I’ve never complained. I’ve never asked for a house. I’ve never asked for a temple.

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Sermon Manuscript

Kenney Washington is the director of client services at Back Bay Mission. He’s the guy who oversees everything that the Mission does for the people who it serves. And when I worked for the Mission, he would tell this story. He might still tell it. It’s a good story.

There was this man who lived out in the woods near Biloxi. And he had built… well, he had built a little studio apartment of a shack out in those woods. Using pallets and plywood and whatever else he could find, he had built a little place with a living room and a latrine and a solar shower.

It wasn’t great, but it was alright… and it was home.

Once, Kenney asked him, “Wouldn’t you rather live in a real apartment? It’s precarious out here. You’re still in the elements. You’re far from a community. The police could just show up and tear this down and take it all away. (They did that sometimes. They dispersed homeless villages by chasing people out and taking everything they had.) We could put you in our supportive housing program, and you could have a nice one-bedroom and plenty of help to move away from homelessness and toward self-sufficiency. Wouldn’t you like that?”

And the man replied, “Nah. You see, I’m… at peace… out here.”

And when Kenney would tell this story to staff members or volunteers or donors, he would say that we didn’t force our help on people. He would say that we didn’t push people to follow the path that we would choose for them. So that man still lived in his studio apartment of a shack out in the woods. And the Mission checked in on him sometimes, and made sure he was okay, and made sure that he had what he needed.

“After all,” Kenney would ask, “how many of us can say that we’re at peace?”

Our reading today is a little bit about a house. And our reading today is a little bit about peace.

Once upon a time, there was no king in Israel, and the people did what was right in their own eyes. The people looked around, and they saw the nations that surrounded them, and they saw that those nations had kings: kings who governed them… kings who rode out to battle. And the people went to God and demanded a king.

So God gave them a king: a man named Saul. And Saul ruled. And Saul went bad. So God raised up a new king: a man named David. And there were fights and there were battles. But the Lord was with David. And David prevailed. And David became the king of all of Israel.

Once upon a time, there was no temple to the Lord. There was an ark. There was a fancy box that carried the tablets that the covenant between God and Israel was written on. And God is everywhere… but the presence of the Lord traveled with the box. And the people worshipped wherever the box was… and sometimes wherever the box had been… and sometimes wherever they could feel the presence of the Lord. But the box was important. And when the box wasn’t traveling, it stayed in a tent. So the presence of God stayed in a tent.

And as we enter our reading today, David is settling in as the king of Israel… David is settling into his house… David is settling into something like peace.

And David says, “Look, I’m living in a house of cedar! I’m living in a palace! And the ark of God is sitting there in a tent. We can do better than that. I will build a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, the God of all creation.”

And God replies, “No. Look. You don’t understand. I’ve lived among the people of Israel since I brought you up out of Egypt… since I brought you up out of the house of bondage. I’ve moved around with the ark. I’ve moved around with the tent. And I’ve never complained. I’ve never asked for a house. I’ve never asked for a temple.”

And God goes on, “One day, I’ll appoint a place for my people. One day, I will plant my people in that place. Then, my people will have their own place… and my people will have peace. And then, when there is peace, one of your descendants will build a house for me.”

Our reading today is a little bit about a house. And our reading today is a little bit about peace.

On the one hand, these days, it can feel like peace is impossible to find.

We are still in the middle of a pandemic. We are still trying to figure out how to balance our desire to return to normalcy and our desire to keep each other healthy and safe. And that is weird and hard and frustrating and discouraging. It does not feel like peace.

We are still in the middle of an election. We are still hearing those voices from politicians and pundits who tell us that the stakes are the highest they have ever been, that we should expect the worst of each other, that we should be anxious and afraid, and that we should stay cozy and warm in in our little information bubbles. And it does not feel like peace.

We are still in the middle of so many things. And they do not feel like peace. And it the middle of all of this—in the middle of all of the muck of the world—it is easy to cry out, “Peace? Peace? There is no peace!”

But… on the other hand… these days and every day… it can feel like peace is good at sneaking in and settling down.

A couple of times a week, at the end of a long day, Mariah and I like to relax on the couch with a small brown dog, and a bottle of wine, and some tv… or a movie… or whatever. And for a couple of hours, there is peace.

And a few times a week, we can all take a few deep breaths, remember the presence of God is all around us, fill ourselves up with gratitude, put our fears and anxieties aside, and be with God and each other. And for a little while, there is peace.

Again and again and again, even in the middle of gestures-wildly-at-the-world-all-of-this, peace sneaks in and settles down right next to us. We might not even notice it at first. But then—if we’re lucky and if we’re paying attention—we do. We find peace sitting next to us. And we can feel our heartbeat slow down, and our breaths grow deeper, and our blood pressure drop just a little. And we can say, “Blessed is this little piece of peace.”

David never did build a temple for the Lord. The story goes that David’s son, Solomon, succeeded him, and took his place on the throne, and said, “My father, David, could not build a house for the Lord because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him. But look! The Lord has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I will build a house for the Lord.”

And he did… he built a magnificent temple… but…

There was still war. And there was still idolatry. And there were still adversaries and misfortunes. And the temple that Solomon built… burned.

And that makes me wonder if David and Solomon and all of us have been thinking about this the wrong way. It makes me wonder if focusing on the box or the tent or the temple… or the church building… misses the mark.

Because, one day, God will love the world this way:

This world will pass away, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. And God will be with the people. God will wipe away every tear. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And in that world of peace, there still won’t be a temple made of cedar. The Lord  will be the temple. God will be the temple. Christ will be the temple.

We have been worshipping in weird ways for months now. We have worshipped through Zoom and Facebook and YouTube. We have worshipped on a podcast. We have worshipped in our parking lot and, yes, a little bit, in our sanctuary. Maybe we’ve even worshipped at home, or walking on the path at Westbrook, or in the car.

You see, God is not confined to a box… or a tent… or a temple… or a church building. God is everywhere, sneaking in and settling down right next to each and every one of us. Bringing us peace.

And maybe… just maybe… God isn’t waiting for someone to come along and build him a house of cedar. Maybe… just maybe… God is calling us to see that the whole world is God’s temple. Maybe… just maybe… God is calling us to see that God doesn’t need a place to dwell in the world, but that the whole world dwells in God.

And maybe… just maybe… if we saw that, we would finally have peace.

Thank you for sharing!

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