a sermon under construction

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a | Psalm 89:20-37 | Ephesians 2:11-22 | Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This sermon is part of a summer worship series we’re calling Holy Scandal:The Outrageous Stories of the People of God.

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This summer, we have been following the holy scandals and outrageous stories that happen with God and God’s people. We’ve spent time in the gospel of Mark, where Jesus is traveling around the region, breaking religious rules and teaching in parables, calming the sea and healing a stigmatized woman. His work is so radical that the people in Jesus’s hometown reject him. Scandalous.

And we’ve also been spending time in the book of Samuel. Often our readings from the Hebrew Bible are chosen to complement the gospel text, but this summer instead we’ve been following one continuous story from the Hebrew Bible: From the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, the story of the leadership of God’s people. And here is scandal too.

God calls Samuel when he is a very young boy to speak truth to power. “Samuel! Samuel!” Do you remember? Later, God’s people demand a king, even though God warns them through Samuel that the king will oppress them, so Saul becomes king. But things do not go well, and finally God is sorry that God made Saul king. So then Samuel anoints a new king – remember? The children of Jesse passed by Samuel, one by one, but the chosen one was the smallest – David, out tending the sheep. Young David defeats the massive Goliath with only a few stones and a slingshot. And finally David becomes king. Last week David and the people rode into the city dancing with all their might and we had our own dance party to match.

Now we find king David settled in his house, resting from all his enemy defeating work, when he realizes something. He says to his advisor and prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Because of course God’s people had been moving around a whole lot, and so their holy place – the dwelling place of God had needed to be portable. David apparently resolves to build God a temple, a solid dwelling place like David’s own house, and Nathan agrees.

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“Stone rock wall” (Photo by Gustavo Belemmi on Unsplash)

But Nathan spoke too soon. Later that night, God speaks to Nathan in an oracle that changes everything:

Is it your job to build me a house?

Since the day I brought you out of Egypt, I have been traveling with you in a tent. I have been moving among you all this time. I took you, David, from tending sheep and made you king. I have been with you and I have had your back. I will make a home for my people, and the things that have hurt them will no longer cause them pain. I will give you rest — 

*I* am going to make *you* a house.

This “house” is a play on words – When David said it, he meant palace or dwelling, but the word can also mean dynasty. God is making for David and for all of God’s people a dynasty, or a dwelling-place, or both.

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West Village, New York, United States (Photo by christian koch on Unsplash)

This imagery of building a structure is echoed in today’s reading from Ephesians. The writer of Ephesians describes the “household of God,” built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. In Christ the whole structure is held together. And we – the hearers of this letter – the author says that we are also built together spiritually. We become a dwelling place for God.

This whole household of God thing probably sounded really good to the Ephesian community. They were mostly Gentiles, not Jews – not originally part of God’s promise and all the hope that comes along with it. But God is bringing in those who are far off. God is making two separate groups into one, and God is breaking down the dividing wall.

And I mean every wall that divides us.

I mean God is breaking down metaphorical walls, like the ones we put up around our pain and our vulnerability – walls that look like a forced smile or a defensive reaction. Walls that stop us from risking a mistake, or from talking to someone new. Walls do a good job at preventing attack and making us look strong, but they also insulate us from love and authentic connection with other people. God is breaking down walls.

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“Bricks,” Venice, Italy (Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash)

I mean God is breaking down invisible walls, like the ones that designate where “losers” sit in the cafeteria, or where the “safe part of town” ends and the “bad neighborhood” begins. Walls built out of our own fear, held up by racist and classist policies, cemented with sinful ideas about whose life is more valuable. God is breaking down walls.

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Milwaukee, United States (Photo by Caleb Rogers on Unsplash)

And I mean God is breaking down literal, physical walls made of chain link and barbed wire and concrete. Walls show who is a prisoner and who is free; who is a citizen and who is an alien; who is home and who is homeless. Walls show which land is wilderness and which is property. Walls make me believe that everything outside is dangerous. God is breaking down walls.

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Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

God is doing all this, because in this new house that God is building, no one is out anymore; everyone is in. “No longer strangers and aliens, but citizens and members of God’s household.”

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All this talk about construction. From King David to the Ephesians, notice who it is that is doing the building. Who is the subject of each sentence, who is the main actor?

Is it your job to build me a house?

It is God. God will build. God will break down. This is God’s action.

This is so important, because I know that sometimes it can feel like it’s all up to us. And it is good to join in God’s work, to take responsibility for our part of the building project. But is so important to know where our part ends. We are not God. We are not so important that we can’t take time to rest. Actually, resting is some of the most important work we can do.

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Did you notice in the bulletin that today’s gospel reading is from Mark, chapter 6, verses 30-34, and 53-56? Did you wonder what happens in verses 35-52? You might guess this part was left out because it was something really boring that wasn’t worth talking about. Actually, it was the part where Jesus takes five pieces of bread and two fish and feeds five thousand people, then a few hours later casually crosses paths with the disciples who are floating in their boat because he is walking on water. That is what happens in verses 35-52! This is like one of the sexiest parts of the whole bible! But the people who decided what story we would read today specifically left that out.

Instead, we heard about the disciples who have come back from their two-by-two mission, and they have been coming and going, and the gospel says they barely have time to eat, and they are. tired. And so they rest. They go away for a moment from the needy people and the urgent mission to a place alone. This isn’t a sexy miracle story, but it is gospel. It is the day-to-day good news of what it looks like to do important and difficult work, and then to do important and difficult rest.

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“Breathe,” Yale University, New Haven, United States (Photo by Cassandra Hamer on Unsplash)

Unfortunately, a lot of people have this idea that being Christian means that you should be totally selfless, like self-emptying, self-denying to the end. This idea hurts people – especially those of us who are marginalized, who are already taught to erase ourselves, or to prioritize others’ needs before our own. Actually, extreme selflessness is destructive and not good news. Our selves matter. We were made for life.

Activists – especially black women – have been saying for a long time that taking care of ourselves is important work. Black feminist theorist and activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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Image of Audre Lorde (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

I read an article about self-care as resistance by Reagan Jackson, journalist at The Seattle Globalist. The article talks about the new practices she began after the 2016 presidential election. Jackson writes, “I found myself feeling decadently selfish and guilty… People are dying in the streets, I would think to myself. I should be protesting or working to change legislation, not getting a pedicure. But what kind of life am I fighting for? A life where I am constantly exhausted, angry, and miserable or one where I get to experience joy? Black joy is an act of protest… For me it is putting power to the truth that I am worthy of love and care. That I deserve respect and treat myself accordingly.”

This concept of self-care is not shallow, as if all you need is aromatherapy baths to erase all the pain of the world. And its not individualistic, as if its all our own personal responsibilities to make our own selves feel better. What Jesus models in today’s gospel is that we can build practices in community that allow us to rest and restore. 

The work of the kin-dom of God is healing and feeding and miracles – and also resting and retreating and holy unplanned time, and conversations and relationships.

Because the world we’re fighting for – the home God is making – is full of time for meals. And sleep. And healthcare and conversation and walks and forgetfulness and play. We can work for that world, and also God is already making that world, here, and we can practice living in it!

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“Grass and morning sun” (Photo by Jake Givens on Unsplash)

God’s work – God’s – is breaking down every wall that would divide us from the life we were meant to live, and making us all citizens of a home in which there is rest and abundance. For now, your work is just to remind each other to eat, and remember to take space once in a while.

And when your friend starts to be a David and think it’s their job to build God a house, just be a Nathan and deliver this oracle:

Are you the one to build a house for God?

God is making a home for you.

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Photo by Katy Cao on Unsplash
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