- 2 Samuel 7:1–14a
- Psalm 89:20–37
- Ephesians 2:11–22
- Mark 6:30–34, 53–56
Everyone needs a place.
A place to call one’s own. A place to be oneself. A place to be free and safe. A place to simply be. Place is, interestingly, important for describing who we are and who we will be. The first question many people are asked upon meeting for the first time is: “Where are you from?” Place can also become an incredibly important thing if it’s taken from you, if it’s threatened. Place is both the foundation of who we are and the roots that tie us to the people around us. The idea of place is deeply rooted in Jewish history. Moreso than for our own culture and time, a physical place was, and is, tied to identity, to a person’s role in life, to status, and to faith and spirituality. A physical place ties a person to who they are to and through God. Part of the reason that the Western world struggles to understand the land wars in the middle east is because unlike the other people of faith who reside in the area, we don’t really have a Christian understanding of dynasty and relationship to God through land.
In our first reading, King David has settled down, built a palace-place to call home, and looks out his window to see God in the Tabernacle and covered by a tent. The God of promise and Israel’s strength, King David’s reason for being, is being kept under an impermanent structure that is all about displacement. And displacement is about the past. So naturally David wants to change that, because everyone deserves a place in a bright future.
There is a word in this text in Hebrew that is pronounced Bah’-yith. The word literally means: “house”. But, like many ancient Hebraic words, there are multiple meanings from this one simple word, and the essence of the word is partly akin to our understanding of “place”. It is this word, bayith, and its varied meanings, that God plays with in this text.
David, after some contemplation, says, “I’m going to build you a house or temple.” And he uses this word, bayith. David really think this whole thing out… how God is being schlepped around with this tent in a state of impermanence while he, a mere king, is settled into one place. But God responds, “No you are not the one who will build a house, but I’m going to build you a dynasty, a family of descendents.” And God uses the same word: bayith. David thinks to provide God with a concrete place and God responds: you can’t contain me. David wants to establish a permanent house for God, and God responds that God will be wherever God wants to be. God wants to be where the people are, so much so that God will create houses through time and space for descendent upon descendent, creating relational places as opposed to structural places.
As soon as we try to contain God – we discover that we can’t. We discover that we cannot keep God to one particular description or to the way God was before. God continually flips the meaning of the words that we use to describe, contain, and work the Divine, moving in and out of spaces and places, stirring creation and all that resides in it to react with the world around. We are prompted to react to each other and to God, to seek relationship with one another. We, like David, sometimes seek to contain God, and we cannot, but we can trust that God will continue to be where the people are.
And our gospel text picks up on this idea of our place in the world. Our reading begins after Jesus has sent out the disciples to minister to the world. He sends them in pairs to heal and cast out demons, telling them to shake the dust from their sandals in any place where they are unwelcome. These disciples go and come back, and are all excited and anxious to share the news of how ministry appeared to them. They can’t wait to share the news. And Jesus suggests that they in fact take a retreat. ‘Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.’ Because he knows. Once you get a toe in, you’re committed. And with all these neglected, ignored, and socially invisible people around, constantly pressing in and looking for a place in the world, you begin to see the magnitude of need, and it can be overwhelming. The author of Mark is very good at keeping this momentum up: the writing presses us onward, increases the amount of healing and ministry that Jesus does, and makes everything seem more and more overwhelming. Jesus healed so many, fed so many, taught so many, gave so, so, much, and then some. And yet the need for love, compassion, a place and a relationship with God was still so great, that Jesus gives himself on the cross, forever joining God and all of creation.
If you look at the reading writeup, you may have noticed that a large part of this text is skipped. And I would recommend that you go and read it later on this week. All these people pressing in as they arrive at their place of supposed rest, and Jesus feeds these people waiting for them on the other side, and sends the disciples on to Bathsaida, and then takes a moment to himself in the mountains, a holy place, to pray. He later joins up with the disciples while they are out at sea in a storm, and we rejoin them in the text after that as they are landing.
I think the disciples might have been anticipating a formal retreat of some kind, a serious break from the pace that they have been keeping at the very least. They become agitated and frustrated with the people being wherever they are headed. Jesus had invited them to come away to a deserted place, hadn’t he? So what’s with all the people? The reality of the time and the lives that they were living are constantly butting up against this invitation to rest a while. Whoa, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Today, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of all the living we do; in the midst of worries, struggles, and anxieties; in the feet that stumble on rough or difficult paths – God is there. This text could easily be used to lecture a congregation on the benefits of taking a Sabbath, or being conscious about taking time to rest, recover, relax. And I feel very strongly that it is important to make sure to have a Sabbath day, whenever that day is for you. Jesus is helping the disciples to learn to make time to be apart from the work, to rest to avoid burnout, or becoming consumed by the magnitude of need. And to recognize the need of a “deserted” place when it appears. I would encourage you to take note of the many moments of rest that occur in the week, or during your regular day – because these are places where God is. Whether it’s 5 minutes over a steaming cup of coffee or tea; or being momentarily enraptured by a child’s giggles; or sitting on the deck while the sun sets in the horizon; or allowing yourself to be taken away, if only for a brief time, with the wanderings of the mind; or whatever takes your fancy – God is there. Come away with God, to a deserted place (or not so deserted place), all by yourself, and rest. Take a moment to allow yourself to be unburdened, to breathe, to let go, if only for a moment. And God will be there. A place through time and space that could make all the difference to the rest of your day, and the rest of your life.
Every Sunday, we gather in this place to meet up with God, to give thanks, to praise, and to join in celebrating a wonderful relationship filled with healing and love. It is an amazing opportunity in our week that we consciously take time to recognize that God is there in times of rest and in times of unrest. And there might not be a better place than a church-place to do that kind of reflection in. But the physical place isn’t why we are able to think about our relationships to each other and to God. We are a church of people, not a church of building worshippers. “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!” A familiar refrain to a familiar hymn, and one we often lift up in light of some strong desires to be tied to the church building. But, sometimes our walls become so terribly impenetrable. We are, like King David of old, a wall-people. And by that, I mean, we like to erect walls to keep our places and ourselves safe; to keep the threat out. But in doing that, we create exclusion. Today’s epistle reading is a reflection on the dangers of permanent places, not just dangers of church buildings. I think we sometimes overlook it’s importance to the everyday.
It is a letter written to a church of people who are increasingly Gentile and no longer of Hebrew birth or origin. The author of this letter is very concerned with the walls that had been erected, generation after generation, to divide the Gentile from the Jew. So, the author’s excited that in Christ there are no longer walls. But it’s not a letter declaring: “Hey, the walls are down, now live together!” It’s an invitation to live together, to form new relationships and live as full members. It’s about inclusion, to show people reconciliation through Christ – you know, that Christ who was feeding the hungry, making meaning for the lost and forsaken, giving places to the ignored and invisible.
This text makes me think about the Berlin Wall. How when it came down, people who had been divided for so long were suddenly face to face. Some families and friends reunited right away, others took some time, and still others never sought out their neighbours from the other side. Despite that, one thing is true: they were no longer strangers, or alien to one another. They became one people with one country. We live in a world that seemingly shrinks more and more a little bit each day. And where people continue to fracture and fragment into different groups and camps and ideologies; erecting more and more walls around their own places to keep the other out. But here, in today’s text, we are encouraged to live out as Christ creates us: barrier-free, supporting one another, one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. One house-place through time and space that God has created for the good of all. One place where we are invited to come away for a while and rest again and again.
Because everybody needs a place.
Today’s image is borrowed from Sami Cone’s (@TheSamiCone) twitter post from 29 Oct 2014 (found here). The image is from #Freeway and the quote itself is from @joshriebock, who you can read more about here.