2 Samuel 7:1-12
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the 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.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I 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. Wherever 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?”
Now 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; and 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. And 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, from 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. 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.
For the last ten years or so, I have had a recurrent dream. It does not come often, maybe only once or twice a year, but when it does, I am always glad of it.
In this dream, I am standing in the entry way of a little house. It is a house that I have built by myself, for myself. It is a house I love.
In my dream, I am standing in the door way of my little house. There is a small clearing before me and then a lush forest beyond. As I stand there in the doorway, I feel at peace, deeply contented and filled with gratitude.
Most of the time, the dream stops there. But sometimes, if I am really lucky it continues. And when it does, I then walk out across the porch to the edge. I pause for a moment on that edge and then I lean forward, push off and rise. Effortlessly I ascend and then glide out over the tops of the trees below.
When I awake from these dreams, I have to say it is not without a tinge of disappointment. It’s not that I don’t love my house in Roslindale, I do! But lying there, surrounded by those four walls, I find myself yearning for that little house; yearning for that deep sense of peace and gratitude, and yearning for the freedom of that joy-filled flight.
But before we go any further, Let us pray.
Holy One. Bring us home. Give us rest from our wandering. Fill our emptiness with your redeeming love, so that we may be set free to arise and follow you wherever it is you may be leading. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our lives, be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer AMEN.
We all need a home. It does not have to be much, like the little house of my dream, but we all need one. We all need a place where we can hang a picture, set out the tea set our grandmother gave us, and where clean towels generously wait in the linen closet. We all need a place of safety, security, where our memories can dwell and where new ones can arise.
Such it was for the Hebrew people. A few weeks back Amy preached on the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis in which we learned how there was a famine in the land that forced the descendants of Abraham to seek refuge in Egypt. A generation or so later, these same people were conscripted into forced labor, slaves of Empire, having to build bricks to shore up not their own homes, but store houses of Pharaoh.
But then God heard the cry of the people and in a mighty act delivered them from their bondage. Moses, led the people across the Red Sea with the army of Pharaoh in hot pursuit. Moses led the people and they were delivered. No longer were they slaves of Empire. They were freed to be people of God.
Then there were 40 years, a generation of refugees wandering in the Sinai wilderness learning what it meant to be God’s people. There were commandments to be given, golden calves to be crafted and then repented of, there was need to learn who, and whose, they were.
And now in our Scripture from 2 Samuel this morning, we arrive at the point in the story where the people have crossed the River Jordan and have settled down in the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey. They have come home, not just to a land, but also to a nation.
David, once a shepherd boy is now a King. He has solidified the 12 tribes of Israel into one people, one kingdom. And the King has a house. A sturdy house built of the mighty cedar tree. Resistant to insect or decay, the mighty cedar was a symbol of strength and longevity. Such was the house of David.
We all need a home, a place of safety. A place surrounded by love, where memories can dwell and where dreams for the future can arise.
Now anyone who is fortunate enough to own or rent a house also knows that houses require lots of time, money and effort. They are always needing a fresh coat of paint, a new roof, a good cleaning out of the basement.
But it is not just our physical homes that require tending. Richard Rohr, Franciscan Father, teacher and author reminds us that we also spend a tremendous amount of time and effort constructing and maintaining our inner homes, where our ego resides. Instead of cedar and stone, wood and plaster, our inner homes are built of a sense of self worth, accomplishment, competency, status, reputation, power, influence …
And if one reaches the point where one has both a sturdy and well maintained physical home and inner home, well that is a really sweet place to be in. This is the spot where David is in the Scripture this morning. He has made it, he has finally arrived. He is home! Don’t we all wish the same?
I had always thought so. I had always thought that the point of the spiritual journey was to arrive home again. And that the homes that we create here to live in, both our physical ones and the ones of our inner lives, are a kind of place holder, earthly recreations of our first home, that Garden of Eden. You know how the story goes. We once knew the sweet shalom of God’s peace, but by our transgression, it was lost to us. And now our life work is “to get ourselves back to the garden,” to borrow words from Joanie Mitchell’s iconic song.
But lately, I been wondering if that narrative of returning to the garden, of returning home is helpful or even accurate. I’ve been wondering if trying to satiate our hunger to return to what was lost, that primordial memory of peace and contentment, by building bigger and bigger houses, full of more and more stuff, and building up our egos by shoring up our status, net worth, and accomplishments, is really getting us anywhere on our spiritual journey?
Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with having a home and a healthy ego. God knows that we need that. It’s just that I am beginning to wonder if transposing this narrative of a return to home as the end point of our spiritual journeying is helpful.
I know it is hard. Who doesn’t want to return what once was, especially if what once was, seemed so perfect. Every time I walk by my kid’s bedrooms I cannot help but long for the days when their precious little heads were asleep on those now empty pillows. And in our national life there is such power in the promise of returning to how great things used to be — to go back to those glories days and make it great again! That sounds go good!
But what if the spiritual journey is not one of return? What if it is instead a pressing on into something entirely new? What if Jesus came not to restore humanity but to transform it?
I am remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah speaking the vision of the Lord saying:
“For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating; (Isaiah 65:17-18a)
And I am remembering the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!” he writes “we will all be changed!”
I am coming to understand that to follow Jesus and to walk in faith is not about building up but about taking down. Not about walling in, but stepping out. And let me be clear, in light the Syrian refugee crisis and the discussion we will enter into after the services today, taking down and stepping out is not about someone else tearing down our houses or forcing us to flee. Not at all! This following Jesus is about the self emptying that happens on the far side of physical security and ego stability.
We remember, that Jesus goes to the place of the disciples’ ego identity and security: their fishing boats, and calls them out of that place. We remember, that he does not tell them where they are going but only bids them follow. We remember, he said that the fox have dens and birds have nests, but that son of man has nowhere to lay his head. What Jesus is talking about is not that he cannot find anyone to take him in, but that he has instead chosen to give his life over to a God that cannot be domesticated — A God that the prophet Nathan speaks of in the passage this morning that is in no need of a house, because God is out on the move, making all things new.
Now I am not going to ask for a show of hands, but have you ever found yourself awake at 4:00 in the morning wondering “what in the world you are doing with your life?” “What is my purpose? Why are you alive?” Has that ever been you?
I wonder, instead of thinking that having these questions must be a sign of our failings, could they actually be a signal that we too may be ready to enter into a deeper walk with our God that is waiting to lead us into the transformation that awaits. It takes great courage to enter the unknown, to “Let go and Let God.” What if home is actually something new entirely that we have not yet tasted, that lies on the far side of our unknowing, into which, if we are willing, we will led?
Given all that is going on in the world, we may want to just go home and bolt the door. …… But I believe, we are called out just like the Hebrew people in Scripture, into a future we cannot yet see. To walk in this way, is to walk as those first disciples did so long ago. It is to walk with each other prayfully, tending community, staying open, being alert, feeling our fear but refusing to be ruled by it; acknowledging our doubts but not being paralyzed by them, tenaciously, courageously pressing on with each other into that which we cannot yet see.
Let me end with a poem by the great Theologian and Pastor Howard Thurman that speaks to me most profoundly about the great unknown of where home may actually be.
My ego is like a fortress.
I have built its walls stone by stone
To hold out the invasion of the love of God.
But I have stayed here long enough. There is light
Over the barriers. O my God —
The darkness of my house forgive
And overtake my soul.
I relax the barriers.
I abandon all that I think I am,
All that I hope to be,
All that I believe I possess.
I let go of the past,
I withdraw my grasping hand from the future,
And in the great silence of this moment,
I alertly rest my soul.
As the sea gull lays in the wind current,
So I lay myself into the spirit of God.
My dearest human relationships,
My most precious dreams,
I surrender to His care
All that I have called my own
I give back. All my favorite things
Which I would withhold in my storehouse
From his fearful tyranny,
I let go.
I give myself
Unto Thee, O my God. Amen.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. AMEN