Here are my thoughts for tomorrow, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost.
It has been over twenty years since I last went camping. Now, we really need to define what we mean by camping. For me, camping is sleeping in a tent without an air mattress and cooking one’s meals over an open campfire. The last time that I did this was during the late part of the spring in 1981 when I spent a couple of weekends canoeing on the Current River in south central Missouri.
The Current River and the Jacks Fork River form the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Down stream from where the Jacks Fork joins the Current River, the Eleven Point River joins. The Eleven Point is classified as a “wild & scenic” river. All three rivers are easy to canoe but if you want to spend the night on the river, you have to be prepared to bring everything you want in with you and you had better take it out with you when you leave. As some of us were taught in the Boy Scouts, make sure that you leave the place in a better shape than you found it.
But this type of camping is not for everyone; if they don’t have a twenty-foot recreational vehicle with a reasonable home-like kitchen and some sort of bathroom facilities, they don’t even want to consider camping.
When we read the Old Testament reading for today (1)we find that God is still residing in a tent out among the people of Israel. Having built himself a fine palace, King David now wants to build an equally fine temple for God. But God indicates through the prophet Nathan that such a place is not necessary nor would David be the one who would build such a temple, if a temple were to be built.
God also tells David that it is not the temple by which the peace of the people will be maintained but rather by those who follows David in his royal lineage. For us, this is the first indication that Jesus will be our one and only true King. It also, of course, begs the question why we have so many mega-churches in this country. Do we really need massive structures dedicated to God if God Himself told David not to bother with such an edifice?
This is not to say that we shouldn’t build a temple or church. There is always going to be a need to have a place where we can gather for worship. Did not Jesus tell us disciples, as they once again gathered together from their mission work, that they needed to get away for some quiet time? (2)
The problem with building such large places is that we get away from why we built the place in the first place. We went camping to get away from life but we demanded that life come along with us. There are times when it would be nice to have an RV, if for no other reason than it insures a nice place to sleep when traveling. But unless you have the money to insure that the bathroom in the RV is the same size as the one you have at home and the bedroom in the RV is likewise the same as the one you have at home, you will find it necessary to accept some limitations to what the RV will provide. The same is true with building programs; at some point, the building takes over and you forget why you built the building in the first place.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t maintain the building you have; that is simply a matter of good stewardship. Right now, most of the churches in this area are really getting “hammered” by rising utility costs. The challenge will be to maintain the present building while not sacrificing funds for the mission of the church. We have to be especially careful not to place the maintenance of the building over the work of the building. After all, even as the disciples tried to rest, the crowds came. And the medical and spiritual needs of the people have to take some precedence over other more worldly matters.
We have to be very careful that we do not place the building over the people. We will quickly build walls that should never be built; these are walls that separate us from people. These walls come when we try to protect our lives from the outside world. We have built this nice building in which to have church and we certainly don’t want strangers or people who don’t appreciate the finer things of life messing up our nice new building. But Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (3), tells us that those were the walls that were torn down by Christ’s death on the cross.
Oh, yes, there are times when we need walls. But those walls protect us from predators or wind and rain. But we don’t need walls that separate us from people, especially if we are the ones who put up the walls. Our efforts at kingdom building should be to bring people inside the walls of the church, not keep them outside.
Last week I wrote about non-violence and the need to see those we call our enemies as children of God just as we see ourselves as children of God. When we label our enemies as terrorists or give them racist nicknames; when we call them anything but children of God, we deem them unworthy of the same gift that we claim for ourselves. We put up walls cemented with the mortar of name-calling, labeling, and prejudice that were some of the very walls that Jesus sought to tear down.
The time was also not right nor was David necessarily the right person to build the new temple. Also, God did not want a new temple built because He was with the people. I chose an analogy with camping because we have a choice as to how we will go camping. When we pick the RV method, we remove ourselves from the primary reason that we wanted to go camping. Similarly, if we build a massive edifice so that we can worship God, we are likely to forget why we worship God in the first place. God does not want to reside in massive blocks of stone and glass but rather to reside among the people.
In Christ, we have been given a wondrous gift. But it is a gift that we cannot hide behind walls; it is a gift that we must share with others. Have we opened our hearts so that God can enter our lives? Or have we built walls that keep the light of God inside where no one can see it? Do we show that God has a presence in our lives? We are asked to be the means by which God comes again in the midst of the people. The question that we have to ask this day is a simple one:” Where shall God rest this day?”
2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14
(2) Mark 6: 30 -34; 53 – 56
(3) Ephesians 2: 11 – 22