Sunday, July 19, 2015

God Builds a Really Big House

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 19, 2015

Year B, Proper 11: The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

God Builds a Really Big House
            A couple of weeks ago, Sue and I spent about a day and a half down the Shore with some good friends.
            I haven’t really been down there much since Hurricane Sandy and it felt good to be back.
            In the afternoon we took a walk along Ocean Avenue – which, as you might guess, and unlike our Ocean Avenue – runs right along the ocean.
            We looked at the beautiful houses along that strip of prime real estate – many of them new or mostly rebuilt since the hurricane.
            We were struck by how impressive they were – and just how big they are. Big houses!
            That shouldn’t come as a surprise since the size of the average American house has been growing for years – not so much around here where the lots are small and expensive but in other parts of the country where people have more money or land is a lot cheaper than it is here.
            In 1983 the average home size in the US was 1,725 square feet.
            In 2013, the average home size was 2,598 feet – an increase of 873 square feet in 30 years.
            For better or for worse – and there are a lot of negative environmental effects – Americans are building big houses.
            And, in a way, it turns out that is God is building a big house, too.
            If you’ve been in church during the last few weeks you may have noticed that our Old Testament lessons from Second Samuel have told the story of one of the most important people in the history of Israel: David.
            Saul was the first king of Israel but, because he fell out of divine favor, God sent the Prophet Samuel to a man named Jesse to anoint one of his sons to be Israel’s next king.
            As usual, God selected a most unlikely person for this most important task.
            Samuel goes to Jesse. Jesse brings out his sons one after the other beginning with the oldest.
            Each time the Lord says, no, not that one.
            Finally, when Jesse seems to have run out of sons, Samuel asks if there really are no more and Jesse replies, yes, there is – but because he was sure that God wouldn’t choose the youngest son, he was left out in the field tending the sheep.
            But, Samuel anoints David to be king.
            Then a couple of weeks ago we heard one of the best-known Bible stories, David and Goliath.
            Goliath, the Philistine giant, challenges Israel to a fight.
            David, still just a boy, volunteers to take him on.
            Goliath scoffs that the best Israel can do is send a little kid but of course David and the Israelites get the last laugh as God’s anointed, David, slays the giant.
            God chooses David for this most important task even though – or maybe because – he is a seriously flawed character – not a great father and definitely not much of a husband. David is ruthless - willing to shed blood to get what he wants.
            Next Sunday we’ll the story of how he sends Uriah the Hittite out to the front lines so he can be killed in battle and David can get what he wants, Uriah’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba.
            But, today, we hear that David is king and living the way kings do, in a palace – a palace made of cedar, which was a particularly precious wood.
            And, to his credit, David has a realization – he realizes that his accommodations are a whole lot better than God’s.
            Since the days of the Exodus, centuries earlier, the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden box which was believed, in a sense, to contain the very presence of God, had been carried around under a tent and was now in David’s capital, Jerusalem.
            David thinks, “I live in a palace and God lives in a tent. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
            So, David decides to build a house for God.
            The Prophet Nathan agrees with the plan but, surprisingly, God doesn’t.
            God says, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”
            In all that time, God asks, “Did I ever speak a word with the tribal leaders of Israel saying…’Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”
            Then God turns things around and announces something bigger. God declares that God will build David a bigger house – not a house of wood – but a royal house – a dynasty - that will reign forever.
            God builds a big house.
            But, it turns out that God has even bigger house in mind.
            In today’s second lesson, the author of the Letter to the Ephesians makes the point that, in and through Jesus, God has brought the gentiles into “the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
            In and through Jesus, God builds a house big enough for everybody.
            Our job is to invite people into this big house built by God.
            In fact, because we are so remarkably diverse and, for the most part, get along so well, I really believe that here at St. Paul’s we have a special vocation – a special call from God – to demonstrate that God’s house truly is big enough for us all.
            And, we’ve been doing a better and better job of inviting people into this big house built by God.
            We’ve been welcoming more and more people to our church – all kinds of people.
            They’ve been coming, maybe like sheep without a shepherd, to be fed in body and spirit.
            They’ve been coming because they’re hungry and they wonder if God’s house really is big enough for them, too.
            And, hopefully, they come here and they find out it really is big enough for us all.
            And we’ve been doing a better job of getting out into the community – even just a few feet out into the community with our beautiful garden that signals we’re alive with love and beauty.
            We’ve been doing a better job of getting out into the community through our outdoor services, through sharing food at the food pantry, through marching in the Caribbean parade again this year, through so many of us getting involved with the exciting community organizing effort that’s underway in Jersey City.
            Each time we go out there we remind people that God has built – is building – a really big house.
            It’s a house big enough for us – it’s a house big enough for everybody.
            God is building a really big house for us all.