I’ve been thinking about this fellow, David. In today’s passage, we’re told that David has been well established as ruler, anointed of God, enthroned in a fine house, fit for a king. The people who were wanderers, moving from oasis to oasis, living and worshipping in a tents, have arrived and settled in their promised land. The land has been united. They have a clear sense that God is on their side! They consider themselves the chosen people - and David is their king — in a sense “the chosen of the chosen!”
I wonder if perhaps David is feeling grateful, and maybe even embarrassed about his elevated position… or alternately perhaps he’s noticed that other kings have gained even greater recognition among their people by building a temple to house their gods. For whatever reason, David decides to build a house for God, a permanent structure, a grand structure!
But God says, “Did I ask for that? No way! You haven’t been listening if you think that’s what I want!”
So God speaks to Nathan. Is that because David isn’t listening? Does God sense that David is too full of his own plans to listen for God’s plans?
That happens, doesn’t it? We become so excited by our own vision of how things might progress that we miss hearing God’s voice. Or we figure we know through whom God has chosen to speak, so we don’t listen when God chooses someone different!
As I read and re-read this passage, I hear the message that God will not be contained. God will not be confined to a box of human creating. Certainly the biblical tradition goes on from here (and indeed alludes in this passage) to the wonderful temple built by David’s son, King Solomon.
King Solomon’s temple, and his rule, was a time of great prosperity for the people who understood themselves to be chosen by God. This seems to fulfill God’s promise to raise up David’s offspring, and establish a kingdom.
The problem arises when we make the mistake of thinking God chooses only some of us, over others of us! Our understanding and picture of God is much too small. God is beyond our wildest dreams, immense, uncontainable! We cannot begin to imagine the vastness of God’s holy heart! And passages like this one are indication that our narrow understanding has always been a problem — for many thousands of years. Biblical scholars speak of this as “the scandal of particularity.” I’ve never forgotten a news cast many years ago during the gulf war. A pilot returning from a bombing mission climbed down from his jet and told a reporter his mission was successful because God was on his side as he dropped his bombs. I listened with horror! We are all God’s beloved, in all of creation. When one of God’s chosen drops a bomb on another of God’s chosen, God must weep! When any of us is hurt, or inflicts hurt, God mourns!
When we come into situations where our well-being causes another’s harm, we’re in trouble, we’re on a slippery slope. Our challenge, always, is to live our lives daily in ways that are life-giving for all God’s creation.
God said to David, “Don’t you build houses, let me do that! I will build a lineage, another kind of house. In your human relationships you will sometimes come to blows, when your living is impure, consequences will have to be faced. That is the way of the world. But I will not withdraw my love, my steadfast love.”
The houses that God builds are houses that bring life together, that strengthen relationships. They are houses with doors and windows, open to be entered, and to give a view into and out of them, a view of our neighbours, a view beyond ourselves and our own perspective and needs.
In our fast-paced, busy world we seem to be continually racing to complete all our tasks, fulfill our responsibilities. We seem to feel we have to be doing, accomplishing all the time. Like David, we are ready to build, and God says, “Let me build, you be.”
Be in our particular time and place, with our particular group, family, and community. Be with people and circumstances. When asked for some of our time, our guard goes up - or at least I’ll confess this is often what happens to me. I feel an instinctive guard — a kind of self-protection, I think — and I say I have just so much time! But time is perhaps the most important gift we can give, time that is quality, attentive time. It’s very hard to just be with someone, without doing. It requires patience, and letting go of our own agenda. It requires openness, and real listening.
God assured David that God would be with David, and David’s descendants, always. Through Jesus, we claim this lineage for ourselves, and take strength and comfort from the assurance that God is with us. And God smiles at our knowing. Our error is in any thought we might entertain that God is only with us and our kind… the temptation of that scandal of particularity! As the world shrinks, and we become more and more in touch with people whose language and heritage is different from our own, we do well to listen to God’s word through the prophet Nathan, to David, and David’s descendants, God’s word to us.
God says, “Don’t spend time building up houses with walls that divide. Instead let me do the building — my houses have windows and doors that invite.”
As Christians, Jesus is our window into the heart of God. In the life and stories of Jesus, we find our pattern for living. It seems that Jesus was forever responding to the needs of those whom he encountered, and he encountered a wide variety of folk. Today’s text from Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ invitation to his best buddies to retreat together, for some time to simply be, “to rest a while.” There are many accounts of Jesus taking these times to be apart. But Mark’s text continues — as Jesus travelled the word was out that Jesus was in the region, and the crowds gathered, bringing those who were in need — and all who came were healed.
So as I ponder the message for today, for us, here at Knox, I hear an invitation into healing, encouraging us to rest into God’s loving strong heart and be renewed, for there is work for us to do. And the work will not be easy for us because it is the work of being — We are called to be together — to nurture and build relationships — to attend to relationships — to deepen relationships of faith and spiritual nurture in an ever widening circle, right here in our own neighbourhood, and beyond.