Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wanted: Doorkeepers and Ambassadors!

These two vocations (callings) are never obsolete. They are always needed until Jesus comes!


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1 Kings 8

Solomon brings the Ark of the Covenant into the newly built temple. Suddenly bricks and mortar--splendid and magnificent as they are--have been improved. The magnificent house has become God's home. Here is where his glory dwells.

Psalm 84

The sentiment of this Psalm has often been put to song. At our youth camp, Camp Olivet, we frequently sing "better is one day in your court" (accompanied by the motion of shooting a basketball, followed by "swish!")..."better is one day in your court, better is one day in your house, better is one day in your court...than thousands elsewhere."

The image that comes most readily to mind when one reads Psalm 84:10 in most modern translations is that of a sentry or guard, a ticket-taker or a bouncer, in the doorway of the church.

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There were such guardian "offices" in ancient Near Eastern temples and palaces (aka the shomer hassap, "the watcher of the door"), e.g. in 2 Kings 12:10, where the doorkeepers have a money box for collecting contributions from the people who visit the temple. Perhaps Jesus even had a run-in with these doorkeepers, or collectors of the temple tax (Matthew 17:24, 21:12; John 8:20; note that Jesus is always hanging around the offering plates, even noticing when a poor widow drops in her last pennies). The Hebrew term for doorkeeper also occurs in 2 Kings 22:4, 23:4, and 25:18, where these doorkeepers are lower ranking members of the priesthood. They seem to be drawn from the ranks of the Levites and/or Korahites (see Jeremiah 35:4 and 52:24, also 1 Chronicles 9:19, 9:22, 2 Chronicles 23:4 and 34:9) and they also seem to have some responsibility for the furniture in the temple. For doorkeepers in the palaces of the Persians, see Esther 2:21 and 6:2.

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In modern church parlance, these doorkeepers would be the deacons, the people who take up and count the offerings and who are the first responders in case of any disturbance in the worship service. But the word so frequently translated "doorkeeper" in Psalm 84:10 is not the altogether common shomer hassap referred to above; rather, it is a hithpolel of a denominative verb formed from the noun for "doorpost," sap, also translated "jamb" or "sill"; i.e., it is a verb formed from the word for "the stone under the door-frame, in which the 'ammoth, the "pivots," of the doors revolve and, if they are made of basalt, rumble and bang" [HALOT]. For examples of the way the ancient Hebrews thought of these door sills or doorjambs, see Isaiah 6:4, Amos 9:1, Judges 19:27, 1 Kings 14:17, Ezekiel 40:6, 41:16, 43:8, Zephaniah 1:9, 2:14, 2 Chronicles 3:7, and the like.

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So, just what does it mean to "hang around the door" of the temple? Who does that sort of thing, coming daily to this place of "massive stones and magnificent buildings" and "beautiful gifts dedicated to God" (Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5)? What image should we have of this "one day" in the life of a temple-doorjamb-person? Just as it was common in ancient Near Eastern temples and palaces to have doorkeepers, it was also common to bring the lame, the deaf, and the blind to beg at the doorway of the temple or important person's house (e.g., Acts 3:2, 3:10 [note that he begs at the "Gate Called Beautiful"]; Luke 16:20).

Perhaps we are to think of someone like the bird woman in Mary Poppins.

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(See the Revsongbird "Reflectionary" blog on the Widow's Mite.) The Bird Woman sits on the stairs of St. Paul's Cathedral (for a great riff on the beautiful, magnificent, old stone church building vs. the living stones which we are called to be as a church, see this week's blog from don Heatley, Creatio Ex Nihilo, "I'm a Doctor".)

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Like the Psalmist, it seems that the Bird Woman chooses to be there (Psalm 84:10, bacharti, "I have chosen to be a doorjamb-person in the house of my God rather than to stack things up in the mobile homes of the wicked.")


Ephesians 6:10-20

Paul is an "ambassador in chains" for the gospel of Jesus Christ (6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20). There is no "choosing" here. Rather, Paul is the one chosen, commissioned to bring reconciliation between opposing camps for the sake of the gospel. It is this work, for which Paul has been drafted, that will make disparate living stones into the body of Christ.

John 6:56-69

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