Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Of houses and dynasties . . .

     We are approaching the zenith of Israel’s impact on the world around it.  As we have discussed this season after Pentecost, it is an incredible history, to be sure.  What started out as a promise to Sarah and Abraham was just fulfilled, politically speaking.  David has ascended the throne.  The elders of the tribes have all made a covenant with David.  David has taken the city of Jerusalem to be his capital city.  Foreign kings have provided the materials for the building of a palace.  Life is good, and God is clearly in control of events in the world.  As I have reminded you many times these last weeks, the historians who wrote Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are not so much concerned with history in the way many of us are.  Some names, some dates, some events are relatively important.  Of far more significance, though, is the fact that God is reaching into life to affect the present and to keep His covenant with the patriarchs and matriarchs.  Think of the last month.  David went from being the youngest of a family bigger than mine, forced to watch the flock while his brothers dined with the prophet Samuel to being king over all Israel.  Given that the old king was still alive, laid more than one trap for David, such an outcome is improbable, to say the least.  Yet, as He so often is, God was with the least and made the least the greatest.

     Today, we read this story of David’s desire to build a Temple for the Ark of the Covenant.  Since the days of the Exodus, the Ark, when possessed by Israel, has been in the Tabernacle, a big fancy tent.  David thinks it not right that he lives in a palace while God is stuck with a tent.  So, unlike his predecessor, David asks the prophet if he can build a temple for the Lord.  Nathan agrees, initially.  Then, of course, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan, who goes to David and reminds David that God does not need a temple.  God is everywhere.  Unlike the gods and goddesses of the ANE, who need a focus of power, God is God wherever and whenever He is.  He does not need a Temple to effect His purposes.  He does not need a Temple to commune with His people.  And so, in a bit of polemic against the dumb idols of the nations, God tells David through Nathan that he will not build the Temple.

     David’s desire, though, is not evil.  David is not trying to uphold the honor of God as did Uzzah just a few verses before.  No, David is motivated simply by thankfulness and humility.  And so, as a result of this offer to build God a house, God swears an amazing covenant with David.  God swears that He will make David 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.  David is blown away by the promise.  Our lectionary editors separate David’s response from the promise of God.  David is humbled and overjoyed, though, that the Lord has decided to build him a house.  Having just survived the twenty years of Saul’s contrivances, a bit of a Civil War, and the death of his friend Jonathan (a son of Saul), David recognizes the import of God’s promise.  Of course, David has no real idea who this offspring will be.  David does not understand that Jesus will be that Son under whom God places the authority of the world.  As is so often the case, God is promising something beyond our wildest imaginations or desires.  We see, in the most spectacular way, the best answered prayer to our collect this morning.  David is a great grandfather, many times over, of the Messiah!  Can you imagine?

     You should.  Why do I answer that question so abruptly?  We have, from time to time this year, reminded ourselves of our heritage in Christ.  I have pointed out how we have been adopted into God’s family.  Our adoption is unlike anything ever seen in the world.  We are adopted as firstborn children into God’s kingdom.  We are princes and princesses in His eternal kingdom.  Who can explain the math, let alone the titles?  How can we get a double share, as the firstborn are promised, if we are all adopted firstborns?  Truthfully, I have no idea, just as David had no idea the scope of the promise that the Lord was making with him in this passage.  Like David, we have the stories of our ancestors and we have our own experiences.  God has always kept His promises, so somehow, we are all going to be kings and queens in His eternal kingdom.

     But, and there is often a but, God is not just speaking to us about the eschaton, the final judgment, just as He was not just speaking to David about the eschaton.  God reminds David that it was He who took David from the fields and the flocks and made him king.  David himself has testified that the Lord helped him when he saved his sheep from the jaws of lions or wolves or bears.  David knows before he fights Goliath that the Lord will help him in the battle against the seeming titan.  David knows the paths to the throne from the last twenty years was difficult, arduous, full of turns and switchbacks and plot twists.  The evidence is before him, even as it is before us.  Now he is king.  God has kept His promise yet again.  And now that God is going to make a house for David, a house to which you and I belong and to which all humanity is called.

     Fifteen times in this passage, God and David speak of house.  Depending upon its context, house can mean Temple, a dwelling-place, a palace, or a dynasty.  Given that it appears in this passage fifteen times, you might get the sense that a house was important, in all senses of the word.  But they, aren’t they?  We have this almost primal urge to want to belong to something greater than ourselves.  It’s almost as if our very being senses that there is something to which it needs to be attached.  I see the nods.  Who is not nostalgic about their school?  Heck, I’m in SEC country now, who in this room does not bleed crimson or orange or commodore gold or blue or whatever color when football rolls around?  Why do youths seek gangs and clubs and fraternities?  Heck, I laughed at Sarah’s school because some of the ladies wanted desperately to belong to the Harry Potter houses.  Real ladies wanted to belong to fictional houses.  Why do adult seek other organizations such as Jaycees or Rotary?  Yes, the business contacts can be good, but the sense of belonging is the real draw.  And here’s the best news of all: we are all, by virtue of our baptisms into the death and Resurrection of our Lord, we are baptized into David’s house!  We belong to that dynasty that will last longer than the sun and moon endure.  We belong to that house that will be given true peace, true rest from our enemies.  We belong to that house in which the Lord dwells and leads.  It is an amazing thought, is it not?  You and I are heirs, and firstborn heirs at that, of the very promises God made to David in this passage.

     Looking at some of your expressions, I can see such an idea never really dawned on you before.  That’s right, David is not some far off figure in some far off land about whom we read from time to time.  David is part of our family; or rather, we are now part of his family.  Sometimes, in my more fanciful moments, I wonder if David ever has time to stop the “Whom am I, Lord?” as he meets and greets the saints who continue to enter into glory ahead of us.  It would be unimaginably cool to be the great grandsire of the Messiah; how much more unfathomable humbling would it be to see saints and people like you and me entering into your house!

     That call upon us, that invitation to us comes with a cost.  Thankfully and mercifully, it was paid in full by David’s ultimate son, Christ our Lord, but we still have our part to play.  What is the tagline?  With great power comes great responsibility.  I had the pleasure some eleven or twelve years ago to hear NT Wright preach on this passage.  NT Wright writes books like you or I sneeze.  Just imagine a quick allergy sneeze and, boom, there’s a book.  That’s how quickly it seems he produces books sometimes.  Tom has been given a wonderful gift, and he seems to exercise it well.  He is one of the two or three best known Anglican theologians in the world today.  Anyway, in his sermon on this passage, Tom discussed how houses have sigils and signs to identify themselves.  Think back to the Crusades and the Medieval Ages and the knights with their painted crests or flowing banners.  Those crests and banners testified as to who was on the field.  Those of you who watch or read Game of Thrones see how important that can be in some battles.  Heck, classicists like me remember how Patroclus inspired the Greek troops at Troy wearing the armor of Achilles.  I suppose the modern incarnation of this would be the kilts in Outlander.  I know, you are all laughing at the idea of kilts being modern.  In some parts of the country, though, this idea of a cloth pattern representing your clan is being re-discovered.  Rotarians wear pins; fraternity brothers and sorority sisters have handshakes and greetings.  Houses have these signifiers that help them identify themselves to one another as well as to those outside the group.  Not unsurprisingly, Bishop Wright preached on the idea that our sign, our sigil, our identifier as a house is the cross of Christ crucified.  I see the nods.  It makes sense.

     But, and Bishop Wright is ever the flesher out of details, the cross is not just a sigil for us.  It is a standard, a battle flag, if you will.  We are called, by virtue of our baptism, into battle against forces that reject the sovereignty of God.  We are called to stroll into places and plant the standard of the cross and remind ourselves and those around us that God claims sovereignty even over that particular territory where we find ourselves.  You see, there are forces and enemies of God arrayed against us.  They are doing everything they can to blind people to the love of God.  They give headlines to those Christians that we wish were muzzled.  They give “rational” arguments for things to be the way that they are.  And slowly, over time, the world begins to by in to what they are selling.  Now the world believes that glory is an appearance on a reality television show.  Now the world thinks love, if it really exists, is best found on a dating show where men and women throw themselves at the bachelor or bachelorette in question.  We glorify war and raise kids on shooting video games, and we wonder how tragedies like Chattanooga, Sandy Hook, Columbine, or elsewhere happen.  We use sex to sell everything, and even marvel at the abundance of sex on the internet, and then we wonder why sex is such an issue for husbands and wives.  We listen as people drop the “til death do us part and in richer and in poorer” as antiquated, and then we wonder at the divorce culture we have become, where sociologists now notice that marriages have become relationships that exist until something better comes along.  And make no mistake.  You and I have played a role in the siren songs that have seduced society around us.  We have been timid in planting our standard.  We have been shy about proclaiming our Lord.
     And we engage in this battle with weapons that seem foolish to the world.  We don't pick up guns or swords.  We don't worry much about the world's armor.  We pray, we fast, we study, we serve, we worship, and we give thanks, all the while knowing and trusting that the power that will overcome these forces of evil derive not from us, from some well-intended desire to try and do good, but from our Lord, who is working in us far more than we can ever ask or imagine even as He did in our brother David.

     When God speaks of making a house, He speaks of making a dynasty.  If I asked you to name a dynasty, some of you would yell out the late 20’s or early 60’s Yankees.  Smart people might suck up to the new priest and suggest the Steelers of the 70’s, the Reds of the Big Red Machine, or even the Celtics of the 60’s.  Historians among us might toss out the Khans, the Tudors, maybe the Kennedy’s or the Bush’s.   Those are all well and good, but their honor and their glory pale when compared to the glory promised our house!  Brothers and sisters, we should be living a life full on in the shadow of the cross, that those in our circle of coworkers, our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies should want to know why we do what we do, how we find hope in the hopeless, why we are so determined to be a beacon of His light in a far too dark world.  Make no mistake, neither Bishop Tom was nor am I calling us to the street corners with Bibles and repent signs in hand.  But God is calling us to be His standard bearers wherever He has planted us.  And such a calling is full of responsibility.  It means being that prophetic voice when those around us buy into the false narratives of the world.  It means being that helping hand when others have fallen, serving them as He served us.  It means being that shoulder to cry on when others mourn, just as our Lord was often full of compassion and even, at times, moved to tears.  It means being that cheerleader when others are full of joy, reminding them of the true source of life’s blessings and the eternal promises and joy offered by the one whose standard we have become.

     Sitting here, listening to that other voice in your head or heart, you may have a thousand other reasons to think you are not up to the task He has given you, that your set of circumstances ill-prepared you for any significant role in His kingdom building process, that you are beneath His notice, that your circle of friends or enemies have their minds made up.  When we listen to those other voices, we can think of any number of storms that might rise up to swamp us or any number of Goliath’s that might appear to fight us.  But there is one voice, one promise!  There is a refrain throughout David’s narrative.  Today, as David was asking of Nathan whether to build God’s house, Nathan responds with a nearly ignored line, “God, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

     Brothers and sisters, when we plant that standard, when we commit to living life, full of His grace, with a determination to share His love, His mercy, and His hope, we never undertake that battle alone.  Each of us baptized into His house is sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever!  The prophet even uses the word Lord, reminding David and us of the personal relationship, the covenant that God has sworn with each one of us who call upon His Son for salvation.  From that moment forward, our Lord, our Head of our House, is never separated from us.  He is always with us.  And it is the same Lord who lifted David from the flock of sheep as a ruddy faced boy to be king of Israel who lifts you to His glorious purpose.  The same God who protected David when Goliath battled him, when the Philistines fought him, when Saul sought to kill him, when his son Absalom sought to kill him, and countless other events that threatened David’s very life, has extended that covenant to you and to me through that great grandson of David.  God is every bit able to lift you and to lift me as he did David before us.

     And, lest we think this covenant was made unawares, God knows full well David’s sins, just as He knows ours.  For the rest of Scripture, we will be reminded of Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba.  We will read of a census.  We will read of sons and grandsons who erect idols in the Land promised to Sarah and Abraham.  We will read of grandsons who kill the people they are charged with shepherding, of stealing plots of land they desire, knowing full well that land was granted to those people by the Lord Himself.  We will read of falling away and all kinds of sins.  If this book was a piece of propaganda, it is the dumbest propaganda ever created.  Who extols someone by never forgetting their faults?  Yet David and those who come after remind us that not even our sins will permanently separate us from the Lord.  Yes, God takes sin very seriously.  But thankfully, mercifully, He takes forgiveness just as seriously.  And that standard, the Cross, is the means by which we become a House who proclaims freedom to slaves, who brings health to those suffering from disease, who offers help to the poor, who offer words of forgiveness to those burdened by their failures!

    Brothers and sisters, you who have accepted His offer are part of the greatest dynasty the world will ever know.  It may not know it today, or tomorrow, or next week, next month, or next year.  But one day, when our Lord returns, all in His House will be lifted up and glorified, gathered up to share in that wonderful response of David, “Who am I?”  Brothers and sisters, we are His.  And it He who calls upon you and me to plant the standard of His House wherever we are planted, that His light may become a beacon of hope to a dark and dying world, a world that rejected Him when He came into His own, but a world He purposes to redeem in spite of itself.  Why not share in His purpose?  Who knows what amazing wonders He has in store for each one of us, just as He did for that shepherd boy now become king?



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