Whatever is in your heart, go, do, for the Lord is with you.
Today, in our first lesson, we meet King David in a rare moment of peace. A peace he
relishes and wants to hold onto. We’ve been tracking with his story for three Sundays now. And today in peace, David’s heart tells him he’d like to house the Ark of the Covenant, no longer in tent and tabernacle but in a temple, a temple made of cedar: the same stuff his house is made of, in order to house God’s presence here on earth. And we can understand what he’s up to, can’t we? We all like to hold onto God, to know right where he is, to imagine we’ve domesticated him to our liking.
When peace falls at home, one wants to hold onto it, as if God forbid your house ever shake with fear or grief or anger. It’s in your hearts and minds to want to house the mystery of life in a safe and stable place, as if you could store up the blessings of God in your own personal barn, as if you could just hold on to the peaceful moments when all feels right and well. And protect yourself from all the rest.
But God is a living God, a god we cannot tame, and once again today God has other ideas.
The prophet Nathan, making his first appearance in this story, tells David to go ahead and do what’s in his heart – go ahead and build a temple — but that very night God challenges that idea, saying something like this, “You know, I’ve never lived in a house. I’ve gone about in a tent and tabernacle all these years. Have I ever once asked you for a cedarwood house? And have I ever asked you to tell me how to live?”
Ending the discussion, the Lord tells Nathan to go and tell David that God will make him a house. Not the other way around. And that he’ll do it when he’s ready because the Lord will raise up not him but one of his descendants to build a temple.
Apparently, alongside whatever lives in your heart — alongside whatever you hope to go and do — the Lord may indeed be with you, but not always in agreement. It’s hard to listen to anyone, let alone a god, who disagrees with you, especially when you’ve come to think you can arrange everything to suit you.
In response to God’s challenge, a response on the other side of our reading today, David humbles himself and confesses his human limitations before the surpassing greatness of a god who will not guarantee the peaceful stability of his own life, whose only guarantee is his steadfast love. It’s understood that even though David now enjoys a season of peace, God makes no promise that it will last. In fact, through the hard seasons David faces up ahead, his heart and reign will tremble with grief. And often.
I’m guessing, like David, most people prefer a templed god to a tented god, a god you can hold onto in a life you can predict. A temple in your own backyard seems safer, more stable, approaching permanence. While a tent feels a lesser thing, made for moving around from one location to another, more motor home than house, always a threat to hit the road.
The tension between motion and stability is always with us. To live and move and have your being in God means you can trust God through any and all season of change. Change, though, always asks something of you. Even the smallest change can ask you to grow up in ways you don’t want to.
I have a friend named Rob over in Alabama who longs to go fishing with his buddies in his free time. Trouble is, he and his wife have a whole lot of children born back to back, and they are both hard working parents. His fishing is often the source of quarrels between them. Even coming home with a cooler of fish, there is no peace to be had at home on that subject. One day, a friend told Rob he couldn’t understand why in the world his wife objected to his fishing.
“Didn’t she know when you married her that you liked to fish?” he asked.
“She did,” Rob answered.
“Well then,” his friend said, “What’s the problem?”
The problem is time. Nothing stays in one place. The bride and groom leave the altar. The child goes off to school. The business expands under a leaky roof. Even a house paneled in the glory of cedar cannot withstand the force of time. The only durable household is the roaming household of God, an eternally wild mystery you cannot contain or measure, a mystery you cannot own or hold back.
As St. Paul had it, we see through a glass darkly here and now, you and I. Which is also to admit human beings were made to let go of most things in due season. The eternal mystery of a Risen Lord shimmers here today in this church, in the nearby faces around you, and out there among the trees. That same wild mystery sends you out into an unsteady world in the hope that you will go with God.
Today is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. Hers is not a major feast, so by custom when it falls on a Sunday, the church transfers her feast to a later day in the following week. We’ll celebrate it this week at our Tuesday Eucharist. Tradition has it she was the first witness to the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If you’ll remember, she came to the tomb having already witnessed his death. She wasn’t expecting to hold on to anything but grief. Yet there he was. And even then, he told her not to hold onto him.
And here’s the deal: While you may not hold on to God — in the sense of holding God hostage to your plans — you don’t need to, because God holds on to you. Through all the hard seasons of life, God will never let you go. Which tells you the prophet was pretty close to right: have courage, love with all your heart, go and do good things, for the Lord is with you.