Anglican Church of Canada
Ninth Sunday after
Where is God's Dwelling?
As I reflected on today's readings earlier in the week, one theme began to emerge. Where does God dwell? Where do we search for God in our lives? What does it mean for us to be a dwelling place of God? What may we have to let go of, to make room for God in our lives ?
In our Old Testament reading today, David has arrived at the stage of consolidating his affairs and his territories, and he is now secure enough to undertake plans that had been postponed. Thinking of the fine new buildings that are beginning to appear in his fortress city, including his own house of cedar, he realizes how different they are from the simple tent in which the Holy of Holies is still enshrined. Surely it is time to build a fitting house for the glory of the God of Israel.
At first his advisor, the prophet Nathan, gives David the green light for his plans. So Nathan says "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you." But almost immediately, for reasons that are not clear, Nathan changes his advice. Through Nathan, God reminds David that the struggles of recent times, including the campaigns of his own life, have been successful without a special house for the Holy One. There may come a time when a house will be built, but not yet.
There is a link between this passage and the gospel for today: God says "I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." While in a literal sense this offspring will be David's son Solomon, who will build the temple of his father's dreams, Christians have tended to attribute this reference to our Lord. Jesus is the son of David, both in being what the Bible calls of David's line, and also in a mystical sense. Our Lord builds a house for God's name – the house of his own body – and "his kingdom is established forever." The link is even more expressively in the statement, "I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me".
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is speaking to Gentiles, mostly Greek and Roman, who have entered the new Christian fellowship centred on Jesus as Christ. Paul would have understood the coming together of both Jews and Gentiles in one fellowship as the foundation of a new people of God. Paul felt that this coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ had demolished a huge "dividing wall, that is, the hostility between them" and created one new humanity in place of two. In this he saw future peace and reconciliation. While Paul's vision is spiritual, his image is that of a magnificent building "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone ... a holy temple in the Lord".
As we know too well, Paul's vision never achieved the reality he so desperately hoped for and so diligently worked for.
Divisions exist all too obviously in the body of Christ today. Different visions of the Christian faith clash in every tradition and in many congregations. Antagonisms form. Statements are misunderstood and misinterpreted. In all of this we need constant reminding of the great dividing wall that Paul felt to exist, the "hostility" that he knew too well. We need to recall the images of unity and solidarity, of affection and intimacy that describes his vision of a people who feel themselves to be "also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone."
In our gospel, the apostles told Jesus all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while". Obviously Jesus' hope of spending time apart with them is not fulfilled. Yet in no way does he resent the fact that the crowds continue to come for healing and attention. He sees the people and has deep compassion for them. When everyone wants to touch the hem of your coat, some time away can add perspective. The truth is, we can serve people better by attending to our own soul. What does it mean for us to come away to a quiet place? Where do we find God in our lives?
Which brings me back to the question, where is God's dwelling? In the summer of 1998 I took a sabatical in Wales to study Celtic spirituality. For the ancient people of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, God was not found only in ancient old buildings, but was all around them – in their heart and in their soul. Prayer and meditation was part of their daily lives and spiritual wellbeing. I also had the opportunity to visit many beautiful but mostly vacant church buildings.
It reminds me of a report of a study tour of the Vancouver School of Theology, visiting an historic old church in England. George Herbert, the hymn writer much beloved by Anglicans, had been rector there once. It was a small church. Only the sanctuary and tiny vestry. No office. No washroom. No meeting room. And the current rector was not a happy man.
"We don't have a church here," he complained. "We have a historical society. Every bit of energy we have is devoted to the upkeep of this building. The church got the government to declare it an historic site, so we can't change anything." It would seem that little ministry or outreach was being done in that community.
How much of our mission is drained off to patch up the roof of a building where God may not live anymore. Which brings me back to the question of where does God dwell? Are we really the ones who are built together spiritually to be a dwelling place for God? Or are we just another historical society?
Almighty God, your Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence. Give us pure hearts and constant wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, no and for ever. Amen
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.
I have found my servant David;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
For-ever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line for ever,
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue for ever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.The Holy Gospel
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.