Written on styrofoam insulation with fat Sharpie markers, our blessings, our prayers covered the walls of the Dodson home. It was our last day on the Appalachia Service Project and in a few minutes, Rita and Mike would call us over to the picnic tables for the hootenany, a huge feast of cornbread and pickled cucumbers, fried alligator and steak, watermelon and warm apple dumplings.
You heard me speak of Rita and Mike a few weeks ago, my bruises from climbing the extension ladder and wrestling those darned camping cots still fresh on my skin. You heard me tell you about their incredibly faithful and welcoming family, of Shane, Leslie, Jamey and Stacey. A large plot of land, three houses, lived on by the Dodsons for over a century. One of our crews worked on Rita and Mike’s house, learning the art of vinyl siding and measuring odd triangular spaces for insulation. It was a good week, a week of laughter and bee stings, of measuring twice and sometimes cutting twice.
It was a week good enough that by the end, we didn’t want to simply leave. We’d grown close to Rita, to Mike. We loved their tiny chihuahua Dixie with her new red collar. We loved Rita’s laughter and Mike’s soft, gentle eyes. We loved how we’d talk to Leslie and hear about what it meant to be a teenager in Rutherford County and how Jamey would throw his older brother, Shane, under the bus with stories about setting off fireworks in their shared bedroom so long ago. We loved them. They were like family now. Five days of banging on someone’s house with a hammer can do that to people.
Sensing our sorrow, our grief mixed with relief mixed with exhaustion mixed with hope, Anne Beckwith, one of our adult leaders on the trip, made a suggestion. Brilliant as ever, she said we should write prayers on the insulation, our words and hopes binding the Dodsons to our God and to ourselves. So, we each took a marker and on top of the insulation, soon to be covered in siding, we wrote these words:
Lord, bless this house and all who enter it.
May this house stay warm and dry.
May Jesus be the protector of this house and this family.
May this family feel love and peace.
May the Lord let this house protect you and your family so that you may be safe and happy.
May you know you are loved by a great cloud of witnesses.
Prayers, reminders that while our hands were tired, this house was not our doing. These walls were not made perfect by our craftsmanship. This family’s blessings did not come from us. All – all that we had done, all that the Dodson’s had, all that we collectively affirmed, came from God and God alone. This was God’s house and we were the ones who were called to hold it up in prayer.
Our story of King David continues in this seventh chapter of Second Samuel. Hear again the first three verses:
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you."
David is on the dangerous cusp of manipulation. Settled into his house, resting after difficult years of war, he calls Nathan and says, "I have a house but God…God is still in the ark." This could be interpreted many a way: David is faithful and wants to worship God and praise God with a holy space. Or, David wants to establish himself as king by building a permanent residence for God, thus meaning that God would remain stable, immobile. Last week, we heard about the ark of God – the symbol kept by the Israelites to remind them that God was ever with them, mobile, free to move. The temple, on the other hand offered assurance, presence. David wants that, thinks he needs to be king so in his ever sly way, he asks Nathan permission. Permission is granted. But Nathan…Nathan…a free pass like this? Do do anything that David wants?
God is ever steadfast, ever responsive. Coming to Nathan in a dream that very night, God reminds Nathan to tell David who he is and where he comes from, to whom he belongs and whom alone he worships – a "listen up, son" kind of speech.
I took you from pasture.
I have been with you wherever you went.
I will make you a great name.
and finally: Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
Listen up, son. Listen up.
At first listen, it can sound like God’s response is that God wants to control the architectural plans for the temple, to be the builder and contractor and engineer. But, the Hebrew here is playing with us. We heard how David wants to build a house, a temple – a beit in Hebrew. God responds with "the Lord will make you a house" or a beit but this time, "beit" means to continue, or legacy. The subject has changed. God is making David the legacy, the beit, the framework of a house that will go on living through David’s family. God has no time for this temple building, this building of stones and mortar. God is investing time in where it matters most – in building the people who will carry on the Good News, who will be the carriers of blessing, of promise.
Often, this text is unfolded in such a way that it points to a messianic future, one where Jesus is the beit of which God speaks. I want us to be careful not to take that easy jump even though Christ is our Messiah. This story, these words from God speak more to a sociohistorical hope – a hope that is at the center of the life of Israel – that a promise – a promise of David’s legacy will be carried out. David’s family is "no longer simply a historical accident but is a constitutive factor in God’s shaping of the historical process."1 God is establishing a long-term plan, a strategic plan if you will, a long-term hope that will bear fruit for the ages, not just in one person, in one king, in one lifetime. A promise that it is God who is the king, no matter who on earth attempts to make such a claim. A blessing that is written on the very framework of our beings, written long ago and yet still legible. A legacy that our forebearers embodied, our present selves embody, and generations to come will embody.
Such is true for us today, for the church, for our community. Minutes earlier, we made promises to Emma and to her parents JT and Heather, promises that come to us from the voices of those who came before us and raised us in the faith. Promises that encouraged us to come to this place, to this temple, and celebrate that it is God’s blessing that fills our lives, not the work of our own hands. Promises that whatever Emma does, wherever she goes, whatever questions she asks and doubts she harbors, we will remind her of the promise of God: God is in the midst of the temple. God is in the midst of the lineage, of the heritage God has established in her, in us, in all God’s people.
The hootenany was coming to a close and we were due to pick up Megan Pottenger’s birthday cake for her surprise party. We hugged Rita and Mike, told them we loved them and we’d keep in touch and that we left them something on the side of their house – prayers, hopes, blessings written on the insulation that would keep them dry and warm. Prayers soon covered up but prayers that would remain. Prayers binding us in hope, binding us in humility, binding us in honoring what God built. It was God’s house, for certain, we were just the witnesses of that beautiful beit, that beautiful continuation of a story written long before we were born and will be written long after we are gone. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.
1. Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: I and II Samuel, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p 257.