Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
1 Kings 7:1-12

Solomon was building his own house for thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.

2 He built the House of the Forest of the Lebanon one hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high, built on four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams on the pillars. 3 It was roofed with cedar on the forty-five rafters, fifteen in each row, which were on the pillars. 4 There were window frames in the three rows, facing each other in the three rows. 5 All the doorways and doorposts had four-sided frames, opposite, facing each other in the three rows.

6 He made the Hall of Pillars fifty cubits long and thirty cubits wide. There was a porch in front with pillars, and a canopy in front of them.

7 He made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgement, the Hall of Justice, covered with cedar from floor to floor.

8 His own house where he would reside, in the other court behind the hall, was of the same construction. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter, whom he had taken in marriage.

9 All these were made of costly stones, cut according to measure, sawed with saws, back and front, from the foundation to the coping, and from outside to the great court. 10 The foundation was of costly stones, huge stones, stones of eight and ten cubits. 11 There were costly stones above, cut to measure, and cedar wood. 12 The great court had three courses of dressed stone to one layer of cedar beams all round; so had the inner court of the house of the Lord, and the vestibule of the house.
King Solomon is best remembered for his building projects, specifically the Temple and palace. The palace (described above) is elaborate and extravagant. As compared to the Temple, it is also gargantuan. Can you imagine a pastor raising funds to build a church and a manse and constructing the manse be three times the size of the church? Certainly, eyebrows would raise.

One of the (many) stunning features of the palace is the materials Solomon chose, among them the cedars of Lebanon. Lebanon is known for its cedars (a cedar tree is prominent on the state flag even today). The fact that Solomon was willing to source the wood for his home from a foreign nation says that he was sparing no expense. Of course, the tax burden for these expenditures was felt by the poorest constituents of Solomon’s kingdom.

Fadi Boukaram is a Lebanese man who experienced the February 14, 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri just blocks from his office. It was then that Fadi decided to leave Lebanon. He had grown up with 15 years of civil war and needed a change. He came to the United States, got an education, and found a job. One day Fadi was reflecting on that Valentine’s Day assassination and decided to google “Lebanon.” To his surprise, the first search return was not the country he grew up in but Lebanon, Oregon. Intrigued, Fadi decided to find out how many other Lebanons there could be. It turns out that there are 47 Lebanons in the United States. Fadi made the choice to take a leave from his job and visit every Lebanon in the USA.

On visiting several of these Lebanons, he discovered that many of them have cedar trees that they said were given by Lebanon (the country). The people of these varied Lebanons love their cedars and proudly showed them off to Fadi. Except they are not cedars. Fadi noticed right away that these are not the cedars he knew from Lebanon, but he could not bring himself to tell his hosts.

Fadi returned to Lebanon (his country of origin) to visit some family and wanted to find a way to bring real cedars from Lebanon to plant at each of these Lebanons in the USA. It wasn’t an easy feat, but he managed to make a second trip to each Lebanon to gift them with a real cedar of Lebanon.

Solomon uses the cedars to build his wealth but Fadi uses the cedars as a way to share his Lebanese identity with his new neighbors. The contrast makes me pensive. On the one hand, the cedars are a tool of exploitation and a symbol for extravagance while on the other they are part of a heritage and a story to be shared. 

The contrast in these stories about the cedars of Lebanon cause me to wonder what resources in our contemporary life are wielded as weapons of exploitation when they could just as easily be a shared resource, heritage, or identity? Could education be democratized so that students are not saddled with extraordinary debt simply for a chance to participate in our economy with a decent job? Could health care be more broadly accessible so that more people could receive preventative health care rather than enduring the pain of treatable conditions?

Or, the harder question: what parts of our Christian tradition are used as tools of manipulation and exploitation when they could be pathways to a shared experience of the divine? In my own study of Christian tradition, I am often repentant about how biblical interpretation has been used as a tool to oppress and exclude people, rather than to share an identity as children of God. What are the “cedars” in your life? Or the life of your community? 
God of wisdom, make us thoughtful about the resources, ideas, and objects we have in our lives. Where we build up, make us aware of where we also tear down. Shape our reflex to be one of generosity and free us to give with open hands and hearts. Amen.
Amy Jones
Interested in hearing more??

You can hear all of Fadi Boukaram's story
in the RadioLab episode,

Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
Please watch your email, our church website and Facebook page
for updates on the ways in which you can worship at home!

We are so excited for worship using Facebook Live Sunday morning at 10am, as well,
and we hope you can tune in!
Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook and stay up to date on social media!