For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). Prayer is always a good way to sustain the spirit and this one from Ephesians I believe is particularly good to embrace. The writer commends the readers and encourages them to focus on their relationship with God in order that the gift of the spirit of God within will continually guide and strengthen them.
Often the issue we have in this journey is whether or not we will allow God’s love to guide and strengthen our resolve to do the work God has called us to do. Our focus on the spirit within will help us stay a course that is pleasing to God. This is not to say that the course will be perfect by human standards. Rather it is a course that involves praise and thanksgiving for our blessings (including hardships & lessons learned), confession and repentance for our mis-steps (including disobedience to God’s word) and our testimony to the glory of Christ to which God in his grace heeds. Thus, when we lose focus (as we sometimes do) in this journey, God’s discipline and mercy will help us regain our focus on his spirit within and move us forward.
There is a really good story that comes out of WWII Poland, about a man who was well known for his care and compassion for others and who was deeply loved because of his radical hospitality to villagers and strangers. When the man died, the villagers prepared his body for burial and proceeded to the village church where they asked the Priest to perform the burial service and to bury the man in the church cemetery. The priest, who also knew and loved the man, agreed to conduct the funeral service – but despite many pleas from the villagers, he could not bury the man inside the hallowed ground of the church cemetery because he was not baptized.
Insisting that the rules of the faith were clear and could be not be broken, the priest came up with what he thought was a compromise. He would bury him on church land but just beyond the fenced consecrated grounds of the cemetery. During the night after the grave had been filled and the stone placed, the fence that surrounded the cemetery had been moved by some of the villagers – so that it now took in the grave in which the man had been buried.
We have to be very careful that we don’t build the kind of house that David wanted to build based on the self-perceived elevation of his own glory, or the kind of house that the physical church in this small village became. I believe that God did not intend for his presence to be forever ruled by “walls” but rather guided by the heart. The house that God wants us to build is our relationship with him, so that others may see and have access to this household of faith through his son Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of God’s covenant of promises and faithfulness. Just as the villagers expanded the fence, which enclosed hallowed ground to include the grave of the man whom they loved – so God, through Christ, expands the boundaries to include those who believe in him. We now are the dwelling place for God’s presence, a house without walls, not a house built to divide, judge or exclude, but a house which reconciles us to God and to one another.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a I will raise up your offspring after you,… and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Psalm 89:20-37 I will not break my covenant, nor change what has gone out of my lips. His line shall endure forever…It shall stand fast for evermore…
Ephesians 2:111-22 …remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus …have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall…
As the scripture in 2 Samuel continues, David did not get to build that house of cedar. Essentially I believe David’s heart was in the right place but his concept was wrong. Neither do we get to build the walls in which God’s spirit dwells, because it is suppose to dwell within us, so that where ever we go God’s presence goes with us. It is this kind of reconciliation that is God’s greater plan. As builders for God, we have a responsibility to build this house he has generously given, that being our life through Christ. Perhaps God may have believed that David was in danger of creating a physical structure, that in the end was more of a hindrance to his plan and God needed David to know and it is important for us to understand that God’s presence is not the structure. God’s presence is not the riches. God’s presence is our life in Christ. It is a life that loves God and loves neighbor as self. It is why we often say that church is not the building. Church is the people in order that the gospel is not restricted to one place and is made accessible to everyone. Otherwise we risk the walls we build becoming more important than the people they were intended to serve. Any “walls” that we build (internally or externally), God will surely cause to tumble when they prevent access to him.
I believe the good news for us today is that God understands that our journey will be challenging and much like Moses, David, the disciples and others; will be imperfect at times. However, I believe God is well pleased when we choose to remain on the journey and continue to maintain and reconcile the house that is the body of Christ.
Parenting and mentoring youth can be tricky at times and it is not always easy particularly when dealing with pride and esteem. However, sometimes children say things which gives us indications of a personality that could use some intervention. It seems apparent in 2 Samuel that King David believes that God’s world revolves around him. Imagine that! Yet, I like the way God so eloquently does what every loving parent would do; he uses what I call old school tactics and “nips it in the bud.”
Basically, God tells David that in the first place, he never asked him for a house and then helps David to remember that it was God who took David from the pasture. It was God who cut off all David’s enemies. It was God who appointed a place for David and the people of Israel that evildoers would not disturb them and it is God who gives them rest. The best part is when God covenants to build David a house. Long after David is laid down with his ancestors, it will be a house for David’s offspring that will establish an everlasting kingdom where God’s spirit reigns. God essentially tells David that in spite of all the riches that he sees and blessings that he has been given, God is not done! God continues, that this everlasting house will be built by the one in whom God calls his own son. The building of this house is where we come in, all of us who have had the experience of that stage when we believe that the world revolves around us and we have yet to realize that God’s plans for us like David, is bigger than we could imagine.
David had a lot of successes and some failures and so will we, and I believe God encourages us to be builders. The questions that always stands before us is whether we are building for ourselves or building for God. What is equally significant is what God’s response says about who he is and his relationship to us as the ultimate provider. Except to open our hearts by faith with thanksgiving, and allow him to work through us, God, the parent of all, doesn’t ask his offspring for a thing.
2 Samuel 7:2, 4-7 “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” …But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: 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. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders* of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they that build it labor in vain.
We know that King David is anointed by God in every physical way, yet he becomes a bit over- zealous in his rise to the throne, and in 2 Samuel we find he is now wanting to build a house for the ark of God which at the time merely dwelled in a tent. David didn’t want to build any house but a house of cedar as elaborate as his won. Cedar is an aromatic wood that is found in varieties all around the world. Perhaps primarily due to its fragrance, cedar was known to the ancient Israelites in their places and practices of worship. Apparently, this was David’s idea of bringing God’s standard of living up to meet his own. What I find amusing and which brings me back to my own self-perceived rise, was God’s “child please!” response to David’s newly self-proclaimed status and place in God’s plan for his people. Perhaps David believed, that he somehow had been elevated to a place of glory that was higher than God! I believe this is one of David’s first real encounters with the physical, which can be seen (a beautiful dwelling place), challenging the spirit of God (measure of faith) that was within him. I believe what David and we particularly today, quickly forget, is that the tabernacle and tent are physical reminders of God’s presence. His spirit makes its dwelling place in the heart of those who believe in him as he did with David, and us also, who in turn responds according to God’s spirit. Can you imagine the Israelites carrying around a house of cedar? Is it even possible for us today to build walls to hold the spirit of God?
“Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” This scripture from 2 Samuel reminds me of the times when I believed myself to be grown enough to tell my own parents what I could do for them. Of course they didn’t need me, but somehow it seemed important for me to let them know that I had in fact “arrived”, even though aside from my education I really had not accomplished very much. I had not saved any money. I did not buy most of my own clothes. I did not own a house or a car nor did I live on my own. Everything I had, the conveniences that I enjoyed up to that point were provided by my parents who I am sure loved me quite dearly, and yet probably thinking I had simply lost my mind, a momentary lapse in understanding graciousness and the reality of my true status and place in life. It was an event that was met with my mother’s usual snide response of “child please!”, and she was quick to remind me that I although had everything, I had earned nothing. So too, as children and inheritors of God’s grace we have everything; and as recipients of God’s mercy we’ve earned nothing. Who are we to say what we can do for God? In times like these it’s always a good thing to heed Paul’s warning in his letter to the Romans, that we ought not think of our selves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3)! Unfortunately, it was a warning I failed to heed on several occasions.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
Our blessings come when we are able to discern the physical forces which challenge our faith from the spiritual forces of God which keeps us reconciled to Christ, that we may be able to know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them (BCP 231). To hear the message of the Gospel and believe in it, is the key to unlocking the manifestation of God’s love within us, which was given before the foundation of the world as we understand it. Otherwise we like Herod stay bound to a state of our humanity (pride, selfishness, idolatry etc.) that is in opposition to God’s will and the riches of his grace. Let us not forget Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that encourages our choice to walk in his love by faith as having obtained the inheritance of God’s glory. For by it we learn to concern our selves and respond by what God sees in us as beloved offspring and not by the judgment of others.
Ephesians 1:3-14 In him… when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Herod’s story helps us to understand several things. First, that John’s message was for everyone. Second, not everyone who hears the message of repentance will be committed to it. Third, for those who hear and receive it, they will make the choice to prepare themselves so that God can enter in and live according to God’s will and not the will of the self. By doing so it doesn’t make us perfect and we won’t always make the right decision but the spirit that condemns us will lead us back to John’s message of repentance of the heart. What story would we be telling if Herod chose not to honor his daughter’s request? How many decisions have we made in our own lives simply for our own self-preservation out of pride, arrogance, selfishness and fear? How many times have we in hindsight, with knowledge of Christ, wish we had made a different decision, not for things in which we have no relationship like the color of carpet, but rather in those matters that reflect our relationship to others? However, in spite of our selves and out past, God chooses to be in relationship with us, as blameless before him according to his love, which is revealed to us through Christ. As we strive to live according to God’s love, a Herod’s dilemma becomes less prevalent in our lives as we travel this journey.
The good news about John’s message is that it prevails today and no testing, has overtaken us that is not common to everyone (1 Corinthians 10:13). However, our repentance during that test is the work of God’s grace and mercy manifesting in our lives. It also enables the process of discerning the physical from the spiritual. Herod could have acknowledged and repented to what he had done as wrong according to Jewish law, if in fact he was committed to it. Historically we know that he was not (Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews). By his actions, Herod was committed to himself. While there are times when we should be committed to our selves, for example our health, a Herod’s dilemma, isn’t one of those times. When we are committed only to ourselves we often have a tendency to believe that the laws or rules therein do not apply to us, we make our own rule for life and go our own way. John’s message is given that we may prepare our selves to be committed to the Spirit of God so that when the challenge of our commitment is tested, our response will honor God (from the heart) and not our selves (according to other peoples’ perceptions). History tells us that this is not always an easy thing to do and if we continue to look through the eyes of others we only see what other people see and respond the way other people respond. When we learn to look through the eyes of Christ we begin to see what God sees and learn to respond through Christ.
Ephesians 1:3,7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,
We all know the story (Mark 6:14-29). John had been speaking the truth about Herod and John being who he was just couldn’t keep quiet about it. This of course today is not always the most popular thing to do (publicly airing other peoples’ dirty laundry) but John’s charge was a message of repentance and Herod claiming himself to be Jewish (by his family conversion) had blatantly defied Jewish law. John could have ignored this ruthless Edomite “Jewish” leader of Galilee and Perea and simply stayed focused on the ever popular “brood of vipers” living as Pharisees (Matthew 12:34). However, it seems clear that was simply not God’s plan, and not John’s destiny and he intended to follow his destiny. The message of repentance was for any one who had ears to “hear”, regardless of the polity in which they happen to align themselves. Everyone has fallen short and the time of preparation for God’s grace and mercy has come. It would cost John his life, but not before it cost Herod his integrity. This I believe is at the heart of finding our selves in a Herod’s dilemma. We all claim to be something but when the integrity of the something we claim to be is challenged, it doesn’t matter what we say or how loud we speak, our actions will speak louder. If you’ve ever been to the edge of your own integrity and fallen, you know it is a very difficult place to be, but it’s not necessarily the end, for a sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).
Matthew 12:37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
Mark 6:20, 24-26 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.
She (Herodias) went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.