From if to nevertheless, from Nathan to Francis

A Sermon for Proper 11

2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 89:20-37, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We are great builders. (Gruberth) From early on till now there are stories of majestic structures. There is the story of the Tower of Babble. There is David’s building his own fine house and his desire to build an equally or grander, house for God. It makes sense. Nathan thinks so; he says so before he checked it out with God. We should be at least a bit surprised, given David’s history of consulting God. And we, as are Nathan and David, are surprised by God’s “No.”

There is a lot of speculation about why God says no to David’s offer. None are in the Bible, which probably means they aren’t all that important. What is important, well revealing, is the wordplay. The Hebrew bayit can mean, house, palace, temple, or dynasty. (Brueggemann) (BIRCH) David says he has built himself a house. It is really a palace; that is a symbol of political power, and perhaps a bit of self-serving effort to legitimize his reign. (Brueggemann) David wants to build God a house. He means Temple, which is a permeant residence for God; which may be a sign of piety, or an effort to lay claim on God. Permanence [restricts] Yahweh’s freedom.  Yahweh will not be bought off, controlled, or domesticated by such luxury. (Brueggemann)

The divine “No,” is a surprise; however, the surprises are no over. God continues:

I took you from the pasture (v. 8b);

I have been with you (v. 9a);

I have cut off all your enemies (v 9a)

Having reviewed what God has done is the past God’s continues by revealing the future:

I will make you a great name (v. 9b);

I will appoint a place for my people (v. 10a);

I will give you rest from all your enemies (v. 11) (Brueggemann)

And there is more, “I will make a house for you,” which here means dynasty, for God also says

“I will raise up offspring, (v. 12a)
will establish his kingdom.” (v. 12b)

God will do more for David than he can ask or imagine. (BCP 102), (Romans15:13) God is doing far more than we can ask or imagine.

Within the list of what God will do, is allowing David’s son, Solomon, not yet born, to build a Temple. This is no mere condescending to David’s complex request. It’s a transformation of God’s covenant with Israel through Moses. In the verses that follow those appointed for this morning, God says:

14. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. … 16. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:14-16 (NRSV))

This is the turning point in the Old Testament story. (Brueggemann) Last week we heard the story of the Ark coming to Jerusalem, bringing the presence of God back into the presence of Israel. (BIRCH) It is an act attached to the Mosaic covenant, build on the premise of “if you keep these laws, I will be with you.” Saul’s kingship is based on the Mosaic covenant, and he lost God’s presence. What we are witnessing is God changing the Mosaic ‘if’ into the messianic ‘nevertheless.’ In short, when you and your descendants mess up there will be consequences; nevertheless, I will be with you, be with them, forever. (Brueggemann), (BIRCH) We are witnessing the establishment of: the evangelical faith in the Bible, the faith in the Messiah, the first threads of justification by grace. (Brueggemann)

As glorious, hopeful and transformational as it is, this not a move without its risk. Linking divine presence to the Davidic dynasty and the nevertheless of God’s continuing presence involves creating the potential of legitimizing the state that dares to claim divine imprimatur.  There is the appearance of divinely inspired power that benefits some at the expense of others. It is a Gordian knot that cannot be undone, nor cut. (Brueggemann) I have seen it in Bibles, whose cover bears the image of a national flag.

This is emblematic of the embedded warning in this story. We do not read the story of God’s presence through national symbols; we are to understand the responsibility of governance, mutual responsibility, and interdependence, through the nevertheless of God eternal presence. And by the way: our Constitution does not forbid the church from speaking to governments, or influencing politicians; it only forbids governments from establishing an official religion. The flip side of this risk is the hope that there will always be those who will right the wrongs, and establish good governance; that there will be those who, in spite of resistance from the recalcitrance of injustice and unrighteousness, will nevertheless give themselves over to make things right. (Brueggemann) In the absence, real and perceived, of God’s presence, there is the promise of nevertheless, the promise of enduring hesed, the promise of God’s everlasting love. (Brueggemann) As an example is Israel’s experience during the Babylonian captivity. (BIRCH)

History reveals how, in the face of political perversion of divine imprimatur the church tends to withdraw into unengaged piety or to ignore God’s interests and allow herself to fall into ideologically co-opted or culturally accommodated religiosity. (BIRCH) God risks the dangers of ideological manipulation of faith for the sake of bringing the grace of divine promise into close engagement with public and political realities.  The church can do no less than risk active engagement. (BIRCH)

We have seen such engagement from time to time:

  • William Wilberforce’s lifelong stance against slavery in England that was abolished after his death.
  • Martin Luther King’s and some churches involvement in the ongoing fight for civil rights.
  • The churches that take a public stance for gender and sexual preference equality.
  • Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming, and his public comments against the continuing oppression of the poor and marginalized.

The Old Testament writers expected that the coming of the messiah would lead to justice and the total transformation of the society. Jesus got the transformation started. Christians speak of the already and not yet. We believe the full transformation of society will come with the second coming of Christ. In the meantime the nevertheless of 2nd Samuel 7 should encourage us to seek and fight for peace and justice right here, right now. (Klein)


References

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.+

Gruberth, G. Cole. “Proper 11.” 19 7 2015. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a.” 19 7 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

Klein, Ralph W. “Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:114a.” 2015. Working Preacher. web. 2014.

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

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