Monday, July 20, 2009

Pentecost 7 - Year B

“Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God asks David. It had been a long time since God was about to rest the divine feet. God's people had moving around longer than any of them could remember. And God went with them, carried in the ark of the covenant (made famous by Indiana Jones). God was tired. God's people were even more tired. It was time for Phase Two of God's Liberation Project.

“I took you from the pasture,” says the Lord, “from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 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. 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, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.”

If that wasn't good enough, it gets better:

“Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 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. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

And so it begins. Israel's glory years. The golden age of David's reign.

Israel was now a REAL kingdom. With REAL power. No longer were they a wandering group of bumbling nomads, fighting with themselves, making people laugh at the God who rescued them.

Now they were established. They had arrived. Solid. They finally got a seat at the imperial grownup's table.

But those of us who know the back story, know that this wasn't what God REALLY wanted for God's people. God didn't want to give them a king because God was their king. God didn't want them to be “planted” in one spot, nailed down for all time because God wanted them to be a light to ALL the nations. Not just their neighbours.

But that didn't seem to be good enough for the people. So they demanded an earthly ruler.

And when Israel demanded a king, Samuel warned them that it WASN'T a good idea.” These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:” Samuel warned, “he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” In other words, “A king will take your stuff and make you his slaves. He won't care about YOU. It's going to be all about HIM.”

But, of course, we know they didn't listen to Samuel. And to show them a lesson that would last for centuries (and probably to stop their whining) God gave in. Samuel put a crown on Saul's head. Saul, the brain dead frat boy more interested in beer and sports than actually governing, was exactly the type of king Samuel warned them about.

But this is what they wanted. If they were going to be taken seriously at the UN, they needed an accepted form of government. If they wanted to protect themselves against foreign invaders and build a prosperous economy, they needed the proper infrastructure. If they wanted the other countries to stop sniggering at them as they walked by, they needed a leader who wasn't afraid to use the business end of a gun.

And that's what they got.

But I think God was saddened by this whole episode. I'm not sure that this is what God really wanted for them.

I think God preferred being carried around in the ark rather than kicking back in a palace. When God asked David, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” I think God was being facetious, it was a tongue-in-cheek question. I think God was more interested in being out in the world, having unrestricted mobility, rather than settling down in the suburbs and being established in the community.

I think God was happy in the ark because it represented who God is: a God who will not be constrained in one place, a God who is on the move, a God who drags God's people from place to place, being a light in the darkness of wherever they go.

I think that's why Jesus keeps sending out the disciples. He does it again in today's reading. I think that's why Jesus never settles down in one place, but he's always on the move. If you wait too long, you'll miss him.

That's a good lesson for us today. That God's feet will not be planted in one spot forever.

One thing that delights me about this congregation is that we don't make a fetish out our of building. We see it for what it is: a tool. A place the family gathers. We DON'T see it as an end in itself.

In seminary I was told that you lose 5 members for every inch you move the baptismal font. That people demand that the font be nailed down, so as to avoid raising the ire of the altar guild or the trustees.

Here, we move the font to various places of prominence and not one eyebrow is raised

And looking out at this new configuration in our worship space, I'm guessing that I'd probably be fired if I tried this in my first congregation in eastern Ontario. When the first members bolted then pews down 160 years ago, the pews were meant to STAY down.

Here we know that our building is where God calls us to learn and pray together. And to invite others to the Family Meal. We know that this building is not a cage for God. Because God will not be caged.
While we just came off a VERY successful week of Vacation Bible School where we invited the community into our church home, we know that this is just ONE way to minister to others.

We know this because we have more ministry happening outside this building than inside. ChristCare Groups and other small groups meet in peoples' homes. We bring worship to seniors' care facilities almost every week. Stephen Ministers meet with the care receivers in coffee shops and small apartments. The parking lot conversations, the hospital visits, the prayers we say at our desks and the veggies we chop at the soup kitchen. These places are where God has called us to serve. God has sent us OUT in Jesus' name to minister to those who need God's healing love.

One night I counted, and our little church had 11 (eleven!) different ministry activities happening at the same time. And NONE of them (NONE of them!) were happening here. I think this is because we know in our skin that God is more interested in being out to the world than being locked up in a church. We know that we come here to gather in order to be sent out.

“Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God asks jokingly, already knowing the answer. Because God doesn't need one. God wants to be carried with us wherever we go. God does not want us to stand still.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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