Universal Access to God

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Lectionary Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 (NRSV)

King Solomon is particularly gracious in today’s reading.  Within the last few verses, he names Gentiles (foreigners not of Israel) and implores God to hear their prayers.

It is done for a missional purpose - so that all people may come to know God.  If other people see the power of God, they, too, will want to revere God.

Even though it is more comfortable for Solomon - if all worshipped God, there would be less trouble for Jews in the world - there is a graciousness that would make friends of strangers rather than see them as enemies to be destroyed.  

This goes against the territorialism that was rampant among humanity at the time.  Each geographic region had its own gods and deference was given to the gods of a conquering country over those of a defeated country.  This is as simple as liking the winning team.

Solomon understands the blessings that God has bestowed upon his country and wants to extend these blessings throughout the world so that the worship of God may spread across this same world.  The remarkable movement in this logic is that he doesn’t ask God to smite his enemies but rather convert them.

It is similar to the quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

Territorialism usually occurs when we are afraid of losing what we have.  It comes when we are fearful of the stranger and it sometimes turns ugly when we perceive that someone or some group is going to usurp our way of life.  One can look at the post-Civil War lynching of African Americans as an example of a dominant group refusing to allow another group to gain economic or social traction in their region.  

Sometimes territorialism is religious.  In 1980, Dr. Bailey Smith, of Del City, Oklahoma and President of the Southern Baptist Convention, set off a firestorm when he declared to the SBC that God did not hear the prayers of Jews.  This set up quite a debate at the time with many Southern Baptists disagreeing with Dr. Smith.  HIs claim was that if a prayer was not in the name of Jesus, it was ineffective.

More recently, a similar controversy among Christianity and Islam occurred when Wheaton College professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins was suspended because she made a public claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Her wearing of the hijab during Advent in support of unity likely contributed to the suspension.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Hawkins also has an Oklahoma connection in that she received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.  

What does it mean for us today to pray in the spirit of Solomon that those who are dislike us in so many ways would have their prayers answered?  Is there a perceived danger in this?  If my enemy prospers, will I then be diminished?  

It is hard to be gracious in this matter.  If it were easy, I suppose, world peace would already be at hand.  And yet, I do pray for world peace so maybe this is a good subject to examine.  I hope you’ll join us for worship this Sunday either in Edmond or on the web!

In Christ,
Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.
Photo by Essam Saad via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.