnished our meals, just as they did his. But he was closer to correct than I let on; because, the truth is, I didn’t grow up eating collard greens. Margaret hadn’t gone to the grocery looking for collard greens. And it wasn’t until we got hooked up with Takoma that, indeed, I tried collard greens. Kale I knew and spinach I relished, but collard was new. It was an acquired taste. It was something I tried because it was a gift; but once given those greens, I found I liked them very much.
Don’t be afraid of new tastes. Don’t fear new experiences. And when they come to you as gifts from someone different, don’t fear new possibilities. To fear gifts is to deny yourself some of the finest things that God has for us. To fear gifts and to reject them is to make our great God too small, assuming that God is not honored by the unusual gifts that others have for us. Fear no one bringing gifts. In the house of God, for the worship of God, fear no one bringing gifts.
When Solomon ascended to the throne of Israel, he knew that he must complete the work so vigorously begun by his father David. David had conquered Jerusalem and had made it the royal capital, and then had set out to furnish the city with monuments and buildings worthy of a great nation. David built for himself a palace; a beautiful house it was, of cedar and gold, of silver and fine linens, of the best craftsmanship the king could assemble. David built a palace; and David wanted also to build a Temple, a center of worship to which the people could come and offer sacrifices and praise. David’s heart was set on constructing a magnificent worship center; but God told David that he would not build the Temple, but that this work would be left for David’s son. And so Solomon set his heart and his mind to this task: a Temple for the living God, a center of worship worthy of the God of their fathers and the Lord of their victories. It would have to be a great house indeed. Nothing small, nothing cheap, nothing halfway. A great house it must be.
So the Bible tells us that when Solomon set out to build this Temple, he turned to a foreign king for help. He did not assume that in his own kingdom he would be able to find all the materials and the craftsman he would need. Rather he turned northward to Tyre and to King Hiram and asked for help. And help came in abundance: the finest of timber and the best of his skilled workers. The Temple was built for the God of Israel, using foreign materials and a foreign artist. The place of worship was endowed and shaped with materials and people, tastes and sights, that were new to Israel. Gifts from a different people.
In that fact there are some key insights for us as we begin a year of focus on worship. Let’s look at King Solomon in his wisdom and discern what we need to do as we too build a house great and wonderful for our God.