Tuesday, October 25, 2016

God's Kingdom Come

II Samuel 7:1-17
October 23, 2016

            Call the Midwife is one of my favorite shows to air on PBS in the last few years. It is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Lee Worth, who began her vocation as a midwife in the late 1950’s, living and working from Nonnatus House, an Anglican convent. The nuns who lived there were also trained as midwives; they, along with the young midwives such as Jennie, served the desperately poor neighborhood of Poplar in London’s East End.
            In one of the later episodes this past season, a very pregnant mother was brought to the clinic because she had fainted while working. She, her husband, and their other children lived and worked on their barge. They were essentially river gypsies. The mother was fine. But she was anemic and needed rest, so she was encouraged to stay in the hospital until the baby was born. This would delay her family’s leaving. But her husband and the children wanted her to stay. She was not used to this kind of quiet, easy life. She worked hard. Even the food she was served was different. Normally the mother began her day with a piece of bread. But the nurses wanted her to eat an egg for the protein it would give her.
            One of the midwives tried to help the family out. She got the children enrolled in school. They were given new uniforms. The teacher at the school insisted that they go through a delousing as a matter of course. Everyone seemed happy with all of these new arrangements; everyone except the mother. When the children and their dad went to visit her, she saw them in their strange clothes, smelling of disinfectant, and became incensed. Why were they deloused when they didn’t have lice? They got lice in school not in the boat. Weren’t their regular clothes good enough for them? They were always clean and mended. Then and there she said she wanted to go home, to go back to their boat. She wanted her own clothes, and her own food. She wanted her children to be her children once again, not these strangers in uniforms. The midwives insisted they had only been trying to help, but she didn’t want help. She hadn’t asked for help. They did not know what was best for her or for her family.
            The midwives in this story were well-intentioned. They only wanted to help. But their helping went from dealing with an immediate need to trying to alter the way the family lived. In the process of helping, the midwives imposed their own ideas about the right way and the wrong way to live. Their intentions were good, but they thought they knew best. However, the mother adamantly disagreed. In her eyes, she knew best, not them.  
            David’s intentions were good too. But I think there is a reason for the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I used to believe that this expression was coined solely because of people like me who start projects with good intentions, but never quite finish them. However, now I think that this cliché also refers to the good intentions that are based on believing we know best. David thought he knew best about the kind of house God should have.
            This chapter is somewhat of a pause in the ongoing narrative of Second Samuel. In the previous chapter, David brought the Ark of the Covenant, God’s house, into Jerusalem. It was a triumphant moment, and David danced and rejoiced at the head of the procession carrying the ark. David was now settled in his house as king of Israel, and God’s house was settled as well. Yet … Have you ever experienced the room painting phenomenon? You know, you paint one room. You sit back to admire your work, thinking how nice and fresh the room looks. Then you look around at the other rooms of your house and realize how bad they look in comparison. When I read these verses about David settling into his house, I think of that painting phenomenon. It seems that David looked around his house, pleased and happy with the recent events. But then he realized that God’s house looked a little shabby by comparison. So he told the prophet Nathan,
            “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
            Nathan must have thought David was on to something, because he responded,
            “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
            However the Lord might have been with David in other ways, the Lord was most definitely not with David on this. God did not speak directly to David, but went through Nathan.
            “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live? 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.”
            God went on to tell Nathan to pass along the message to the king that God does not want David to build God a house. Instead God will build David one. David’s son will be the one to build God a physical house, but what God will build is a kingdom. What God will build is a royal house, a house, a kingship that will live on for generations. God was building, is building, will build a kingdom.
            As a preacher, this passage caused me to ask the question that so many preachers everywhere ask every week. “How the heck can I make a sermon out of this?” I understand that it establishes the House of David. I understand that it foreshadows Solomon building the temple. I completely get that it makes clear that the Kingdom of God was not contained or limited to a physical structure. But outside of that, what? What does this mean for us? As one of my preaching professors used to say, how will this resonate with us on Tuesday?
            Certainly, the idea that the church is not a building is one that we understand in a whole new way. That is personal. That is right where we are, isn’t it? Our identity as a congregation was so tied to the big church on Beard Street that I’m sure it was hard for us to imagine that we could be a church anyplace else. Yet here we are: a church, a congregation, worshipping in a storefront. It may not look like a typical church, but it is a church just the same. It’s church not just because we’re here, or that we’re worshipping here. This is church because God is here with us. God is here in our worship, in our fellowship, in our prayers, in our singing. God is here with us in this place, therefore this place is the house of God. We are a visible, tangible witness to the truth that God is not contained or limited to a building or a structure.
            But what God relayed to David through Nathan was not only that God would make a royal house of David, God would also build a kingdom that would surpass any earthly, human made kingdoms. God was in the process of creating a heavenly dynasty. God’s kingdom would come.
            As Christians, we believe that God’s kingdom was fulfilled through the incarnation of God in Jesus. Jesus declared this to be true. God’s kingdom is in our midst. Yet, Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come. We still pray these words every time we gather in worship. God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
            If the coming of Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom, why do we still pray for God’s kingdom to come? Are we praying for the kingdom that was started in David? Or are we praying for something more? Perhaps the answer to both of these questions is “Yes!”
            I once believed that God’s kingdom was a place, a destination that you had to reach. You could map out the way to it using the Bible like a GPS. I also believed that the place was up, above us, located somewhere in the clouds. Yet, I no longer look up when I look for the kingdom. I look to the right. I look to the left. I look all around me. Because I think that God’s kingdom is right here in our midst. I believe that God’s kingdom exists right next to the world we create for ourselves. And I believe that every once in a while we get a glimpse of it. The invisible line that seems to be drawn between our world and God’s kingdom blurs; the veil which keeps our eyes from recognizing God’s kingdom is lifted.
            We see God’s kingdom in acts of kindness and generosity. We see God’s kingdom in moments when someone truly puts another person’s well-being over and above their own. We see it when a stranger reaches out to a stranger. There is a video on social media of a homeless man on a subway train. The man was shirtless and shivering. Another man, a younger man, went over to him and, literally, gave the homeless man the shirt off his back. He took off his own shirt and handed it to the homeless man. When the older man fumbled trying to put it on, the younger man helped him. He gently placed the shirt over his head and helped him put his arms into the sleeves. There was no connection between these two men before this happened. I don’t know if there was one after it occurred. But in that moment, the camera on someone’s cell phone recorded a glimpse into the kingdom of God.
            As we keep working our way forward, discerning step-by-step where God is calling us to go, may we remember that God is not limited to a place. God is not contained by the walls we build or the bricks we lay. God’s kingdom will not be found in our midst just because we have a building to call our own. God’s kingdom is right here. God’s kingdom is being built. God’s kingdom will continue to grow and expand. God’s kingdom is in our midst. God’s kingdom come.

            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleliuia!” Amen.

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