Proper 11B, July 18, 2021



I recently came across a cartoon on Facebook. I shared it to the church page last night, so some of you can go and find it there. The cartoon shows a man on a mountaintop talking with God. The man asks “How shall I destroy your enemies, my lord?” God replies “Why do you think I couldn’t destroy my own enemies?” The man says “Surely you have so many you could use my help.” God replies “Don’t flatter yourself. Besides, I don’t have any enemies.” The man asks “What about non-believers?” God answers “Nobody is my enemy.” The man replies, “Except Steven, of course.” God says: “Why must we keep going over this? Steven is not my enemy. I have no problem with Steven.” From below, the people shout up to the man on the mountain: “What does he say?” The man replies “He says kill Steven.” Then, in the last panel, the man has left the mountaintop and God thinks “This is never going to work out.”

In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that humans were made in the image of God. Scripture points to this image of God being made manifest in community. Christian theologians point to the Trinity to discuss a human need for relationship and community. Others add that this is not just a call for community, but a call to recognize the image of God, what some call the spark of the divine in all people, and that this recognition is at the heart of later scriptural calls to welcome immigrants and strangers, care for widows and orphans, to love your enemy and your neighbor and, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, to recognize that ultimately, that word “neighbor” includes everyone, especially those we would prefer not be our neighbor.

We humans, however, do not want to do this. We have never wanted to do this. Left to our own devices we are constantly trying to find new ways to ignore the image of God in other people so that we can exploit and ignore them. We, like the man on the mountaintop in the cartoon are constantly trying to avoid recognizing the image of God in all other people by instead recasting God in our own image. We want to make God hate the people we hate, want the things we want, and we want to compress God down into a box we can comprehend and control.

This effort to contain and control God is behind David’s actions in our lectionary passages from 2 Samuel today and last week. Last week, David set out to bring the ark into Jerusalem, into his new capital. David wanted to fuse the political and religious centers of the early kingdom, but God is dangerous, and so struck down one of the couriers, causing David to stop and leave the ark in place for three months before resuming the journey.

Now, the ark has arrived, and David has moved up from sleeping in the fields with the sheep to a tent on the battlefield to a palace, a house of cedar in a city he conquered and expanded. David is thinking that he has finally made it, that climbing up the ladder has been good for David and so must also be what God wants. David says: “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” David thinks that God must want a Temple just as David wants a palace.

God says “no.”

God tells the prophet Nathan, who carries the message to David, “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. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

God’s response to David’s offer to build a house in 2 Samuel begins much the same as God’s response to the man offering to help fight God’s enemies in our cartoon. “Don’t flatter yourself.” God continues, saying “I never asked for this.” God will not be contained in a Temple, just as God will not be contained in our sanctuaries and churches today. God also addresses the question of enemies in this address to David, saying “I…have cut off all your enemies from before you.” God has cut off David’s enemies. Not God’s enemies, not “our” enemies, enemies shared by God and David. God says “your” enemies, David’s enemies.

God does not want what we want. God is not made in our image. We are made in God’s. And yes, God does eventually allow Solomon to build the Temple. God has allowed us to build this sanctuary and this church, but we should not make the leap of assuming that we have done these things for God. God has allowed us to do these things for us. God knows that we need to create churches and temples, that we need to find and make spaces where we can try to be more open to perceiving God, to experiencing God, not because of God’s limits, but because of our own. We do not need to, indeed, we cannot build a house for God, but God can and does appoint places for us. Places where we can grow and thrive, places where we can continue to work in peace, where we can continue to practice our faith so that we can, ever so slowly, work to find recognize the image of God in those people we still call our enemies, work to recognize the image of God in those we do not want to call our neighbor, work to live more fully in what some have called the already-but-not-yet, the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God, the place where our imagination and God’s creation have grown together until we no longer create enemies but live in the abundance of God’s own love.