About 3,000 years ago, give or take a few decades, the great king David established his capital city in Jerusalem.
The prophet Nathan, speaking for God, told David: “Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”
Actually, the idea of God living in a tent was a wonderful innovation on the part of the Hebrew people. Prior to that the gods were understood to be to be gods of a particular place. God of a field or a mountain, a vineyard, or a river.
It was often believed that it was the people’s job to make the God of that place happy; and in return, the god would make the crops abundant, the fish plentiful, the grapes bounteous. In the case of a mountain that was a volcano, pleasing the god meant that there would be no eruption.
So people would pray, offer libations (that is, they would pour some of their wine on the ground for the god of that place), give food, some even went so far as offer human sacrifice. The Hebrews offered animal sacrifices and cooked the meat thinking that God enjoyed the aroma. They burned incense for the same reason.
The Ark of the Covenant – described in the book of Exodus-was a large chest that supposedly contained the tablets of the 10 commandments, manna from heaven which was the bread-like food that the Israelites ate in the Wilderness, and Aaron’s rod. The Tent of Meeting (or tabernacle) was set up at the end of each journey to shelter the Ark of the Covenant.
The great new idea the Hebrews gave to the world was that God wasn’t only a God of one place- but God went with his people wherever they went. The Ark was PORTABLE! It had rings on the sides – long poles slipped through the rings served as handles – and a number of really strong people would carry it from place to place.
Now back to the story. David had made Jerusalem the capital. He thought it’d be a really good idea to build a house/a temple/into which they could put the Ark and everybody could come into Jerusalem when they wanted to visit God. And that’s exactly what David’s son, Solomon, did after his dad had died.
But the Hebrew people continued to have a debate about the dwelling of the place of God. Was it in a fixed temple in Jerusalem or with the people? Today’s text has both points of view, reflecting that debate. David is told not to build a Temple since God travels with the people. But later on, David is told that it will be alright for David;s son, Solomon, to build a Temple.
Many people still think that God lives in the church building… we call our churches houses of God. Fixed places. The Episcopalian God lives here, the Baptist God over on Monument Ave., the Presbyterian God farther up First Street. And in our case we have an altar that looks an awful lot like a big ole wooden chest that’s our equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant that we’ve installed in a prominent place in our building.
But St. Paul says that if we’re thinking like that, then we don’t understand that what God was doing in Jesus was a new thing. Just like the Hebrew idea that God could be portable on a wood box, Jesus went a step further.
The dwelling place of God is not in a mountain or river or field.
The dwelling place of God isn’t in a portable piece of furniture.
The dwelling place of God isn’t even in a building-Temple/Parish church/Synagogue/or Mosque.
The dwelling place of God is in us.
I hear people say, sometimes, that they feel a great distance between themselves and God. But you know what? God is with them all the time. It’s like we are (each one of us) a walking Temple of Spirit of God.
I’m nearsighted. That’s why I wear glasses. But i don’t really need glasses to read or to see things close up. In fact, sometimes I can see things up close better without my glasses than I can with them on. So I do this. On more than one occasion, I’ve looked up from a book and said to my wife, “Honey, have you seen my glasses?” (Of course, she just looks at me like she’s wondering if it’s time to take me for a memory test.)
When I think that my glasses are lost, are at a distance from me, that’s a lot like how many of us think of God – far away – when, in fact, he’s right there all the time.
Of course, the theologians talk about the transcendence of God… meaning that God is far beyond us and God is everywhere – even beyond space and time. That’s true. But the same theologians talk about the immanence of God… meaning that God is close and present. That’s what I’ve been reflecting on this morning, because I think that’s the part we tend to forget.
So just a reminder, we’ve thrown in an extra Christmas here in the middle of our summer, Christmas in July. The other name for Christ is The Feast of the Incarnation, The Feast of In-The-Flesh. When God, the ground of Being, chose to be especially present he became one of us, a human being. But we don’t just stop there.
We go on to affirm that every human being made in the image of God – containing within us the capacity to love – has God within.
God is love.