Scripture – 2 Samuel 7:1-17 – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – October 23, 2016
We have long understood that our American consumerist habit of acquiring things has resulted in an eruption over the last several decades of additional offsite places just to store them: from the dry cleaners taking in our winter woolies until next season to large locked storage-unit complexes to handle the excess from our stuffed attics, garages and basements to rented storage pods which can remain in our own driveways indefinitely for easy access to all which won’t fit in our homes. The simplicity movement has provided a response to our excesses, but there seems to be a growing middle ground between getting rid of it all and acquiring more and more storage space; and that is to organize it. Shelves, drawers, boxes, under-the-bed, stackables, pull-outs, trays, bins, baskets – all are available to us now from a variety of sources to organize what’s spilling over in every corner of our lives in neat, orderly ways.
The emergence of the closet industry is one example, but more recently, enter the phenomenon of The Container Store. The nearest Container Store to us is in Cranston, RI and the next closest is in Natick, MA, so you may not be familiar; but let me describe it as similar to a Bed, Bath and Beyond in square footage and in height, only filled with empty containers. Every size, material and configuration for every room in the house. It’s a store which sells storage solutions for all the stuff we buy in other stores which we can’t manage to put away without buying more stuff to contain it.
I don’t know a whole lot about retail marketing, but I do know there is reliance on the part of sellers on the psychology of human desires and behavior when folks bring their products to market. I once had a friend make the observation that we buy books in attractive, quiet, comfortable book stores because underneath we think we’re buying the relaxation and the time to read them.
Similarly, underlying the container phenomenon is our desire to bring order to our out-of-control, sometimes chaotic lives. All that potential organization looks good to us. If all our stuff is organized into neat containers, our own lives will become orderly and predictable; we will have more control. There is some truth to the connection between our physical surroundings being organized and our ability to live life in a more orderly way, but we cannot contain what is beyond our control …and much of it is.
Neither bins nor baskets nor cabinet pull-outs will keep our children from coming down with the latest virus or our teenage drivers from coming home frighteningly late or our sister from falling off the wagon. We cannot contain other people. With the best and most loving intentions, we can do all we can to make other people do the things we want them to do for their own good but, as the old adage goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
King David has the best and most loving intentions, at least at first blush, as we meet him in Jerusalem this morning. He has won, captured Jerusalem with his own troops and, with great fanfare and dancing, has brought into “the city of David” the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of God, which has traveled with the people of Israel since the time of Moses. Now King David is settled in his own house, but wait a minute, the ark of God is still out in a tent in the driveway. Now that will never do.
Eugene Bay, former president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, invites us to examine David’s motives. He writes:
“On the surface, David’s motivation appears honorable. Yet enough is known about the mixture of motives from which we all act…to cause one to wonder. The expressed motivation is the honor of God. [But] Might David also wish to honor himself as the one who will forever be known as having honored God? Is the house meant to confine God? …both king and prophet [Nathan] have misjudged the mind of the Lord. Despite their experiences as people of faith, …[they] misconceive the character and purpose of the One they worship. …The king and the prophet discover that they are in the presence of One who confounds human expectations and surprises even the faithful – or especially the faithful, who presume to know how God is acting…”
Much as King David would like to, much as we would like to, we cannot contain God. I love the way Old Testament Professor Beth Lanell Tanner expresses it:
“God did just fine without David and his offer of a home. The message God sends is clear: God will not be domesticated or controlled by David or anyone else. If God wishes to cease walking about and settle down, then God and only God will make the decision.”
In thinking about this, it seems that the psychology running beneath our desire to contain our stuff and control our lives may run even deeper to our spiritual desire to contain God, to make God predictable. Not only predictable, but to make God’s will and actions match our values of honor and abundance and permanence. We build taller and taller spires to honor God and we more easily recognize material abundance and we value physical permanence. The Lord says, all that time I was moving about with you, did I ever say, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” No, I’m going to make you a house; and the Lord goes on to describe the “house of David”, not a dwelling but a dynasty, not of cedar, not of bricks and mortar, but of blessed, established generations to come forever.
This promise to David is known as the Davidic Covenant, God’s promise to David, and scholars point us back to the Abrahamic Covenant back in Genesis which we read some weeks ago, promising to Abram a great name and a great nation, which we see unfolding now during the triumph and reign of David. As time goes on, the Davidic monarchy does crumble some 400 years later, but the promise of God lives on in the people of God who then come to long for and seek a Messiah of the lineage of David. We know their expectations of a conquering ruler like King David to come and liberate them from Roman oppression looked quite different from the “son of David” who was born in a stable and who, indeed, rules the world forever.
We might be reminded of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop when his clothes become dazzling white and he is joined by Moses and Elijah and Peter is so beside himself that the first thing he blurts out is let’s build houses here for the three of you. He wants to contain this moment, to make it physically permanent, to neatly and forever store this mysterious, baffling occurrence. After years of wandering and years of combat, King David is now settled in his house in Jerusalem and he wants God to settle there right with him. No more fighting with enemies; no more following God into the unknown; no more awaking to the disarray of scattered pieces and people of unpredictability. A place for everything and everything in its place.
My friends, we know that for many of us, our burgeoning, unorganized physical possessions may serve as a metaphor for our uncontrolled existence. Our desire for order, our desire for settled lives, especially after our own wandering or even combat with our kids or our ex’s or the cable company, is understandable. We want to gather in all the loose unpredictable pieces, the confusing and confounding decisions, the all-too-many details and sort them logically and orderly put them aside never to overwhelm us again. And we would love to do that with our God. No more surprises, God; no more loose ends; no more too much for us to understand; no more of your acting elsewhere and impacting my life; no more personal faith which rises and falls with unexpected events. Stay here in this see-through container, in the house, in the temple I will make for you.
Thanks, but no thanks, says God to David through his prophet Nathan, but does the uncontainable God go wander off and leave David and his people? No, God assures him and them, of undying, unconditional steadfast love. “I will not take my steadfast love from him.” And God promises that love forever.
My friends, within each one of us is a deeper desire, deeper than our desire for order and predictability or rest from our enemies or the time to read a book, and that is our desire to be loved, to feel underneath all the layers of our complex psyches that we are cherished for who we are, despite our cluttered countertops, despite our messy relationships, despite our accumulation of earthly things and our longing for settled permanence. We want love and we have it with God. Created with love, redeemed with love and surrounded by the still moving, multiplying, spilling-over, uncontainable love of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.