As we read the stories of David this week, we come across this little story in 2 Samuel 7. Once you start unpacking it, it’s surprising how many layers there are.
David lives in a “house of cedar” (a palace) and proposes to build for YHWH a “house” (a temple).
Temple building is one of the things kings do; yes, surely to honor God but also – maybe – to try to control God, to use God in order to legitimate the king’s power.
And then Nathan the prophet receives – and delivers to the king – an oracle from the Lord of hosts.
Thus says the Lord:
I have not asked for a house. I do not want a temple.
I am God on the move.
I have tabernacled among you, moving about with the people of Israel wherever you have gone.
But I will not be confined in your box, no matter how beautiful. I will not be limited by geography or architecture or politics.
I am sovereign. I am free. I AM who I AM.
I am the One who took David from the pasture and made you to be prince over my people Israel.
Do you think YOU can build ME a house? NO! I AM the One who will build YOU a house, make YOU a dynasty, secure your kingdom forever.
AND I will be One who will never take my steadfast love away.
Thus says the Lord.
It’s a fascinating reversal. Instead of David building a temple that furthers his empire building, the LORD God promises to build David and his descendants into a house, a dwelling, a dynasty that will be forever.
David is the one whom God took from the pasture, raised up to be king and made to be lord and savior of the people in the kingdom of Israel.
David’s house changed the course of Israel’s history.
David is the pivot.
Then secondly, the Messianic hope that had been cultivated during the years of Exile ultimately became embodied in Jesus the Messiah. In the gospels, the Christian theologians understood that God was doing a brand new thing in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David.
In their theological reflections, Jesus is the one whom God took from a stable, raised up from a cross and made to be Lord and Savior of all God’s people in an ever widening understanding of the kingdom of God.
Jesus is the one of whom the angel in Luke said: “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David…and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
It is in Jesus that our hope is embodied and
the promises of a faithful God are now enfleshed.
First, the house of David for a newly formed nation; and then in Exile, the line of David that would become a new thing in the hope of messiah; and then in the gospels: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
Jesus is the Son of David whose kingdom is not marked by a scepter and a sword but rather revealed in broken bread, poured out wine and an old rugged cross.
And now one more perspective; the final layer.
There’s a little story in the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume written to continue the story of his gospel. In Acts, the Spirit of the Risen Christ keeps showing up in all kinds of unexpected places, intersecting the lives of all kinds of unlikely people (just as the earthly Jesus always seemed to do.)
A lame beggar, a eunuch from Ethiopia, a demon possessed slave girl, a Roman jailer. And then there was the occupying soldier, the disdained Gentile: Cornelius.
In the story in Acts 8, the surprising Spirit made it very clear to Peter and the other Jews that this pagan Gentile Cornelius WAS invited by God and was to be included with – and within – God’s people.
Peter was astounded.
He stood there watching but he could hardly believe it. Gentiles? Fully included in the church? Anointed with Pentecost Spirit? Gentiles (of all people) counted among the baptized believers?
What was God up to?
Not long after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, church leaders decided they needed to get together and talk about this unexpected new thing. Maybe this was the precursor of our denominational assemblies – church folks getting together and discussing, discerning, deciding what it means, what it looks like to be church in a new time and a vastly changed circumstance.
Everyone got to speak. Everyone got to listen.
And then James summarized the sense of the assembly.
When James the Elder spoke, he cited the prophets who had envisioned a bold, new future for the people of God.
After this I will return (says the Lord)
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it and I will set it up so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.Acts 15:12-18
In this last perspective, the house of David is the family made up of ALL people who seek the Lord.
There are plenty of other Scriptures that James and this early assembly knew that affirmed the exclusion of the Gentiles.
But now – because of their experience with Jesus the Christ; now because of the wisdom and boldness brought to them by the Spirit of the Risen Christ – James and the new theologians could see within their own Scriptures hints of God’s ancient and ongoing work to enlarge God’s people Israel.
Once again, faithful people of God reflected on Scripture’s meaning for a new time and a vastly changed circumstance.
And in their reflections, they were able to recognize the good news that God has been including all kinds of unlikely people for a long, long time.
James and the early church recognized God’s work among them here and now, in their time and place.
And they said: Yes!
The house of David, the legacy of David, the people of God, the community of belonging doesn’t look like it used to look – and that is exactly God’s plan.
We humans cannot build God a house. Instead God is building US into a house, a home, a people, a family, an authentic community.
I don’t know about you, but I find this new reality to be stunning, startling.
I find myself asking along with David long ago: “Who are we, oh God, that you have brought us this far?!”
What is this people, oh God, that you have made your dwelling among us?!
Who are we that you have made US to become a people where all can find a home, can become a family?
It is grace, pure and simple.
That God would move among us and make us to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” – is grace.
That God would dwell among us broken people in order to accomplish unity and reconciliation – is grace.
The David Stories for grownups.
When we were children, we read the stories of David like children’s stories. But now when we let these sacred stories intersect our own stories, we recognize how The Story, God’s Story is rich with complexity and ambiguity.
Now we can see how God’s Story has always been moving, growing, becoming more than we ever imagined.
We are not children anymore. And yet – of course – we are.
We are God’s children. We are ALL God’s children – growing together in God’s family, living together in God’s household, included in God’s heritage, continuing the legacy of God’s amazing grace.
And in God’s story, we are all are welcomed.
In THE Story, “all means all.”
Living in The Story readings for Week 29