2 Samuel 7:1-14
God’s promise to David
7 When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent!”
3 Nathan said to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because the Lord is with you.”
4 But that very night the Lord’s word came to Nathan: 5 Go to my servant David and tell him: This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. 6 In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. 7 Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people: Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple?
8 So then, say this to my servant David: This is what the Lord of heavenly forces says: I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to be leader over my people Israel. 9 I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone, and I’ve eliminated all your enemies before you. Now I will make your name great—like the name of the greatest people on earth. 10 I’m going to provide a place for my people Israel, and plant them so that they may live there and no longer be disturbed. Cruel people will no longer trouble them, as they had been earlier, 11 when I appointed leaders over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.
And the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make a dynasty for you. 12 When the time comes for you to die and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your descendant—one of your very own children—to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a temple for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.
Thoughts on the passage:
Shortly after the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell on September 11th, people already began thinking about what they would build to replace them. This ultimately culminated in the Freedom Spire, which was built to help remember the buildings that stood there before and as a symbol of the recovery of our country. For years, buildings have been used for their symbolism. The Statue of Liberty was given to this country as a symbol and reminder for what we stand for as a nation. Cathedrals were built during the middle ages as a way to draw people closer to heaven through their lofty spires and impressive stain-glass windows.
When I was visiting Vienna last year, my friend pointed out a monument that had been erected by the Soviets after they liberated the city from the Nazis. The swift creation of the monument, even in the middle of the war, was done as a sign of power. This monument was meant to symbolize the triumph of the Soviets and serve as a reminder to their enemies. It was meant to offer both hope to those who had been liberated and despair to those who might still sympathize with the enemies of Russia.
It is only natural that as David’s wealth and power grows, he begins to think about what sort of palace he might want to live in. Most of us at one time or another have thought about what work we might do to improve our house if we had more money. We have probably also dreamed about the house we might have if funds were not an issue. While we might find fault in how much of his wealth David spends on a house, it is not surprising that he does so.
In between drawing up plans for this great new palace and getting the furniture settled once the work was done, David has a thought. Suddenly, he feels guilt for living in such splendor when the Ark of the Covenant, the rest of place for God, is still in a tent. Like any good lay person, David goes and sits down with his pastor. He details the problem and even offers to fix it. Not only does he not want God to be without a home, but David is willing to use his wealth to create such a place.
Imagine if a church member came up with the idea to build a new, bigger, better building for the church. Imagine if they also came with the check ready to go so that there would be no need for a feasibility study, or a capital campaign, or a loan. Nathan did what any other pastor would probably do, he gave the project the green light. While the texts do not mention it, you can almost imagine Nathan going to bed that night drawing up his own plans for what this new temple to God might look like.
Those dreams however were rudely interrupted by a message from God. God did want David to build a temple. God did not need a temple. God had not asked for a temple. In fact, God points out that the value of not having a temple. Without a temple it has been easier for the people to learn that God is with them wherever they have been. By carrying God around, they have been reminded of God’s presence with them. God is not ready for that to end.
What God knows and understands is the power and symbolism of buildings. God understands that as much as we might know that God is with us everywhere we go, if we build a house for God, we will expect God to reside in that house. If we know that God lives in a house, we will think of this as the location for God. We know that if God is in God’s house than God is not somewhere else. A temple, no matter how great and grand it is, can also be a prison. We should not put God in a box.
This week we are worshipping outside. We are doing it for a couple of reasons, one is that we are blessed with a beautiful location for our church and it is nice to get out and enjoy. It is also good to get outside the church and worship, so we remember that God cannot be kept in a box. When we worship God outside, we can experience the presence of God in new and wonderful ways. It brings new energy to our worship, both in the moment, but also the next week when we go back inside. By getting outside of our usual spaces we are able to give a breath of fresh air to our worship.
I do not want this to sound like a knock against church buildings. Part of the value of worshipping God outside is it makes the worship of God in our sanctuary that much more meaningful. When we remember that God can be present with us anywhere, it can help us to experience God’s presence with us in the sanctuary too. What David is reminded of is the fact that God is with us always. God does not come on command or stay where we wish but moves and lives and breathes among us.
There is another lesson to be learned from this story: the importance of listening to God. The reminder that Nathan gets is that God has never asked for a palace or a temple to dwell in. While there is nothing wrong with David trying to think about how to demonstrate his love and appreciation for God, David is not listening to God when he does it. If David had listened to God, he would know what God really wants is a relationship. God wants to be in relationship with each of us. The whole covenant that is celebrated and remembered by the Ark is a promise that God will be there for us and we will follow God. If David listened to God, he might have remembered that God wants something besides buildings and sacrifices: God wants us.
The funny thing is, the same is true for us. While most of us can be like David at times and dream of a better house, a nicer car, or a fancy vacation, this is not what we really want. Most of us, deep down, want relationships. We want more time with our kids and grandkids. We want to love others and be loved in return. We want to feel connected to God and know God’s presence in our lives. The buildings, the money, the stuff, all of it is fleeting. Relationships are what really matter.
Our challenge is to not get distracted by things and their false sense of permanence. We need to not hold on to material possessions as a reminder of status or power. Rather, we need to seek after that which is truly lasting and that which truly matters: God. The passage today reminds us that we do not need to look hard to find God. God is with us everywhere. God is with us in our homes, our churches, our schools, our workplaces, and everywhere in creation God is there. Thanks be to God.
Questions to Ponder:
Where do you go to experience God?
What is a building in your life that has a great deal of significance to you?
When is a time you have felt God’s presence outside the walls of the church?
God of all creation, whether it is the beauty of a stained-glass window or the painted wings of a butterfly, we see you all around us. Help us in the midst of our crazy and hectic lives to remember that you are there too. Be with us as we go about our days and help us to know your presence. Forgive us when we try and keep you in a box or think that we are far from you. Grant us the wisdom to see you and worship you at all times and in all places. Amen