A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (7:1-14a)
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Psalm 89: 20-37
20 I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
21 My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.
22 No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.
23 I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
25 I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.
26 He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation
27 I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.
28 I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
30 “If his children forsake my law *
and do not walk according to my judgments;
31 If they break my statutes *
and do not keep my commandments;
32 I will punish their transgressions with a rod *
and their iniquities with the lash;
33 But I will not take my love from him, *
nor let my faithfulness prove false.
34 I will not break my covenant, *
nor change what has gone out of my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *
‘I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall endure for ever *
and his throne as the sun before me;
37 It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *
the abiding witness in the sky.’”
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (2:11-22)
Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (6:30-34, 53-56)
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Today’s first reading envisions David at the pinnacle of his leadership. The youngest son in a Judean shepherding family, he has become king of all Israel. He has established a capital for the nation in Jerusalem and brought there the Ark of the Covenant: that ancient sign of God’s presence among God’s people. He has conquered Israel’s enemies and brought the nation into a time of peace.
But as David looks around at all that God has done for him and at all that he himself has done to make his kingdom secure for generations to come, he sees one more thing that he thinks he needs to do. He intends to build a temple for God to be God’s permanent dwelling-place among the people. Then everything will be united under his and his descendants’ control.
God thinks otherwise. Speaking through the prophet Nathan, God refuses the offer of a temple. More than that, God reminds David that God has never had nor wanted any sort of permanent dwelling-place, because God refuses to be confined to any one place or to any one course of action. God is and always will be infinitely free.
Instead, using a play on words, God turns David’s intentions around. “Instead of you, David, building a house, a temple, for me, I, God, am going to build a royal house, a dynasty, for you.” It was in David and his descendants that God would be present in Israel in a special way. God would establish for David and for Israel a living temple.
In today’s second reading, the author of Ephesians picks up that theme of a living temple: a temple comprised, not of stones but of people. And he envisions that living temple, “with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone,” as the place where God now chooses to dwell on earth. He then goes on to encourage his hearers to live in such a way that they might effectively and worthily serve as God’s temple in the world.
We have inherited that honored role of being God’s living temple in our time. But if we are to be God’s temple in the world, a place where others can encounter God, we need to ask some fundamental questions about that temple and, even more so, about the God whose temple we are supposed to be.
When Solomon eventually built the great Temple in Jerusalem, it became a place in which the people stood in awe: in awe of the Temple itself and in awe of the God who was thought to dwell there. I certainly hope that the people in our community who come to know the members of St. Mark’s Church have a favorable impression of us and of what we do, but I certainly don’t expect anybody to stand in awe of us!
The Temple was also a place where God’s word was spoken and God’s judgments proclaimed. Again, I certainly hope that we find effective ways of proclaiming God’s word to our community and our world, but I don’t see our primary function as one of pronouncing any sort of judgment on the world around us.
So then, what is the central characteristic of the God whom we proclaim? And, as a corollary, do we as God’s living temple exhibit that same central characteristic in our relationship with one another and with the rest of our community and world?
For us as Christians, Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. Jesus is, if you will, the human face of God. Jesus shows us what God is like. And the central characteristic that Jesus exhibits in his ministry is compassion. In doing so, Jesus focuses our attention on the God whom we encounter throughout the scriptures: the God of compassion.
Now it is important to remember, first of all, what compassion is and what it is not. Compassion and pity are not the same thing. Pity is a reaction, an emotion that we can have for those in need, for those who are suffering, while we still keep our distance from them. Compassion, on the other hand, compels us to share with them in their needs, in their suffering, and to do whatever we can to alleviate those needs, to ease that suffering. “Compassion” means literally “to suffer with”; that is what the God of the scriptures did throughout history, and that is what Jesus did in the stories told to us in the gospels.
In today’s gospel reading, for example, Jesus has been besieged by those looking for his help. He and his disciples try to get away for a time; they need a break. But the crowds find him. And, Mark says, “He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Later, in the same story, Jesus realizes that they are physically hungry as well, and so he feeds them. Jesus did not merely pity those who were in need; he had compassion for them. He suffered with them. He didn’t limit his response to a feeling of pity for them. Instead, he followed his reaction to them with an “and so”: his concern for them led to action. He gave of himself to address their needs. In doing so, he revealed to them and to us the God of the scriptures: the God of compassion.
We, as God’s temple in the world, as God’s dwelling-place among God’s people, are called to exhibit the same sort of genuine compassion toward those in need in our time. It is not enough to have pity: to say, “I feel sorry for those people in our community who don’t have enough food to eat, for those children who have to live on the streets, for the low-income elderly who have no one to care for them” – while still keeping our distance from them. Instead, like Jesus and like the God whom Jesus reveals to us, our concern for them needs to lead to an “and so.” Our call is not just a call to have pity for them. Our call is a call to have genuine compassion for them: to suffer with them to such an extent that we cannot simply keep our distance. Instead, like Jesus, we need to commit ourselves to doing something to help them, to alleviate their suffering and to address their needs.
It was in Jesus’ direct service to those in need that he enabled the people of his time to see what God is like, to encounter God in his life and person. As God’s temple in the world, we are now the ones who have been sent to serve those in need in our community and world, in a personal and direct way, so that in us they may encounter the God whom the scriptures proclaim, the God whom Jesus proclaimed: the God of compassion.