A Place and A Priority

December 20, 2020

Category: Advent - Peace

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Tags: place, presence of god

Today's Scripture

2 Samuel 7:1-11

1Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the 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.” 3Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”

4But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I 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. 7Wherever 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?” 8Now 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; 9and 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. 10And 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, 11from 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.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

Today's Sermon

A Place and a Priority

            I went on a mission trip in Appalachia to do home repair and improvements with my church when I was in my 20s.  I had moved home and was at an in between time in my life.  It was on that trip that I had a significant feeling of calling to the ministry.  It did not come when I heard a from a voice thundering from the clouds, nor a vision of Jesus or blinding light.  No, it was an inner realization…namely, that if I had to earn a living with my hands, I hadn’t a prayer.  Then it hit me…prayer!  That’s it!  What if I could make a living in prayer?!  I had accumulated more paint and roof sealant on my clothes than on the homes I was supposedly improving.  I may follow a carpenter, but a carpenter I am not.

            In the reading you just heard, King David comes to the prophet Nathan wondering if it is time to build a temple.  The king himself has a house of cedar, but God has been relegated to a tent.  If you read on, you’ll see what an enormous undertaking the construction of the temple was.  Have you ever considered what an impressive feat building was in the ancient world?  The pyramids for example?  I spent a semester in Germany, not far from Cologne where there is a church that was built over hundreds of years and is so tall that its spires often reach the clouds, all done without modern cranes or equipment.  It is amazing what people can accomplish.

            We have all witnessed a work that feels equally awe-inspiring, the creation and approval of a vaccine, more than one, for the coronavirus.  Did you ever think the site of FedEx and UPS trucks could feel like a religious experience?  It’s been, what 10 months?  We were told this could be years, if ever.  People with HIV/AIDS have been waiting decades, and while I know the research on which this was built has been going on for decades, here we are within a year from the outbreak with a vaccine in hand…or arm.  It’s astonishing.  There is much to say about our failures as a society during this pandemic, about the needless loss of life, about the refusal to make the sacrifices necessary to save our neighbors, but this, this is a feat to behold. 

            When people set their minds, their creativity, their resources to something, miraculous things can happen.  Is it short of a miracle?  Now, imagine what else we could do in the face of issues that have seemed intractable, untackleable.  We’ve always assumed hunger is unsolvable.  Homelessness.  The environment.  The journal Science just published a paper that concluded that spending just 12% of currently pledged COVID stimulus funding through 2024 on cleaning up our energy systems it would be enough to limit global warming to that all-important target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.  When I saw that I couldn’t believe my eyes.  (Right now, we’re headed to more than twice that warming (almost 6 degrees Fahrenheit) which would be devastating.)[1] This has felt like such an unattainable goal.  Some months ago, we might have said we’re never going to make that kind of investment.  Well, now we have and look at what we have done. 

            Is there greater news than hope born of results?  In a world in which it’s increasingly easy to feel helpless, we have just witnessed what is possible when we open ourselves and give ourselves over to something greater.  I’m in a group with civic and religious leaders looking at some of the most pressing issues facing us.  Our conversations are honest and often quite sobering.  The other day some of us were feeling the inadequacy of our ability to respond to challenges before us, of the inadequacy of our faith to speak to these challenges.  Then, one woman reminded us of this incredible the moment from the Christian tradition, sung about in today’s first reading, commonly known as “The Magnificat.”  Mary, the mother of Jesus gives herself over, opens herself up to the desire and indwelling of the Spirit, and what seems utterly impossible on the surface—that’s the metaphor of the virgin birth, right?—comes to pass.

            That is the good news of this season.  Impossible things can be built.  Miraculous new life can be born.  Neither what was inevitable nor impossible is any longer true.

            We have now a few months before we will be released back into the world in fuller measure.  It a pregnant moment, a crossroads of critical choice about the world to which we want to give birth.  What will we choose to build?  It shouldn’t be lost on us that God does not share David’s desire to build God a house, at least yet.  God has other priorities for the time being.  It isn’t until Solomon that the Temple is constructed.  What are our priorities and are they godly?  What will we treasure now more, and what will we let go for the good of others and ourselves? 

            I read a social media post this week, good-humored.  Someone said their husband put up a world map and told them to throw a dart at it and wherever it landed, he would take her for two weeks as soon as the pandemic ended.  Who doesn’t have the itch to travel?  Visiting loved ones aside, just travel?  The punch line of the post was, “I guess we’ll be spending two weeks behind the bookshelves,” because her throw had been errant.  But, it’s a wonderful metaphor.  Will we rush back into old ways—some of which are ways that we know cannot continue—or will we dare let the spirit take us somewhere new?  COVID has been an utter tragedy on many levels, and it has given us the opportunity to consider our capacity and the need to rethink how we order human life, to rethink and reimagine.  Let’s not squander it. 

           It is a time for building and a time for deep and committed prayer.  For when we open our hearts, what we will build will be better, and will mark the dwelling of God on earth, Emmanuel God with us.  Amen.


[1] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6514/298, https://grist.org/climate/tackling-climate-change-seemed-expensive-then-covid-happened/


Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

The incarnate Word is with us, is still speaking, is present always, yet leaves no sign but everything that is.

-Wendell Berry

1. What is it about place that is important for individuals and peoples?

2. How do we balance the need for our own place and the need to recognize our interrelatedness?

3. One of our readings speaks of God in a specific place (a temple). Where are specific places that you’ve experienced as sacred?

4. One of our readings speaks of God taking up residence within people. Where have you felt or observed the presence of God within you or another?

5. What happens when you deny someone a place?