When God Builds A House…: Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

When God Builds A House…: Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

October 25, 2020

Read: 2 Samuel 7:1-16

Reflection

I’ve always had an interest in design.  I love looking at buildings and seeing who made them and what style of architecture it belongs to.  Where I live in Twin Cities is probably one the best places to see both old and new architecture. The IDS Center in Minneapolis was designed by the famous architect Philip Johnson and that building exemplifies a postmodern style and his use of glass in many of his buildings like the IDS or the Glass House, which was his residence. The Wells Fargo Center was built as the Norwest Center in 1988.  It is built  in a modern art deco style the preferred style of architect Cesar Pelli, who also designed the Central Library in Minneapolis.

Then there is the Weisman Art Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Frank Gehry designed this building and Gehry is known for his radical design and if you have seen the Weisman, you know it is a bold design with curves and straight lines in places where they shouldn’t be.

Architecture and design can capture a certain mood or feeling.  The buildings designed by the late Oscar Niemeyer for the planned capital city of Brazil, Brasilia, showed a nation looking towards the future.  The Greek and Roman style of many of the buildings in Washington, DC tries to tie America to the proto-democracies of Greece and the Roman Republic.  A more negative example is the work of German architect Albert Speer, who design buildings during the Third Reich.  He and Hitler came up with plans to rebuild Berlin with wide avenues and very large buildings, one planned stadium was supposed to accommodate 400,000 people.  The plan was to make buildings that could aesthetically pleasing ruins that would be a testament to the greatness of Nazi Germany.  

Great architects tend to make buildings that make some kind of statement.  It might be a message they want to make or to reflect the community’s wishes.  They can talk about the future or harken back to the past.

David is now king of Israel.   The nation is united and at peace.  Not having to lead an army or worry about getting killed, he had some time on his hands to think.  He tells Nathan, the prophet that he is bothered that he is living in this stunning palace made of cedar, while the ark of God sits in a tent.  

Nathan didn’t need to hear anymore to understand.  He realized that David wanted to build a temple that could house the ark of God.  He then gives David permission to build.  That night Nathan has a dream where God is speaking about David. God tells Nathan to tell David that God doesn’t need a house. God reminds David that God never, ever asked for a temple.  

We know that David wanted to build a temple.  We know he wasn’t happy that the ark of God was in a tent.  But why does David really wants to build a temple.  Is God building this out of gratitude for what God has done?  Is it a way to get on God’s good side?  Does he think this is some sort of spiritual quid pro quo, if he does something for God, God will do something for him? We aren’t sure why David wants to build a temple. What we do know is that David wanted to do something for God, and God thought David didn’t understand what grace was all about.  

David wanted to do something for God.  David had big plans to make a beautiful temple that would honor God.  But God has to remind David that God is the one that calls the shots, not David.  We aren’t any different, we have big plans to serve God.  But in thinking we can pursue these grand plans, we forget that this is God’s story, not ours.  God is the one in control, not us. God didn’t want David to start to think he was all that because he built this big temple for God.  He wanted David to be a man who saw that God was the one that helped him, not the other way around.  In short, God wanted David to learn about grace and gratitude.

God then turns the table around.  Instead of David building a house for God, God was going to build a house for David. God tells David that a dynasty would be established.  His son would rise up succeed him as king and the House of David would rule forever.

God then turns the table around.  Instead of David building a house for God, God was going to build a house for David. God tells David that a dynasty would be established.  His son would rise up succeed him as king and the House of David would rule forever.

That was important for people hearing this story. 2 Samuel was written probably a century after these events happened.  It was written when Israel was in exile and the king Zedekiah a descendant of David, was deposed by the Babylonians.  So, this was a passage talking about the eternal dynasty of David written after the last of the dynasty ruled Israel. 

God’s faithfulness doesn’t always come in the way we expect.  David probably thought the kingdom and the dynasty would last forever and it would, just not in the way he expected.  For the people living in exile, this passage was a reminder that God has always been with them and is with them now even if it seems that king and kingdom are no more.  For Christians, we know that this point forward to another king, a descendant of David. Jesus would be the king that would allow the House of David to rule forever.

As a community of faith that is called by God, we are called to be thankful.  Being thankful means that we understand that this is God’s Story and not our own.  It means learning to remember what God has done and be thankful.  David’s son Solomon would end up building the temple, but it would be on God’s terms not the king’s.  Being thankful was a way of realizing who was in charge, who was the king.  

Jesus was the king that rule forever, allowing the dynasty to continue and that would have implications down the road.  In the New Testament, Israel is under the control of the Roman Empire.  It was not unknown for people to worship the Emperor as a god.  When people said that Jesus was Lord, they were challenging who was the leader, which meant challenging the Empire.  For the nascent church, it was important to respect the government, but at the end of the day, Jesus was Lord (or king) and Caesar was not.

This is an important thing to remember in this election year.  As we do our civic duty and vote for our leaders, including president, we who are followers of the great king are called to thankful and faithful and remind ourselves that no matter who we support, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the king, the king established long ago by God.  God is building a house, but it isn’t a house of stone or wood, but a house of people, a kingdom that is not of this world.  For that we give thanks. 

Photo by João Marcelo Martins on Unsplash

 





 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

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