Weekly Seeds: Building Without Walls

Sunday, July 18, 2021
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
Building Without Walls

Focus Prayer:
Holy God, ever present and moving among your people, draw us near to you, that in place of hostility there may be peace; in place of loneliness, compassion; in place of aimlessness, direction; and in place of sickness, healing, through Christ Jesus, in whom you draw near to us. Amen.

Focus Reading:
2 Samuel 7:1–14a
7 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. 12 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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 7:1–14a and Psalm 89:20–37
Jeremiah 23:1–6 and Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11–22
Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

Focus Questions:
1. Where do you encounter God?
2. How do you respond to transitions? What makes them challenging…or exciting?
3. How do you discern what God is calling you to do?
4. How do you experience rest?
5. What impediments that inhibit our ability to rest as a routine way of being?

By Cheryl Lindsay
In our text, we find David confronted with a time of transition. The Ark of the Covenant has been brought into Jerusalem fulfilling a promise of God. David led the people in a celebratory procession that glorified the name of the Lord as the abiding symbol of God’s presence with God’s people entered the Holy City. Dancing, singing, and offering sacrifices accompanied the movement of the Ark. It was a grand occasion.

From today’s passage, you get the sense that when it was all over, David felt a sense of letdown. After all, he was so excited and vigorous in his worship, that he danced out of his clothes. Now, I like to dance myself, and I have even danced myself to exhaustion, but I cannot imagine how hard you’d have to dance for your clothes to come off. Or how immersed in the dance that you’d have to be that you wouldn’t do anything about it. Picture that for a moment. Suffice it to say, this was no ordinary worship. This was worship at its most participatory, its most fervent. This was a mountain top experience.

There are times when the movement of God, the presence of God is so deeply felt that we don’t want to leave. Like when Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and was met by Moses and Elijah. Jesus was transfigured, and the disciples were able to glimpse Jesus in his glory in a way they had never experienced. Peter was so moved that he was ready to build a dwelling place for the glory so that they would never have to leave. Because once you reach the top of the mountain, there’s little enticing about returning to the valley. Returning to the ordinary routines of life. Returning to obligations and responsibilities. Returning to the minutia of ministry, the messiness of mission, and the work of witnessing.

Part of the reason it’s so important to come down from the mountain is because not everyone makes it to the top. Jesus had twelve apostles but He only took three with Him. And even though David had an ecstatic experience of worship as the Ark processed into Jerusalem, there’s no suggestion that everyone or even anyone else reached his same level of devoted, demonstrated praise of God.

Yet, here we find David, coming off this experience of worship, knowing that moment is over, and he now desires to build a new dwelling place for God’s presence:

“Second Samuel 7 offers a view of the covenant of grace being expanded and amplified. David purposes to build a house for Yahweh, but in turn Yahweh prohibits David from doing this and instead promises to build David’s house. The promise has ramifications for the succession of Solomon to the throne, but it also has profound implications for the Messiah to come from the Davidic line and to reign forever upon the throne of David, bringing salvation and rest to His people of every age. (Martin Kuivenhoven)

It’s not that it’s a bad idea. In fact, when he shares his plan with the prophet Nathan, Nathan supports and affirms his thinking. Of course, when we read the text carefully, we realize that Nathan pronounces it good on his own behalf without consulting God. In fact, no one has consulted God. David and Nathan have only talked to one another. As Gregory Goswell notes:

The binary opposition implies that the disparity in habitation is inappropriate and needs resolving, presumably by David doing something to redress the situation….What is not usually recognized is that in the opening verse, the narrator is describing the scene from the viewpoint of the character depicted, namely, the picture of the king’s situation (in his house and at rest) is how David would sum up the current state of affairs.

No, it’s not a bad idea; the problem, however, is that it’s not God’s idea.

We know this was not God’s idea when God weighs in on this idea. God informs David he was moving against God’s flow. The tent was in God’s will. The tent served God’s purposes. The tent was sufficient for the people’s needs and God’s desire. And in some way, the tent kept the people humble.

At the time of David, other nations had erected elaborate structures to honor their gods using precious metals and jewels, the most elaborate and expensive resources available to them. But David’s God, Israel’s God, our God, doesn’t need silver and gold, diamonds and pearls, lavish spaces and ornate designations. What God desires is a clean heart and a right spirit. What God calls for is to worship in spirit and in truth, not in splendid furnishing and cedar temples. What God requires is that we love kindness, do mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
And God certainly doesn’t want us to engage in fruitless striving.

Fruitless striving is like swimming upstream. You can do it, but we’re designed to go with the flow. It’s hard to get to the top of a mountain. That’s why there’s so often a great payoff–incredible views, a position of strength and prominence. And more often than not, you find God there. There’s something about literally being on top of the world that when the beauty, splendor and breadth of God’s creation seems to be laid out before you in all its glory that makes the presence of God real and pronounced and palpable and obvious. The psalmist wrote, “I will look to the hills”…when referring to looking for God. When Moses received the Law, he didn’t encounter God in the valley but rather on the top of the mountain. And when the people, prior to the days of Noah, wanted to reach God, they didn’t dig a ditch but they built a tower. When we think of the heavens, we look up. We think of God being above us, like the cloud that dwelled amongst the Israelites through their sojourn from captivity into the promised land.
We think we find God in nice places, on mountaintops and in cedar temples, but God wants us to know that we can find God in a tent.

God is there in the valleys, the lowlands, the plains…and in the open spaces, God doesn’t need, want or expect us to make moves without God. That’s what fruitless striving does. It paints against the grain, and moves against the wind, and it plans without prayer.

How different would this episode have been if David, when it dawned on him to ask God, what do you want me to build? Or, what are you building, and how can I participate? David, the author of so much of Israel’s prayer book, forgot to pray. David, the leader of the people in battle and in worship, forget to consult with his commanding officer before embarking on his next mission.

And the reality is that he failed to realize that his next mission was a furlough, it was sabbath, it was rest. This text begins by making that clear, “When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies.” His work was accomplished. His assignment complete. His achievement acknowledged.
But David wanted to keep going, while God wanted him to rest.

There are times, when we have desires that are unfulfilled, dreams that are unrealized, and plans that do not reach fruition not because they are bad ideas or selfish desires, but because it isn’t the right time or we aren’t the one appointed to bring it to light. We aren’t meant to do it all, we’re called to do our part.

That’s the point of the disconnect in this story. Because the temple was in fact part of God’s vision for God and the people of Israel, but it wasn’t part of God’s vision for David.

And we don’t need to strive to be anything other than what God has crafted us to be. God has empowered and equipped us to fulfill every assignment that God has for us. It doesn’t mean that those things are easy to accomplish, and we shouldn’t assume that everything that is hard is outside of God’s will, but we do need to do an internal, prayerful inventory to see if the work before us is on our own behalf or for the Lord.

Because there is a time to rest. There is a time to enjoy what you have done and the God who enabled you to do it. A time to stop the worrying, stop the planning, stop the fruitless striving.

And if we sneak a peek ahead in this book, we know that David would be called back into service. There were new enemies to fight, new territory to secure. That period of rest didn’t mean he was done, it meant that God gave him a reprieve, time to restore and to renew. And we all need that.

If we’re always available on our cell phones, we need to turn them off sometimes. If we’re glued to the news, we need to go take a walk outside, read a book for fun, or do something to give us breathing room from the events of the day. If our briefcase full of work never leaves our side, we need to leave it at the office sometimes. If that office is now found within the sanctuary of our homes, we need to find a way to close the door on it. We live in a society that is go-go-go. When the first thing we want to know about a person is what do you do. Where our perceived value is marked in our occupation, social status and bank account rather than in our unique talents, gifts and contribution to making the world a better, more loving and compassionate place. Where how much we produce is more important than what we produce.

And where we so often limit God inside a box. A box of an hour on Sunday morning within the box of the church meeting house. Living in pandemic has demonstrated how much of our gathering was built with brick and mortar…and how much rested on a foundation that transcends those limits.

God was with David—everyone that David went. The covenant remained in effect. “The role of a covenant is to give permanency to a relationship so as to secure its lasting benefits, and on that basis the forever motif is a key component of what makes the divine arrangement with David a covenant.” (Gregory Goswell) God was in the tent, but God was on the battlefield. God was in the Ark of the Covenant, yes, but God was also in Jerusalem preparing the way before the procession even started on its way to get there. God was with David in David’s new palace, and God would be with David until his last breath.

And that, the abiding presence of God, is the ultimate source of our rest. There will always be more to do. There will always be more than we want or desire for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. There will always be one more thing to tackle. But the most important thing to strive for is the presence of God. The will of God. The anointing of God. The rest of God.

For further reflection:
“Moving to the rhythm doesn’t make you a dancer,
Nor does Carrying a brush make you a painter.
Building stones on other people’s backs will not make you an achiever;
It might make you a brick builder.”
― Nadine Sadaka Boulos
“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.” – Adrienne Clarkson
“You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it requires people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.