Saturday, July 21, 2012

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The other day, Hazel was in the building practicing on the organ. I enjoyed listening to several pieces (or portions of pieces), and then I heard her playing, “Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place.” Just that opening line: Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place is all I needed to hear. It’s not in the hymnal, I looked, and but wouldn’t leave me alone, so it is the theme for the message today. ...
By the time of King David, God’s presence had been felt in many and various ways. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden; Noah was told to build and ark for himself and his family and a bunch of animals; Abram talked regularly with God and encountered the divine presence through three angels, who stopped by his tent for a meal; Jacob wrestled with God on the riverbank; Moses heard God speak through the burning bush and in the cleft of the mountain; Elijah knew God’s presence, not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in a silent whisper; as a small boy Samuel heard God call to him in a voice loud enough to wake him from sleep three times in one night.  Surely, the Presence of the Lord was in those Places.
Over the years, Samuel guided first Saul and then David in becoming kings of the people of Israel, since they insisted that Israel needed a king. Now Nathan appears as the prophet sent by God to guide King David.  
For several centuries, the tabernacle and other tents and personal residences had been sufficient. But now, David proposes they build a temple. It’s not clear how or where David got the idea that the Lord needed a stone temple. It’s probably a mixture of peer pressure – David’s God should be housed as well as the neighboring gods. Perhaps the priests have suggested it would be nicer to have a real temple instead of a tent.
At first Nathan agrees with David. Then Nathan hears an oracle – a message – from God which he is told to pass on to David: “No, it’s not up to you to build God’s house; Solomon will do that. First, it’s more important to establish your reign, unite the people as God’s people, and have the people learn to trust God. Furthermore, your household – your lineage – will be established forever. And your lineage is way more important than a stone temple, even if it is decorated with gold and cedar.” 
These promises God makes to David are essentially the same as the ones God makes to Abraham: “I will give you land, fame, descendants, and my presence with you. And my presence is what you should treasure the most.” Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in that Place and Time.
God promises to be with us wherever we are, … wherever we determine that we need or want God’s presence, … and wherever and whenever God decides that God’s presence should be made known.
For the time of David, the people’s concern should be on knowing that God is present. Later, under Solomon’s reign, the first temple was built, and it was magnificent, expensive, and turned the focus from God’s presence to the building program. But, eventually, there was a stone temple to house the Lord’s presence. Surely, the Presence of the Lord was in that Place.
Later, in 587BCE, when the temple was destroyed, the people living in exile in Babylon wondered how they could worship their God so far from home. They had to figure out that God’s presence did not stay in Jerusalem in the temple, but was present with them in Babylon. They said, finally, Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place, too.
Fifty years later, the people returned, rebuilt the city and the temple, to give God a home once more. The sacrificial worship system was reestablished and refined; they worked hard to obey the rules, to make sure that God’s presence and favor would remain with them in that place.
… When Jesus walked the earth as a human, he had access to some divine powers. He had the power to heal, and so all those who needed healing came to him. They drew on his divine power, again and again and again. Those who were touched by his healing said, Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place.
To refresh himself, Jesus needed to retreat, to get away by himself and pray. He, too, needed to feel the Lord’s presence in that place. It wasn’t long, however, before the crowds pressed in on him, and he felt himself drawn away from his time of rest, back into the needs of the people. He felt such compassion for them, it was hard for him to not help them.
That’s how it is for many, or even most, of us, too. There are so many needs, so many demands, so many broken things, people, relationships. It’s hard for us to take the time to get away, to rest in God’s presence. It’s harder if we mostly associate God’s presence with this building.
I remember as a child being told that God is invisible, and that God was everywhere. One day, I wondered if that meant that God was hiding in my bedroom closet. … We tend to think of God being in places, instead of being with people. The location does not matter to God; what matters to God is the people who happen to be in those places. So, then, it does not matter where we are, God is with us. Even if we are in places where God would prefer we were not.  
We pray often for God to “be with” us or those we love who are hurting. We believe it will make a difference that God’s presence is known and felt in scary situations. We believe it makes a difference as we go about our daily lives. God is not in the closet, hiding, but wherever we are. Whatever we do, God knows it. Whatever we are thinking, God knows it. Whenever we are worrying, God knows it. When we are facing surgery,  or driving around town, or cleaning the house, or at college, or at work, or shopping, or having a beverage with a friend, God is with us. God was with the folks in the movie theater, and is still present with the families as they grieve, and with those who were injured as they heal, and will be with them as they recover from the terror of those moments. There is no “where”, where God is not. Wherever you are, whatever we are doing, Surely, the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place.
This week, let this phrase from the song remind you just how present God really is in your lives, as often as possible.
By the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, the lyrics are in the bulletin. Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel his mighty power and his grace. I can hear the brush of angel wings, I see glory on each face; Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place. By Lanny Wolfe
Please pray with me. Merciful and powerful God, be present with us always, especially when we need you the most, in all sorts of situations, in all times and places. Remind us, help us to tell others, Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place. Amen