Where You Worship Determines What You See
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 2 Samuel 7: 1 -7. Focus on the problem with church buildings and temples. Check out Rasaan Bourke & Special Guest Soloist Amy Shoremount-Obra as she sings: I Know that My Redeemer Liveth
More and more I am convinced that we miss something vital to our faith when we worship in a building. I never noticed it before, but the Bible is full of stories and poetic reference to the wonders of creation. Just listen to verse twelve in the 118th Psalm: “They surrounded me, like bees they blazed like a fire of thorns in the name of the Lord I cut them off!”
You can almost feel the sting and fiery burn of having so many enemies swarming you. Or how about this classic, “The Lord is my shepherd he … makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters …” Why just saying it almost makes you feel the ions being released all around you instantly calming you into an peaceful place.
Or one my favorites from Job – “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (40: 9) If you’ve ever been out in a Midwestern charcoal darkened sky, boiling like a caldron of hot liquid and not only heard but felt the sound of thunder shaking the very air around you, then you can appreciate what God’s voice sounds like when it thunders.
We lost so much imagery when we moved inside. We lost a lot of our connection to creation and I think faith too when we moved off the land and into city factories and buildings. We also lost a communal way of living much to our detriment.
God warned us way back in Genesis that it was not good for the human to be alone, but that’s exactly what we’ve created with our cities and buildings – alone space cut off from one another and from God. Never have so many been so close and yet so alone. This consumer culture we’ve created where everything revolves around the dollar instead of the land is the reason for it too.
It’s easy to see how it happens. When you place your life in colored paper and not in the land and invest in what creation provides you such as your daily bread you die spiritually and begin to exploit the very thing that gives you life because you’ve forgotten that it does this. We’re the only species on earth that can get regular warnings from Mother Nature that what we are doing to the planet is killing our living environment and still continue to do it. Every other species adapts and changes its behavior in relation to these environmental cues but not us.
And possibly the most destructive thing that happens to people of faith when they have a building is that they become a slave to it. Maybe that’s why God tells Nathan to tell David “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons (and daughters) of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent even in many tents.” (7: 5-6)
Once you have a settled place to worship you also have a tendency to settle God or should I say settle into an image of God that fails to notice the changing complexity of the human condition around you.
You see when God released the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery this wasn’t a one time only event. God was saying to humanity that God desired the release from all that would enslave humanity – anywhere, anytime. God was making a statement to the most powerful society of its day that people’s freedom was more important than their economic productivity.
By traveling before the people in a tent God was demonstrating the way to go.
But the people begin to long for something a little more refined than 12 tribes. They want to be like other nations with a powerful man to lead them. God had been explicit; in choosing a king they reject God. God warns them that the king will take their freedom, make them slaves.
They don’t care. They want one anyway. So, the text says, they pick a “tall and handsome man” to rule over them. It’s so typical. And so David settles down in his big ol’ house puts up his feet on his royal footstool and thinks, “let me see now, I should build God a house.”
God response is mixed he tells Nathan to tell David that he shall not build God a house but his son shall. So David lives in his big palace and God in a tent outside on David’s front lawn. The people may have wanted a king, but God is not going to be confined by royal structures. God remains outside in a tent rather than settling into David’s new bastion of power.
But in the end God allows Solomon to build him a temple. And what does Solomon do but enslave his own people to clear-cut the forests of Lebanon to build the temple floors, which he overlays with gold.
And at the dedication of the new temple Solomon says to God, “I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell forever.” It almost seems like a threat—like with Rapunzel, like some evil stepmother threatening to keep God – the God who roams – locked up in the palace forever.
To further this sinister image, Solomon has so much blood shed at the dedication “sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered”. Jerusalem was awash and blood. And by the time of Solomon’s death his kingdom is engulfed in civil war – divided – never to be reunited again.
Maybe that’s why the gospel stories begin with God being housed not in a temple but in Mary’s womb – a temporary place to reside a place to be clothed not with fine wood and gold but with human flesh
The story of God being born into the world through a human like all humans is an emphatic statement to the human condition. Once again God trying to lead the people out and about where the people are in their homes, on the hillsides, beside the sea shores and yet there is something in the human spirit that says that’s not good enough. So we build monuments, and temples and great and grand buildings – monuments to be sure, but monuments to ourselves – not to God.
After all it wasn’t called the temple of God. It was called Solomon’s Temple. It’s probably always going to be like that. – Our desire to build temples and monuments to our gods and God’s desire to get us out and about among God’s people and God’s glorious creation. Its as if God were saying beware of the building you’re in the business of building up people – transforming people into the divine image as seen in the flesh and blood of Jesus.
As Mark says of Jesus “Wherever he entered villages, or cities or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places and imploring him that they might just touch him and as many as touched him were being cured. And in this way God is saying, “Go and do likewise.” Amen