Proper 11B: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Ephesians 2:11-22
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
Let’s continue together in prayer for a moment:
“God, you are my light and my salvation – why should I be afraid of anyone or anything?
Oh Lord, you are the strength of my life – why should I be afraid?
One thing I ask of you God, one thing I seek – I long to dwell in your house, Oh God, all the days of my life.
To see how beautiful you are God, – and to look to find you in the place where you live.” (Amen)
Do you recognize the words of this prayer? Do you know where it’s taken from? Do you know who supposedly wrote it? This prayer comes from the book of Psalms – and according to tradition, this particular Psalm is one of those written and sung and prayed by King David, whom we encountered in the first reading today. Have you ever thought about how awesome it is that when we read and pray the Psalms we’re actually praying the same words that David prayed thousands of years ago? They’re also the very same words – the same thoughts that Jesus prayed. And that means that these same words are the words that shape our lives and direct us in our personal relationship with God!
The words of many of the Psalms began ringing in my head as I considered what I might say this morning about the Old Testament reading, the reading from Samuel. I was particularly reminded of the Psalms that speak about God’s house: His temple, His tent, His tabernacle . . . His dwelling place. Listen to the actual words from Psalm 27 that were adapted for the prayer I said earlier:
“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.”
In both the Old Testament reading and the second from New Testament, the one from Ephesians, we heard about God’s house – the dwelling place of God. The reading from Samuel is about David’s plan for building a new permanent and spectacular house for God – replacing the tent which for centuries had travelled around with the people of Israel, first through the wilderness as they moved from Egypt to the Promised Land, then to various other sacred places after they arrived in the Promised Land.
During these years the people knew that God was physically with them –they interacted with God – they knew that God dwelled among them. The symbol of the place that God lived was the Ark of the Covenant, and that Ark was housed in a tent. Just to give you an idea of the actual size of the Ark: it was a small chest about 4 ½ feet long by 2 feet wide, by 2 feet deep. Although the Ark was not really very large, it was ultimately holy! It was the outward reminder of the real and constant Presence of God.
The mobility of the Ark housed under a tent made it a particularly convenient house for the God of Israel during these early years because the Israelites lived a nomadic life-style, constantly on the move. The tent arrangement could be easily transported. But by the time of today’s reading, the people of Israel are evolving – they’re moving into a more domestic life-style. Their enemies have been defeated and the twelve tribes are being united into a single kingdom under their king David.And we learn that David is now settling into his own personal peace – his own space – as he moves into a big, new luxurious palace. However when David looks out and sees that the Ark – the house God is living in – is still under a tent, it bothers him. David is troubled because he is living in a nicer house than God’s. So David devises a plan to build God a better house.
Sounds like a proper and righteous course of action – admirable enough. His confidante and trusted friend, the prophet Nathan thinks so as well. Nathan officially endorses the house building plan. However it turns out that Nathan’s response is premature . . . and presumptuous. He hasn’t asked God about it (which, by the way, is part of a prophet’s job description! . . . to consult God and then pass along God’s message.) Nathan has given his endorsement of the plan to build God a house based on his own human judgment and his own common sense.
But then God actually appears on the scene – with another vision – and with a bit of gentle questioning. God says: “You’re going to build a ‘house’ for me to live in?!? Why, I haven’t lived in a ‘house’ from the time I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt till now. And in all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders . . . ‘Why haven’t you built me a nice house to live in?” So David’s well-intentioned house building plan receives a Divine veto.
Has there ever been an instance in your life when you’ve settled on a course of action that you thought would be a good and helpful thing to do? Perhaps you wanted to solve a problem for someone, or offered a helping hand, or gave some advice. But then that well-intentioned plan turned out to be misguided somehow – or perhaps it completely backfired. Perhaps your plan was outright rejected.
Like David, we all want to do good – to please God – to do good things for other people – and to do it in God’s name. But we must not be presumptuous in just deciding for ourselves what we’re going to do, and then tell God about it. This is not the way right relationship with God works. Instead, we must let God take the initiative. Our good works and deeds need to be a response to His initiative, not a product of our own ego-driven, ego-centered ideas and desires. Often it’s our own pride and ambition that can drive our actions – even when our intention is to act out of love.
On the other hand, here’s how a well-ordered working relationship with God works: God inspires the plan to build the house; then we response. God doesn’t build the house alone. He asks for our obedience and our help. His plan is first to ask us to acknowledge his power and his love for us – his constant care, his protection. Then along with our acknowledging God’s power and love comes an awareness of our right relationship with Him – our dependence on Him. In this dependence, paradoxically, comes our freedom – the freedom of surrender, the freedom to say “yes”, the freedom to act – to grow and build through His power, not our own – and all to the glory of God’s name.
There’s another Psalm – Psalm 127 – that speaks to “house building” with God:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.”. . .
Back to David and the scripture reading. As is always the case in our dealings with God, when God says no to a human plan, He has a better plan. God says to David, “No David, you will not build a house for me. Instead I, the Lord will make you into a house!” Here we have a play on words: the Hebrew word bayit can mean either a house as a physical building – or it can refer to a household, a family, a dynasty. God’s plan was to establish a royal family through David and a kingdom for the people of Israel. As it happened, in accordance with God’s planning and timing, it was actually David’s son Solomon who built God the splendid physical temple in Jerusalem.
But more directly relevant to us as Christians, David fathered the household that God used to send us His son Jesus – building into humanity God’s very own Presence in the incarnation of His son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is the Good News: God is always with us. Emanuel! – in the person of Jesus Christ. In this holy mystery, as we become one with Jesus, we ourselves actually become His holy temple. In you, in me, in us – God builds a dwelling place for His living Presence . . . in this life and for eternity.
In closing I invite you to consider these words of Dame Julian of Norwich. Julian was a popular 14th century mystic and saint. She wrote:
“We ought highly to rejoice that God dwells in our soul,
and much more highly to rejoice that our soul dwells in God.
Our soul is created to be God’s dwelling place . .
and the dwelling place of our soul is God . . . “