The house of God - part 1

King David wants to build a house for God.  But - as often happens - God has something much better in mind.

Full Text: 

The house of God – part 1

II Samuel 7:1-17 – October 21, 2012

 

            When the people of Israel cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, they are not a single, unified nation, but a mixed bag of loosely connected tribes.   As we hear in the book of Judges, they fall into a pattern: they turn away from the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt; God sends an enemy to harass them; they turn back to God and cry out for help; and God raises up a leader to bring them together and deliver them.

            These leaders are called, “Judges” – arbiters, wisdom givers, military leaders (with the exception of Deborah), and heroes.  But the book of Judges ends on an ominous note:  “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”  (Judges 21:25)  And as my wife, Sylvia, pointed out, this conclusion is reached after acts of violence against women.

            When the Philistines – the archenemies of Israel – capture the Ark of the Covenant, the people begin to clamor for a king.  Samuel, son of Hannah, served as judge and prophet in Israel his whole life.  His sons were also judges, but they were corrupt and served their own interests.  So, God directed Samuel to anoint a king – Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin.  He was tall and handsome, wealthy and a leader of men.  For a time, he honored God and did what was good in God’s sight.  But then he disobeyed God by acting as a priest and performing his own sacrifices.  And God rejected him.

            Even while Saul continued to serve as Israel’s king, God directed Samuel to anoint another who would follow Saul as king.  He told Samuel to pay a visit to a man named Jesse in the town of Bethlehem.  So Saul wouldn’t get suspicious, Samuel’s cover story was that he was going to offer sacrifice there. 

He found Jesse and asked to see his sons.  Jesse brought forth his eldest, Eliab, and Samuel thought, “This is certainly God’s chosen one!”

But God said, “No, this is not the one.  You look on the outside.   I look on the inside, in the heart.”

So, one by one, Jesse brought his six sons before Samuel, but none of them was God’s chosen.  Finally, Samuel asked Jesse, “Do you have any other sons?”

Jesse replied, “Yes, the youngest.  But he’s the runt of the litter and he’s out tending sheep.”

“Go, bring him,” ordered Samuel. 

And when David appeared before Samuel, God said, “This is the one!”  So, Samuel rose and anointed David.

Even while Saul was still alive, David began to show his bravery and his leadership and his devotion to God.  After Saul died, David became king – first of Judah, the southern part of Israel, then after ten years, the northern part of Israel, as well.  He made Jerusalem his capital city.  He brought the Ark of the Covenant there.  He solidified and expanded Israel’s borders.  He defeated enemies all around.  He built himself a luxurious palace in which to live.

It was a time of glory and peace – the high point in the story of Israel.  But David felt something was missing.

David said to the prophet Nathan – “Here I am living comfortably in a house of cedar, while the Ark of the Covenant still sits in a tent.”

And Nathan said, “Go and do whatever is in your heart.”

But that night God spoke to Nathan in a dream.  “Tell David this: You may live in a house, but I’ve never lived in a house.  I live in a tent and that lets me live among the people and move about with them.  Did I ever ask for a house?  No, tell David not to build me a house.

“But also tell David this: I will make you a house!  After you are dead and buried, I will raise up your son to succeed you.  He will build a house for me.  I will be a father to him and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I’ll discipline him, but I will not remove my steadfast love from him, like I did with Saul.  So your family and your kingdom are secure.  Your throne will always be there.”

 

This is God’s promise to David.  It is his covenant with David.  It is the fourth such covenant in the story of the Bible: the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Israel, and the covenant with David. 

After the flood, God promises, “I will never destroy the earth with a flood,” knowing full well what humans are capable of.

To Abraham, God promises land and descendants and blessing.  Even though Abraham occasionally has his doubts, even though he tries to pass Sarah off as his sister to the Egyptians, even though he has a son by their slave, God stays true to his promise to Abraham.

When God first establishes a covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai, that they be his treasured possession, God stipulates, “If you will hear my voice and obey my commandments…”  When they break the covenant by worshipping the golden calf, God remakes the covenant.  God promises again, but does not ask again for a pledge of obedience from Israel.

Now God establishes a covenant with David.  It is to establish his house – not as a physical place, but as the presence of a person.  And this promise to David is the most important to Christians – it is fulfilled in Jesus.  (If you’ve ever wondered what those long genealogies in Matthew and Luke are about, that’s one of the things they show – that Jesus is a direct descendant of David and the fulfillment of God’s promise to him.)

But this promise to David is important for another reason – it is also a promise that is not dependent on performance.

God says, “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.  But I will not take my steadfast love from him…”

God is referring to the misbehavior of Solomon, son of David, who will succeed David on the throne.  But after this unconditional promise is given, David commits adultery and then murder to cover it up.  David must suffer consequences as well, but he himself does not die and God’s love is not taken from him.

 

Earlier this week, I was at the Bishop’s Convocation which is held annually.  One of our featured speakers was Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ELCA pastor from Denver.  She is not your typical pastor – she has tattoos of the church year up and down her arms – and the mission church she started is not your typical congregation – the House for All Sinners and Saints.

She was raised in a devout family in a conservative Christian denomination.  She had an auto-immune disease as a teenager, she said, which made her eyes bulge out like a bug’s.  She became addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Ten years later, she became clean and sober.  Then she met a really cute-looking Lutheran seminary student.  And when one day she heard a Lutheran pastor say that Martin Luther believed we are all simultaneously sinners and saints, she thought, “That describes my experience exactly!”

At one point on Monday, in response to a question, Nadia was talking about the new member brunch they have at the House for All Sinners and Saints.  Everyone sits in a circle.  They go around and tell what has drawn them there – the music, the preaching, etc. 

Nadia is the last one to speak.  She tells them that she is glad they are there and that it warms her heart to hear them say wonderful things about the House.  Then she tells them that at some point the House is going to disappoint them.  She or someone else or the whole congregation together is going to say or do something that falls far short of their expectations. 

Then she tells them she hopes they resist the urge to leave, but that they will stay beyond the failure so that they can witness the grace that happens.

 

That’s what God is up to with David.  That is what God is up to with Jesus.  And that is what God is up to with us.  Jesus gives us a new covenant in his blood – with the promise of forgiveness. 

God calls us to live lives that show mercy and grace and love to others.  God calls us to live at peace with others and to seek one another’s well-being.  Yet when we fail – which we inevitably do – God doesn’t withdraw that love.  God shows it again and again and again, just as God did with David.

The amazing thing is not that we on occasion or even regularly live as God wants us to live.  The amazing thing is that God forgives us when we do not.  And God never reneges on that covenant.  God never withdraws the promise of forgiveness to us – because of Jesus.  That’s so we can see and experience grace over and over again and so are transformed.

This is the house that God has built for us.  This is the house that is present to us.  It is present to us in a person.  And that person is Jesus.