Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 111: II Samuel 7-9; Psalm 92; Acts 7

God in a box?
It is one of those lines in scripture that sticks with you:
"When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to the prophet Nathan, 'Look! I am living in a cedar palace, but God's chest is housed in a tent.'" (II Sam 7:1)
Nice words, and you would think that God would be pleased with the gesture? Nathan the prophet assumed the same; but God had other plans. David's legacy would not be a temple, his task was to establish the kingdom and securely root a dynasty of rulers who would serve and lead God's people. He was not going to be the one to put God in a box. Really, that is what we are talking about. Ponder this: until David was established in Jerusalem in a palace built for his use and as a symbol of his presence, he was just another leader of men who would abide for a time in this town or that fortress. Though he was king, he had no place that people could direct their gaze to and call THAT place his throne.

Now, with a palace he has that place. He is a king and the routines of the court (punctuated from time to time with a raid, campaign or battle) are his business. He has to get down to ruling the nation and mediating for them God's intent for the people. He wants God near at hand...and what better way to do that than to build God a nice house right next to his. They can be neighbors!

But can you put God in a box?

Stephen, in his speech before the assembly, has been accused of blasphemy-of attempting to put down Moses' authority and God's law-substituting his "version of truth" for the one his accusers hold fast to and feel that he is threatening with his teachings, his works and, frankly, his personality. In response to his accusers, Stephen recounts a Reader's Digest summation of salvation history to this point in time. He extols the faith and steadfastness of the patriarchs, Moses and the early prophets. He recounts and testifies to the faith that they all, ostensibly, have in common. He demonstrates his connection to his tradition and affirms an orthodox position with regard to the Law.

He also reminds the body present, particularly his accusers: that even when God lifted up leaders and anointed them with the charisms of the Spirit and awarded them authority to lead the people of God, it was those same people of God who again and again chose apostasy over fidelity to the Covenant. The assembled, particularly Stephen's accusers, are convinced that their interpretation of the Law was the correct one. They were convinced that Stephen was the one breaking the rules...and yet with his sermon, Stephen turns the tables on them. You can't contain God, and God's Truth, in one perspective to the exclusion of seeing God at work in all people. Nor can you compass "truth" into one single, firm and unchanging human certainty.

You can't put God in a box.

David got the better end of the deal: he only had to settle back into being king. His job was to be just and to do the right thing. For the most part, he was able to fulfill that call. He backed off from building God a house and turned his attention to the people's safety and welfare. He fought their enemies and defeated their foes. He even did right by Saul's son, Mephibosheth, by taking him into his own home and assuring the remnant of Saul's house was provided for with lands and work.

Stephen did not fare as well. He was beaten to death with stones. Still, God cannot be contained; particularly by hateful mobs intent on violence and destruction. Stephen's death was a holy witness...and I am convinced that it sowed the seeds of conversion and repentance in at least one soul....Saul (who will be Paul), though he approved of the killing, is soon to have a change of heart....

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