Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:7)
We are in a time when many congregations are not able to gather and worship in their sanctuaries – not only across the country but around the world. As a consultant and teacher, I hear stories of places where congregational councils and boards are pounding pastoral leadership to “not be afraid,” and “get us back in church.” While we are fortunate in our congregation to have wiser and more long-term leaders on our council, not every congregation is so blessed. Many people are almost desperate to get back in their buildings and have not been able to adapt and keep ministry going. Stresses are high and the virus is on the rise – this isn’t ending soon and for many it may not end well.
So it is an interesting lesson that we have appear in our lectionary this week. For Protestants it is Reformation Sunday – a day that is especially dear to many Lutherans. The text tells of God and David’s encounter and the tension over the building. David wants a Temple – something to show the worthiness of God. God has been more than happy with a tent – hasn’t complained once. People seem to need these things. God seems quite disinterested.
To reassure David, God promises a kingdom to him that will not end. Of course, we believe that covenant is fulfilled in Jesus whose life, death and resurrection are the source of never ending hope and life for us. Like God, Jesus seems less committed to buildings. When the Samaritan woman starts asking about the Temple in Jerusalem and the mountain where Samaritans worship, Jesus tells her that it isn’t about place. Real worship is in “Spirit and truth…” God will be God with and without these things. While we are often preoccupied with them, God will commit to no one place in particular it is all God’s anyway.
That’s why the tent was God’s preferred “place.” The tent as Tabernacle had started in the wilderness. As the people moved, they packed up the tent and went to the next place where they set it up again. Rather than representing a God who was in one place, the Tabernacle represented a God who was nimble and always on the move.
In a time when we are less able to commit to the comforts of using our sanctuaries the way we prefer, and in a time of great change, this is a message for Reformation Day that resonates with our times. God doesn’t need our spaces as much as we do. And when we internalize that, we will better remember that we don’t need them as much either. God is a nimble God. Where we are God is. Wherever we go – there God will be. Sounds more like a tent than a building, doesn’t it?