In a year filled with struggles, disappointment, sadness, loneliness… all the feelings, I bring you good news this morning! On July 15, a 15 hundred year old sword was pulled from a lake in in Sweden. Empires rose and fell, Vikings sailed to Canada, and Briton left the European union, with some other things in-between that, and this sword had been lost. So, with all I have of swords in ancient Britannia, there’s clearly only one response! Behold! Your Queen! Her name is Saga, her family moved from the States to Sweden and she’s a Viking fan. So, she’s not perfect.
Our stories of who gets to rule are often just as seeming random as deciding the one who pulls the sword from the water or the stone will be in charge. Yes, they’re a child. No, they have no particular leadership skills. No, they can’t fit into the outfit. Yes, they actually do take care of animals. The sword, like the wand, chooses who it connects with, who will weld it, who is worthy.
Our story of David isn’t so unlike this. The youngest son, the one who had to stay home and care for the livestock while his brothers fought to unify what would be Israel, what would become David’s kingdom. It wasn’t the sword that choose David, it was God. And he was called by Samuel, Hannah’s son, who became the anointer of the first Kings of Israel. By the time we get to our story today, David, or at least his armies, never stopped fighting, never stop striving to unite the tribes, drive back enemies, when both or either were the aggressor. And fighting and wars and battles would be part of most of the history of ancient Israel.
But we have a rare moment of rest for the shepherd king.
What had happened just before was that David’s army marched to the city of Jebus, and took over, renamed it Jerusalem and made it the epicenter of the people of Israel. Another king sent cedars from Lebanon to build David a palace. David brought the ark to this newly claimed City of David. And for a moment, David could sit in his house and revel in what he had made, on the backs of others. I’m sure, with a wine in one hand and his feet kicked up on a rest. It was in that moment that David remembered when the ark came to Jerusalem, it was brought in with the circus tent the people had made in the wilderness.
Now, like David, I like to kick my feet up and relax. I like buildings and chairs. My camping experiences growing up involved either a camper or a cabin with cots and mattresses and running water that I had to walk outside to get to—and that was roughing it. My partner likes camping in sunshine, in rain, in the middle of fall… but if it were me, I’d prefer a roof, and walls, doors, heat, central air. I can see how David would come to the conclusion that the canvas walls, flaps for doors, vulnerable to the weather would not be an appropriate dwelling place for God who brought them safely to this moment. This God deserved a temple, a house, and David was going to build it. It would be his greatest achievement yet, it would centralize the people of Israel to the worship in this city, centralize them in Jerusalem, centralize them to his kingship.
And in a dream, the new prophet to the King, Nathan, realized God was saying, “Nah, we’re not going to do that.” In this telling of the story, David’s hands were too covered in blood from the battles fought building the nation to build a house for God. But, God also tells David he will not be abandoned, even when he screws up; God would not abandon his family, even when they make a disaster of everything; God would bless the house of David generation upon generation, a dynasty.
It makes sense, we like having a place to go. A place where our we can show up and our expectations can be met. A place where we know we will experience God, or at least community with God’s people. Where we meet in ritual and love. We love our churches. The sanctuaries were our children were baptized, where our parents were married, where we first heard the stories of Jesus that bringing freedom and grace and life. And I know, we want back into the doors, back into the space, back to what we have known, back to what feels safe and comfortable. Sometimes it’s back to a time, a time when the pews were filled, the Sunday School classrooms were packed, everyone was there Sunday morning, Wednesday night, maybe even another day. Sometimes we hope that if we can build the right structure, the right program, the right organization, people will show up. But when we’re honest, we know better.
David thought he should build a place for God to live, for the people to come together in one place, to come to the place of power. God had other ideas. Through Isaiah, God says:
Heaven is my throne,
and earth is my footstool.
So where could you build a house for me,
and where could my resting place be?
God, who lead the people through the desert, who traveled with them through their time of trials, who brought them safely thus far, was the God of a tent, was a traveling God. This God will always be where they are, always where ever they are traveling or wandering off to.
God is still with us when we are out in the parking lot or at home in front of our own computers, when we are gathering in in the fellowship hall for discussion or on the phone or over zoom or skype or messenger. Not only is God with us, God is still moving, still stirring, still renewing our lives, still teaching us to love. So again, no matter what they say on the news, even when we don’t meet in person for worship, the church is not closed. It is not the building that makes the church but it is God in you and you loving your neighbor in the name of God and by the example of Jesus. That is the real good news today church! You are not alone. God is not found only in these walls but where ever you are.
A professor of mine from Seminary posed a question this week: If this pandemic has proven anything, we don’t really need four walls to worship. So, what should we do now with our church buildings? It’s not that we’d get rid of them, or we won’t return to worship when it is safe, but what else can we do? Emmanuel, you house families when it’s safe making this house of God, a house for those without one. Some churches have arranged with local farmers and are giving away food in their sanctuaries, remembering that we are the hands of God who promised to give us our daily bread and calls us to table together. Some churches have created work spaces for non-profits or students who need internet to learning or business incubator for small business supporying the recovery. A space for meals or warming on cold nights and some folks don’t have a place to go. There’s a church in Milwaukee that has overnight prayer meetings because they aren’t zoned to be a homeless shelter. It just so happens that sometimes those who attend are in such deep prayer, they look like they’re asleep!
This isn’t a hypothetical question, church! This isn’t just some nice idea in a sermon Sunday morning that we can ignore when we drive off or close our computers. This is a question we need to be answering. This is a question we need to discussing, finding answers for. Because much like David’s world and new city were changing, the world is changing around us too. Who are we going to be? How are we going to grow in and show love?
Not everything works everywhere. But God called David to be part of something bigger than himself, part of a greater calling than just this moment, part of a household of generations and a legacy, part of the larger story; in part because God was trying to say to David that God is bigger than that one time in history, than that one city, God would not be contained in walls and even when they built the temple, God move inside and beyond it. And when the temple was destroyed, God went with the people where they went, to Babylon, to Assyria, to the ends of the earth.
God is not contained, uncontainable, will not be confined and let us give thanks that God is with us, no matter where we go. Church, beloved community, we are not the walls or the roof, we are every heart burning with the love of God that calls us to extraordinary, creative, innovative, life giving, abundant living ways to share the love of God with our neighbor.