Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-17
This summer, many of the stories that come up in our seasons of readings are those of King David. A few weeks ago, we had the story of Samuel anointing the young shepherd David to be the successor to Saul’s corrupted legacy. We know the story of David and Goliath, but there are a lot of stories that we don’t know. Especially some of the less-savoury stories about David that come after he’s secured his position as ruler of a united Israel.
There are lessons to be had, and they are worth repeating, because there is nothing new in politics. 3000 years before we find ourselves shaking our heads at what people in power say or do, we learn not much has changed. Foot-in-mouth disease is as rampant today as it was back then. Ironically, it actually gives us a bit of hope… how? Well… let’s see what happens.
Nathan is a prophet… and part of the court of King David. He is a professional advisor on theological and spiritual matters. One night, over a cup of fine Median Wine, David turns to Nathan and says to him, “Y’know Nate… I have it all. My rule over Israel is secure, the people seem happy. Everything is going well…” David goes on, “Everything is going well. I live in this magnificent house made of cedar… the finest in the land, and yet the Ark of God has nothing but a flimsy tent! So I’ve been thinking…”
Usually dangerous words from a politician… “I’ve been thinking,” David says, “Maybe I should go and build a decent house for God!”
To be honest, this sounded just fine with Nathan. A house for God? A temple? Why not? After all, David felt genuine gratitude to God for all of his current success. Without putting a lot of thought into it, Nathan says to him, “Sure, go ahead, do what you like… the Lord is with you!”
That’s a pretty clean slate there Nathan. It’s kind of like giving the teenager the keys to the Ferrari, a gas card, and saying “go, have fun, keep off the sidewalk, and don’t worry about being out all night!” There’s no telling what kind of havoc could be unleashed! This was not one of Nathan’s most brilliant of moves.
So here is Nathan, charged with a specific responsibility to be the prophet of God in David’s court, to call him to account when he went off the rails. Without thinking, without understanding the power of his own words, Nathan gives David a clean slate… and tells him he can do so because “the Lord is with you.” If anybody else, anybody else said that, it could be dismissed, or quickly righted. But this was from Nathan… and Nathan had suddenly become a yes-man to King David. He had somehow diminished his own role as prophet. That’s a lesson in and of itself.
But all was not lost, because as the story goes, later that night God had something to say:
“Waitaminute Nathan… do you just realize what you’ve done… you have a lot of influence… and that’s not what I had in mind at all! It’s downright dangerous! I’ve been with the people of Israel from day one, and I have not once demanded a house. Besides, even if David did build one, it can’t contain me or limit who I am!”
Instead, God tells Nathan to think and look much more on the long-term. God has been there since the dawn of time, spanning eons of history… this was true in the past, and it’s certainly true for the future. Fortunately, God gives Nathan a way out… but also weaves in this long-term plan.
“You want to build a house for me, David? Leave that to your descendants… I’m going to build a house for you!”
God, of course, is playing on words.
This isn’t a house with four walls… or even a lavish palace of four hundred walls. God is reminding Nathan and David of the long-term… to the very long-term. As permanent as it may seem, a physical building is still a temporary measure in the grand scheme of things. Where David is thinking five or ten years down the road, God looks hundreds and thousands of years ahead… When God tells Nathan that he is going to establish a house for David that will last forever, God is talking about a dynasty… a legacy of God’s presence that will last forever; real, honest, long-term planning. The house was merely a symbol for God’s active presence in the world that would grow and change over time.
When God called Nathan on his mistake, it’s a reminder that being a prophet requires vision, and the guts to be able to say it. Being a prophet is not being a yes-man to the powers that be. It is having the kind of future vision and hope that one needs to maintain and be faithful to God in the long-term.
Looking to the future is not easy, it’s much easier to look back. Let’s face it, we all do it, it’s part of being human. It’s more like flying down a highway at breakneck speed looking the wrong way. We can see where we’ve been, but we have little clue as to what lies ahead. We can look to the past for what was, we can draw on our experience and understanding, but we don’t have that benefit to help peer into the future… but like it or not, that’s where we’re going.
We know from history that the house of David, even as a political as a political structure did fall. The physical Temple that Solomon would build was destroyed, not once but twice! God’s designs and understanding looked far beyond what Nathan or David expected, and they go beyond political dynasties or physical buildings. Their faith grew and changed, adapted to new surroundings, spread throughout the nations, eventually paving the way for the message of Jesus Christ. Even as the Christian church, things grew and changed… yet God’s ongoing promise remains the same.
Now here we are at the beginning of the 21st Century, the house of David is changing once again… The world around us is changing wildly. Something new is happening, but now we don’t have the benefit of hindsight. We feel it here, we feel it in our lives. Historians and church researchers tell us that the social structures that once ensured our churches were the centers of community ago is no longer there. Christendom, as we once called it, is no longer there. Yet there is something new here. God is working to reshape and re-forge the church and our faith into something new.
To think that all of this springs from the words of a single prophet who had the courage to trust in God’s promise that would last forever. God’s promise and presence looks beyond buildings, and always adapts itself to new forms, and new ways of being.
God is calling us to respond in faith in a new way. It is a time of both tremendous change and fantastic opportunity. There is a great need in our society to address the great questions of life, of finding meaning in it. This story of Nathan reminds us that while we cannot see into the future, God can and does… far beyond our mere mortal scope. This is where our hope is. History teaches us that God has always been there in the past, is present with us now, and is most certainly there for us in the future.
This is where God calls us. Like Nathan, God calls us to share the vision of the long long-term. As have learned from history, the church has constantly changed… sometimes slowly, sometimes in a revolutionary way, but it always changes. I am sure that when I retire, the church as a whole will be very different from what it is today, and certainly different from what it was forty years ago. I don’t see that as a scary thing… because of that promise that God reminded Nathan of more than 3,000 years ago. God knows where this is going, and is constantly looking to the future. Our challenge, like Nathan’s, is to catch a glimpse of this… to look up from our naturally short-sighted lives, and trusting that God is there for the genuine long-range plan… who will see it through…