Scripture Reading 2 Sam 7:1-14, Eph 2:11-22
“Our house is a very, very fine house” are the words from the hit song by Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young song from the early 1970’s. When you read the lyrics to the song, you get the impression that what makes for a very, very fine house is two cats in the yard. The song goes on to say that it takes someone to sing love songs, a few flowers in the vase, and a fire burning in the fireplace. For them, this would be how their house becomes a home, how they would define the essence of home. So, it begs the question, what is home for you? What makes your house a home?
Home, sweet, home. It is the place we feel settled with family and friends. It is hard to define, but we know when we have it. That’s what David had, that settled in feeling. In the previous few chapters before this morning’s readings, David rose from being a fugitive hiding out with Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, to the king of all the tribes of Israel and ruler over the entire region. One by one, David defeats the big kids on the block, defeating Philistia, Amalek, Midian, and Ammon. King David now rules over all of them. Things are safe, the area is at relative peace, because one never knows when one of the defeated countries will rise up and pose a challenge.
What is he to do? David looks out from his palace and sees all of Jerusalem. He had just moved the ark of the Lord into Jerusalem with great fanfare and festivities. Now things were quiet and the people of the city were going about their regular routines. He could see the tent that he had built for the ark. Hadn’t his God Yahweh given him all of this? He had seen the great temples to the gods in the cities he had overthrown. Didn’t Yahweh deserve more than a tent? Didn’t the one who had defeated the gods of Philistines, the Amalekites, the Midianites, and the Ammonites deserve to be in grand temple? David even feels a little guilt for where he is living and sees the inequity. He lives in a great house of cedar, but the ark of God rests in a tent. “My God deserves to rest in a temple greater than my house. My God shall rest in a temple greater than any other.” David decides right then and there to build a house suitable for God.
quite so fast, David. Just about as soon as this grand idea for God pops into David’s head, we learn that he isn’t going to be the one to build this magnificent house, but it is God who is going to build a house for David. Nathan jumps the gun in giving David the go-ahead because it would seems natural to Nathan to give permission to David to follow his heart in this plan. God had blessed David so far in everything he had done, and the plan sounded like a good one to Nathan.
But that night, Nathan hears from the Lord and Nathan reports what God has said to David. God asks David a rhetorical question; “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” The obvious answer is no. God then goes on to remind David of two histories. First, there is the history of God with his people Israel. God had not lived in any house, not even since the day his people left Israel. He has lived among his people as his ark moved about them in a tent. God reminds David that he had not asked any of the previous generations to build him a house to place the ark. Then God reminds David of his own history. He was taken from the pasture by God from being a shepherd of sheep to being a prince among the people, to the very throne of Israel. God was with him where ever he went, giving him success in battles and in building a kingdom.
Now God calls David to go from looking back to looking forward into the future. The Lord will build David’s house, that is to say, his lineage, his dynasty, his dynasty, his throne. Through David, a house will be built by God that will be established for ever. In the short run, God is speaking of Solomon, the great temple builder, who followed after the death of David. And it continued on. A direct descendant of David sat on the throne right up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. This text established the idea of the eternal Davidic dynasty, even existing if a king were not on the throne.
Solomon would go on to build the temple, a place to house the ark and to worship the God of Israel. But, if you were not from Israel, you were not welcome there. What he built was a, “Our God’s house is a very, very fine house.” The Israelites did something that we find in all cultures: They divided people by “us” and “them.” Those whom David had overthrown, those who did not have an ancestral tie to Israel, those who were Gentiles, were not allowed. To this day, if you travel to Jerusalem, you can see the remains of a low stone wall that surrounded the temple. This wall separated the outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, from the inner court. And at each gate between these two courts was a sign, with different languages added over the course of history. You will find a warning in Hebrew, Greek and Latin that no Gentile was permitted past this point on pain of death.
But God’s vision for David’s house extends beyond anything that David or Solomon could ever imagine and includes more than David would ever have guessed. The Jews had the promise of a Messiah, someone who would follow after David as their king. They were the commonwealth of Israel – God’s holy nation. And they were bound to God through his covenant promises. The Gentiles had none of these. Now, in God’s promise to David, God intended that Israel would be a light unto the nations; that the doors would be open to the Gentiles and they would be invited in to worship with them the one true God. But walls of separation began to be built. It started with differences in languages, customs, habits, religious practices, and ideologies. As time went on, the distinctions get finer, and the walls of separation grew more numerous. Physical and spiritual walls began to be built, keeping God in, accessible only to a select few, and keeping all others out.
The walls that were built by the house of David had to be torn down by someone from the house of David, and into this situation comes Jesus Christ. As we go through the Gospels, we regularly find the connection between Jesus with the lineage of David, and the early Christians, including Paul, were convinced that the eternal promise to David’s throne included an eternal promise for Jesus’ kingship over all. And this is where we have to realize that wall building was not just a specialty of the Jews, but is found in all cultures, times and places, including our own. The good news is Jesus came to do some demolition work. In his life, death, and resurrection, Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Languages and nations? Christ proclaims peace to those who are far off and those who are near. Religions and ideologies? Jesus was prepared even to “abolish the law with its commandments and ordinances,” in order to create one new humanity. Insiders and outsiders? The walls come down. Citizens and foreigners? The walls come down. Oppressors and victims? Jesus takes down whatever walls we have raised to create divisions amongst us. In Christ Jesus, the walls come down.
Jesus isn’t trying to bring about a sort of spiritual anarchy. He must tear down those things that separate us to build a new house, his church. Jesus is joining us together into a holy temple of God that is built upon the peace that is only found in him. With Christ, we all are invited to join with the apostles and prophets in their self-giving role of building this new and holy temple. More, we are invited to hold each other up in service, prayer and worship, even as the stones of the temple together bear the weight of the whole.
This can only happen because of Jesus the cornerstone, who also happens to be the master architect. We may look at the church and see it terribly fragmented. We may look at our fellow Christians across the dividing line of denominations and worship styles and theologies, and despair of ever working together. Frankly, we may not want to be placed side-by-side with them in a new and unified structure. And this raises questions for us in our little congregation in La Grande; are we building walls of peace based upon Christ’s love and sacrifice, or are we building walls that separate us from others? When someone walks through the door and they don’t ‘fit’ what we think an ideal Presbyterian should look like, how do we treat them? Do we invite them in? Out in the world, are we surrounding ourselves with people only like us, or does our list of friends and neighbors include those who are different from us? Christ tore down the barriers that separate us from one another so that we could build with him a place where all are accepted and a place where all are loved.
This is a marvelous thing that God in Christ has done. He has made a single body of diverse peoples. Not two bodies. Not an Old Testament Israel and a New TestamentChurch. Not an Ephesus church and a Jerusalem church. Not a Presbyterian church and a whatever church down the street. Not a rich church and a poor church. But, one body. One temple. To serve as the dwelling place for One Spirit that exists within and among us. Friends, God’s house is a very, very fine house because Christ is the chief cornerstone and architect. Without him, it all falls apart. He will work until the only walls that remain standing are the walls of one great “holy temple in the Lord.”