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.