Psalm 89:20-37; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Farmville Presbyterian Church
August 1, 2021
- God cannot be Housed
When was the last time you heard one of our all-time favorite fairy tales, the Three Little Pigs? For some of you, it might have been a great, long while, so just for a little summary:
There are three pigs who are all in need of shelter. Two are rather lazy, however, and while the oldest is building his brick home, they take a few shortcuts and build homes of straw and sticks, respectfully. Then, they all settle in for the night. You all know what happens, next. The big, bad wolf comes and actually does the normal, natural things for all wolves – he wants to eat the pigs. He comes to the first pig in the house of straw: let me in; no and something about hairy chins; then, it is time for blowing and houses falling. Of course, the house of straw falls, but before the pig becomes dinner, he is able to make it to the second pig’s house of sticks. Same story, though. Wolf, chin hair, big breaths, house falls. And again, before the pigs are eaten (which seems to serve them right considering their shabby work ethic), they escape to the third pig’s fortress. Now, here is where things get especially interesting. The wolf tries the same attack plan, but this time he cannot blow the house down. Now, do you know the rest of the story? We might have left out this part to our children about the wolf trying to come down the chimney and the pigs boiling a big pot of water in the fireplace, into which the wolf falls, and in which the wolf is boiled to death and HE becomes the PIGS’ dinner.
Honestly, all I am worried about you knowing, though, is the little bit of commentary that I slipped in there about the lazy pigs seeming to get off very easily. The slackers came out on top just like the smart, industrious pig. I wonder if that makes you a little bit upset knowing how the story goes. It does not seem terribly fair. According to this old tale, you can build cheap homes and still come out a winner.
Well, that is certainly not what David was attempting to do. David would not have settled for even brick for his house because this house that he wanted to build was the most important house the world had ever seen – the house of God Almighty. There had never been a Temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ever in the history of the world, and David was committed to remedying that. Other gods had temples. He would build the biggest and most magnificent of them all. Everything seems to be leading up to this, the stars were aligning, even Nathan the Prophet was on board. There was peace and security and prosperity. David had done it all. Now, what was left was a house for God – which turns out to be a lousy idea.
In all fairness, this is one of the most important passages in the entire Old Testament. This is the first time ever that David hears the master plan. This is the first time we have his throne, his family, his tribe being established so that his kingdom will never end. In our Christian ears, this is the “signpost-of-all-signposts” to Jesus. This is our promise for Christmas and our hope in Easter. To Jewish ears, this is still precious, holy prophecy pointing to the Messiah.
As grand as God’s promise is to David, however, there is no getting around the simple fact that it does not seem very fair. Is there really justice here? David has literally spent his whole life in service to God and given everything he had to follow God’s call. Do you ever recall a time when David turned God down or failed God? No? That’s because it never happened, at least in the biblical account. He is the golden boy – God’s perfect King. Next week, we might hear differently, but up to now in the story, David has done everything God has asked, even more in following King Saul. Now that things are in a good place, God seems to reject David’s hope and ambition to honor GOD. David’s plans appear to be sound; Nathan gives him the green light. David wants to honor God, not even himself, and God seems insulted at the very proposition. Why can’t David have this wish?
Remember that Three Little Pigs story, how the ending was certainly a definite ending with the demise of the wolf, but the conclusion does not play by what we might expect for our human rules of fairness. As it turns out, one reason that story has endured in our cultural consciousness is exactly for that fact. There is an element of messiness to the story. All the threads do not get tied. It reflects real life in its greater complexity. We know that in real life, bad things can happen to good people, and good things can happen to bad people. Life does not follow our sense of justice. Everything about David’s plan made perfect sense to him and to Nathan. There was not a shred of doubt that this was a good idea. God’s seat, represented by the Ark of the Covenant, had been toted around in the wilderness for nearly 40 years before coming to the land of Canaan. It had continued in the care of the Jewish people here and there, wherever it needed to be for centuries. It never had an established home which meant God never had an established home. The idea may seem silly to us today. It would be impossible for us to actually make God a home in which to dwell. It might even seem a little heretical to believe we could contain God anywhere or expect God to stay in a location. Even today, a church is not a house of God in that real sense, but David, in his sincere faith, was thinking of a temple just like any of the other temples to other gods out there. He did not express it that way, but where would he get the idea of a temple for God except for having seen such a thing before?
God does reject David’s assumptions, but God gives David something even greater. While God is expressly confronting him with the simple fact that there is nothing he can do to “help” God or establish God or make God more comfortable in the earth, God pulls back the curtain to show this human king how much he owed to God: I took you from tending the sheep and made you the shepherd for the whole people; I defeated all of your enemies and have established you; you will be one of the greatest people on earth; and I am going to make YOU a house that endures forever from your son. Even if your son disobeys me, I will keep this covenant. Nothing will change this. This is a forever promise. Your house, the kingdom of Israel, will never end. The king is blown away.
There is a word for what David just received from God – grace. This is what God has been trying to tell David through this whole speech. David is not the one who is doing things for God; it is God who is the one who has done everything for David, is still doing everything, and will continue to do everything for David in the line of his family. Never before have we seen God make such a powerful, personal, perfect promise. And as I mentioned before, we hear in this promise, this covenant, the coming of Christ Jesus.
It is never expressed in such a word, but what the pigs got at the end of the story is not justice, not fairness, not what they deserved, but they got a happy ending. David was never the king or the man after God’s own heart because he deserved it or earned it. He was not the one who would establish the line of Jesus because he was good enough or holy enough or righteous enough. He was not the only person in the world who loved the Lord our God, but he is the one God chose to lead and to follow. David led the people into the darkest valley, and he followed God when everyone sought his life. God told David, “It was never about what you could do for me but about what I want to do for you.”
Grace has a funny way of turning our ideas around. The people we should hate end up being the ones we are called to love, and the ones who hate us are the ones who can be our best friends. This is the power of love. Just think about the Apostle Paul, going from being the church’s greatest enemy to the greatest champion. Grace says you are special and worth it when others say not. Grace says you have a place in this world and in our family when you feel alone. Grace says you are worth fighting for and protecting when the world closes in. Human fairness and justice often do not reflect the heart of God as well as grace does. God has always been in the business of blessing us far more than we deserve. Jesus is the living proof of that.
People who want to share in ministry and to serve as friends in Christ should always begin from a place of thankfulness, that God has done something wonderful for you and established you forever and made you into someone amazing and wonderful. You have a value beyond value in God’s eyes. Then, we have reason to rejoice and the desire to be and work in the love of God.
Maybe God does not need a house, but our Almighty and Gracious God has given us the best seat in this house to remember just how much God has done for you and for me. There is nothing in this life that we have earned or truly deserve that was not itself a gift from God. And the greatest gift is right here – the gift of each other. As we offer ourselves to this time of Communion, I invite you to hold in your heart how much you have been given and to rejoice in faith. To God be the glory. Amen.