December 20, 2020 Worship Sermon - "House for the Lord"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 ; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Back in 2018, Stephen Schwartzman, the CEO of The Blackstone Group, offered the Abington School District a gift of $25 million dollars. $25 million is a lot of money, even for a wealthy school district like Abington. The funds would be used to build a new science and technology center for the high school, something that would certainly make Abington a more attractive place to live. But there were some strings attached. The high school would be renamed for him and his name would be placed over the six entrances to the school. A large portrait of him would be prominently displayed in the building and he would have control over the design of the new building along with the contractors used to build it. It’s not unusual for wealthy donors to make these kinds of demands in exchange for a significant gift, but this was the first time anyone had tried to do this with a public school, which is supported by public tax dollars. At first, the Abington School District approved this plan; they were happy to receive the money. But when word of it leaked out to the community, the people of Abington were outraged, and the gift was ultimately rejected.
In our reading from the book of Samuel, King David does a Stephen Schwartzman: he makes what seems like a generous offer. He tells the prophet Nathan that he wants to build a temple for the Lord. We are not told that there were any strings attached to this offer, but knowing David, something tells me there were. David was definitely someone who kept score. If nothing else, I can imagine David’s ego would have swollen as he watched hordes of Israelites worshipping in the temple he built. God politely declined David’s offer.
Sometimes, our acts of generosity are really about stroking our own egos. We make sure to have our photo taken as we dish out soup at the homeless shelter. We look for our names in the publications of the charities we support, which rank our gifts according to size so that the really big donors get named first. This year, billionare MacKenzie Scott shocked the philanthropic world by giving away over 4.5 billion dollars in grants. But that wasn’t the shocking part. What was so unusual about her gifts was that there were no strings attached. She just wrote checks - some of them for tens of millions of dollars - to organizations that she and her team thought were doing good in our world. Usually, when donors give that kind of money, they want something in return.
Maybe that’s why God declined David’s offer to build a temple. Perhaps God didn’t want a gift with strings attached. Or if not that, perhaps God understood how ridiculous it is to think that God can be confined to a building. The God whose presence is bigger than the universe somehow needs a roof over his head to protect him from the cold and the rain? Really? In any case, God tells David to forget the idea of building a temple. Instead of David building a house for God, God decides to build a house for David.
In the book of Samuel, what that meant was the God would build a dynasty for David. The house of David - the dynasty of David - would rule in Jerusalem forever, Samuel tells us.
In our reading from Luke, we have a different take on what it means for God to build a house. God sends the angel Gabriel to a young peasant named Mary. Now right there, that should make you do a double take. God doesn’t send the angel to a mighty king like David, someone with the power to build a massive edifice. God sends the angel to a woman who would have been unremembered by history were it not for what she agreed to do. Mary is in no position to build God a house, but that’s not what God wants from her any more than God wanted it from David. Rather, Mary agrees to become God’s house. God chooses to dwell in Mary. Contrary to what David thought, God does not dwell in houses of cedar or stone. God dwells in human flesh.
Just as God chose to dwell in Mary, so God chooses to dwell in you. To become the house of God, you don’t need a massive building campaign or a multimillion-dollar pledge. All you need to do is offer the same response as Mary: Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word. Let the Holy Spirit dwell in me the way it dwelt in Mary, so that I become a bearer of God.
This has tremendous implications for how we live our lives. What a humbling thought to realize that the creator chooses to dwell in us. How awesome to realize that God could be dwelling in the person you pass on the street, in the bus driver, in the checkout person, in the child who smiles at you.
This past week, as we were all digging out from the snowstorm, I saw a man go out of his way to help someone who was stuck in the snow. Then I noticed the lanyard he wore around his neck. It was decorated with the words, “I Love Jesus." Then I realized I was standing before the house of God. God chooses to dwell in us so that God’s grace and mercy and love can radiate from us into the lives of the people we encounter.
God chooses to dwell in human flesh regardless of how rich or powerful that flesh might be. The significance of that is truly revolutionary. When Mary heard about God’s plan, she sang a song about God casting the mighty down from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. We call that song the Magnificat and that is the song we now sing as the hymn of the day.
Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby