There is an old saying, “Man plans, God laughs”. Sometimes it is said with the bitterness of regret. I planned a great future, and now I am destitute. God is laughing at me. The intent, though, is more like what we see in the exchange between Nathan, David, and YHWH today. We continue to follow the beginning days of David as king of Israel, settled in Jerusalem. The lesson David learns has something to teach us, as a parish, about visioning as we are in the process of making many plans for the efficient running of our ministries.
Last week we heard of the lengths to which David would go to express his devotion to God. His devotion has not yet diminished. He has perceived an irony– he as King is living in a house of cedar, a rare and expensive material, while God is living in a tent. David seeks out his prophet and advisor, Nathan, and suggests the time has come to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant. Nathan’s first response, “Sure. Makes a lot of sense to me. Go for it.”
Then the idea sits for a while, and Nathan seeks out the will of YHWH, only to discover it is very different from what he and David thought made so much good sense. YHWH has absolutely no interest in being confined by walls thank you very much. The prophesy makes it very clear that this tent has served YHWH well. “YHWH responds with a kind of a celestial shrug,” Ralph Milton writes. “’Who needs it?’ God asks. ‘I’ve been living out of a suitcase since day one. So thanks, but no thanks.’” Without a house, YHWH has managed to lead Israel out of Egypt, led them to Canaan, anointed David as King and has now placed David on a throne in his beautiful palace.
The difference between the thinking of Nathan and David, and the reasoning of YHWH is, I think, vision. I can just see them, rarin’ to go, its time to build us a temple. But YHWH’s way has a longer vision. In fact, it is predicted here that it is not David’s task at all to build this temple, but the task of his son. Nathan and David take a moment to consider all that is before them. YHWH’s vision is greater than theirs. Only God is capable of seeing our best laid plans in the context of a greater history and future.
These past few weeks have been a great source of learning for me. Yes, I have learned about life in the area, living in a house, how to put 9,000 km on a 3 month old car. But my most important learning has come through conversations with several parishioners, including meetings with wardens and church councils. I’ve heard stories of resilience and resourcefulness, people caring for one another, and going the extra mile so we can continue to minister in this community. And I have greatly appreciated the honesty with which people have shared their experiences, because if we can’t be honest with one another, then we are in big trouble.
I received a book from Neal Mitchell as a gift called, “How to Hit the Ground Running.” In it he writes about the importance of discovering a church’s genesis story. He writes, “God implants a divine purpose in the corporate soul of each congregation…God has given each congregation a distinct purpose, a unique DNA of which Anglican identity and ethos are only one part.” We are part of a much greater story, and if we are to truly flourish, that means finding our place in that story. One thing I have discovered here is a true openness and creativity. I have been told of some of the unique solutions to problems that have occurred in the past. And there has been a theme in what I have heard. These solutions worked because the end was not simply to raise money, but to provide a ministry. For example, the new to you store in Country Harbour, I am told, was the brain child of Edie Porter. Her wish was to offer a service to her rural community that is far from many retail stores, and particularly to members of her community struggling to make ends meet. This store has become a central part of the community, meeting many needs. It has also become a vital form of financial support for Holy Trinity.
We are all keenly aware of this church’s place in the wider community. I have heard of and witnessed personally the support we receive from people who do not worship with us on Sundays. This can be a source of frustration, but it is also a sign that each of our churches is a vital part of the communities in which we worship. We may not have much, like a house of cedar, but we are capable of many things, as our history tells us. What has served us well is seeking out opportunities, even unusual ones, and being open to continuing work of the Holy Spirit.
There is another lesson for us today in our gospel reading. The lesson today is not in the feeding or the healing, but where the feeding and healing begin. “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.” The miracles of Jesus’ ministry are interspersed with these moments when Jesus would walk away and take some rest. This is important to their physical and spiritual well-being. There is a great deal of work to be done to keep our churches open, and we could work at oil barrels and liturgies and schedules and meetings until we collapse. But we can not collapse, and that is why we must, as a spiritual community, intersperse our worship and ministering life with rest and opportunity to simply sit in God’s presence.
So, here is a piece of summer homework, from Ralph Milton. “Find a nice spot. A back porch will do. Some place quiet and in the shade. Find a comfortable chair. Get a good supply of cold stuff to drink – something sweet and bubbly that isn’t really good for you. Take a book – any book – to put on your lap as a prop.
Then spend a whole day there sitting and thinking about nothing. Especially don’t think about anything connected with the church or religion. The God who didn’t need David’s temple doesn’t need us to be fussing about the church all the time.
If we sit quietly without thinking, God will find ways to slither into our psyches and fill our hearts (not our brains!) with ‘a peace that passes understanding.'”
This is where our ministry begins, not in the meeting house, but sitting at God’s feet, seeking God’s will, placing ourselves in the story of God’s people, and meeting the needs of those who God places before us.