Leaving our Palaces

A Sermon for Proper 11; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel made the national papers twice this past week. The first is the story of an expectant mom, waking up at 4:30 in the morning, in extreme pain. Her twins are not due for two months. But they are coming ~ now! She hollers for her mom, grabs her 2-year-old son, and off they head to the hospital. Only the one around the corner is closed, and it is 100 miles to her new doctor and hospital. They drive to Hayti, that obstetrics unit is also closed, the staff tells her the nearest hospital is St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., nearly 80 miles away. After a 25 minute wait, she is rushed to the hospital, then rushed into surgery where her twins were born by cesarean.

Her story is not unique. At least 85 rural hospitals, about 5 percent of the country’s total, have closed since 2010. Fewer than half of the country’s rural counties still have a hospital that offers obstetric care. More than 179 rural counties have lost hospital obstetric care since 2004. Kennett’s is now one of them. Mom is now home, back to work at her $8.50 an hour job. She was raised to be independent; she has always worked. There is rent to make, baby clothes to purchase, and now $80 of gas to buy for the coming week so she can go see her twins in neonatal intensive care 100 miles away (Healy).

The second article begins with some better news. Arkansas has the lowest priced housing in the nation. Those making $29,000 a year, $13.84 an hour, can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Arkansas’ minimum wage is $8.50 an hour. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual report estimates a one bedroom apartment is affordable for minimum wage workers in just 22 counties, in five states (Jan).

With news like this and no matter which of the political divide you are on this week, it is easy to feel like the Op-Ed piece Raising My Child in a Doomed World. Roy Scranton begins by sharing how he cried when their daughter came yowling into the world. He cried a second time when

he looked at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed.

Be it politics, local, nation or international, climate change, or economics, there are lots of sources of fear and doubt. Yet, Scranton still felt a love he’d never known before. He knew he would do anything for his daughter, kill for her; even as he rages at all the challenges in the future she is doomed to live in. Scranton goes on to write that our real choice is if we are willing to live ethically in a broken world. He continues

Living ethically means understanding that our actions have consequences, taking responsibility for how those consequences ripple out across the web of life in which each of us is irrevocably enmeshed and working every day to ease what suffering we can. Living ethically means limiting our desires, respecting the deep interdependence of all things.

Confessing he cannot protect his daughter, he realizes he can teach her: how to be kind, how to live within nature’s limits, how to be tough but resilient, adaptable and prudent, how to fight for what’s right, and to realize none of us is alone in this (Scranton). And knowing that he, she, and we are not alone, brings us to the reading from 2 Solomon this morning.

Some weeks ago, we heard the story of David facing Goliath, the Philistine warrior hero. King Saul tells David

You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth. (1 Samuel 17:33)

David answers

The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

After the distraction of Saul’s armor, that is way too big for him, David goes into the field, with his staff and sling, with which he protected the sheep and defeated both bear and lion. As you know he defeats Goliath.

Last week we heard the story of, as Bishop Benfield put it, the marriage of the God and Jerusalem. When the verses that are edited out are included, it is not the happy story we heard. It really is very much like a wedding gone badly wrong with one partners’ mother furious at her husband, the banquet canceled so all the guest go home with a consolation, goodie bag with a little meat, some bread and a slice of raisin cake. (Benfield).

This morning we hear how David, under God’s guidance, has conquered the land, established himself as King, settled in Jerusalem, and built himself a fine palace. It sounds as if he wants to give God an equally fine palace to live in after all God is God. But, if we recall the political motivation behind bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, it is sensible to ponder if David is now trying to gain a political advantage, by locating the home of God in David’s city, which he controls. The prophet Nathan agrees, but that night the word of God comes to Nathan with a different plan.

A parenthetical aside; anyone who is asked to give divine guidance should remember this story, and spend to serious time in prayerful, thoughtful discernment. Back to our story.

God asks, “Have I ever asked anyone to build him a house?” Answer “No!” God then recounts their shared journey:

  • God taking David from the field, making him a prince,
  • going with him everywhere defeating every enemy David ever faced

God promises

  • that David’s name will be great
  • that Israel will live in peace, and
  • that God will make David a house, make David a Dynasty, whose offspring will build a house for God’s name.

David may have forgotten who saved him from the paw of the bear and lion, God has not.

It is my habit to read the lesson for the coming week Sunday afternoon or Monday, read commentaries through the week, and keep an ear tuned to my daily readings for related current stories. This week I noticed the last phrase of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

In [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the word; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

He is calling the Ephesians a dwelling place, a palace, for God.

In Mark’s Gospel story, we read that a great crowd follows Jesus and the disciples to Gennesaret bringing with them all manner of sick family, and friends and that everyone is healed. You have heard me say, healing is a sign of Shalom, the wholeness of life which includes the presence of God.

Sometime this past week I began to wonder why when David recognized the inequity between his Palace and God’s tent, among the people, that he didn’t try to be more like God, leave the palace and move into a tent among the people. A day later I began to wonder why it has taken me some 25 years to recognize the question.

The common thread between last week’s and this week’s reading from 2 Samuel is David’s effort to bend God’s presence to his will, instead of humbly submitting to being God’s servant. We will read the consequences of that continuing effort in the weeks to come. It is not a happy story. The unhappiness we heard in this morning’s three opening vignettes are all the results from our continuing efforts to contain God in a house we built for purposes of our own design. But, as always, there is also hope.

The hope in these stories is in God’s promise not to abandon Israel, that God’s presence, in Jesus, brings about amazing healing, and that Paul sees the emerging church as a community of God’s presence. The promise in this morning’s vignettes is in Mr. Scranton’s realization that no matter how deep the approaching doom we can prevail because none of us is in this alone. God stands with all of us, and by God, all of us stand with each other, and with each other, we can all be healed, all of us can know shalom.

Will it be easy? No. Will we have to change? Yes. Does it seem impossible? Yes, but no more so that Jesus’ resurrection, the truth that has brought us together this morning.

So, I encourage all of us to leave the palaces we have constructed, move into a tent, and live, with God, among the people, physically, politically, socially, economically, or metaphorically, does not matter. I encourage us to confess the deepening doom that is gathering around us. I encourage us to look beyond the darkness and see the power in the relationships we have with others, all equally children of God, and offer a friendly hand and a gracious word. I encourage us to go into the world, trusting that God’s love is always here, that divine faithfulness endures, and that we, the temple of God, abiding participants loving and serving the Lord, in what the darkness whispers can never be done, will prevail.


References

Benfield, Larry. “Sermon Proper 11 B.” 15 7 2018.

Bowron, Joshua. “Sheeple, Pentecost 9 (B).” 22 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 11B 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Healy, Jack. “It’s 4 A.M. The Baby’s Coming. But the Hospital Is 100.” 17 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/17/us/hospital-closing-missouri-pregnant.html>.

Jan, Tracy. “A minimum-wage worker can’t afford a 2-bedroom.” 13 6 2017. washingtonpost.com. <washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/13/a-minimum-wage-worker-can’t-afford-a-2-bedroom-apartment-anywhere-inthe->.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Scranton, Roy. “Raising My Child in a Doomed World.” 16 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/16/opinion/climate-change-parenting.html>.

The Living Church. The House of Contemplation. 16 7 2018. <livingchurch.org>.