Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon - 4th Sunday of Advent Dec 21 2014

King David was just like any immigrant.
Just like the colonists who settled around the Three Rivers
in the eighteenth century;
the Central and Eastern Europeans who came here for work
in the nineteenth century;
and the suburbanites who fled the city in the twentieth,
King David wanted to build a big church
when he finally got to where he was going.
He had defeated his enemies
and consolidated his reign.
He had united the twelve tribes of Israel
under his rule.
And now he had built a magnificent house for himself
in his new capital of Jerusalem.
Only one thing was missing.
Only one thing gnawed on his mind.
The Ark of the Covenant,
in which the tablets of the Law rested;
where God was said to dwell on earth,
enthroned upon the cherubim.
God’s ark was in a tent,
a tabernacle,
as it had been since the days of wandering in the wilderness.
But now, King David wanted to make a magnificent dwelling place for his God.
Just like the immigrants to Pittsburgh,
King David wanted to build something splendid,
something that would last for ages,
something that would glorify God.

If you look at all the churches in the Pittsburgh area,
from the large, beautiful and ornate
to the small and simple,
you will see that there were very few prophet Nathans in Pittsburgh.
The treasure of many generations
has been spent to house God,
present in his Word and Sacrament,
or if not to house God, then to glorify the God who is in heaven,
and whom the world cannot contain.
But the prophet Nathan told David the word of the LORD:
King David was not to build God a house -
God was going to build him a house.
His kingship was to be established forever,
and God would give his people a place to dwell in.

Splendid houses fall into disrepair.
Many of the temples which inhabit every neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh
are used as apartments, or restaurants, or as worship spaces for other faiths.
Some simply sit half-empty.
Great institutions drive the economies of nations,
and then disappear.
The steel mills of Pittsburgh have all but disappeared.
Empires rise and fall.
The French flag, the British flag, and the American flag
have flown over the land that once belonged to the tribes of Western Pennsylvania.
But the line of David was to last forever.
God was to make sure of that.

Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba,
built the house of God in Jerusalem.
Hundreds of years later, it was destroyed by the Babylonians
and the story of the line of David seemingly came to an end.
Many years later, a second temple was built in Jerusalem.
All that remains of it is a section of the outer wall.
The sacrifices which drove the economic engine of that ancient society
are no longer made.
Splendid houses fall into disrepair;
great institutions disappear,
empires rise and fall.
But the house of David is to last forever,
God is to make sure of that.

How is it that humankind builds great houses for God to live in,
but we do not understand that God wants to live in us?

An angel comes to a young woman in a simple house,
and tells her that in her,
literally inside her,
God’s promise to the house of David is to be fulfilled;
and that she herself is to become a place for God to dwell,
the temple of the living God.
And what is her response?
‘Yes, let it be so.’
This is how God works.
Magnificent worship spaces
can speak something of that grandeur of God
which is inexpressible,
which could only be truly experienced
if we could behold the whole of creation at once,
from the farthest galaxies
to each individual leaf on every tree.
Institutions can make God known
by organizing the efforts of God’s people.
But the God who came as a human being
comes to human beings to dwell in them,
to create a space in the world in them.
Without these people to bear the Christ,
temples and institutions lose their meaning
and eventually their function.
But even when this happens,
when these temples are empty
the Christ may still be borne to the world.

Mary said, Amen,
and she did not build a temple,
she became a temple;
some Christians call her ‘the Ark of the New Covenant.’
For us, we are left to ponder,
in our simple little church building,
how her simple ‘Amen’
made so much space in the world for the world for God;
and how God uses our ‘Amens’ to make a space in our lives
so that he can come into our hearts,
and make us a dwelling place for his own Spirit,
the Spirit of Jesus.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.