July 22, 2018

Pentecost 9   July 22, 2018 Ephesians 2:17-22, 2 Samuel 7:1-17

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King David decides to build a house for God. David doesn’t exactly spell out his plans – all he says to his pastor, Nathan the prophet, is “Here I am living in a house of cedar – while the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan knows exactly where David’s going – and says “Go, do all you have in mind – God is with you.”

Perhaps King David is feeling discomforting twinges of conscience about living in a palace while God lives in a tent out at the Camp Ground. Or –  maybe it has just taken a while to get to a place where David can rest a little from all the battles he’s been waging… And actually have both the time and the means to undertake the major building project he has in mind…

David’s been kept busy a long time… defeating neighbor nations in a long series of wars and battles. Along the way, he’s conquered Jerusalem, a city built on hills, surrounded by high walls, said to be impossible to defeat. But David has conquered – and now begun a radical make-over, turning Jerusalem into his new capital city, the city of David.

David’s only recently been installed as king over the nation, which had been divided between it’s Southern and Northern provinces. Now the neighboring king of Tyre has built David a splendid palace of cedar, the finest construction material of the day, in hopes of maintaining good relations. A wise move, in light of David’s remarkable successes in battle.

Now David hopes to escalate the make-over of Jerusalem – as last week we heard loud celebration with singing, dancing and feasting, as David brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. (The same ark that loaned it’s name to Raiders of the Lost Ark – where archeologist Harrison Ford knows enough about the power of the ark to look away, while Nazis, who don’t know, go up in smoke trying to open it.)

And by bringing the ark of the covenant, which holds the tablets of the Law of Moses and other holy artifacts from Israel’s past into Jerusalem – David also relocates Israel’s central place of worship from Shiloh to Jerusalem.

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When we first met David he was just a small town shepherd boy. But God called him to be shepherd king for Israel. He’s slain the legendary Philistine warrior Goliath, and become Israel’s best known military hero. He’s led armies against the Philistines winning battle after battle. People say “Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands.” Which makes King Saul, David’s father-in-law, homicidally jealous. David flees into the wilderness, where for years he leads a ragtag band of guerilla fighters… Till King Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David is named king. With backing now from all the elders of Israel, David decides its time to build God a temple.

David knows Israel’s mode of worship looks pretty humble compared with the temples of our neighbors. Israel’s corporate worship has been focused wherever the tent and tabernacle from the time of Exodus reside. Lately that’s been Shiloh to the North, but up to now the ark of God has stayed mobile. David also knows all the neighboring kings have built larger, grander temples for their various small g gods. So David reasons, surely God who made heaven and earth deserves a finer grander temple than all those of the idol gods around us. Enough with us having the humblest worship set up in the neighborhood!

Scripture makes it clear – David loves God –  and the love is mutual. God chose David to be king, and pointed him out to Samuel the prophet for anointing as king in a private ceremony, long before Israel gets around to doing the same thing in public. David appreciates all God has done, and wants to show his gratitude by building a house for God.

And David, who by now is very knowledgeable in the ways of political and religious life, also understands – building a temple in Jerusalem won’t hurt at all with consolidating his power. Such thoughts may be entirely subliminal… But most men, by a certain age, especially Alpha-Male guys like David, can’t help thinking – what will I have to show for this life when it’s all done?

Still, whatever else may be involved to whatever degree, David’s main motivation, the word of God tells us, is love… And while David is seldom lacking in self-esteem or self-confidence in the realm of human affairs… Before God David is always humble… And we see his humility at work as…

David shares his temple-building plans with Nathan, the national prophet, who makes his first appearance in the story today – giving his thumbs-up  “Go for it, God bless you!” Spiritual building permit enthusiastically approved.

Except – later that night – God speaks to Nathan: “Excuse me, did anyone ever ask me if I wanted a house? All those years as I led Israel out from the house of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, into the promised land… Did I ever suggest I might want a house built for me? Haven’t you noticed my preference for residing in the tent and tabernacle I carefully instructed Moses how to build? Tell David “thanks for thinking of me. But no thanks.”

“And tell David – it’s not for you to build a house for me. It’s me who will build a house for you. Not a house of brick and mortar, cedar wood and gold. No. But I will make you a house. I will build you into a household of faith that will last forever,” says the Lord God.

Nathan tells David everything he’s heard from the Lord, letting him know the building permit’s been canceled. So how is this news going to be received by David? Who has clearly set his sights on what could be his crowning achievement. But now God says, “no thanks” to the house David planned to build.

And maybe we too – many of us – have experienced something like this? Maybe we’ve had a dream – or vision – or felt a calling to do something for God – but one way or another God lets us know – our plans are well-intentioned – but not what God intends.

Since we’re talking about building a house for God, I’ve been remembering taking a class in seminary on church planting, and for a while thinking I might be called to work as part of a new church-planting team. Our professor encouraged my interest and asked me to think about working with him… Long story short, a research paper I did for that class may have turned out to be a little help to some Methodist church planters here in Massachusetts – but it soon became clear it wasn’t my calling. I was disappointed and felt a bit adrift for awhile… Till other callings came…

Which in a very small way… is what happens in a much bigger way with David. God, as it turns out, is not calling him to plant a temple for him… But God hints here and spells out later that one of David’s sons, Solomon, will be given the ok to build in Jerusalem. In the book of Chronicles we’re told David gets to help with some of the prep work… But that’s not the main point of the story.

And maybe here’s a good place to pause and notice – what God says here to David through Nathan is one of the bible’s major theological turning points. Up to now, First and Second Samuel have been the story of David’s remarkable rise from humble beginnings to ruler-in-chief of the nation. Up to now the story’s been all about David’s accomplishments – on the battle field, in diplomacy, in the arts of worship – where he’s a skilled musician, gifted composer of psalms and songs, and last week we saw him dancing passionately before the Lord, long before liturgical dance was cool…

So God’s ‘thanks but no thanks’ word to David must be difficult for David to hear… At least that is, if God were to stop with ‘thanks but no thanks.’ (If the last thing I heard from God after seminary was no, that’s not your calling – I’d be seriously bummed out… But God made me a series of better offers not long after…)

And God barely pauses before He continues speaking to David through Nathan, saying – “It’s not as if I need a house – but in fact it’s gonna be me who will build you into a house. I’ll make you – and through you, all your descendants after you – into a house of God that will last forever. And – nothing you can ever do will take this promise away. No matter how badly you and-or your descendants after you mess up –  my love will always be there for you – forever.”

In other words – no to what you asked about – but a much bigger yes than you could have ever imagined.

Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann calls this “one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith…faith that relies on the free promise of the gospel.”

Christians have sometimes been known to give lip service to free grace salvation… while acting as if that’s for when we die – meanwhile life’s all about personal accomplishment. Our worth is in what we do and achieve.

But to his credit, David, who already has many more accomplishments than most of us will ever have by the time he’s thirty-something, and who has every reason to believe he can keep accomplishing more – nonetheless sees very quickly –  in turning down his temple building request God is making him a far better offer. David, who knows the satisfaction that comes with great human accomplishment, knows all the more… the ultimate emptiness of human accomplishment.

So David, who also knows the glory of God surpasses all other glories –  wasn’t wrong to want to build a beautiful temple for God. He just didn’t know yet exactly what kind of building material to build with.

As now we do know, by grace, because of Jesus… (If we don’t know yet, just keep listening and ask questions… ) Because now God is speaking through the New Testament gospels and letters – Ephesians today – letting us know – whatever particular kinds of ministry we’re each called to – whatever we’ve accomplished in life, whatever we’re hoping to accomplish – important as all that may be – none of that matters nearly as much as the calling we all share in common, together – God’s call to help with building the house of God – a temple not built with hammers and nails… Because now we ourselves are God’s building material. Built together on the foundation of the saints and apostles with Jesus our cornerstone…

The temple of God. God’s dwelling place forever. God’s beautiful gift freely given without price.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.