July 18, 2021
It felt like a pretty big deal a year and a half ago when Annie and I bought a house. Until then, both of us had only ever been renters, and there is a big mental shift that happens when you go from renting to owning your home. I was never that meticulous about landscaping until we owned a place, and I felt a much deeper sense of responsibility when things happened, like the furnace going out or the toilet getting clogged. And it wasn’t just feeling invested in the place; there was a real sense of feeling settled, where renting always felt temporary.
So maybe it was this feeling that David had when he moved into his palace in Jerusalem, his kingdom at peace, his home secure, and he looked out on the old tent of God across the hill. He had a permanent place to call home. His palace was solid, with stone foundations and cedar plank walls. It was a really nice house and, more importantly, it was stable. Shouldn’t God have that sense of settlement too? Shouldn’t God have at least as much as he, the King, had?
Well, maybe. But there’s another side to having a permanent place to stay. When you have somewhere permanent, a house that you’ve put a lot of investment into, there is a tendency to start putting a lot of energy into making sure nothing bad happens to that house. A lot of the time, the priorities move from what’s good for the community to what’s good for your personal home. In our country’s history of home ownership, the desire to make sure our homes keep up their value and satisfy our needs has made for a lot of damaging policies.
Redlining—the intentional policy of not lending to potential Black buyers—has kept homeownership and all the good that can come with it away from the Black community for decades. It was systematic among banks, all the way up until the eighties. And it happened because homeowners didn’t want the perceived problems of Black neighbors.
Mass transit, like light rail lines, have been stalled by homeowners who fear the less desirable elements of the population coming near their homes on those trains. Despite having the potential to cut down on traffic, pollution, and all the accompanying problems, homeowners have curbed or killed mass transit efforts all over the place.
As much as having a stable place to call home is a good thing, God also saw the ways a stable place to call home could be damaging. This temple that David was proposing would mean people would start associating God with only one place, and that place would start to gather its own overly zealous defenders. A building would warp the people’s priorities, getting people more invested in maintaining the structure than living according to God’s intentions. God didn’t want a temple; God had a tent, and God could go wherever the need was greatest in Israel.
Which is how Jesus conducted his ministry. He never had a permanent place to lay his head. Instead, he travelled from place to place, wherever the need was. We hear in the gospel reading how he healed the sick and taught the crowds, and then moved on to the next place. Like God in the tabernacle, Jesus was free from the roots that come with solid foundations. In that way, he could focus all of his energy on doing the mission he came to do—teach, heal, forgive, and show a new way of being.
But in that mission, Jesus also enlisted his disciples. As our gospel began this morning, he had just welcomed them back from their mission around Galilee to proclaim the good news to all the towns and villages. The disciples were amazed and energized by the work they had done! They’d cast out demons, healed the sick, and changed lives with the message of the gospel! And in the midst of it, Jesus could recognize that they needed rest. They were energized, but they were going to crash. That enthusiasm wasn’t sustainable. And he needed them at the top of their game, so he invited them to come to a deserted place and rest a while.
And really, the way that the crowds tracked them down and Jesus had to play interference for them might be the one really good argument for why a building is helpful for the work of the gospel. It’s a solid, permanent spot that you can go to retreat, recharge, get reenergized for the work ahead.
It’s like how, years ago when I would play tag with my sister’s step-kids, there was always some object, some tree or chair or rock that counted as “home base” where you couldn’t be tagged. It was good, because I was older than them and not able to just run and run and run all the time, and the home base gave me a way to catch my breath. But it would’ve ruined the game if I didn’t leave home base. The point was to recharge before getting back out there. The same is true of the places we set aside to encounter God.
We learned these past sixteen months that the ministry God calls us to in this community isn’t stopped by our access to this building being limited. We were able to continue worshipping God, hearing the Word, receiving the sacraments, singing hymns and offering praise even when we were stuck in our living rooms. We were able to touch the lives of dozens if not hundreds of people by the ministries that had us quickly duck into the building to do some prep work—whether that was putting soup in quart containers, sewing quilts for various ministries, or packaging lunches for farmers.
What we discovered was that this building helps us do our ministry by giving us a home base. It gives us a starting point from which we can do what we’re called to do. It’s a great resource that we can share with the community, like inviting the school to hand out lunches in our parking lot. It’s helpful to be a gathering space for our fellowship and gearing up for our work together. But this building is not the end-all be-all of our ministry. Our ministry, like God’s tabernacle, is out there among the people. Our ministry, like Jesus’s ministry, is going out to preach the gospel, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and change lives with God’s goodness through us.
And that’s what God saw when David offered to build a temple. A permanent place, a solid foundation, is good when you know that it’s only a home base. But that’s what it is, a place to start from. A place to rest and recharge. A place where we come to so that we can hear the Word, receive the sacraments, and be equipped for service out there, serving our neighbor in need, changing lives in God’s name to make the world look a little more like the kingdom of God every day. That’s what we should be known for as Christians—how we serve our neighbor. This building is beautiful, but let’s not forget that our mission is out there in the community, not inside this beautiful building. Our call is to go to our neighbor and serve the people God has given into our care.
So let’s take the time to rest and recharge, like the disciples, by coming to this place. And let’s remember that we come in here so that we can go back out again, to tell the good news of God’s love for the world, to speak up for the ones who have been silenced, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to model a different way of being in the world. Let’s remember that God loves a tabernacle, and always calls us out of the temple to join in the ministry out there.
Thanks be to God. Amen.