Saturday, July 25, 2009


The church computer will not let me cut and paste things into the blog account. That is why nothing new has appeared here. I just discovered that if I use a different computer I can paste copied text. So below is last week's sermon.- Rich

God's Real Estate

Pentecost 7 Year B
2 Samuel 7: 1-13
God’s Real Estate
By Rich Gamble

There is a lot of work done by Christian theologians in their attempt to harmonize various parts of the Bible. For some reason many Christians think that just because something is in the Bible it is an accurate reflection upon God. I think that the Bible is an amazing document and the most important document in human history; but it is not of one mind about the nature of God. Though it may be an oversimplification, I see the Bible as portraying two distinctly different visions of the nature of God. And whenever we say anything about the nature of God, we are also talking about the nature of the human community which strives to embody the values of that God.

Today’s text is at the heart of one of those visions of the nature of God. It is called the Davidic Covenant because God is making a covenant with David. It starts with David fretting because he has a nice wooden house and God’s place (where the Ark of the Covenant is) is in a tent.

God says to David (via the prophet Nathan) you are worried about building me a house, I’ll build you a house. God is using a play on the word house, meaning a permanent establishment of David’s lineage in the role of king. And to tie up the deal David’s son will build God a house, meaning a temple.

So David gets a house and God gets a house and the people of Israel get permanent peace. Sounds nice, who would not like a deal like that?

This is one vision of the nature of God. God here is like a king, but God for whatever reason subcontracts out the work of ruling the realm of God’s particular people. God leaves the running of the nation to the offspring of one of God’s favorites. If they are David’s offspring, that is good enough for God. They don’t have to be intelligent, or nice, or just. Their virtue is inherited. And after God, hands over the keys to the realm to David’s kids, God settles into a nice semi-retirement in an assisted living residence that Solomon will build for God. God just pulls up a recliner in the Holy of Holies in the Temple and people come and tell God what a great Divinity God is, and they offer God all sorts of offerings.

It is a good life for a deity.

It is a good deal for David’s kids as well. They get some peace of mind. Putting God in the temple means that they don’t have to worry about God wandering around and stirring up trouble. God is in God’s house, and the sons of David control that particular piece of real estate, indeed they run the whole city of Jerusalem. That is the weakness of tangible things like real estate, they can be controlled by people with money or guns, or in Solomon’s case, swords. The Jews understood this a little bit. That is why in the first covenant the agreement the people made with God was not to have idols. If you invest a statute with a connection to God, well, then the guys with the guns or gold can take the statue and thereby control that access to God. If God is going to be for the little guy, then God must never be linked to something that can be controlled or manipulated by the mighty.

Human beings, being what they are, the Jews couldn’t get by with no object to link them to the divine, so they built the Ark of the Covenant which wasn’t supposed to be the likeness of God, it was just supposed to be God’s throne. As objects associated with the divine, the Ark was not too bad, it could be moved easily enough and for the longest time it was housed in a tent. It moved with the people. But it was a slippery slope. If the presence of God is in even something as portable as a tent, still some people get to go into the tent, and some people end up deciding who gets to go into the tent. And those people can use the control of the tent flap to set themselves up over other people.

David took the Ark and locked it in his town. Solomon took the Ark and locked it in the Temple. So David and Solomon controlled access to God and conveniently here God gives ultimate political, military and economic power to David, Solomon and his kids and their kids forever.

This sort of thinking happens when people start thinking that God is connected to something tangible like a church, or a religion. The people who control that church or religion have access to all sorts of power over others.

There is another view in the Bible. In that view God is tied to no object, ritual or real estate. God ties God’s self to humanity but to all humanity. To be for all, this God is especially for those who are ignored or abused by other people. This God makes no promises to people because of their ancestry or their geography. God rather stands with those in need whoever they are and condemns those who cause or ignore those needs whoever they are. For the sake of the poor and oppressed kings are condemned, Israel is condemned, priests are condemned.

This God cannot be locked into a particular piece of real estate or religion. This God moves about seeking out those who suffer. This God does not utilize the power of greed and violence to dominate but rather uses love to console those who suffer and empower others to put an end to human suffering.

The Bible doesn’t offer us a vision of God to accept or not. The Bible offers us two utterly different visions of God.

One offers punishment if you fail to follow the rules of the religion, and the orders of people in charge. And offers health and wealth and happiness if you toe the line.

The other offers love to share with no guarantees of health, no opportunity for wealth (as long as there are people in need), and the real possibility of conflict with those in power.

I don’t believe that the text today is a depiction of the God I believe in. It deserves to be in the Bible, so that we have a clear view of the choice between the two primary visions of God.

The Bible also shows us how David’s descendents go on to lead Israel to ruin ultimately even to the destruction of God’s house and David’s house.

If your faith locks God into real estate like this sanctuary, or this nation, if your faith locks God into one particular set of rituals or authorized spokespeople, if your faith locks God into a special relationship with people of a particular race or gender, or sexual orientation. Then the God of this text, the God of the Temple, the God of the many rules is the God for you.

Jesus broke rules to heal and feed people. Jesus argued with priests and condemned the rulers of the Temple. Jesus included sinners, rule breakers, and non Jews into the circle of his fellowship. Jesus stripped away the power of domination by calling on people to love their enemies and give away their wealth.

In the last two thousand years there has been a concerted effort to stick the God of Jesus and Mary, Moses and Miriam back into the box of rules, and priesthood, real estate and nation.

Whenever I hear someone talk about God being linked to a particular religion or nation or people who inherit their virtue, I look for who is gaining by controlling the tent flap.

Whenever I hear about someone who is suffering illness, poverty, loss, or oppression, I hear the voice of God calling me to their side.

The Powers That Be have chosen the god of David, and they seek to hide any other choice from our eyes. Thank God for the Bible, for the people who wrote it, and preserved it. For if we look, we will see that we have a choice. The world has a choice. One choice leads us to the fate of the house of God and David. The other leads us down the path of Christ and the promise of new life. That path and promise are indeed good news for us and the world.