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Sermon Title: “Drywall or Dynasty?”

September 30, 2018

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16/Luke 1:46-55

You probably need no reminding that we are not the first Americans who have been divided politically. The ink was barely dry on the Declaration of Independence when their differing political convictions set Jefferson and Hamilton, two of the most brilliant of our forefathers, at loggerheads over fundamental issues of governance.

That was just the beginning. In time political parties would be born and mature that exposed a variety of political aspirations, values, and convictions that threatened to undermine, even shatter, the bonds that our common citizenship was meant to forge. In these divisive times in which we live it is important to remind ourselves that the politics and passions of the present day will not undo us.

But what is the source of that assurance?  That assurance is grounded in our nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Those three documents have sealed our unity as a nation amid all the crosswinds to which the republic has been exposed. We might think of those documents as the architecture, the working drawings that our forefathers passed down to us as the foundation for our future.

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…

Thomas Jefferson and those who collaborated with him in preparing the final draft of the Declaration of Independence were able to compress into a document of very modest length, propositions to which citizens of this land have adhered for over two-hundred and thirty years.  The Declaration of Independence is arguable the pre-eminent testament to democracy ever written.

Though history records the periodic failures of our nation to live up to the noble aspirations expressed by our founding fathers, the citizens of the land continue to affirm certain truths, certain propositions, to be self-evident. The architecture upon which the republic was founded has remained strong despite the upheaval to which it has been subjected.

If we consider that our nation was founded upon the architecture of our Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights, we might apply that same image to the realm of faith. You and I might think of the Bible as the founding document for the people of faith, the architecture upon which our future with God is built. The sixty-six books of the Bible offers us God’s vision of the world as God intended it to be.

Once God, the architect of that vision, drew up the plans he chose mortals, contractors, if you will, to implement the plans. Among his “contractors” were the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Upon them rested the responsibility to lay the foundation upon which a nation, Israel, would be established. Thereafter generations of prophets would labor to give substance to God’s vision.

God’s covenants, or promises, were foundational to her self-identity, much as our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights are foundational to us. In Israel’s case her covenants with God were forced to stretch to the near breaking point owing to her unwillingness to trust God.

In scene after scene from the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, we hear the children of Israel complain about what they perceive to be their mistreatment at the hands of God. Newly liberated from the clutches of their Egyptian oppressors, they began to complain about the impositions they faced under Moses. They were thirsty. They were hungry. They complained that Moses wasn’t doing his job. They wanted to know how he could claim to be speaking for God if as a result they were forced to deal with relentless hardships.

Moses would pass the baton to Joshua who was privileged to lead the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Yet the celebration of the occasion was muted for there were battles to be waged before they could gain clear title to the land. The people, however, were in no mood for battles, their confidence in Joshua and others who spoke for God was frayed to the breaking point.

Ultimately the people petitioned the prophets for a king to lead them. After all, all the surrounding neighbors had kings, and why shouldn’t they?  A king would give her someone to rally around, a “take charge” person to whom she could look for direction and security. A king would enhance the nation’s self-esteem, and help her win the respect of her neighbors.

We know that Israel’s petition for a king offended God, but God eventually relented. “Be careful for what you wish for,” declared God’s prophet. Enter Saul, a young man straight out of central casting. He embodied all the qualities of a leader.  Here was a man who would provide the strength and stability that Israel was seeking. Saul didn’t disappoint, at least initially. He had a good run. The day arrived, however, when pride and various other ego needs did him in.

If God was the architect, who created the plans Israel was expected to execute, who would carry out those plans after Saul’s demise? The answer was soon forthcoming. The vacancy would be filled by David, the most renowned and celebrated of Israel’s kings. Under David the nation consolidated its land holdings, Jerusalem was established as the nation’s capital, and the Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s most sacred possession, was recaptured from the Philistines.

David was the nation’s fair-haired boy, and so he would remain, this despite well documented failings.  Though his son Solomon would oversee a kingdom that materially superseded his father’s, David’s reign saw Israel at her apex and strongest.

God was the architect, and David was appointed to carry out God’s plan. David was the apple of God’s eye. No one pleased God more than this former shepherd boy he made king. God blessed David greatly, and as a gesture of appreciation David sought to return the favor with a bit of his own architecture.

Established as he was in a comfortable palace, a kingdom at his feet, King David concluded that it was time to repay God with an appropriate thank offering.  And what offering to God would be more appropriate than an opulent dwelling place, a temple? This was a really big deal because until that point the Israelites were too busy establishing themselves in the Promised Land to consider a major project of the sort that David envisioned. This would be a place where the holy relics of Israel, the holy tablets of the law and the arc of the covenant, would be given a proper dwelling place.

All pumped up at the prospect of undertaking his project, David approached God’s prophet, Nathan, to share his intentions. Nathan gave David’s project a thumbs up to go ahead. Unfortunately, Nathan wasn’t up to speed with God’s plans. God stopped the project in its tracks.  David may have been thinking in terms of drywall, bricks, and mortar, but those were not the building materials that God had in mind when he called David to be Israel’s king.

The architecture that God envisioned was much grander than David could begin to imagine, nothing less than a dynasty, “a throne that [would] be established forever.”

David could not begin to comprehend the breadth of God’s vision, for to do so would be to envision the breadth of God’s grace.  There he stood applying to God for permission to build a temple, only to be told.  “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”  David’s vision was a house. God’s vision was a dynasty. But would God deliver?

There were periods under David’s successors when Israel believed that God had forgotten her.  King after king failed to deliver. In fact, Israel would never again rise to the stature she enjoyed under David.  While a capable Solomon stepped up to succeed his father—and who, incidentally would build the magnificent Jerusalem temple—in time he overreached himself causing dissension within his kingdom that ultimately led to Israel’s division into two separate kingdoms.

David was thinking of dry wall, his aim to build a glorious temple for God.  But God had altogether different architecture in mind when he called David to be king, God’s architecture, God’s vision, spanned centuries, even unto the end of the age.

It was the future God had in mind when he established David’s reign, architecture that would outlive David and his heirs by several centuries, architecture built on the flesh and blood of generations until God’s own son, the Messiah, descendent of David, entered history to establish God’s reign forever.

The willful acts of a series of kings, and the sins of the people over whom they reigned, threatened to undermine God’s plan, to destroy his architecture, but God wasn’t going to allow that to happen.  With the birth of Jesus God’s architecture was given a human face.

Those plans formed of old through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and reaffirmed in David, Israel’s greatest king, were given a fresh and blood identity. The flesh and blood of which I speak is a king, but not after the example of Israel’s king David.

Israel’s kings lived out their reigns, but of the reign of Jesus there will be no end. David and his brood lacked the imagination and the faith to comprehend the breadth of God’s plan, this despite all the coaching that God’s prophets provided. Israel was fixated on an earthly kingdom; drywall, brick, and mortar, perishable stuff that could not endure, but God had much greater plans for his Chosen.

God has great plans for us, and his plans are not all that mysterious. It is all lined out for us in faith’s founding document, the Bible. The Bible, like our founding documents as a nation, lays out a vision, God’s architecture, to inspire and mobilize us. And nowhere is that vision of more fully expressed than in the prophesy of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who we heard from in our morning’s second lesson. The lesson concludes with these words, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give to those who sit in darkness and the in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

Peace under God is our destiny. It is what God had in mind from the beginning. Though human sinfulness continues to intrude on that destiny, God will let nothing disturb his plans. He sent Jesus to guarantee that outcome.

We live in a very divided nation, a nation seemingly unable to agree on much of anything at all. The republic our forefathers established and for which generations of Americans have sacrificed their blood and treasure to maintain, is hobbled for lack of a common vision. Darkness and the shadow of death encroach on us with nature’s destructive wrath, hurricanes, fires, and floods. Wars and rumors of war invade our consciousness. We have so much to deal with these days, beyond the things over which we exercise primary responsibility. Yet God has plans for us meant to stretch our imaginations and inspire our hope.

God is holding this world together out of a love for us that we cannot begin to comprehend. That, of course, is where Jesus comes in, but not in the grand style of David who entered Jerusalem and established his reign as a conquering hero. No trumpet fanfare announced Jesus’s coming. There was no celebration.

Jesus entered the world through the servant’s quarters to pursue a servant’s calling. Anointed by God alright, but God didn’t elevate him immediately to a Moses or David status. Jesus made his name, not at the head of the file but in the midst of the file. No child of privileged birth or worldly advantage this one, his greatness was demonstrated not through the kind of grand deeds upon which David, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar built their reputations, he built his reputation away from the spotlight, compassion, not power, his path to greatness.

Jesus came to us as the heir of David, Israel’s greatest king, but he superseded David, his reign inaugurating the decisive chapter in God’s plan for this world. David, mortal and flawed, ended his life not knowing what would become of the kingdom he gave his live to build. But God knew, and with the resurrection of Jesus, and the amazing contributions of the disciples the Lord left behind, God made that knowledge universal.

The lesson says he, Jesus, the Messiah of God, the Prince of Peace, will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” A peace beyond our comprehension is our future, and that future is not something that happens to us but through us. The foundation is solid. Jesus, the Prince of Peace is the builder, and we, friends, are the church, people baptized by his Spirit to join him in his ministry. There is on this earth no grander calling to which are privileged to commit ourselves.  AMEN.

 

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you sent Jesus down a road that took him into places we seldom visit, to make common cause with the kind of people we often choose not to see.  David sat on a throne, but it was upon one born in a stall, who built his reputation on the margins, that true greatness resided.

Lord, our minds are often focused on worldly concerns and personal attainments, but you counsel us to have the mind of Christ, a mind unblemished by sin.  Renew us, and may that renewal begin today.  Vanquish all preoccupying concerns that we might order our lives as you design.

O God, whose compassion burns hot for the least in your kingdom we pray for those without homes and livelihood, people who live on our streets wards of our cities, cities that lack the resources and manpower to address their long term needs. We pray for those who have been born into and raised in the culture of poverty, a culture that persists despite the numerous programs created to diminish its impact. We pray for persons and agencies that serve on the frontline in efforts to address the many problems that poverty breeds.

O Christ, we pray your blessing on the church. Given a vocation to represent you to the world, we repeatedly falter and lose our way. We maintain the traditions of worship, but without the enthusiasm and creativity that might invite the participation of others, particularly the young. May your Spirit open us to new ways to address the challenges that life places in our path.

Ever patient and forbearing Lord, we thank you that the road we travel has been well marked for us, even as we praise you for mentors and other fellow travelers who have helped us to bear our burdens. We pray today for family members, particularly those facing life challenges. May they given to recognize new options and possibilities with greater clarity.

We lift up with gratitude all public servants, our school boards, council persons, state and federal employees, our law enforcement and firefighters. We praise you, Lord, for the passion for service and particular skills they bring to their vocations. May those who serve experience deep fulfillment in their various callings.

Lord, who places before us amazing bounty in earth, sky, and sea, we give thanks for yet another day for which we have been privileged to greet the dawn. May we pass these hours, O God, in gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings this day offers.

In the powerful name of Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, we pray the prayer…