Comedian Steven Wright once said in his customary deadpan manner, “Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” The truth of this statement is something I have noticed a number of times over the course of my life. I have remembered a few things, things with great meaning and substance – that simply never happened.
Case in point: when my younger sister was born, my paternal grandmother came to stay with us for a while. The old joke in our family is that my mother got sick when she was expecting my sister Karen and she’s never gotten well since. The truth is a little more pedestrian: they were both simply ill due a difficult pregnancy. Nonetheless, my grandmother, Nana, came to take care of the house and watch over everyone while my father went back to work and my mother recovered.
Here’s where the fact and the fiction begin to blend. My father’s first career was as a photographer. Therefore, my parents have a gazillion photos around their house and probably twice that many digital photos on hard drives and backup disks. Among them are photos of the family around the time my sister was born. Since one of the family pastimes was looking at pictures and slides I have seen a number of these photos repeatedly through the years, many of them overlapping over time. In the amazing image factory of my mind I fashioned a group of these together into a memory of me walking down the hallway with my grandmother holding my sister and me trying to look at her. In the photo, I have on my brown sweater that I liked so much in kindergarten, and my grandmother is wearing a pantsuit that was one of her favorites.
As I look back now, I can see the problem with this memory: the sweater, the pantsuit, and the perspective. The sweater was one of my childhood favorites, I wore it until I was in the second grade and it practically fell apart, but my sister is less than three years younger than I am. I didn’t get the sweater until I started kindergarten. Even as bad as I am at math I can see that this doesn’t add up. The second part is my grandmother’s pantsuit; it wasn’t hers. The pantsuit I kept seeing in my ‘memory’ was one that another relative owned but I know it from a picture that grandmother was in with that relative. No the math is really shaky. It would take some pretty fancy calculus to make this reality now. But the truth is, it’s not and the last bit proves it absolutely.
The third part is perspective. I remember seeing myself walking down the hallway with grandmother. Let that sink in for a minute. I remember seeing myself walking down the hall. If I learned anything from my father about taking pictures it’s that even with a timer, it’s hard to take a picture of yourself. It’s even harder to remember yourself doing something by watching yourself do it. Transcendental meditation, anyone? The truth is I dreamed it and for years I was remembering the dream. It was a memory, but a memory of something other than reality, a memory of something that wasn’t real, but seemed so much like reality that it fools the mind.
Dream a little dream of legacy
Legacy is a lot like memory, it’s made up of things that have happened, been experienced. But it is also a way to say what you want to say about yourself without all the messy, uncomfortable stuff that we want to forget and more importantly, want others to forget. It’s something that I have heard many women accuse their husbands of having – selective memory. And yet, we all have a legacy, a cumulative life experience that we will leave for others to consider after we are gone, a memory of who we were and what we meant to those who knew us and were influenced by our lives.
The passage this morning is about just that – legacy, more specifically, David’s legacy and how he would like to be remembered. The story is about a conversation between David, the prophet Nathan, and God regarding the legacy of David. He has fought wars, conquered lands and peoples, survived death threats and attempts on his life. Now, David can rest, except for the nagging suspicion that there is something unfinished, something that he needs to do. And then it hits him, as David sits at peace and can finally think back on things.
When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent! 3 Nathan said to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because the Lord is with you.”
David is distressed by all that God has given him and feels the need to give something back. There is within him a desire to balance the scales, so to speak, between himself and God. I believe the guilt from having survived all that David survived and the blessing that was poured out on him left David feeling unworthy and wanting to show God that he recognized that unworthiness.
Have you ever felt this before? Looked back on your life and the blessings you have been given and the things that have been overcome and thought to yourself, “I really need to do something for God.” I think this is a common, human response to great generosity. Think about it, if someone sends you a gift, do you not want to acknowledge it and send them a thank you card, or at the very least, personally say thank you? I think when we look at what God has done for us we feel an even greater sense of this. I believe for some of us that can be frightening and we say things like, “I’ll never be able to repay God for his kindness!”
Think of the story of Zacchaeus. Here is a man who has been shown kindness and grace by Jesus personally. His response?
“Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”
Can we repay those around us, or God for that matter, four times over for the kindness they have shown us? I know in my life, so many over the years have personally invested in me even before I started the journey of ministry. If the statistics are correct, as children of the 1980’s, my parents spent nearly $70,000.00 on my sister and I from birth to getting us out of the house, not to mention helping us through college and various other endeavors as we began making lives of our own.
I don’t think repayment is the issue here, even though our nature draws us to want to ‘balance the scales’. As we look deeper into this story we find that God isn’t interested in David balancing anything. After their discussion, Nathan has a vision from God in which God clarifies a few things and redefines David desire for legacy.
First, God redefines the desire that David thinks God should have.
You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. 6 In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. 7 Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people: Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple?
In other words, God is saying, “If I had wanted the temple before now, I would have had the temple by now.” The point of a dwelling place in the tabernacle is not about God having a place to live, as the Psalmist says,
“Where could I go to escape your spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I climb the heavens, you are there, there too, if I lie in Sheol. If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me.”
God lives all around us. Creation itself, from the farthest star to the smallest blade of grass, is the dwelling place of God. In theology we call this the idea of immanence, meaning God is present here with us. In fact, one of the more popular for Jesus at Christmas time, “Our Emmanuel – God with us”, is a testament to the idea of God being present. This first point God is making in our narrative is that God does not need David to build anything.
The second is that God will make the name of David great.
“…the Lord will make a dynasty for you. 12 When the time comes for you to die and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your descendant—one of your very own children—to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a temple for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me. Whenever he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod, with blows from human beings. 15 But I will never take my faithful love away from him like I took it away from Saul, whom I set aside in favor of you. 16 Your dynasty and your kingdom will be secured forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.”
Theologians appear to look at this as if God is talking about two houses. The first being the house of the Lord, which is in truth, creation itself. The second is the house or royal line of David. From what I have read and understand, this passage/chapter was added after much of the rest of Samuel was finished sometime around the exile of Judah to Babylon, sort of an addendum to try and explain why things were the way they were but also offer hope to those who felt the circumstance was hopeless. I look at it this way, the Jews are living in a foreign land under foreign gods, some of the Jews having never put a foot on Israel’s soil. These people are looking for hope and the overarching message of Samuel and Kings is that despite the desire Israel has for earthly kings and that they have turned away from God as their king, God will still provide for them. The promise of a royal line of David going on into the future is an idea of hope to those who would want to return to Israel and be their own people again.
In the narrative, David responds with a lengthy offer of praise to God for remembering/recognizing/acknowledging him and promising to make his name and that of his family great. Remember the story of Abraham? When God promised Abraham to “make his people as numerous as the stars? How that was a form of eternal life by virtue of carrying a person’s name and memory into the future? A legacy is just that, the memory of you for future generations. What God seems to be offering David here is a place in the memory of a nation, that the deeds and life of David would be remembered from now on. And thanks to the prominent place that David has in the biblical narrative and the secular history of Israel, he has been remembered, for all his great deeds and some of his not so great deeds. Beyond that, David’s name is carried over into a new faith, as the lineage of Jesus includes this royal live and so Jesus of Nazareth is also known to us as a son of, or a direct descendant of, David.
Going back to the memory that wasn’t really a memory in the beginning, we can see that memory is powerful and shapes the way we see our lives. Memory can shade the way we understand how we have lived and those we have journeyed through life with for good or for ill. For me, I lived with what I thought was a memory for years before I realized that it was in fact, the memory of a dream, a legacy of my childhood imprinted in my mind that was really a subconscious collection of photographs smashed together into a single image or idea.
In the narrative, we see the desire of a man to be remembered, and remembered well. These are the words of David before Bathsheba, before Absalom, before the house, the dynasty and David’s faith, is tested. In these moments, David seems to truly be a man who has been chasing after the heart of God. In these moments, David has a wonderful legacy to pass on to generations to come.
So what of our legacy? What have lived that is worth remembering? This can be uncomfortable as we think back to all the moments where we were less than stellar human beings, weighed and found wanting. This can be comforting as we remember times when we helped bring positive change to those whose paths we have crossed for the better. As I have said before, don’t plan, follow. God does the planning, we are called to be faithful, we are called to live in the moment, we are called to listen and follow. It is in the now that our legacy, our memory that will be passed on, is being made. Make it a memory worth remembering.
In the words of Jesus,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”
Be salt, be light. Live a life of change to leave a legacy of love of God and love of neighbor. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
 1 Samuel 7:1-3
 Luke 19:8
 Psalm 139:7-10
 2 Samuel 7:11b-16
 Matthew 5:13-16