Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rebuilding a Temple of Praise

After the tragedies this week, preaching was a daunting task. Even with the further edits I have made to the sermon (even after it was preached this morning at Presbury United Methodist Church), it does not not specifically educate about #BlackLivesMatter as I would like it to. But I hope it still speaks to the truth of God's dream for creation, standing up to the violence we have experienced. 

Scripture: 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (NRSV)  
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 forever. 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. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Sermon: Rebuilding a Temple of Praise
Let us pray:
Patient teacher, if we were you our patience with the world would be wearing a little thin this morning. And perhaps your patience is. But, as you did with King David, you are reaching out to us this morning, reminding us of your mighty power and your steadfast love. Through the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts break open the boxes in which we have tried to imprison you, and point us to your power and love yet again. Amen.

David wakes up one morning and he is overwhelmed by the way God has loved him. I don't know if you have ever felt that way, when you wake up one day, the sunshine kissing your face, feeling rested and full and content. There isn't always a reason, you know. Just sometimes you get caught up in beauty and realize how beloved you are.
This is how I see this scene in 2 Samuel. King David has successfully and somewhat peacefully brought together Judah and Israel, scattered, fragmented tribes of people who have dispersed since being led into this land of milk and honey from Egypt. He has suffered persecution, and also already committed some evils or at least questionable acts. But he has also felt overwhelmed by the presence of God in his life, and I don't mean overwhelmed in a bad way. I mean completely covered by the beauty of God's presence. And so we read today how he gets caught up in that moment, looks at the richness of his own life and wants to praise God! In the Robin Mark song we have been singing to conclude worship, he describes David as rebuilding a temple of praise in his time. That seemed like a pretty good message for us in our time too.
And then I heard about what happened to Alton Sterling.
And then Philando Castile.
And then police officers in Dallas.
I said to God, “How can I talk about joy and praise this week? How can I talk about anything besides the ugly racism that cripples our country and our bloodthirsty desire for revenge? How can I preach without acknowledging the fear that so many of our families are living in--- both the fear that their black or brown children and grandchildren will not come home one day because they held their held their hands in their pockets too long, and the fear that their spouse or friend or family member who is in the police or the national guard will be killed on duty out of spite? How can we experience joy and praise when our world is aflame in violence and hatred?”
But these days are not so different from the days of God's servant David. Frankly, as much as we praise David for being a man after God's own heart, a giant-killing hero, or a beautiful wordsmith as evidenced by the Psalms, David often had more in common with both the sniper who murdered those police officers and the police officer who murdered Alton Sterling right on the sidewalk as though he was an animal. David was a mercenary in his early years. He works for the Philistines who, in much of the Hebrew Bible, are the Big Bad (see 1 Samuel 27). When he became king, David gave up innocents for slaughter to placate kings he was trying to ally with (2 Samuel 21:8-10). He did not raise a hand against his son for raping his daughter (2 Samuel 13:21-22). And really, David was a rapist himself, or don't you remember Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-5)?
I say this not to rip your image of hero David out of your hands but to remind you of David's very deep sin. But we must also remember that he was a victim of sin as much as a sinner himself. He spent much of his early adult life hunted by Saul, the king who became increasingly unstable and vicious (starting with 1 Samuel 18:10-16). David lost his best friend Jonathan, one of the only people he ever truly loved (2 Samuel 1). He lived through war as much as he waged it. His world was one in which blood frequently ran through the streets just like it does in ours. He was complicated just like we are.
And yet. In the middle of this life so twisted by sin, just as our lives are so twisted by the sin of racism right now, he stops. And he remembers beauty. He looks at the palace he lives in, the house of cedar he references, and truly sees the goodness in his life that has happened in spite of the violence and tragedy. And he decides to make an offering to God.
He asks Nathan what to do first. Nathan is a fascinating man we too often forget about; he is a prophet. You will notice if you read through the Old Testament especially in Samuel and Kings, that prophets accompany kings. Prophets are supposed to keep kings honest. We see throughout David's rule that though he can be corrupt, he does listen to and take the advice of the prophet Nathan. When he does this time, he learns through Nathan that God refuses David's gift.  

Here we are in the midst of a story of violence, we have a glimmer of joy and peace, but the attempt at praise, the attempt to praise God by building the Temple, is shut down. Could this mean that our attempt to praise God today in the midst of the violence around our country could be shut down? The tradition is to read this scripture as God deciding David is not the best person to build the Temple because David has too much blood on his hands. But that is not because God does not love David because of how twisted he is by his own sin and other's sin. No, God loves us, no matter what. God sees our humanity in spite of our sin, God sees glimmers of beauty when we do not. Why God rejects David's gift, as I read it, is less because of David's sin and more because David misunderstands, just as so many of our ancestors in faith did, and just as we do, what God's purposes really are.
You see, God says to David:
Hey! Did you hear me complaining about living in a tent? No, I prefer being mobile, flexible, responsive, free to move about, not fixed in one place.” God then turns the tables on David and says, “You think you're going to build me a house? No, no, no, no. I'M going to build YOU a house. A house that will last much longer and be much greater than anything you could build yourself with wood and stone. A house that will shelter the hopes and dreams of your people long after 'you lie down with your ancestors.'”1
David misunderstood that praising God wasn't about building a building but building a life through which God could live and move. So God reminded him, by covenanting with him, choosing to make a house for him in the form of a dynasty rather than a house of cedar, a house that will shelter hope and dreams of a better world, one not so wrought by violence and hatred. One that retained the beauty of that moment when David woke up and felt compelled to do something in praise. And one that can teach us in these days too.
Because we are that house God covenanted with David about. Yes, I am drawing from our Gospel today when Jesus describes his own body as the Temple. But I also understand God's promises to David to not be limited, contained by one biological bloodline. God tells David that though David's son will build a Temple, the house God will build is one that can shelter the dreams and hopes for the kin-dom of God is within each of us. Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a United Methodist pastor and blogger explains:
You are a house. God has chosen you as a tent to move about and live in. Your opponents are also houses of God. And we all are a house where God lives, not in any of us alone, but in the sacred space among us. Be mindful of this mystery, for it is the foundation of a great and powerful dynasty.2
In this sense, praising God is not as easy as building a physical Temple would be, even if we are not to be trusted with power tools. Because when we truly praise God, it is when we recognize God dwelling in another human being. 

Hear this again: when we truly praise God, it is when we recognize God dwelling in another human being. When I listened to the news this week, what I heard over and over again were things like what my friend Janessa posted from a community police listening session in Phoenix: "It doesn’t matter what your training module is. You cannot be trained to protect and serve me if you don’t see me as human."3 What happened to the Dallas police was absolutely tragic, but it stems from a frustration and brokenness over people of color not being seen as a human beings. The police officers who shot Alton Sterling and Philando Castile saw them as animals, as less-than human. Consistently throughout our history, people of color are not seen as human. None of them are seen as dwellings for God. And yes, in retaliation for years of being seen as subhuman, some will start to see the oppressors not as human beings too but as monsters. And our recognition of one another is what we have to change.
So as we continue asking ourselves where God is calling us as a church, let us turn to the hard work of praise. The hard work of recognizing God not where we want to--- in beautiful sacred buildings or even in the beauty of rainbows and mountains--- but within the hearts of other human beings, particularly those who are marginalized. This hard work includes listening, especially if you are a person with race and class privilege as I am, and it includes reaching out, even if that makes you uncomfortable. 
Next week, our youth will be in Sullivan County, Tennessee, building houses. And even though that is work building, as David wanted to do building a Temple, it is more about doing the hard work of recognizing God within the hearts of human beings, more about doing the work of building the kin-dom of God than it is about wood and stone, fascia and decking. When we go to Appalachia, we are going to a part of the world that seems so different than Edgewood. People talk funny. The poverty there looks different than the poverty here. On TV, Appalachia is usually a place of ridicule, poor backwards rural people. Yet on this mission trip, I saw our youth doing the hard work of recognizing God in our host families in spite of the stereotypes that tried to define them. I watched as our youth bonded with our family over their pet bunny rabbits, how by the end of the week the little girl on our site was laughing and carrying on with the youth even though she had been so shy before, how the woman whose home we were working on started to help us work on the house even though she had physical limitations just because she liked spending time with us. These were the ways both our partner families and our youth--- and the adults--- recognized God in one another.
But we don't have to go on a mission trip to start the hard work of recognizing each human being as a Temple, a House for God. We can start right here. In an attitude of prayer, I invite you now to reach out in signs of peace and love to those in worship here today.

1Kate Huey, “Wherever You Are,” Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Weekly Seeds, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, 22 July 2012,
2Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “I will make you a house,” Unfolding Light, 20 July 2012,
3Posted by Janessa Chatain, 9 July 2016, on her personal Facebook page: "Important conversations today at a community police listening session in PHX. Wish more of last night's protestors were today’s participants. One statement that struck me: 'It doesn’t matter what your training module is. You cannot be trained to protect and serve me if you don’t see me as human.'"

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