(The pain of change and decision making)

20TH July 2003 

2 Samuel 7: 1-14b

Ephesians 2: 11-22

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56.


Did you listen carefully to the Old Testament reading?

In it, did you think God sounded a little perturbed with David?

In 2 Samuel 7:6 God is recorded as saying, “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.”

Was it a more dynamic relationship for God to live in a tent and move with the people?

Was God perturbed because David thought he could make a grand gesture for God, build God a great dwelling place that God could not do for himself?

God’s response goes on to remind David that everything he has, including his nice house and family, and everything he is, including the fact that he is king, comes from God.  And God intends to continue to bless him.  His progeny will continue to be a great nation forever. 

God puts David back in his box, as it were.  God as good as says to David, “Remember who you are.  You are my creature, my beloved creature.  Don’t get too big for your boots.  Don’t think you know everything, or that you know my thoughts or my needs and desires.  Be still and listen to me.”


I wonder how that made David feel.  He was so sure it was the right time to build that temple, and at first the prophet Nathan had concurred.  Now this set back, this disappointment.  Surely he had been doing this for God and for the unity of the nation, but God rejected his good intensions!


I suspect that I am sometimes a little like King David.  I think I know what God wants.  I plan to do something grand for God.  The call I received from the Warragul Parish was in part to help you move forward to build a new church building on the Sutton Street site, and here I am soon to move in response to a new call to Hobart, and the new building is not commenced.


Does that mean that my ministry with you over the last seven years has been a failure?

Or does it mean that God has been doing a different sort of building program amongst us?


We never hear of Paul even commencing to draw up plans for a church building in any of the places he visited or wrote to during his very productive missionary ministry, but he certainly build the church. 

He built the people, the living stones, who came from two very different backgrounds and had two very different ways of listening to the Old Testament, the Bible as they knew it, into a single body through the cross.  To the Jews, the Old Testament was the living word of God, sweeter than honeycomb, source of life.  To the Gentiles, it was the history of the Jewish nation, and one set of stories about God amongst others.  The first ever council of church fathers declared that they were not bound by the whole Jewish law.  They did not need to be circumcised.  Only these rules were laid on them, that they should abstain from what had been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.  If they kept from these things, they would do well, the fathers proclaimed, as recorded in Acts 15: 29.


This definite resolution did not take away the pain of trying to live in a church with two such radically different views of Scripture.  We hear later of a time when Paul publicly disputed with Peter, because Peter had started to eat with Gentile Christians, then after the protests of Jewish Christians, he withdrew from such unity.  Paul berated him for his narrow legalism, and Peter admitted his error.  Unity was restored, but Peter must have been deeply hurt by Paul’s public words.  And how hurt the Gentile Christians must have been by Peter’s wavering friendship.


Has God been trying to do the same thing amongst us for the last seven years?

Has God been wanting to reconcile us, with our various ways of interpreting Scripture, into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling place for God?


When Jesus walked the earth, he moved with the people, he couldn’t get away from them, actually. He lived in the midst of them and so did his power.  He sent out his disciples two by two, ordering them to take nothing with them for their journey, to rely on the provisions God would give them daily through the hospitality of the people in the towns they visited.  And their radical faith was rewarded by people’s response of faith.  When they returned, Jesus wanted to take them away to a quiet place for a little R & R, a Sabbath time with God.  But it didn’t work out that way, as we heard from our Mark reading. 


Things didn’t work out as David and Nathan at first expected.

Things didn’t even work out as Jesus planned.


Things have not moved as quickly as we hoped with church building, and the decisions by the Assembly last week have not been the changes some of us wanted to see.


Is God also trying to teach us that possessions, buildings, however beautiful or however practical and functional, will not cause the church to grow?  Is what God wants from us the radical faith that will risk everything for love of God and for love of other people?  Is God wanting us to listen in a new way to God?  To be willing to be led in new directions?  To discover God’s grace in unexpected people?


The prophet Nathan at first encouraged King David in his grand plans.  “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”  But when he went away and listened to God, doubts arose in his mind.  What was David’s real motivation?  What was he planning to build?  “A temple! What? Was he going to put God into a tin can?  Would this temple function more as a political rallying point for the two plus ten tribes David was trying to unify?  Would it be like setting up a franchise, with golden arches? (Make that cedar beams.)”   Decades later, David’s son Solomon would build a splendid temple, using slave labour and high taxation to complete the project.  Solomon put God in a tin can, a splendid job of packaging, and that seemed to be okay with God at the time.  But it can be argued that those taxes and that slave labour so re-alienated the northern tribes that it led to the break down of the united kingdom.  Why did God refuse to let David build him a temple, and yet seemingly encourage Solomon to do so?  Is there ambivalence in the Almighty? Or is the ambivalence in the temple builders?  Did what started out to be a testimony to the greatness of God become an exercise in self-aggrandisement? 

This eternal throne of David started out a witness to the glory of God, and degraded into enmity between Jew and Gentile. We see that enmity still being played out with devastating results for both sides in the Middle East today.  That great vision of reconciliation that Paul put before the Ephesians so long ago, that great plan of reconciliation God put into action in Jesus Christ, has not yet become reality in the world, or even in the church.

On the one hand we claim Jesus Christ as our own, and on the other, we divide the world into us and them. We impress ourselves with mighty religious edifices like “The Christian West”, but it just divides the world into the haves and the have-nots, and so develops a leaky roof.  From such division and injustice, much of today’s terrorism may have been born.  “So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:17-18) God wants to be clearly identified and yet free to roam the world, to search out every heart, to bring peace and unity to people.  We haven’t figured that out yet, but it has something to do with the tension between temple and tent.


The tension goes on, but we must hold together if we ever want to see the reconciliation become a reality.


The events in the Assembly were part of that great drama of reconciliation, I believe, and it is now down to us as individuals to listen to what God is saying to us, and to obey.


Let me read to you some snippets from the resolutions of Assembly, and the responses of the President and the state Moderators, remembering that this one issue which has been reported in the press in a rather sensationalist manner, was only a part of the many discussions which took place.  You are invited to Sale next Saturday to talk with our delegates to Assembly, and receive their first hand accounts of proceedings.


The page in the smallest type is an extract form the Minutes of the Assembly, which will be confirmed at the first Assembly Standing Committee meeting.


As I read the actual motion, I found it difficult to see what all the fuss was about.  There seems to be little or no alteration from what has been the practice of the church for some years.  Decisions as to suitability for Ordination still rest with individual Presbyteries.  Such decision “depends upon a wide range of criteria and may include consideration of the manner in which the applicant’s or candidate’s sexuality is expressed.”  Decisions to call a particular minister to settlement lies with congregations or clusters.  All placements “should only be taken on a case by case basis.”


The new Assembly President, Rev Dean Drayton, writes his letter under a quotation from today’s Ephesians reading.  Let me read it to you in full … 

 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one … that he might … reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it (Eph 2:14-16).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

The early church faced what they saw as insuperable difficulties. But two groups of people, who thought they could never be one, became one people through Christ.

These two groups found their common faith in Jesus Christ. Our unity is based on our faith in the Triune God – and on our determination to carry out the work of Jesus Christ in our community.

Yesterday the Uniting Church’s national Assembly reaffirmed presbyteries’ role in determining who is suitable for ordination, candidature for ministry or placement in ministry on a case-by-case basis.

The real issue is how we get along with others who believe in Jesus Christ but who hold different points of view.

We made the decision after a great deal of prayer and reflection – and after a gracious debate in which people spoke and listened to each other with respect.

We are a diverse church. We have a whole variety of congregations – largely Anglo-Celtic churches, big city ones, small rural communities, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, and migrant-ethnic congregations. Our diversity is a blessing from God.

Some media reports have given the impression that Assembly has done something dramatically new. The proposers of the motion stressed that the decision is not really new. It simply clarifies what is already Uniting Church practice.

I urge all members of the Uniting Church – and all people of goodwill – to continue to pray for our church.

I encourage people to read the actual words of the Assembly’s decision – and to read them carefully. I enclose them with this letter. They are also on the Assembly’s website.

The decision affirms the integrity of what you hold – and it invites you to respect the integrity of those viewpoints which are different from yours.

It invites you to discover the depths of what Jesus Christ makes possible as he holds us together as a uniting people.

My prayer for our church is that God will grant healing to those who have been hurt in this debate – and that God will grant us grace to live together in unity as we work to carry forward Christ’s mission in the world.

Grace and peace

Dean Drayton
Assembly President


May God’s grace and peace truly be with us all.  Amen.

(Again, I got my starting point for this sermon from some notes by Roland McGregor, Pastor
Asbury United Methodist Church, Albuquerque New Mexico, USA


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