The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday December 21, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Our first reading tonight came from 2 Samuel.  The people of Israel are no longer enslaved in Egypt, no longer wandering in the wilderness, no longer a loose federation of tribes. They are starting to settle down and transition into a single nation with a monarchical system of government.  This emerging form of government and way of being God’s people are both very new.

Here is how the Collegeville Commentary describes this period. It may sound vaguely familiar:

“The certainties of the old ways have been giving way to an uncertain future. The old ways were not ideal: change is needed to save the people from injustice and oppression. Yet there are aspects of the old ways that must not be left behind: the fundamental nature of the covenant society must be retrieved and represented in the new order.” (439)

Things are changing. The Israelites are sifting and sorting from their past – what to keep, what to leave behind – and all this without being certain what the future will bring.

It’s a description that could also accurately describe our own moment in time, 2020.  We have all been changed and our future is uncertain. What do we need to leave behind, what do we need to keep, and what new things are waiting to be born?

It’s a description that could also be used to describe the work we began as a community through our Advent Retreat which invited us to begin to explore the question, “Who do we – as saint benedict’s table – want to be when we grow up?”

I hope that like Israel we want to be a people who follow God but I also hope we don’t decide we want to be a monarchy.

The people of Israel want to be a people who follow God. That relationship had long been symbolized by the ark – the physical representation of God’s presence with the people. The ark had been captured by the Philistines and was being held as spoils of war. In the events leading up to tonight’s reading, David leads the people into battle, defeats the Philistines and recovers the ark.

Our reading from 2 Samuel begins, “Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies…” (7:1)

David is “settled in his house” but he is also unsettled about something. Looking around his house he cannot ignore the fact that his house is nicer than God’s. He calls the prophet Nathan and says, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2)

Nathan, understanding that David wants to build God a house and encourages him to do just that, even going so far as to tell him that God approves.  It seems like this plan to build God a house is such an obviously good idea that both men forget to actually check to see what God thinks about it.

And God does not think it’s a great idea. Or at least God doesn’t think it’s a good idea for David to be the one to build God’s house.

That night, God talks to Nathan and says, “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? … Did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, who I commanded to shepherd my people Israel saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (7)

Basically God is saying, “Have I ever, even once, told you that this is something I wanted you to do? No, no I have not.”

God is saying, “David, it is not your job to build me a house.”

And what’s more, God tells Nathan to remind David that God doesn’t need to live in a house. God cannot be confined to a building; God goes wherever God wants to go and God always wants to be wherever the people are.

One of the ways our community is shifting right now is that some of you who are worshipping with us tonight miss this building, but some of you have never been here and probably never will. That doesn’t make you any less a part of this community. It’s a relatively new thing for us to think of our community as much larger than just the folks who – when we are not in the midst of a pandemic – are able to make it to this building on a regular basis, but it’s a good thing, an exciting thing.  We are so glad that you have joined us.

Many of us miss being gathered together in this space. I miss it too. There is something beautiful and irreplaceable about what happens when there are people gathered together in this space.

But God doesn’t live here. We don’t have to be inside this building to be a community, and I know that God is present with each and every one of us right now. That’s just who God is.

God cannot and will not be contained by a building.

It’s not David’s job to build God a house but God wants to build a house out of David.

The lectionary does some editing with this story, having us read up to verse 11 and then skip to verse 16.  In those skipped verses, God tells David that his ancestors, the house of David, will have an important and lasting legacy. God promises that, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (16)

One of the amazing things about this promise is that it’s not conditional on David or his ancestors’ behaviour.  God doesn’t say, “If you obey my commandments I will make you a house,” God just says, “I will make you a house.”

God will build a house out of David – which is not something David has to do anything to make happen. God will make it happen.

David’s job is not to keep doing more and more for God. David’s job is not to constantly strive to build bigger and better.

Bigger is not, in fact, better.

Sometimes, oftentimes in fact, the simple things are good enough.  Sometimes, oftentimes in fact, what we already have is all that we actually need.

David doesn’t need to build God a house or earn God’s promise. Can we also lower our expectations of ourselves and of each other? Not everything is ours to do.

David did not need to keep doing more and more for God, and neither do we. It’s OK to say we can’t be all things to all people. It’s OK if this Christmas looks simpler than last. It’s OK for us all to lower our expectations.

In fact, I think it might be essential. I can’t speak to the individual situation of every single person who is participating in this worship service, but on the whole, as a society we are doing too much, pushing too hard and it needs to stop.

It can be so hard to know how to slow down, to stop, to say “that’s not mine to do,” but my dream is that saint ben’s will be a community that learns to value and model “enoughness.”  A community that creates space for people to discover their enoughness in a world that screams that they are never enough.

It’s my dream that we will be a community that learns to embrace and then proclaim the good news:

You are enough. Exactly as you are. You don’t need to do a single thing to prove your worth to God. God loves you, exactly as you are and, like David,  you do not need to do anything to prove you are worthy of God’s love.

This Christmas season – the whole twelve days of it – and on into Epiphanytide and beyond it’s my hope that we won’t feel driven to constantly have to take things to the next level.

Many of us were overworked and overburdened before living through ten months of a global pandemic and we’re weary. The last thing we need is to feel pressure to make this the “best Christmas ever” or to race into 2021 living our “best life now.”

As God firmly reminds David not everything is ours to do.  We need to “slow down and let God build us – dwell in us – in humble, simple” everyday ordinary ways. (Thornburg Sigmon)

As Casey Thornburg Sigmon writes, “God takes the covenant to the next level (not us). That’s the awe of Christmas… When did I ever demand a temple from you? I go where you go. I am with you.”[1]

 God’s promise to build David a house is fulfilled when Mary recognizes what is hers to do and says yes to God. Yes to being the one who will be the mother of God.  This child who will be God with us, will also be from David’s house.

Unlike David, Mary doesn’t strive to do more and more for God. Mary doesn’t make plans to do things without even stopping to check if they are things God wants her to do, but when God makes this huge, unimaginable ask of Mary, she says yes.

And it’s not easy, and it has real consequences for her.

Realizing that angels haven’t also been sent to every single person in her town

to let them know that the changes in Mary’s body that will soon be visible are part of God’s plan and not a reason to treat her with scorn and ostracize her from their community, scripture tells us she leaves “with haste”  to go and visit Elizabeth.(39)

When she arrives Elizabeth greets her with words that let Mary know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is safe and not only is she welcome in Elizabeth’s home, she is wanted. [2]

Mary’s presence is not an inconvenience Elizabeth will endure out of duty, she wants Mary to be there.

And Mary will stay with her for three months. Long enough for her to have some time to wrap her head around all that is happening. Long enough for her to spend time swapping pregnancy stories and bits of advice with Elizabeth. Long enough to prepare and begin to feel as ready as any human being could possibly be to be the mother of the son of God.

The mother of Jesus. Of God with Us.  The God who cannot be contained in a house. The God who loves us and came to save us and to be with us.

What a gift. And what wisdom.

Unlike David, who seems driven by a need to rush from one accomplishment to another, Mary will take her one – admittedly awe inspiring – task from God and do it well.

She will take the time she needs, she will seek out the people she needs to help her on her journey – Elizabeth, Joseph, Bethlehem’s midwives.

And in a year, when Jesus is approaching his first birthday, she won’t waste time wondering how she can outdo herself this year, what new and amazing thing she can do to top giving birth to the son of God. She will know that she is already doing what she is called to do, and that it is enough.

May we all learn to discern what is and what is not ours to do. May we reach out and seek the help and the companions we need on that road. And may we be those sorts of companions to each other.

In the strong name of our Triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.




[2] The idea of being not merely welcomed, but wanted, comes from the Evolving Faith Conference.