By Rev Robin Martin
In the reading from Second Samuel this morning, we hear a story about King David. It seems things have finally settled down long enough in David’s life for him to lay aside his armor and build himself a home. I can almost imagine him standing there and drawing deep aromatic breaths as he looks around at his fine house built of cedar, savoring both the sight and the smell of his new home, relishing the comfort of no longer living the wandering life of a warrior. And deeply aware of his own fortune and of the grace of God that’s brought him to this day, he turns his attention to the Lord’s living conditions. As he sits and chats with the prophet Nathan, he says, “It just doesn’t seem right for me to be living in this great house, while God’s still roughing it in a tent.” Nathan responds, “Well, go for it man because God is clearly with you.”
That night, however, Nathan discovers that he spoke too hastily. God says to his prophet, “Ask David who he thinks he is to be building me a house. When have any of you ever even heard me ask for a house? I’ve managed just fine in a tent all these years since I brought the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness and into the land I promised to Abraham and his descendants.” And then God simply changes the subject. He reiterates the ways he will bless David and his house and all the people of Israel with peace and security. Those of us who’ve learned the story know that no house was built for God until David’s son Solomon became king.
We also know that the house that Solomon built for the Lord was destroyed in 586BC when the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. And we know that another temple was built sometime after the exile which would be destroyed again in 70AD by the Romans. And we know all that’s left today are remnants of those ancient structures, the most well-known to us being the Wailing Wall.
In spite of the fact that we know God really has no need for a home to protect him from the elements or assert his power and glory to a skeptical world, we continue to build structures which can range from very small and modest to very large and majestic. And we continue to refer to these structures which we call churches as God’s house, even though we build them as a sheltering place for us to gather in worship and as a symbol of our love for the One who created us in love.
It all kind of leaves me bemused. I wonder if, as we sit around trying to figure out how to replace a roof or a furnace, whether or not to invest in improvements and ornamentation of one kind or another…I wonder if, as we plan and fret and raise money to realize our vision of what God’s house should look and be like…I wonder if God’s not sitting back and muttering yet again, “When has any of you ever heard me ask for a house?” It’s something to think about.
The problem with houses is that for all the shelter and comfort they may provide, they also tie us down…with a mortgage and with upkeep. For all the stability they give us, they also tie us down by curtailing our freedom to just pick up and go whenever and wherever the Spirit moves us. Maybe that’s why God was so resistant to David’s plans. God seems to have relished the life of a nomad. He seems to have valued traveling light and the ability that gave him to be with his people wherever they were and to see to their needs whatever they might be.
At the dawn of creation, God was clear about the dwelling that suits him best. It’s the creation itself, and most particularly the human part of the creation. That’s why you and I are stamped with the divine image. That’s why you and I can think and imagine and love in ways that no other creature on the planet has the capacity for. But somehow, in our arrogance, we’ve decided that we aren’t sufficient dwelling places for the Lord. I think that’s why, when the time was ripe, God decided to show us the sort of home he really desires. So an angel sought out a young peasant girl looking for a room that the Almighty could inhabit. And that young girl said yes and welcomed God into the very center of her being.
It’s true that you and I are not always company-ready inside. The rooms of our interior house are often cluttered with disappointments, dusty with resentments, musty with anger. But God doesn’t want to be “company.” God wants to be family, welcome anytime and under all circumstances. All that’s needed for God to have a place to dwell is for you and me to echo Mary’s yes.