Reflection on 2 Samuel 7: 1-17
“Now then 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 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 all off 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 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 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 before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
Greetings today from your guest sermon provider. A brief word of guidance to any of you, who, if asked if you would be willing to give a sermon, find the word ‘yes’ forming on your lips and then hearing yourself saying it, and then later kicking yourself for doing so… at not having politely said ‘no’ and declined… a thought process I most definitely went through… But I must say, upon reflection, I have new found respect for those who must deliver a sermon week after week, and indeed I have gratitude for the thoughtful process I have gone through in developing and getting to today’s sermon.
You’ve heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” In fact, you’ve probably heard it many times before. And we can potentially extend it to, something like: “Wherever you go, there you and your ideas, your books, your backpack, your blue jeans, t-shirt, and cap are as well.” Not to be cavalier about the Ark of the Covenant, but God tells Nathan to pass along a message to David, which is: “You’ve been keeping my writings in a tent as you have roamed about the wilderness. Do you really think I need a temple to house them in now?” This is a statement that speaks to God’s humility. And we can think of other examples of the humility of God and Jesus – in fact, the bible is full of them.
As one example, Jesus was born in a manger, where stable animals were kept. Another example is illustrative. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus is with the apostles in a house in Jerusalem. While they are having a meal, Jesus gets up and takes off his outer garments, wraps a towel around his waist, and puts water in a basin. Then he begins to wash the feet of the disciples and dries them off with a towel. He finishes this task, then puts his outer garments back on. Why would Jesus do this – on his last night on earth?
Jesus himself explained: Do you know what I have done to you? If I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also (John). This is a pattern not dissimilar to God’s message to David: Be with me in community, and we will set in motion a pattern – a tradition – of faith, of good deeds, and humility.
At a different time, the apostles are arguing about who was the greatest among them. Jesus brought a young child to them and told them: “Whoever receives this young child on the basis of my name receives me too, and whoever receives me receives him also that sent me forth. For he that conducts himself as a lesser one among all of you is the one that is great.” (Luke)
Obviously Jesus comes after David on the time scale, but the illustrations of God’s humility – and that of Jesus – are found throughout the Bible. God’s message to David is the same as those Jesus gives to his followers: Be humble. From Matthew we have: “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Clearly God’s message to Nathan to be delivered to David is one of humility. God is humble.
A few words about endurance. The endurance of God is also described in 2 Samuel in a profound way. God is saying humbly, “I don’t need an extravagant temple.” Rather, God says, I will establish a temple that will endure forever. It is not a physical structure; rather it is a dynasty. And it will last from generation to generation – eternally. It says to me that God is playing on a whole different level. God is in effect saying that David’s descendants will live forever. The kingdom described by God is one of grace, truth, and faith established in the hearts of those who believe in God. Indeed, as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate in his trail, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over… But, as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm.”
While God suggests to David that his dynasty will endure, the path of Christianity as described in the Bible is not an easy one, nor is it a short one. At various points people endure famines, floods, death, disease. In today’s context, we endure many of those same things, as well as toxic presidential election seasons, too many computer screens, too many expenses, too many demands of us, and too much discord as opposed to harmony. But despite all this, and the fact that the road is long, and that it does require persistence, perseverance, and endurance, God does say – as he says to David – that by enduring we will be rewarded.
Another message from 2 Samuel I took away is that God is ubiquitous. God is effectively telling David: Wherever you go, I have been with you. I wondered about that. And I thought about remote places people have been and whether they felt God was with them. As it turns out, space travel is fertile ground for contemplating whether God is indeed everywhere. Here’s what I found.
Frank Borman, the commander of the first space crew to travel beyond earth’s orbit, gazing down from 250,000 miles above the earth, radioed back a message, reading from Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” As he explained in a subsequent interview: “I had an enormous feeling there had to be a power greater than any of us- that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.”
James Irwin walked in the moon in 1971. He later became an evangelical minister. He describes the revelation he had while on the lunar mission: “I felt the power of God as I’ve never felt it before.”
Astronaut John Glenn, who at age 77 became the oldest the oldest person to go into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery, said while looking down at earth on that voyage: “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.” The major airport near his hometown of Cambridge, Ohio, is Columbus. On June 28 of this year (2016), the Columbus Ohio airport was just officially renamed the John Glenn Columbus International Airport. The event happened just before his 95th birthday, and John and his wife Annie attended the ceremony, where he spoke with passion about how visits to that airport as a child had inspired his interest in flying.
A little closer to home, we often think of God when afflicted by adversity, often in the form of health issues, death, or disease. This is the domain of medicine and doctors. Is God there? A study from the Journal of Religious Health from this year finds that a solid majority, 65%, of nearly 2,100 physicians responding to an anonymous survey, believe in God. Over half, 51% self-described as religious, and another 25% described themselves as spiritual.
A 2009 Journal of Clinical Nursing study published a critical review of the literature on private prayer as a suitable intervention for hospitalised patients. It found that: “Most of the studies that show positive associations between prayer and wellbeing were located in areas that have strong Christian traditions and samples reported a relatively high level of religiosity, church attendance and use of prayer. Church attenders, older people, women, those who are poor, less well educated and have chronic health problems appear to make more frequent use of prayer. Prayer appears to be a coping action that mediates between religious faith and wellbeing and can take different forms. Devotional prayers involving an intimate dialogue with a supportive God appear to be associated with improved optimism, wellbeing and function. In contrast, prayers that involve pleas for help may, in the absence of a pre-existing faith, be associated with increased distress and possibly poorer function.”
To me, there are powerful messages here community and tradition. When people gather together in the name of God, in the name of Jesus, they have community. Gathering together is indeed beneficial to us. David’s people, roaming the wilderness, are also together. And there is indeed value and security for them in being together. Community gives optimism, hope, and encouragement. It shows us that the power of people is real and true.
With respect to tradition, as the Journal article noted, those who pray, who are spiritual, and who practice this habit, are more likely to benefit – in terms of improved optimism, well-being, and function. This is the type of tradition which can give rise to the dynasty that God speaks of in 2 Samuel. A dynasty that endures, a community that lasts, happens because of the good habits of its people.
In concluding, and thinking about the endurance of God, the ubiquity of God, and the humility of God, we have the aspirations of Frozan, a young Afghan woman writing in the Afghan Women’s Writing project two years ago. Frozan, then sixteen years old, wrote: I love the sky, stars, moon, sun, and all the universe. Every night I speak with the stars and they speak with me. I don’t know what they tell me, but when they wink to me I think it means “Be happy and enjoy your life and be kind toward every thing.”
“My dream job is to be an astronaut. It is a unique and wonderful job. It is hard work and people think that it is impossible for a woman to be an astronaut. But I want to do hard work. I want to do the work that others can’t. I want to do impossible jobs and change impossibilities to possibilities. I want to show that girls and women are not weak and they can do whatever men can.
“We can get what we wish. We people think that only Earth is in the universe. We think so small. We are jealous of each other. We think how if some people were not on Earth, we’d have more places for ourselves. When we are all crowded together we don’t see each person’s value but when we separate we can see it.
“I am sure that by traveling to other planets an astronaut increases her own love toward our people and our planet.
“I read a passage where it was written, ‘When we are small, we go out of our small house.’ And when we come to our small house we will say, ‘Oh, thanks to God I am in my home.’
“When we are big and we go out of our country and we come back, we will say, ‘Thanks to God I am back in my home.’ And when we leave our planet and then come back we will say, ‘Thanks to God I am back in my home.’ I think if all people see Earth as our home so we could live in peace.
“I love astronomy because I love science like physics, and also because it helps me understand the power of God and the beauties and wonders of the universe. I am not as good in mathematics and chemistry and to become an astronaut I know you have to go to the best universities and know perfect English. But I can work hard in mathematics and chemistry, practice English and go to an English-speaking university.”
Frozan, like 2 Samuel, speaks of the power of a God – and a community – that is humble, ubiquitous, and enduring.