Receiving His Riches – Proper 11, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
“Onward, Christian soldiers!”
One of my earliest church memories is of my first grade Sunday school class marching in circles in the second floor parish hall at Trinity Church in Columbus Ohio, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
I know well the history of abuses that caused that hymn and many others with “martial” themes to fall into disfavor. I was taught those reasons all through the 60’s and 70’s, and I bought the whole package. For the first 10 years of my priesthood we never, ever sang that hymn in a service that I had planned.
Now we sing it regularly. Not frequently, but regularly. Something has changed in me.
I am desperate to see the Kingdom of God in all its fullness, to see every one of God’s children dwelling in peace and security, knowing the love of the Father that I have come to know.
And I know that in order to bring that Kingdom I will have to engage in warfare.
Because most of the Church has become too entangled with the power structures of this world, she has lost her ability to do warfare on God’s behalf without resorting to the world’s weapons. But “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4, NKJV) It was definitely necessary that we separate ourselves from the carnal means by which we had tried to bring in the Kingdom – colonialism, legalism, materialism.
But the war is far from over, and it is time to reclaim our place as Christian warriors, claiming territory on behalf of our King.
Since the time that I was a little boy, the Church has focused far too much on building temples, acting as though we had the “peace on every side” (1 Kings 4:24) that Solomon enjoyed, while the vast majority of God’s children still wander Fatherless in a hostile world.
In this week’s reading from 2 Samuel, David has established himself in Jerusalem and longs build for God a house worthy of His Name. At first Nathan the prophet tells him he can go ahead, but then God speaks to Nathan and tells him to tell David not to build the Temple. Instead God will build for David a “house,” a family. (You can read all that in 2 Sam. 7)
David goes in to sit before the Lord, accepting God’s decision and asking Him to confirm His promise to David concerning his descendants.
Maybe it happens here or maybe later, but there is a piece to this conversation that we don’t get to hear until 1 Chronicles 22. David has collected all the materials for the Temple and left them so that Solomon can do the building. He explains to Solomon, “My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the Lord my God; but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.” (1 Chronicles 22:7-8, NKJV)
How heartbreaking it must have been for David to hear that. After all he had done to build the kingdom of Israel, to unite the peoples and drive out the enemies of God, David would not be permitted to build a house for his God, because he’d done what was needed.
It is not for warriors to build temples. One day, when the Kingdom has peace on every side, we will rejoice to behold God in a temple other than the temple that is our own body, but in the mean time, our job is to take territory in the Name of the Father.
David wanted to build a temple, and yet he also writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple.” Surely David knew how to dwell in the Lord’s Presence, even in the midst of the warrior’s camp.
Brothers and sisters, though we contend not with blood and flesh, but principalities and powers, we contend nonetheless, and it is time for us to lay aside our temple-building plans. Temples are to built by our descendants, when we have won for them the fullness of the Kingdom’s presence. We have no more permission to build structures that are intended to last than David had. For him God dwelt in a tent of skin, one that could be moved at a moment’s notice when the trumpets sounded. Even when the last of his enemies seemed to have been vanquished his role as a warrior prevented him from building the Temple he dreamed of.
I know that longing of his. I know what it is to ache for a time when we can spend every moment contemplating the beauty of the Lord, but today is not that day. We are to keep our sandals on, ready to move, and we cannot afford to build structures that we can’t carry with us into battle.
This begins to make sense for me of that very strange passage in Matthew 11. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt. 11:12, NKJV) What this really means is that the Kingdom is sought “violently,” or with great force. The battle is fierce to bring in the Kingdom, and it is established with great force. (Or as in Luke 16:16, entered with great force.) We just cannot pretend as though the Kingdom is already won, and put our efforts all into building a Temple that belongs only in the restored Jerusalem as it descends to us from heaven.
Our ardor is violent, violent to the principalities and powers, to the rulers of this dark age and to spiritual wickedness in high places. We are called to wake up to that overwhelming desire and to march in that strength.
Solomon’s kingdom, a type of the new Jerusalem is our dream and our goal. We all long with David for that day, and by God’s mercy we will all see it.
But for today,
Onward Christian soldiers!