By the Rev. Darren Miner
Once again, the editors of our lectionary leave me baffled. If you note the verses of the Gospel reading, you will see that twenty whole verses have been deleted. In those deleted verses, we find the feeding of the 5000 and the account of Jesus’ walking on water—both amazing stories for any preacher to expound upon. What is left after the editors have done their work is a paragraph about Jesus and the apostles needing a day off and another paragraph about how they didn’t get it. In protest, I have decided to preach on the topic of houses!
The English word “house” is an interesting word with a range of meanings. A house can be as small and humble as a hut. Or it can be as large and grand as a palace or a temple. And when we use phrases such as the “House of Tudor,” we mean something different still; we refer, of course, not to a building, but to a royal dynasty. As it turns out, the Hebrew and Greek words for house have virtually the same semantic range.
The reading from 2 Samuel and the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, each in its own way, have to do with houses. King David decides that God needs a house.
Up till this point in the history of the nomadic Israelites, God had been worshiped in a large tent. In the center of that tent was a wooden box, the ark of the covenant, and this box served as God’s throne. But now, King David has a new house, a grand palace built of imported cedar. Perhaps out of genuine gratitude, or perhaps out of competition with neighboring nations, he decides that the God of Israel needs a new house as well. At first, the prophet Nathan agrees. But then he receives word from God that the house is a nonstarter, at least for now.
The prophecy that Nathan receives is drenched in irony. God says, “You would build me a house? I don’t think so! Instead, I will build you a house! You would build me a temple; instead, what is going to happen is that I am going to build you a dynasty that will last forever.” Paradoxically, King David is rejected and rewarded all at the same time. He is rejected in that God does not accept his offer to build a grand temple, but he is rewarded in that his royal line will rule in perpetuity. Now, 2 Samuel does not offer a reason for God’s rejection, but 1 Chronicles does. There, God himself says to David: “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.” And so it was that the first Jewish temple was built during the reign of David’s son Solomon.
But what about that bit concerning establishing a royal dynasty that will endure forever? This same promise is repeated in the psalm we read today: “His line shall endure for ever and his throne as the sun before me; it shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, the abiding witness in the sky.” In point of fact, the Davidic kingship ended with the conquest of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. So, did God break his promise to David after all? The answer, of course, is no. The earliest Christian theologians reasoned that the promise of the Davidic Covenant was only partially fulfilled in Solomon and his royal descendants and that only in Jesus Christ, of the line of David through his foster father Joseph, was the prophecy completely fulfilled. Solomon built a house for God that stood for centuries but then was razed to the ground. Jesus Christ, the eternal King, has built a different kind of house for God, one that still endures and will endure forever.
And that’s where the Letter to the Ephesians has something pertinent to add. The author, whether St. Paul or an associate, is a Jewish Christian writing to Gentile Christians. He reminds them that through Christ’s death on the Cross, the two peoples have become one. The wall that divided them has been torn down. And there had been a real, physical wall that divided them! In the precincts of the Jewish temple, there was a wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the inner court. A plaque on that wall read: “No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death that follows.” (A far cry from “The Episcopal Church welcomes you”!) But Ephesians tells us that in Christ there is unity. In Christ there is reconciliation. In Christ there is peace. In Christ all are members of one household, the household of God. Even more, those who are baptized into Christ are the very timbers and bricks of the house of God, with the apostles and prophets serving as the foundation of the house and Christ himself being the cornerstone. In a nutshell, we are the house that Christ built. We are a house built for God’s Name, a house that will endure for ever.
Knowing that God’s house, the Church, will endure to the very end, we might be tempted to sit back and relax, and just let things take their course. For example, we might give up trying to grow the church. Worse still, we might give up striving for unity, reconciliation, and peace. After all, if you know it’s all going to turn out OK in the end, why bother making a great effort? As Shakespeare wrote, “that way madness lies.” To take that attitude would be to miss the whole point of the prophecy. For the point of the prophecy is not to encourage sitting on one’s hands—quite the opposite! It is meant to give us hope as we struggle to work alongside Christ to create a new, reconciled humanity characterized by unity and peace.
And you know, we’ve made a pretty good start right here in this little parish. We have people of various races and people from other countries, whose first language was not English, coming to the same house of God to worship Sunday after Sunday. Reflecting our linguistic diversity, the 10 o’clock Eucharist is now bilingual. Then, on August 15, India’s Independence Day, we will be celebrating our multiculturalism with a travelogue and slide show. And last but not least, our parish is an Oasis Covenant congregation, which means that we are committed to inviting our LGBT brothers and sisters to be part of our community. As small as we are, we have made a good first effort toward tearing down the walls that divide our society and our world.
Of course, we can and should do even more! We can and should make a greater effort to reach out and welcome our next-door neighbors—not just because we need more members in order to survive, but because God does not want his house to be a humble hut. No, God wants something much more upscale than that. For, according to St. John’s Gospel, there are to be many dwelling places in God’s house. King David wanted to build a grand house for God, but was denied that privilege. King Solomon succeeded in building a grand house, but that house was torn down. Our King, Jesus Christ, has built an even grander house for God’s Name; we call it the Church. And it is our duty and our privilege to lend a hand in the build-out. So let’s put on our hard hats, strap on our tool belts, and get to work!
© 2015 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.