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When God says: "No"
a sermon based on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
by Rev. Thomas Hall

If you walked past the church on your way to work this week you may have noticed something strange. The words on the church board kept changing. Chuck, our office administrator, got his aerobic exercise just running back and forth with the newest worship theme change. On Monday, the message read, "Building a Condo for God." By Wednesday the words had changed to "I’m going to live in a Lord-Built House," and on Thursday the proposed change had become, "Why God isn’t a Republican." And Saturday, the title had changed yet again to "When God Says No." I was afraid that if we changed the marquee any more, borough council might pass a law against erecting bad titles on Park Avenue signs without a permit.

All of this sign-changing may have a lot to do with the mixed signals and motives that comes from our lesson in 2 Samuel 7. See what kind of theme or title you can come up as we walk through the story about David and Nathan.

We find David at an all-time high. He’s taken the elevator all the way to the top. He’s top in military prowess. He’s slapped down the Philistines and they’re off in the corner licking their wounds for the moment. He’s top in diplomacy. By pulling together the north and the south, he’s ended a Vietnam tragedy of senseless killing. And he’s very shrewd as a politician-he has taken Jerusalem and made it the new nation’s Washington DC. Now leaders from the north and south can meet on neutral turf. Not only that but David even takes the lead in worship. He dares to be passionate for God. Doesn’t matter who’s watching or whispering about him, he worships God with song and dance and great celebration.

So far so good in the story. David is just another kid from the ‘hood who makes good. He’s become a top-notch leader and a man who values an active relationship with God.

So what do you do when you reach the top and you’re looking at the rest of the world from way up in that big corner office? You have no more Goliaths to kick around. No more Philistines to beat on. For the first time since he was a kid way back on the farm, David finds Shalom, peace. It is well with his soul. The kids are playing around the house, his wives are happy and he sits in front of the fireplace watches the flames dance and crackle. And he begins to reminisce.

He remembers his humble beginnings-how God took him as an obscure shepherd and now, twenty-fours years later, has made him into one of Israel’s finest kings. He remembers running for his life, fighting enemies, sleeping in dank caves having nothing to hold on to but a sliver of a promise from God. Now after all of these years, God has blessed him with a full life and an upscale house, made out of cedar-the best wood money could buy. And that’s when David comes up with a dream. He wants to do something nice for God. He wants to build God a house. That’s how I came up with the first worship theme, "Building a Condo for God." David wants to build God a nice house like his.

So he shares that dream with Nathan. Nathan is a prophet, which means that he’s sort of a conduit through whom God speaks God’s will. More than that, though, I think Nathan is a friend, a pastor / a counselor kind of guy. Nathan must have loved this kind of conversation. Pastors are ecstatic when people come up to offer to do something for God. Ever wonder the kinds of dreams pastors have at night? In their dreams they see people packed into their church and they overhear conversations like, "Hey! It’s my turn to do refreshments, you did it last week." Or "Pastor, is it okay to give more than ten percent?" Or, "Darn, there’s no more room on the front pew!" Or "No fair! I was supposed to clean up the nursery."

Nathan’s put out enough fires, helped enough people through crisis, struggled with a lack of volunteers to know a good thing when he saw it. "Yes, of course, David, do what’s in your heart! Nathan walks off muttering to himself how cool that someone is actually volunteering to do something without being asked! What could be better?

But that night God assesses David’s proposal in a very different light. Turns out that there is reason for suspicion about motives. So Nathan returns to David the next morning with a sobering message. I’m going to paraphrase it:

"You want to build me a house? Forget it-I’m going to build you a house. This kingdom that I’m shaping here isn’t about you, it’s about what I do through you. I’m the builder here, not you. We’re talking kingdom, and I am the king, not you. Where did you ever come up with the idea that I needed some posh palace to live in? Remember when you were a nobody, out there in the pasture with sheep? I was watching you, your every move. And remember when you thought you were a goner, you just couldn’t escape? I was right there helping you out. I’ve been working on you since your sheepherding days.

This is not all about you, David. I’ve not brought you into power to give focus to your greatness, but to give visibility to what I’m doing. You think you know what kingdom is all about, but the kingdom I’m building is way out of your league. You’re just a small piece of my very big plans for this world."

The message that Nathan delivers is full of God-God is the subject of twenty-three verbs in his message and these verbs carry the action. David is full of what he is going to do for God, but God dominates the conversation with what God has done, what God is doing right now, and what God will do in the future.

Here’s what I think is happening in the story. David is very close to stepping over the line, like all of us have done. From being full of God to being full of himself. Where do you think he got the idea to build God a house? From all the other cultures around him. Everyone knew that the way to protect one’s assets was to tether one’s god down to a temple. Everybody else did that to ensure protection and favor of the gods. David is simply following ancient Near Eastern protocol-making God a house to ensure that his little kingdom will survive. He wants to use God to legitimize his reign. So, like the city-states around him, he wants to tether God to Jerusalem.

But if David goes down this path, it won’t be long before it will be hard to tell between David’s policy’s and God’s. When God lives next door, it is easy for personal agendas to get mixed up with worship. I have heard some persons seeking office try to manipulate God so that people who worship God will throw votes in their direction. That’s the line that David unknowingly is about to cross. That’s where "Why God isn’t a Republican," came into play. It’s so easy to mix our own agendas with God’s agenda.

I remember about five years ago a young man bursting into my office breathless. "God spoke to me to gather all the churches in this area together for a service of unity. We’re going to fill the city ball park and have bands and sell hot dogs and praise God." He was so eager, excited and so enthusiastic with his vision! "I think that would be a fine idea; we’ll need to gather our ministers together for prayer and then talk about this," I said.

"No," the young man blurted out. "God wants us to do this now in the next several weeks." But what about PR and getting the word out, I asked. "I’ll get some posters out and God will bring them in." (I wondered if maybe he had just watched Field of Dreams, "build it and they will come.") I tried to suggest that we first convince other pastors that this would be a good idea and then they could share this with their congregations. But at every turn, the young man kept refusing any advice saying that God had told him to just hold this service.

The event, of course, was a non-event. There were plenty of tee-shirts and hotdogs and one band showed, but no one was there to enjoy them. I spoke with the young man that day and tried to encourage him. "Your idea is great, but when you put God into your agenda you’re headed for trouble."

The young man’s passion for unity and worship actually did happen. I began an adventure with another minister about two years ago - we began meeting for prayer. Then some others joined us and finally we were up to fifteen and twenty ministers who came to pray together. Out of that we decided to let our congregations in on this cool thing. So we scheduled a Concert of Prayer in May-turns out, it was a timely moment in our history, for it was the very week of the Columbine tragedy. Over 450 folks came to grieve and pray for our schools, teachers, and students.

What was once an idea-initially from an impulsive young man, eventually became a powerful expression that continues to draw four and five hundred persons each year.

A lot of agendas going around our congregation, including my own - big plans for youth, for our older adults, for our music ministries, for our outreach and small group ministries. Lots of plans out there. And most of them need to start yesterday.

Let’s begin our life together by taking our cue from David. Did you get his response? "Then King David went in and sat before the LORD." David sat. Probably the single most critical act that David ever did: he sat. More critical than fighting Goliaths. More critical than claiming Jerusalem. More critical than bringing the Ark into Jerusalem. Because what David now does in response to these words from God will either disqualify him or honor him in the work for which he has been anointed, trained, preserved and empowered.

Have you ever sat before God? Put every agenda, every ulterior motive aside because you just needed to sit before God? Someone has said that childish prayer always asks, but childlike prayer is intent on relationship. To sit before God for no other reason than to receive from God’s love is one of the most important things you will ever do.

By sitting down before God, David got out of the driver’s seat, took off his royal robes, abdicated his kingly authority, and deliberately placed himself before God the real King. In that place of sitting, that David traded in his plans for God’s plans. He was bursting with plans for God, so full of desire for God. Stopping David was like reigning in some wild runaway horses. But Nathan stopped him. More importantly, David let himself be stopped by God. A man full of himself is now getting full of God.

And that’s what I want for our church. A people and a pastor who know how to sit before the Holy One, who are full of God and willing to trade in their big plans for God’s bigger plans. That’s how I got to the final change on the marquee: "When God Says No."

Our plans can change as quickly as the church sign did this past week. But one thing will never change. Far more important than our work for God, is that God is building this congregation-a house that will be a legacy for generations without end. Amen.