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The gracefulness of ‘thy kingdom come’

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October 23, 2016 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-17 and Luke 1:30-33

Last week we heard the history about Samuel being born to Hannah so that Samuel would be dedicated to serve God throughout his life. After that, Samuel as a grown man anoints Saul as king over Israel. The reign of king Saul was rather disastrous and his life ended tragically. Then another “king” is to be pointed out. This one would be the golden king to be remembered throughout history. Until today buildings and institutions are named after king David. There is a King David Hotel in Jerusalem, that was opened in 1931. In Ghana there is a King David Hospital in their capital city Accra.

King David stands out above all kings in the Old Testament and this is carried through to the New Testament which was handed over in stories to the newly-founded Christian movement of the first centuries. This is why Luke tells it like this: “The angel said to (Mary), “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” “Of his kingdom there will be no end.”

What a powerful thing to hear…! And then Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Your kingdom come.”

How much of this is our own doing? Do we make the Lord’s kingdom come? Or does God do it in spite of us? I would daresay that it is often a lot of both. We have an active part in making God’s kingdom visible. We can’t sit over backwards and expect things to just fall in place. However, if we just look at how human beings mess up in this world, it does become clear that God brings God’s kingdom in spite of is. When we pray, your kingdom come, we also pray for a new reality that is always still on its way to us. We never see it fully realised. It keeps evading us. We want it now, but it’s an elusive presence.

When we look at our reading this morning, David’s statement in 2 Samuel 7:2 is a very brief description: he lives in a house of cedar, while the ark of God lives in a tent. That is, David’s dwelling is stable, permanent and secure, while the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, is housed in an impermanent and relatively flimsy construction. Not until God speaks in verses 5-7 is David’s intent made clear: David wanted to build a “house,” or a temple, for God. What remains unclear is David’s motivation. Did he want to build God a house out of gratitude for what God had done for him? Would this be an attempt to pay God back for giving him rest and establishing him as king? Or did David want to build God a temple because he believed that if he did something for God, then God would do more for him? Whatever David’s motivation might be, apparently he does not fully understand the nature of God’s grace.

For God changes the equation from any sort of transaction into an unmerited gift. David need not build God a house in order for God to build David’s house. And David need not do something to pay God back before God does something more for David. God’s lavish graciousness is exemplified in this text, where God makes it abundantly clear that in addition to all that God has done for David, God will continue to do more.

In responding to David, the first thing God explains is that God never commanded any of Israel’s leaders to build a house. God seems to be just fine with the tabernacle. Second, according to 2 Samuel 7:8-9, God reminds David of three things God has done for David in the past: taking David from being a shepherd to be prince over Israel, being with David wherever he went, and cutting off all enemies before him.

We learn that even though David noted in 2 Samuel 7:1 that he has a house, in verse 11 God declares that God will make a new kind of house for David. This is not a dwelling of cedar, but a dynasty; God will establish a kingdom that will always be ruled by a descendant of David. Again, this is in no way dependent on David building God a temple. The temple will come later, and in fact will be built by David’s son Solomon, but at this point in the narrative Solomon has not yet been born. Solomon’s building projects in the future are neither a prerequisite nor a condition for what God promises David. This is an unconditional covenant. It is also an eternal one; God uses the word “forever” three times to describe David’s kingdom.

The unconditional nature of this covenant continues as God explains that it is not based on David’s descendants behaving perfectly. In fact, God says that when, not if! …the son does wrong, he will be punished, but God’s steadfast love will not depart from him as it did from Saul. The mention of Saul’s name in 2 Samuel 7:15 is a sobering reminder of what can happen to a kingdom and to a king, but it also heightens the graciousness of this promise God makes to David.

Our reading from second Samuel ends before David’s response, a grateful and humble prayer thanking God for what God promises to do, as well as a bold petition for God to “do what you have promised”. As in so many ways, David is a model for many of us humans, but especially as he reminds us that God’s promises, gifts and grace cannot be understood as a formula or even a reward.

So when second Samuel describes David’s reign in Israel, we hear the Lord convey it as follows through Nathan: “He (David) shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me… (David,) “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”

This is indeed what we hear when the message of Jesus’ birth comes to us at Christmas. We hear it loud and clear: “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” A descendant of David comes and rules in a totally different way.

Until today, God uses you and me to make God’s kingdom known and visible on earth. We can’t do much, because God still does it with grace, undeserved grace. It is none of our own merit. However, God continues to do it through us and we need to merely set ourselves available to the Lord God to work through us.

 

Copyright 2016 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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