Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon, Proper 11B, 2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Where in our lives do we hear God speaking to us?

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a common question to ask kids and young people approaching high school graduation. The problem with this is that we are laying the decision for a person's future solely at their feet, as if they knew what they wanted to be. Granted, sometimes they do; but lots of times they don't know what it all entails, or it's different than imagined, or they don't figure it out until much later.

The other problem with this question, and this spans all age groups, is that it is focused on the self. What do YOU want? There's no dialogue. There's no give and take that involves the input from other people. There's no discernment.

When I use that word, discernment, I'm guessing most people, and certainly most people in the church, see it as a process a person goes through on their way to ordained ministry. We have discernment teams and processes set up that are all designed to help the person and the church figure out if there is a call to ordained ministry. We do this because it's a long, arduous process and we want to make sure that both the individual and the church are up for it.

That process involves many people. It involves family and friends and church leaders and therapists. And it's all designed to explore and discern what God is calling the person to do. I was asked many times, "Why do you want to become a priest?" My answer: "I don't. But God seems to think it's a good idea."

But discernment just isn't for people forging their way into ordained ministry. We can use the discernment process for all major decisions in our lives and in the life of the church. Things like a new job, a marriage, a university, a career, a mission. Sometimes we do things because they seem like a good idea at the time, but then we get stuck or trapped and don't know how to get out. The pianist who says he should have been a plumber, the office worker trapped in a cubicle, or a person considering marriage are all places where the discernment process should have been used. Not to mention what projects to tackle or what ministries to get involved in.

If we began with a discernment process, I think we'd be better off in the long run. Because sometimes what we want is not what God wants; and sometimes what God wants is not what we want. That's the point of discernment -- figuring out what God wants and how you can best fit into that plan.

David wanted to honor God by building a temple. According to the reading, God had given David victory over all his enemies and allowed David rest. So David says, "Everything I have accomplished has been by the hand of God. Here I sit in a beautiful house, but God dwells in a lowly tent. I will build a magnificent temple in his honor."

Good idea? Maybe. But the temple is what David wanted, not what God wanted at that particular time. David just decided on his own that building a temple would be a good thing to do. He didn't spend any time in discernment. He didn't spend any time listening for God.

Later that night, Nathan hears God say, "This is not what I want right now. A temple will be built, but later." This is why we pray, "Thy will be done." So the temple would have to wait.

In talking with Nathan, David goes through a mini-discernment about the temple. He needed to hear what God had to say about the proejct. And, painful as it may have been, he needed to hear God say, "Not yet."

We don't like to hear, "Not yet." But that's why we do discernment, to figure out if this is where God wants us to go, or to see if it's simply an idea we like so much that we want to stamp it with God's seal of approval ourselves.

To David's credit, he listens to Nathan's God-given response and scuttles the idea of building a temple. Not only does he not pursue the project, but he listens. And what does he hear God say through Nathan? He hears God say, "I will raise up your offspring and he shall build a house for my name."

We are creative partners with God. We have a role to play in his purpose for the kingdom. While David wasn't the one to build the temple, he could certainly do his part as a creative partner with God. And what did he do? Over in 1 Chronicles 22, we are told that David collected gold, silver, bronze, iron and timber to be used in the construction of the temple after he died. Through his discernment with Nathan, he was able to plan for the future so that generations yet unborn would have a place to worship the Lord.

How would our lives look if we used a discernment process for things that weighed on our minds? Instead of relying on ourselves, we could ask for help from our community and God as we struggled with issues from a career change to a cross-country move to whether or not we should set up a women's shelter in the parish hall. Where does God want us to go? What does God want us to do? How can we use our resources now to help generations yet unborn have a place to worship?

This is the lesson we can take from David and Nathan: that we are co-creators with God, but we must listen for God. If we spend the time listening for and to God, and not just to ourselves, then everything we do will be God-breathed and reflect his glory.

Where do we hear God speaking to us? More importantly, have we verified that call with others? Have we worked to discern God's will in both our individual and communal lives? Because if we don't listen for God, then all our plans will be severly short-sighted and short-lived.


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