“God Doesn’t Need a House…But We Do”
2 Samuel 7:1-11
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” 3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 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. 10 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, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
One of my favorite worship services I have ever been to wasn’t in a church building. It wasn’t in a sanctuary. It wasn’t in a place of stone or brick or wood. It was a in a large tent, put up that morning in the downtown park of a city. In that service that evening were about 300 people packed inside. And as we were packed inside, it began to rain, first softly and then harder and harder. We should have been miserable.
But something great happened as it rained harder and harder. We got closer and closer together. And in that tent we sang songs and read prayers that were in English, Spanish, French, and Italian. We offered peace to one another, with a sign, a handshake, and a hug. We shared in communion at the Lord’s Table across denominations and geography. And God’s Spirit of joy and love and strength filled us all. And I thought to myself, “Even though this is not a church building, God’s presence is definitely in this place.”
I didn’t realize then that God’s people worshiped this way for its first several generations. As Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and gave them a Covenant to follow, they didn’t worship in houses of stone or brick or wood. They worshiped in a tabernacle, a tent that moved wherever the people moved, from the Red Sea to the base of Mt. Sinai, to the land Canaan, and now into Jerusalem. And while the judges and the kings of Israel started to settle down in their homes made of cedar, God was happy to be housed in that tent, to remind people that God would move wherever people would go.
In our passage for today, King David has settled down in his own lavish house of cedars, cedars from Lebanon. He lives in what was a great palace of his time. He is king, ruler of a nation.
But as he looks out upon Jerusalem, he sees his expensive, magnificent home, and then he looks at God’s home, a simple tent. And he is disturbed by it. If he gets such a lavish home, shouldn’t God too? Wouldn’t God be happier in a place built of stone, with jewels and statues and carvings to honor God? So he calls for Nathan, a prophet who works for the king, and tells him these thoughts and that he would like to build a Temple. And Nathan at first tells him, “That makes sense! Go for it!” Because Nathan thinks just the same way David does. Surely God would like to show off power and wealth and privilege. Surely God wants a fancy place too.
But the Lord has a different view in this passage. Later that night, God speaks to Nathan in a dream. And God tells Nathan that never has the Lord asked for a house of stone or cedar. God has been happy to travel with the people in the tent, always ready to move with them.
The Lord is saying in this passage that God does not care about all of our trappings and gold and fine cedar. God doesn’t need us to build God a house. God is happy being wherever we are.
But then God says something more. The Lord looks upon David and the people of Israel, and sees that while God doesn’t need a house, they might. After all that wandering and waiting and hoping, they may need to create something permanent, to have a place they can always go to remember God, to gather, to praise, to remember that they are not alone in this world. They may need a place to be reminded of God’s steadfast love and kindness.
And so the Lord tells Nathan and David and all of God’s people, “The Lord will make you a house.” God witches it up. Instead of us humans building something that we think will appease God, God says back, “No, you don’t need to do anything for me. Instead I will give to you.” So the Temple in Jerusalem, and then synagogues and churches and places of worship that follow, have never been humanity’s gift to God. Instead, they have all been God’s gifts to us.
This passage first reminds us that God is not limited to any sole place. We can’t keep the Creator of heaven and earth locked up inside these walls, because heaven and all of creation is God’s dwelling place. We can’t limit God to an hour a week on Sunday because wherever we go, just like the tabernacle in the wilderness, God will travel with us. God is not like an earthly king , kept up in a gilded palace, who only lets in the privileged and wealthy. God is our churches, our homes, our schools, our work places. God is in the forests and the seas, the wind and the rain. God is in the middle of our neighborhoods and far, far away with people we have not yet met.
This passage also reminds us though that our places of worship are a gift from God. As I stand here in our church building today, I realize what a gift this is from God. We still have a large church mortgage, and for many of us this building has at various times been something we have felt weigh upon our shoulders. But I encourage you all to view this building not as our gift to God, not as something we have to prove our love of God through, but instead view it as God’s gift of love to us and to all people in our community. And if we do that, it truly is an amazing gift.
This building is now 11 years old, pretty recent for a Presbyterian Church. But that means 11 years of worship. 11 years where people who may not have fit in or been welcomed elsewhere have heard the message that God loves them and Christ came to welcome and forgive them. It means 11 years where people have found community and a home. 11 years where the Spirit has moved and called people to serve, love, and dare to live out the gospel. 11 years where people have opened scripture and heard a Word from the Lord for their lives.
It means 11 years of our preschool being here, 11 years of children growing and playing and knowing that they are made in God’s image. This is a place where for 8 years now, people have come and given life saving blood. This is a place where meals for burnt ordinary and Motel 6 have been cooked and collected. This is a place where for two years now our neighbors can come once a week to collect fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and food for their families. And for I don’t know how many years, it is where kids from all over our community come for VBS to sing and play, to learn the story of God’s grace, and to be as ridiculous and silly and loved as they possibly can be.
We are standing in a holy place. We are standing in a place that God has blessed us with. And our question going forward shouldn’t be, “How can we make God happy?” We already do that, simply by being God’s children. Instead, our question should be, “How can we best use this gift from God?” And my answer to you all is to sing in it. To clap our hands and celebrate in it. To lift up prayers in it. To read the good news of the gospel in it. To remind people that God is with them hereaand wherever they go. To invite new people into community. To show love for children in it. To welcome and serve neighbors and people far away members here in it. To open it to groups we may not know yet that are caring for those in need. To make sure this gift of walls and windows, heat and air conditioning, holy ground and space, is never seen as a gift just for meand you who are already here, but is meant for our whole community to know the Creator, and Savior, and Sustainer of life.
Let us remember that God is building us a house. Let us celebrate it, and let us use it for the all of God’s beloved children. Amen.