Holden Evening Prayer
17 December 2020
The first congregation I served was founded in 1905. Construction on a church building was begun in 1906. It was a time of slow growth, much turmoil, the depression, two world wars, and it took the congregation 40 years to pay off the mortgage.
The years after the war brought a new pastor, many new immigrants, a population shift from the country to the city, and all of this resulted in rapid growth of the congregation. A new church to accommodate the large congregation was built in 1965 and when I came in 1994 people remained proud of the fact that the mortgage for the second church was paid off in only ten years.
The purchase of property, the design of a new building, the actual construction phase, and the retirement of the mortgage are always important in the story of a congregation, for they are a major accomplishment.
But they are not only an accomplishment they also provide a clear and tangible goal and an opportunity for all to work together.
Once the building is finished, getting everyone involved and excited becomes more difficult for the goals are not as tangible as a building, and different gifts are required after the building is finished.
Fundraising also becomes more difficult as giving to a building is more exciting than giving to a budget, or, God help us, a deficit.
In our reading from 2 Samuel, David wants to build a house for the God. His argument is that God shouldn’t live in a tent, as the ark of God that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and symbolized the presence of God and which had travelled with the Israelites since Mount Sinai always had.
But God had not asked for a temple and so it seems that David is motivated by something else as well. With David the monarchy had become established in Israel.
Religion has long given governments legitimacy and so David’s plan to build a temple for the ark is not only an expression of faithfulness to the God of Israel, not only a remembrance of God’s faithfulness toward Israel, but also a political move. David is a politician after all.
This is where the prophet Nathan comes in. Initially when David tells Nathan that he plans to build a temple, Nathan tells David to go ahead. (v3)
However, in the following night God speaks to Nathan that God does not need a house, but that rather than being stationary as in a house, God has moved with God’s people and provided for them. God does not need a house but will build David a house. The House of David is the dynasty of David, and the reason we read this passage in Advent is that Jesus is the Son of David, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.
As God speaking to Nathan, the action shifts from David to God. This is not about what David does but about what God does. David may be building a temple but God is building up David and Israel. God is the builder, and even king David is only a helper.
The building that God does is not so much building with brick and mortar, but the building of a people, the building of the church, the body of Christ.
In his letter to the Romans St Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:2)
That suggests that we are not yet finished but that being a follower of Jesus is about becoming, or growing into the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
We who live in the world are used to being conformed to the world, because that is where most of our lives are lived. But St Paul reminds us that the direction of our lives is to come from God. And so I wonder if we can conceive of the body of Christ, and of us personally, as people who continue to be shaped, to be formed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. The goal of which is to be little Christs. That seems a tall order, but that is God’s gift and desire. May prayer is that allow ourselves to be the clay and allow God to be the potter.