8 November 2020 Building Permits Martin Baker
2 Samuel 7:1-17
1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Our refrigerator stopped working last week. In stopping it blew out our power. The appliance guy charged me $110 to come around look at the machine and tell me it’s not worth replacing. Then the dishwasher leaks and makes this grinding sound. The neighbour put a digger through the water main we had no water.
Do you think sometimes life would be easier if we all just lived in tents?
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to following Jesus perhaps the most difficult words we will find in scripture are in Luke chapter 9.
57 As they were walking along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Then he said to someone else – follow me.
In fact if you read your Bibles you can trace this tension way, way back between our desire for an address and our belief and trust in a God who seems very uneasy with the idea of being given a permanent home.
So life would be easier living in a tent? I’ve never asked you to build me a house of cedar.
Let’s listen carefully here to the words house and tent in our scripture this morning:
1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
We have this difficult dialogue between King David and the Prophet Nathan and God.
The people are at last settled. David has his house of cedar. He’s got his standing army.
His servants and concubines. He is charging and collecting taxes. His borders are strong.
But at this stage anyway God seems quite happy to stay in the tent.
So we’ve got this situation today in our story about David where he wants to build a temple for God.
Let’s take a closer look at the dynamics here:
King David, we hear declares that he is going to build a temple. Apart from anything else that’s quite a cunning thing to do. If you want to make sure everyone knows that God is on your side build a temple. Give God a permanent address, what better way to solidify and legitimate your regime. In the past, if anything could have been called God's temple it was the portable shrine called the Ark of the Covenant. This tabernacle. Which the people had carried through the desert and into the promised land and into war and so on. But the fact that it was portable testified to a God who was free and mobile. But a temple. That really removes the danger and possibility that God might depart.
I wonder what monuments, physical or spiritual monuments exist in our landscapes? Here we read of David. He wants to build a temple. And we have to read this story with two minds. What is really happening here. Is it a cunning piece of political manipulation, or is it a genuine act of piety and faith?
Let’s build a church. And let’s remember too that it was more than 200 year after the death and resurrection of Jesus that the first purpose built church was built. When our ancient Christian forebears talked about building a church, their first throught was not to do with land and bricks and mortar. It was all to do with gathering a people together. Tent or temple. Moving or stationery.
We hear in the story of God arguing with the prophet Nathan. God speaks with the prophet and withdrawals the building permit. God argues, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews argues that a permanent residence is unacceptable because it violates God’s freedom. This is a God who will not be held in place by any religious arrangement. We hear of the big plan to build the temple with cedar. Cedar. We hear that word and like Nathan the prophet we should be feeling even more suspicious about David’s motives. Cedar was the building material favoured by Kings. Like high ceilings, marble floors, lots of bathrooms, carpeted garages and Jacuzzis.
The plushness of the proposed temple contradicted with Gods self-understanding. God will not be bought off, controlled or domesticated by such luxury. You can’t think you can settle God in with a bit of cedar and the right school zone.
So the royal apparatus fails to make God its patron. What’s going to happen here? Does this mean the end. Is God going to just leave David to his own devises and folly?
Actually quite the opposite happens in our story. We read here about the distance God is prepared to go in the support of David.
I took you from following the sheep. I will make for you a great name. I will appoint a place. I will give you rest.
You see this passage is built up and build upon. Finally God says to David, I Yahweh will make you a house. In this case a house means not a temple but a dynasty, a future. David begins by offering to make God a house, a temple. God concludes the story by offering to make David a house, a dynasty.
God has done for David, in the words we know from the New Testament - far more abundantly than all we might ask or think. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.
We look back and see that we are part of this house. Here at Clevedon. Or wherever we worship. The communities of people among whom God has promised to dwell forever. And they for that very reason are to be communities of hope. A hope which continues defines this community through its beliefs, its confessions, its behaviour, in God who keeps promises within the processes of history. This community always is to live between these two points of the grace which saves us and the challenges which beckon us.
A while back I was in a team of people who had the job of selecting people who wanted to become ministers or pastors.
And the people who often concerned us most were the people who came with the most ridged and set views on almost everything it seemed. Almost to the point of speaking on behalf of God about who were the saved and who were the sinners.
The thing that concerned us about a building list like that is not so much what it says - but what it doesn’t say. How does this person deal with uncertainty, how do they manage where people hold different views, could they ever change the way they think. Are they still on a journey? How do they manage when things don’t work out as they planned or worked out, when God seems to act in a way contrary to how they are sure is the way for God to act?
Eventually in our story the people get their way and build a temple to God. And that temple representing so much also creates terrible problems. Ironically as the story unfolds the temple has to be destroyed before the faith of the Hebrew people can once again expand and grow and with it the love and justice that would transform the lives of so many people.
Remember what Jesus said as he stood outside the massive temple in Jerusalem. Destroy this temple and in 3 days I will rebuild it. Jesus, risen, 3 days after his execution, alive as a presence calling us on the way.
My very traditional and conservative late grandmother was, some years ago confronted on her doorstep by a very pregnant young granddaughter. She could no longer stay at her home. According to my cousin in an instant my grandmother welcomed her in providing a place for her and her baby.
I have always been inspired by those people of faith, people who might have even voted for quite different things than I have voted for, but those people here, who seem to get the balance right. On one hand holding firmly to the things that are really important, but also not holding on to things so tightly that they are not also open to new possibilities, to change to challenge to meet the demands of love and compassion so central to our Gospel.
It is a tough thing to look at our own lives, our order, the way we see and do things and be open to how the Spirit is still calling us forward. To move on with the God who prefers a tent and a journey and a way. Open always to that call of Jesus to follow him.
Let us give thanks and praise today for the God revealed in Jesus. A God who calls us and enables us to move on with assurance. One who is with us through the dangerous places, who leads us beside still water, a God whose blessing is abundant and who promises to provide a dwelling place a house, for us, forever. AMEN
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.