2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
July 22, 2018 – Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
David finally has some rest from his enemies. His borders are secure. A peaceful future is finally within sight for Israel.
This is a bookend time. They had found a place of peace in Egypt after Jacob’s son Joseph had made it great as one Pharaoh’s first minister. But then a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph arose in Egypt, and he saw them doing so well he began to oppress them.
From that day to David’s it had been one hardship after another. A great prophet arose to lead them out of bondage, but their freedom was a hard one in the wilderness.
They re-entered the land that God had promised Abraham, but they had to fight their way in, then fight off enemy after enemy. In order to find some semblance of stability, if not peace, it became necessary to anoint a king to rule over them.
The Lord lost faith in their first king, Saul, and when he was killed in battle, both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel, the whole nation, turned to David.
Now the Philistines have been routed and we can see a pattern of peace, oppression, freedom, hardship, danger, contention, and back to peace. We are now at peace again, a second bookend of peace.
We can see a similar pattern in our day. Peace followed the upheaval of the Second World War. The nations of the world even came together to form a global peace keeping body because they had convinced themselves and each other that war was not an acceptable option.
My parents said, time and time again, that all they wanted to do was make things better for us than they had been for them.
Not entirely unlike Israel, they had wandered through the wilderness of the Great Depression and a war waged on a scale that had been unimaginable before they were born.
Their parents had seen the same ebb and flow, and they had even gone so far as to call the First World War ‘the War To End All Wars.’
Alas, it was not to be. But the world was so sick of war that the storm clouds were given time to build, the Second World War was even worse than the War to End All Wars.
So after the Second World War servicemen and women came home to a nation that had become the preeminent power in the world. We thought it would last forever.
They outdid David, sitting in his cedar palace. There was a baby boom. They built civic centers, swimming pools, schools, parks, and super-highways.
That was much like the moment we find David in this morning. And he has a building program in progress. His palace has been completed. He remembers, as George Washington remembered and as Dwight Eisenhower remembered, that they were indebted to a divine providence. Somehow good had come from a time of great hardship.
What should David do to show his thanks and the nation’s thanks to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph? Shouldn’t he build a Temple greater than his palace?
Enter Nathan, David’s prophet, a true and courageous prophet. He will speak truth to power. He will give humble and honest advice to the great king, on this question and on other questions.
He will do it without fail – sometimes without being invited – and he will do it in a way that David will hear. A humble man without office will humble the great king that has been anointed by Samuel, been asked to rule all Israel, and moved the capital to Jerusalem.
No matter what we say and no matter what we do, the truth is still the truth…and that is a supremely good thing. It is nice when truth and power are both in the same person, but if there is power in one and truth in the other, the truth will prevail. The truth is still the truth.
Ask Eisenhower. Ask Hitler. Ask Washington. Ask King George III. And behold Nathan and David.
There is a delicious flavor in our reading today. Nathan’s first reaction is to say, “Do what you want. The Lord is with you.”
We have three brains, reptilian brain stem, compulsive amygdala, and the long-term memory and visionary neocortex. We think both fast and slow. Nathan gives a quick answer first, he bites into the issue, but as he walks back to his room, he chews on the question a bit more.
The point of grace is not to live in the one you like the best…or even in the highest level, where the painters of the late Middle Ages painted halos on saints. The place of grace is when they all work together, when we our natures and our thinking are in balance, pulling as a team. Then we can become whole.
And the place we do that most powerfully is in singing, with the beat and the harmony and the words become one.
We owe it to ourselves to mull things over, especially questions of great import…to look at them from more than one point of view…ask the advice of others…to chew before we swallow.
To David’s credit, he asks Nathan what he thinks of building a Temple. To Nathan’s credit he takes time to consult his slow thinking as well as his fast thinking. He chews before he swallows.
Fast thinking is essential in an emergency, but slow thinking gives us a chance to look far down the road and ask ourselves not only what is attractive, but also what all the alternatives are and how it is going to turn out next week and next month and next year.
We need them both, and we need to use them both. We need to use all three of our brains.
When I visited my son in New York City last January, he pointed out that the New York City area has the lowest suicide rate in the United States next to New Jersey’s…and Montana has the highest, with Wyoming just a little bit behind. We were in the middle of crowds the whole time we were there and we walked about 10 miles a day to see what we wanted to see.
In fact, you have to walk in New York City to do anything. There is little parking and it is expensive.
You probably walk past 100 people to go anywhere.
While we were walking we talked and chewed on where he lived, what was going on in our lives, what the future might bring. We were using our slow thinking. We were chewing on our thoughts. And we were moving through a landscape full of people…where the suicide rate is only 8.1 per 100,000 per year.
In Montana everyone owns a car and you can drive right up to the front door of anyplace you want to be…
We go in, say a few words to the clerk, get what we want, and drive back home where we can sit…alone again. We don’t have to walk. We don’t have to negotiate our way through real people. We can isolate ourselves. And our suicide rate is 26 per 100,000 people.
Ambrose Bierce wrote The Devil’s Dictionary 100 years ago and I think he had a point when he defined ‘Alone’ as ‘In bad company.’ And my last doctor in Billings always ended every visit with this sound advice: Keep moving.
I think one of the healthiest ministries we have in this church is the Bigfork Bridge Club. People come here, get out of their cars, play bridge and talk to each other every Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Last year we pointed out that they were scheduled to meet the day after Christmas and asked if they were going to be here on that day and they answered, “What else would we do?”
We need to think and we need to move to bring all the gifts and graces God gave us to the fore. We need to use all three of our brains if we want to thrive and grow. We owe it to ourselves.
Nathan thinks about it…sleeps on it…and the Lord speaks to him saying that the Ark of the Covenant has rested in a tent ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with it. Who is David to think that he needs to build a house for me? In fact, I will build one for him and for my people.
I will make their name great. I will give them a place. Enemies will not harass them.
Do you remember God’s promises to Abraham? “I will make you a great nation. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12)
We are all anxious these days. We have this terrible problem: There are so many wonderful things we can do with our time that we can’t possibly find the time to do them all.
But the truth is that we don’t do as much as we used to. And we don’t give ourselves time to visit, to walk, to use our slow thinking, to chew before we swallow.
May it say on my tombstone: “I know I came in here for something.” And may I give myself time to think and hear from others, every day, just what that something might be.
This lack of quiet time and this urgency to swallow everything we see and hear in lives that are more mediated than they have ever been in the history of humanity impoverishes us with our wealth.
But yesterday I met someone in Glacier Park that knows how to use all three of his brains at once.
He sees a chance to eat, but he is looking before he leaps. He is chewing before he is swallowing. He is looking before he leaps. This is further proof of something I have said here many times and hope God gives me the time and grace to say many more.
A rich man can think what he wants to think and be on his merry way, but a poor man has to know what is true and what is untrue, or he will die.
The truth is that none of us can afford to think we are so rich that we can live with untruths, ignore truths that are staring us in the face, and be on our merry way. For the truth is always the truth.
We cannot build a house for God. It is God who builds the house for us. Come let us live in it. Come let us abide in it. Come let us accept the truth on the hearth and the nourishment with which God blesses us to be a blessing under the great dome of sky over it.
I know we came in here for something. Lord, what is it that you would do in the world through us this day? Amen.