A Moveable Feast

 

Solomon's TempleLectionary Text:  2 Samuel 7: 5-7, 10-11
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?”…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 evedildoers 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.

 

Didn’t something like this happen before?  Weren’t there those way back in our history that wanted to encase God, wanted to build something so big and so grand that it would literally touch the heavens?  That really didn’t work out all that well.  And yet, David envisions now a more permanent structure to house the ark o the Lord.  In other words, David now desires to build a temple in Jerusalem.  Surely that will go better!

 

But that night the Lord intervenes by way of Nathan with a promise not necessarily of a permanent “house” but, rather a permanent dynasty, an everlasting house of the line of David.  David has risen from shepherd boy to king and has apparently felt God’s presence through it all.  He now sits in his comfortable palace and compares his “house” to the tent that “houses God” in his mind.  So he decides that God needs a grand house too.  God, through the prophet Nathan responds by asking, in a sense, “Hey! Did you hear me complaining about living in a tent? No, I prefer being mobile, flexible, responsive, free to move about, not fixed in one place.” God then turns the tables on David and says, “You think you’re going to build me a house? No, no, no, no. I’M going to build YOU a house. A house that will last much longer and be much greater than anything you could build yourself with wood and stone. A house that will shelter the hopes and dreams of your people long after ‘you lie down with your ancestors.'” God promises to establish David and his line “forever,” and this is a “no matter what” promise, even if the descendants of David sin, even if “evildoers” threaten.

 

The truth is, we all desire permanence; we want something on which we can stand, that we can touch, that we can “sink our teeth into”, so to speak.  We want to know the plan so that we can plan around it.  Well, if this was going to make it easier to understand God, go ahead.  The truth is, this is a wandering God of wandering people.  This is not a God who desires or can be shut up in a temple or a church or a closed mind.  This is not a God who desires to be “figured out.”  This God is palatial; this God is unlimited; this God will show up in places that we did not build.  (and sometimes in places that we really wouldn’t go!)  Now don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE church buildings as much as the next person.  They hold a beauty and a sacredness that is not found anywhere else.  I love grand old structures (even the one that we’re having to repair quite a bit right now).  But, really, the structures we build are not for God; they are for us.  They are built to bring us back, to bring us to a place where we realize that God was there all along, to, hopefully, re-instill some sense of awe, some sense of knowing that there is something beyond us.  Because, after all, this God does not live in a house; this God dwells with us—wherever we are.  This God comes as a traveler, a journeyer, a moveable feast.  And this God shows up where we least expect God to be—in a god-forsaken place on the outskirts of acceptable society to a couple of people that actually had other plans for their lives.  This God will be where God will be.  And it IS a permanent home.

 

In this Advent season, we know that God comes.  That is what we celebrate; that is what we remember; that is what we expect.  After all, this God we worship is the one that is with us, Emmanuel.  But have we perhaps confused preparing for the coming of God with planning the way that God comes?  Prepare, rather, to be surprised.  Prepare to be carried along in what is certainly a moveable feast, swept up into the building of a cathedral such that you have never seen.

 

God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes. (Fr. Richard Rohr)

 

FOR TODAY:  How would you prepare for this moveable feast?  How do you prepare for God’s coming without making plans for how it happens?

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Brick by Brick

Building a Cathedral at Annecy, France
Edmund Blampied
Early 20th century

Lectionary Passage for This Week:  Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.  7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.  12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

We often read this story with Abram as the hero, trusting and faithful to God, who follows God’s call and believes God’s promises.  After all, Abram would become the patriarch of three worldwide religions.  But even Abram was not perfect.  Yes, the truth is, Abram was more like us than we care to admit.  He told himself that he trusted God, that God had made a great promise of descendants to him.  And he had waited and waited and nothing had happened.  So, he took care of it.  After all, he was old, Sarai was old.  Time was slipping away.  Something had to be done.  But, in Abram’s defense, remember what “barrenness” meant in that time. An absence of children was not just a discontinuation of one’s line or one’s name. It was death. There would be no one to care for you, no one to work with you to provide. Barrenness or infertility was looked upon as failure. It meant that God had not blessed you or provided for you.

But, God clarifies the promise a little bit more. This is not the heir that God had been talking about. The heir shall be a biological child of Abraham and Sarah rather than a surrogate birth. Well, I’m sure you can see Abraham rolling his eyes a bit. Are you kidding me? Because, you see, I’m really, really old. My wife is really, really old.  This is just not normal. This is not even rational. This is nuts!

Well, we know how the story turns out.  God, once again, in spite of Abram, comes through.  The truth is, that’s pretty much what God does.  We can plan and prepare and even force things to happen but when it’s all said and done, things will happen in God’s time.  The truth is, hard as it may be for us to admit, the fruits of trust and faith do not come to harvest when we think they should.  Did you read the last line of the passage?  Abram did not get the promise of land.  The land was to go to his descendants.  He was not called to deliver the world; rather, he was called to be a small part of a long line of the faithful that God would call.  The realization of God’s promise was not immediate gratification. (I mean, did you think that you were the only one to which God was making promises?)

Maybe that’s our whole problem. Maybe we want to see the fruits of our faith now, in our lifetime. Maybe faith is about realizing that we are part of a deep and abiding relationship between God and humanity as the holy and the sacred sort of dribbles into our world little by little. Our part is important but it is, oh, so much bigger than us. In fact, it’s really not even rational the way we think it should be. Maybe that’s what makes it faith. Faith does not teach us to believe; it teaches us to wait with expectant hope that when the time comes, the clouds will part and the light will break through.  In the meantime, we are called to keep building cathedrals, brick by brick, knowing that it doesn’t matter whether or not we see them completed but only that we had faith enough to imagine it to be.

So, on this Lenten journey, let go of needing to see the result and instead do your part to make it be.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli