Welcome to our visiting minister: The Rev. Gabrielle Suedfeld!
We look forward to welcoming back Gabrielle's enthusiasm and wisdom! Gabrielle is very active in her home church in Langley participating in everything from pastoral care and prayer shawls to leading worship in other church communities and seniors’ homes. She also likes gardening and enjoys trying to keep up with her five grandchildren! Welcome back Gabrielle!
“A Foundation for the Future”
2 Sam. 7:1-14a & Psalm 89:1-4, 36-37 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. Gabrielle Suedfeld ~ July 18, 2021
Have you ever received a gift that you did not expect, did not want, could not use? Or one that didn’t fit your lifestyle, your clothing size. A gift that you could not reject? We all have stories of opening a present and trying to find a gracious way to accept or reject the article. When I was little, and had a birthday party, my mother would remind me that no matter what my friends gave me, I should be polite and thank them, because we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
I once asked people in a small congregation to share some of these stories. My favourite that day was told by a woman who, when she was about eight years old, wanted to give her mother something very special for Mother’s Day. She knew just what mum would love. She had seen a little cardboard box in the corner store, with a beautiful white bird on it. Mum loved birds, and she could keep her special things in that box. She saved for weeks, and finally bought the present. She wrapped it carefully, and proudly presented it to her mother. Yes, it had a lovely bird on the cover. A white bird, a snowy owl. When mum opened the box, there were two dozen White Owl cigars inside! She smiled and pronounced it the most unusual gift she ever received, and said that the cigars would be enjoyed by others in the family, and she would put all kinds of small treasures in that box. What a graceful and kind way to accept that unintentional part of the gift!
Today we have a story of King David, well established in his royal digs, all panelled in sweet smelling cedar, fresh from his joyful experience of bringing the Ark of the Covenant – the tablets of the Law encased in a large travelling box – back to its rightful place among the people. The Ark had been captured by the Philistines, and then returned; it was moved about several times over a period of twenty years, and finally David was able to bring it to Jerusalem, where it was placed in a tent. The very presence of God, in the laws, the love, the trust and majesty, was camping out, while David had a very fine palace to live in. So David decided that God deserved a better and more permanent home. He consulted his new prophet, Nathan – still rather wet behind the ears - and Nathan thought this would be a wonderful gift. Until that evening, when God set him straight.
Unlike our mothers, God was not very diplomatic. God didn’t really consider anyone’s hurt feelings. God didn’t want to be locked into a sanctuary. God needs to be footloose and fancy free. So David’s was not given a building permit. And Nathan had to give him the news. King David’s fine present was rejected. God hadn’t asked for a new home, God didn’t want or need a new home. God was in charge and should have been consulted first. Sometimes, in the local paper, there is a page from the township, or city, and it has maps on it and explanations of zoning variances, so the public can have a chance to understand and question what is being built on a particular piece of land. David didn’t apply for that, and we are reminded that life is God’s gift, that we are to follow God’s plans and that we can’t try to stuff God into our perception of events. This is a passage that reigns us in, but is also full of promise, for David centuries ago, and for us today. It gives us all sorts of possibilities for enjoying God’s grace. It gives us strength to get through what seems to be endless waiting for the pandemic to be under control. It gives us courage to plan for a future when we can re-connect, to gather in worship, to sing and to celebrate, to share coffee and food, family news, concerns, and hugs.
David wanted to give God a house, but God had a better idea. David would not build the temple, but he would be given an everlasting dynasty. In Hebrew, the word for house, temple and future descendants is the same: bait. The tables were turned, and it was David who got the gift. And so today we want to explore what this promise, this renewal of God’s covenant, means for us. As we listened to God’s message to Nathan, we heard a review of the blessings already given to David, and the promises to come, as God said: “I took you from the pasture and made you a king. I saved you from your enemies. I will make you a great name. I will appoint a place for the people and plant them there. I will appoint the judges. I will give you rest from conflict. I will establish your dynasty.
I will not take my steadfast love from your descendants and your kingdom shall be forever. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of God’s power and of the blessings we have already received, and accept these gifts with humility and thanksgiving. We may need to ask ourselves, How do we limit God’s influence in our lives? What false boundaries do we put on God’s power and on our own creativity? Where has the presence of God been felt in the past fifteen months? What gifts has God continued to shower upon us, even, or especially in this time? I think that this story may make us think about how our church has changed, and what that has done to your individual faith. Because when you are able to come together again, probably in the fall, things will be a little different. Of course, we’ll all be eighteen months older. I know I have more grey hair now. And the children will be taller, and maybe everyone will be wiser.
And we will have to get dressed to come to church, no matter which one it is. No more lounging around while you watch a service on U Tube. Our voices will be rusty because we haven’t sung together in many months. And there will be empty spaces in the chairs, and those souls will be deeply missed. And there will be new faces; people who joined on the internet, and found that they liked this idea of worship. And they will be welcomed into the family.
In March 2020, there came a day when the world seemed to stop. We were confined, life seemed suspended, we talked about when we would get “back to normal.” Now we talk about “the new normal”. Friends, there is no “normal”. There is only the exciting adventure of being the people of God. Over the past year and a half, I have worked with several churches, filling in for worship when asked, providing pastoral care, much of it over the phone, trying to stay connected with colleagues.
And I have seen with joy and amazement how churches and other places of worship have used their creativity, their faith, their determination and their buildings to keep God’s presence alive in the hearts of the people.
Worship has changed, of course, and it has been a real challenge to adjust, experiment, learn new technology, and trust that God was going along with the programme. But just think about all the wonderful things that have gone on at Northwood. I don’t think God has been lonely. As I sit here today, recording this service, I look out on a sanctuary that has been transformed as the church continues to serve the community. The chairs have been moved to the back, so that the Thrift Shop could be set up. The room is filled with clothing and household goods that are being made available to the people of this area. This is part of your faith.
Office procedures have been adjusted, but there is still a welcoming presence in this building. All the United Churches I have been in have strict rules for handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing. These practices are done out of love and concern for the health of others. This is part of our faith. The worship services moved to the internet. There is music, sometimes you have a virtual choir with the Langley church, there are wonderful visual slides, there are people from the congregation on the screen, doing readings and sometimes other parts of the service. You feel connected, in a special way. These are your friends, companions on the way, people you love, right there on Sunday morning.
I never thought I would be a “movie star”, but I’m getting used to talking to a camera. I just visualize this congregation, or another that I am in, remembering faces of the people I know, sitting in the familiar places, and I know you are out there, sharing your faith this morning. At Northwood, there have been many kinds of Zoom meetings - you hear about them each week during announcements: coffee hour after church, and the Wednesday gathering. Spiritual practices, yoga, the book club, the food pantry. In the spring, shoeboxes were changed to ziplock bags, and you were able to donate gifts for 100 people at the Surrey Urban Mission Society. Your faithful service has continued, undaunted by Covid. God has been here all the time.
And of course there are the at-home children and youth programmes, on zoom and with special learning kits. This church has reached out to all ages just as it did before. God’s work goes on. The world did not stop, you did not stop. In spite of restrictions of personal contact, Scott’s compassionate presence, his caring spirit and concern for all of you, has not faltered, his heart has grown in grace. The building may be empty sometimes, but God’s house has been full. You have worked with God to build a new kind of house, in your homes, in your hearts, in your service to others. The whole idea of church has not diminished, it has expanded, so that the blessings continue and increase. Together, you are building the foundations for the future. David wanted to build a house for God, but God turned the tables on him and gave him more than he could have imagined. I think this time has shown us that the house, the bait, is more than the building; it is the whole community, as well as the promise for the future. God has been camping out and living in our hearts the whole time. And maybe now we can better understand what is important for our faith, what things can be put aside, what dreams we need to give up, and what visions we need to follow to make a better world.
This is a lovely building, and I so enjoy being with you here. But as I read this passage, I realized how much more there is to the idea of “church”, and how many opportunities for grace and blessings we are offered as God’s beloved people. So take this story into your hearts, and know that God is not confined just to this beloved, sheltering sacred space, but is with you in every time and place, blessing, guiding, and surrounding you with love on your faith journey. “Let Us Build a House” is the first hymn in More Voices and it gives us a vision of what we can be, as we prepare to return to life in our church buildings. May these words bring you joy and encouragement as we listen or sing together.