Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One day a pastor was building a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine in his garden. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little neighbor boy was watching him. The youngster didn’t say a word, so the preacher kept on working, simply thinking the boy would leave. However, the little boy didn’t leave. The pastor was so pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, that he finally said, “Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on carpentry?” The little boy replied, “No. I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”
Everyone these days seems to have their own post-pandemic construction project going on, whether it’s a deck, a guest bedroom or a new garage. We pour over magazines and drawings of what we believe will truly make our ideal home complete. After all, you only live once. Sometimes, we even shame ourselves for not using the most expensive and enduring materials as if that decision alone could make the project last. And if we’re not constructing more space, then we’re collecting things to fill it. Yes, it seems we spend the majority of our lifetime collecting and assembling things, and then the rest of our lifetime gifting these things to others. In scripture, we read that even King David had a building project- a house for God.
Mind you, David had his reason for building God a house. As a young shepherd boy, he had only the stars of heaven to cover his head. Even after his anointing by Samuel, he had nothing more than a soldier’s tent to protect him. After he fought against the Philistine giant Goliath and defeated him, David found a place as a song writer and musician in King Saul. There he soothed the melancholic thoughts of Saul, but there was no place he could ever truly call home to rest his head. He was a warrior always on the run hiding in caves and tents. But now at last in his mid-to late 30’s, he had become king over a united Israel, he had conquered the Philistines, and established his capital city of Jerusalem. In his last great act of piety and political savviness, he moved the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. For King David, all the world seemed to be calm- and it was a golden age for Israel. Indeed, scripture says, that “The Lord had given him rest from all the enemies around him,” but David was not at peace. His house was not settled. All he could feel was guilt, anxiety and dissonance, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
I know how David felt. As a young seminarian, 35 years ago, I dined at top-rated French restaurant in Minneapolis. At the end of the meal, the waiter handed me a $100 bill. I was felt so guilty about my indulgence that the following morning, I wrote off a check to Lutheran Hunger Appeal.
David’s building project may have been a pious, holy and genuine gesture. After all, why shouldn’t God, the King of Kings, be treated at least as well as king of Israel? Perhaps it was that combination of guilt, loss, emptiness and royal ambition that figured into David’s determination to build God a house. Or perhaps it was a You Only Live Once moment. We actually don’t know what David’s palace looked like, but it was certainly an improvement over his tents in the wilderness. So, David told the court prophet Nathan his plan, that he would build a house for the ark of the covenant. Nathan’s response was not surprising, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
That night, however, God appeared to the prophet Nathan and recounted the story of his relationship to Israel. Never since the ark of the covenant had just been constructed, had he ever dwelt within a house, nor had he needed or demanded a house. David would be allowed to gather the materials for the construction project, but his son Solomon would be the builder. It almost sounded like a rebuke to King David’s building project and his You Only Live Once plan. If not now, when?
But in an amazing outpouring of God’s grace, Nathan informed David, that, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” It wouldn’t be a house constructed from hands, but it would be a house far more permanent and lasting. “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.” You don’t have to worry about your house, God will provide a permanent dwelling for your family and your descendants. And God promises that he will watch over them forever.
With these words, God was renewing the covenant he had once made with Abraham. And through God was promising that the descendants of his house would rule forever, and his kingdom would never end. Of course, as history unfolded, many of David’s sons proved to be unfaithful kings. Generation after generation, the people found themselves looking and waiting for a messiah. For a time, the kingdom itself disappeared and it seemed as if God had forgotten his promise. Then generations later, Jesus came from the house of David, and for those who knew the promise of the covenant made with David, they recognized that Jesus was the anointed one for whom they were waiting. They needed to search no longer. God had been faithful to his promise…
Perhaps, that is what you are ultimately searching for today. After all that has happened this past year, with all the disappointments and delays, it may feel as if you are seeking your own You Only Live One Moment. Like King David, long ago, and like seekers and sojourners of every age, who ache for something tangible to secure their present life, to ground themselves in something that proves they lived, and that they mattered. You are trying to build a lasting house on your own. So you build up your own cedar houses, endowments, children attending prestigious universities — things you imagine will give you roots us in the land of the living- but, ultimately they do crumble. It is those moments, that we need to meditate on the word of the prophet Nathan and hear his plea to stop. And instead remember God’s faithfulness to you and your family in the most difficult and lonely of times. But my friends, God has promised us something more. He promises that he will not take his steadfast love from us, not even in death, and that there is an eternal home waiting for us. That was the assurance he was offered David, as he was told to abandon his building project. “I will make a house for you.”
There is an old Jewish story about two brothers who were in the flour milling business. One of the brothers was married and had children, the other was single. They were equal partners in the business, and they made an agreement that at the end of each day, they would take any extra flour that had been milled and divide it into equal shares, and each brother would take his share home and put it in his storehouse. But one day the single brother began to think, “Here I am, unmarried with only myself to care for and my brother has a wife to support and children to feed. It isn’t fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should have more of the flour.” So that night, he took some of the flour out of his own storehouse and so as not to embarrass his brother, he went under the cover of darkness to his brother’s storehouse and secretly left the flour.
It just so happened that at that very same time, the other brother began to think, “Here I am with the richness of a family. I have a wife. I have children, and my brother has no one to take care of him when he gets old. It’s not fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should get more,” so he too took some of his flour and under the cover of darkness, slipped it into his brother’s storehouse. Every night, unbeknownst to the other, each brother did this, always amazed the next day by the mystery that somehow the level of flour in their storehouses never seemed to diminish. Until one night, their arms laden with sacks of flour, they met each other in the darkness and realized what had been happening all along. With tears of loving joy, the two brothers embraced there in the darkness. According to the old tale, when God saw this, he touched that spot on the earth and said, “This is where I will build my house. For my house must always be a place of great joy.”
The temple that God built for David was not a stone house with four walls. Solomon would build such a house. But God built for David a house that that would provide joy and comfort to his descendants in such great measure that could not compare. It was a house of unconditional love and forgiveness. A house that would last forever, and where you too will by the promise of that covenant made with David gather with those you have loved, and those who will come to love.
My friends, do not be anxious about your bucket list of the things you have to do, the rooms that have to be finished, and the places you have to travel. And do not worry about those You Only Live Once experiences others are pursuing. The house that God is building for you is even more wonderful by far than you can imagine. The question is simply whether you will allow God to build that house for you, or will you continue to build on your own. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.