From humble roots, to slayer of Goliath, to military commander, to successor of Saul as King of Israel, David has recently conquered the independent city of Jerusalem (hereafter always called the city of David in the Bible). He has brought the sacred Ark of the Covenant with him and wants to build a permanent building to house it in, after centuries of residing in a traveling tent.
As we come to our reading, David is riding the crest of the wave. His approval ratings are sky high, and it’s probably true that David could at this point do pretty much whatever he wanted to. David has not yet discovered his propensity to let all this go to his head. That will come soon enough in the upcoming adultery and impregnation of another man’s wife. Bathsheba. For now the world was David’s oyster and he was starting to think he could do no wrong, not even in God’s sight. His pastor Nathan obviously believed that as well, for when David proposed that he build a house for the ark, as grand as the cedar-paneled executive mansion he was living in as Israel’s king, Nathan didn’t even have to pray about it before giving David the divine go-ahead.
And the Lord was with David and that is precisely why the same Lord had to put the brakes on at this point in the story. David was about to trot down a path that may have looked as innocent as could be but that could well have led him to the kind of arrogant self-sufficiency that could be his undoing. God’s word to David through Nathan was essentially this: “you want to build me a house? Forget it- I’m going to build you a house. The kingdom that I’m shaping here isn’t what you do for me but what I do through you. I’m doing the building here, not you. This is a kingdom that we’re dealing with and I am the real king here. I’m the real focus here not you! I’ve gotten along without a so-called house for a long time now. Where did you ever come up with the idea that I need or want a house? If there’s any building to be done, I’m doing it.”
The point of course is that this story in the Bible is not about David and what he can do for God. This is about God and what God alone can do for David. David may be the man after God’s own heart but as it turns out he most certainly cannot do whatever it is that he wants. Even spiritually alive people like you and me even now and then need to be reminded that God is in charge and that God’s ways are not necessarily our ways. Right?
David was embarrassed that God was still living in that sorry old tent as had been the case when the Israelites themselves were nomads living in tents but now that they were doing better had a homeland and had roofs over their heads, David assumed God would want and need the same thing.
Divine dignity demanded it. A humble tent could never do for the great God of the Universe!
Of course what God goes on to promise David is a temple down the road that would be pretty spectacular. But as it turned out God was more interested in building David a house and line of David that would one day bring into the world the incarnate Son of God who was needed to bring salvation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory.”
A fine temple was nice but God didn’t mind living in a tent; as a matter of God can live and does live wherever God wants which is most places- including a pretty little Episcopal Church in Stanardsville Virginia. And most importantly, thanks to the Holy Spirit, God resides in human hearts.
Right now at this important, transitional moment in the history of this parish, God is living here and abiding with you. Please remember that as you move forward. Amen.