2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 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.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 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. 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?” 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; 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. 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. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”–a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands–remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
My daughter Kirsten and her husband Grayson just had their fifth wedding anniversary. They were married here in this sanctuary.
They went on a honeymoon and for the first part of it they went to Istanbul in Turkey.
“It was an incredible place,” Kirsten said.
“Dad, you would have loved it. Mom, you would have hated it.”
Dad you would have loved it because it was busy and diverse and there were so many interesting things and people.
Mom you would have hated it because it was loud and boisterous and at times almost wall-to-wall people.
They brought back lots of different kinds of Turkish delight which was amazing.
One of the buildings Kirsten said, I would have loved was the Hagia Sofia. Built in the 6th century as an Orthodox church, it was later turned into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire took control of what was then called Constantinople.
Today it is a museum. When it was built it was the world’s largest building, built in Byzantine style, with a large dome. For a thousand years it was the world’s largest cathedral or church.
It is filled with mosaics and figurative decorations.
By all accounts it is a wonder of the world and especially for those interested in sanctuaries or places or worship.
I suppose we could have a great debate about the most interesting sanctuaries to visit in the world. St. Peter’s Basilica, Westminster Abbey, Cologne Cathedral, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Basil’s Catherdral in Moscow
Some of the more interesting are the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, very ornate even ostentatious, which they have been working on for 135 years and are still not finished. The chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona, a modern structure that rises out of the red rock; the cathedral of Brazilia, again a very modern structure; and the United States Air Force Academy Cathedral in Colorado Springs.
I have been to Westminster Abbey and to the Air Force Academy Cathedral.
And really the list goes on and on when it comes to beautiful, or old, or artistic, or interesting churches.
And in Canada there are some beautiful sanctuaries. I have been in many beautiful churches and interesting church sanctuaries in Canada. Here at First Church we are blessed to have a beautiful and historic sanctuary.
Think of the word sanctuary. It means a safe place. Throughout history, one of the ideas of a sanctuary meant that it was a safe place to come. Usually a sanctuary was a place where weapons were not allowed. Often it was considered a place of peace.
Sometimes large church stone buildings wee literally sanctuaries in times of flood or storm, or invasion or disaster and people would flock to the cathedral for sanctuary. Sometimes criminals or soldiers or refugees would seek sanctuary in a church, with the idea that they could not be arrested or removed from a place of worship.
Or maybe sanctuary has a spiritual meaning. It is as Jesus called it, “a house of prayer,” A Sanctuary is a place where one could come and talk to God. This is a place for people to find God, talk to God, walk with God, encounter God, listen to God, sing to God, give to God, receive from God….
A place to find healing, forgiveness, inclusion, love, mercy, strength and transformation….
Sanctuaries throughout Christina history and indeed Jewish and other religions have been very important.
Another reason that sanctuaries are important is that they are places of community. For better or for worse the vision of Jesus Christ is not to do faith alone. While alone time with God is often good and fruitful, the vision of Jesus is that faith is not just above God loving me, and me loving God, but us also learning to love one another, about us learning to live together in peace, about us valuing every human life, about us learning to forgive one another, about us coming into a community and finding forgiveness and love and inclusion not just in God but with other fallen and imperfect persons.
So given all this stuff about the importance of the sanctuary and knowing how the Temple was an important part of Jewish life, we get this very interesting old Testament text today from the book of Samuel.
So King David is sitting down one night having a drink with the prophet Nathan.
And David is kind of musing to himself, that he has basically beaten up most of the bad guys around, and dealt with most of his enemies and here he is chillaxing in a nice little palace of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent.
And he basically decides he is going to build a nice temple for God.
Nathan basically thinks this is a great idea and tells King David to have at it.
But that night Nathan has a dream or something and gets a message from God, which goes something like:
When have ever complained that I don’t have a nice temple to live in? I have moved all over the place with you people from desert to promised land and everywhere in between and never did I say that I have to be locked down into a permanent place.
And what is this silly idea that David has that he can build me a house. That he can fix me in a place, that he is the one in control of things and in control of where I go and how I show up.
The truth is that David isn’t going to build me a house. In fact the opposite is true and I am going to build him a house.
One of the reasons that I believe that it is hard to read the bible, is that we believe that the bible doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
You can find anything you want in the bible and justify pretty much whatever you want from genocide to misogyny to violence, to homophobia and so on…
And so when we learn to read the scripture, there is the outward literal story, but often there is a subtext, which sometime runs in opposition to the outward literal story. And sometimes it is in this subtext that we find the Holy Spirit working, trying to get us not to take the text too literally, but sometimes even trying to get us to see, that God wants us to do the exact opposite of what the Hebrews did, or what certain people did.
And this little story is part of the subtext to all the stuff in the Bible about the temple and the importance of the temple.
The subtext is according to God, that no matter how important you all think the temple is, how you all think that is where God lives, how you all think you must make sacrifices to God. How you all think you know how faith works, and what you must do to make it right and to make a world, you humans really do not have a clue sometimes.
Because when you humans build a temple, or a synagogue or a church, or a cathedral, or a mosque, or a temple, or whatever you build as a sanctuary or a house of worship…
Then you think you know how God works. Then you think you know who is welcome and not welcome. Then you think you know the difference between good and evil.
Then you think you have to make the rules about who is in and who is out, about what is acceptable to God and what is not, about what is the right way to experience God and what is the wrong way to experience God, about who God is and who God is not…
And most of the time you humans get it all wrong.
So God says to Nathan. David thinks he is going to build me a house, but the truth is, I am going to build him a house. But it isn’t a physical house like a temple or a church…this is a different kind of house…this house is not going to be built of bricks or stones or wood, but upon a person.
This house is not a house that keeps people out, but lets people in.
And this house is not about rules and regulations but it is about love.
This house is not a house for one nation, or one group, or one tribe, or one understanding….this is a house that breaks down the dividing walls that keep people separate.
This house will be one where diverse people come together in the unity of love and the unity of worship.
And we Christians believe that subtext, that runs through all of scripture, is that there is a person Jesus, who teaches us what it really means to live in a house together with the whole human family.
We believe that Jesus is the new house, the new temple, the new community builder, and that he shows us that God doesn’t live in a particular place, or is controlled by a certain group or by a certain belief system.
That God lives in the lives of humans wherever and whenever they love, they forgive, they include, they understand, they forgive and they share.
That God’s love mercy and forgiveness, are so far above human love and mercy and forgiveness.
That the goal of Jesus was not to build the house which is the right group of Christians, but to build a house where all were loved, and all were children, even the broken and imperfect ones.
And this text pushes us as individuals and as Christians to think deeply to the kinds of walls we put up, ostensibly for security and safety, but maybe these walls exclude and hurt and deny and put down and make assumptions about others.
These days there are lots of talks about border walls and border and who should be let into a country and who should not be let in, and maybe even who should be kicked out and sent back to where they came from.
And believe me, these are not easy questions. No one country could process all the refugees in the world. There are far too many.
What is an honest refugee claim and what is dishonest? Is being hungry or not having a job a valid reason to claim refugee status, or does your live have to be threatened with violence to claim refugee status.
Who should be send back to where they came from?
These are not easy questions because at any one time we ourselves have competing stories going on within our heads.
We all know the story of Jesus, his inclusion and love for all people, and we know that it is scriptural to welcome strangers and include foreigners and others who are different.
But at the same time, we have another story in our heads that tells us we have to look out for ourselves and our families and maybe even our church or our country before we go about including others.
We all make decisions about who we want to be with and who we don’t want to be with. We make decisions about our identity and in order to have an identity it means we are not the same as other people, that we are in some ways unique.
We make decisions about what is right and wrong, for whether we like it or not we have to live with other people in a society and culture, and in order to get along, you go along a little bit. We make decisions about who is good for us and maybe who is a bad influence on us, and therefore we avoid certain people, and try to be with others.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada has been debating amongst itself and seems to be somewhat divided on what one might call the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s policy is that gays and lesbians are welcome in the church and can be Sunday school teachers and elders and pretty much do anything that anyone else does. The issue in the church is not about welcoming them, but about issues or sexuality and marriage. Who can be married and what is appropriate sexual conduct.
But be that as it may a good chunk of the church wants to change to say it is okay for gays and lesbians to marry and to have healthy sexual relations,
And a good chunk of the church thinks that is not what the scriptures teach or what God wants.
The point I want to make, is while I like others have an opinion and if given a vote, I suppose will for in a certain way….that I believe we are all the church.
WE are one house.
The Ephesian text is as appropriate for the divisive matter of human sexuality as much as it was for Jews and Gentiles.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
Jesus isn’t Lord of the morally virtuous, the ones who have the right understanding of the scriptures, the Presbyterians, or any other sect, denomination, congregation of Christians.
Jesus is Lord of all. He is Lord of the conservatives and the liberals, the fundamentalists and the modernists, the Reformed and the Catholic, the dunkers and the sprinklers, the Charismatics and the Quakers….
And if you follow Jesus….
If we follow Jesus we acknowledge that even the ones who have the worst theology are our brothers and sisters in faith, whom Jesus died for.
Jesus is building a new house.. Not of bricks and mortar, not of rules and regulations, but of people who love and forgive and include.
What kind of sanctuary would that be? A group of people where you are safe, where you won’t be put down or attacked.
A group of people who are spiritually safe, where you are free to come and pray and worship and give and your spiritual journey will be honoured and listened to.
A group of people who are themselves healing, forgiveness, inclusion, love, mercy, strength and transformation….
Is it just a pipe dream this new house, or can it actually be real, that sinners such as us can be a holy sanctuary for ourselves and others…
All I can say is that I have many in this congregation and many other congregation that are being built into a dwelling place for God, by Jesus himself. They are love. They are peace. They are mercy. They are forgiveness. They are transformation. They are places where Jesus lives.