What we say should be reflected in what we do.
I love this story. The lesson that it’s heart is a simple one: don’t forget to ask God.
Initially, we are led to believe that King David is right on track. His idea is to build God a Temple. After all, as he says, he has this luxurious house made out of sturdy cedars. Meanwhile, the Ark of the Covenant, which has traveled with the people since the days of the wilderness of Mt. Sinai, is stuck in a tent.
It makes so much sense, in fact, that Nathan gives David the go-ahead. Nathan is David’s prophet, God’s mouthpiece to the king. He’s there to keep David on track when it comes to faithfulness. As powerful as David is, Nathan has no problem calling him to accountability, correcting him when he has strayed from the straight and narrow.
In this case, though, there doesn’t seem to be an issue. David’s construction project seems straightforward, even righteous, and Nathan tells him to go for it. God, however, has different plans. And so, when Nathan heads home that evening, God breaks into his dreams to be sure he does the right thing.
It turns out that God wants to take care of David; David doesn’t need to take care of God. The Temple? That’s for the next generation to worry about. In other words, Nathan seems to forget that prophets have two jobs:
- Ask God what to say
- Say what God says
In this case, he seems to be batting .500. If you’re going to put “prophet” on your resume, you should act like a prophet. What you say should be reflected in what you do.
How often do we get it right? What would our batting average be?
There is, in faith in Christ, a call to integrity. If Jesus really is the embodiment of God, then every fiber of his being is imbued with Godliness. And as part of the church, as members of Christ’s body, that same holiness ought to flow through us. What we say we believe should be reflected in what how we treat others. Even more than that, it should show forth in every aspect of our lives.
We’ve been speaking about the concept of “home” the past few weeks. First of all, home requires a plan. Most importantly, it requires a plan to open ourselves to God’s plan. Secondly, home requires people. In God’s home, there is room for all people from all walks of life.
Today, we’re talking about how home requires a place. And what that place looks like should be a reflection of what we say and what we do.
Let’s take our home here at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. What does this place say about us? How do you get in the building in the first place? Are those inviting red doors where you start your journey, or do you get in by way of a secret entrance at the back of the property? What about our seeming fondness for stairs? Or the fact that a three story building has seven different elevations? Are we puzzle fans, or devotees of MC Escher?
And what about our Sanctuary, with its row upon row of straight-back pews, all facing forward? Or how about our worship service, for that matter, a largely traditional practice with contemporary moments here and there?
In short, what we say should be reflected in what we do. And what we do should be reflected in the places we find ourselves.
This all came home for me last year when I sat down to lunch with a group of Oglethorpe University students. Over the course of a year, we probably have twenty of them worship with us – and almost never on the same Sunday. Last Spring, I invited them to lunch to talk about faith, college, church, and how the three might come together. I told them I was surprised to learn how many Oglethorpe University students ended up worshiping at places like Buckhead Church. After all, the college prides itself on being a forward-thinking, open and welcoming place. Didn’t they know that Buckhead Church was an outgrowth of the Southern Baptists?
Their response came as a jolt: Buckhead looks and sounds contemporary, so they assumed that their outlook mirrored that look. Meanwhile, Oglethorpe Presbyterian looks and sounds traditional, with robes and organ and the like, so it must be populated with people who are just as traditional.
Is what we say about ourselves reflected in what we do, in how we act, in where we live, in who we are?
This past summer, you all gave me the gift of time away in Chicago. Among the many things I did was to visit a different church each Sunday. My experience was probably very similar to that of someone church shopping. I was new every week, automatically disoriented by entering the building. I didn’t know the traditions or expectations. I didn’t even know how I was expected to dress. My sense of welcome was all over the map: some churches struck that perfect balance between greeting me without pouncing. Other churches ignored me altogether.
There was one church in particular that really drew me in. During announcements, the pastor struck all the right notes of welcome. After worship, he let us know he was going to have lunch nearby. “If you’re a first time visitor,” he said, “I would like to buy you lunch.” If I’m honest, I was probably more excited about the free lunch than getting to know more about the church, but I thought to myself, “This is a church that gets it right.” I made a mental note that I would be having lunch with the pastor that day.
As the service drew to a close, the pastor gave the benediction and headed to the back of the sanctuary. I rose with everyone else and walked toward the lobby, right out the door, and onto the street. No one said a word to me. And off I went, to have lunch by myself.
I know it wasn’t intentional. They were so busy loving on each other, saying hi and catching up, that they didn’t even notice me. And that was the problem: from what I experienced, what they said was not reflected in what they did.
Look: I’m very much aware that we at Oglethorpe Presbyterian live with a disconnect between how we act and what this home of ours looks like. And I am also aware that we know this, too. If you can find the right door, you are almost certain to be greeted warmly and welcomed here. If you don’t know where you’re going, there’s a high probability that someone will escort you there, because we know that our building is a baffling labyrinth of hallways and half-levels. And I know that we are doing what we can to transform this place into a building that more honestly reflects our personality.
That said, we are not there yet. And there are some significant hurdles, which I’m confident we will address the coming years. But in the meantime, we need to be creative about how it is that we build that integrity into who we are.
So here’s my invitation, my challenge, to each you. And I really want you to take this seriously.
Some time in the next month, I want you to invite one person to have lunch or coffee with you. It could be a co-worker or a neighbor, someone outside your church family, someone that you have interacted with that you thought, “I would really like to get to know this person better.” And that’s exactly what I want you to do: get to know them better. Find out more about their life story, what makes them tick, what’s important to them. Ask them questions about faith, about God, about church – not because you have some kind of secret agenda, because that would betray any sense of integrity; but because those are things that matter to you and you want to know what matters to them.
And if you’re so inclined, I would love to hear what happens. I would be interested to know what that experience is like for you. I plan to do it, too, and I would love to tell you how it goes.
Why should you do this? Because it is an act that demonstrates who you are. And in the echoes of today’s text about David and Nathan and Solomon and the Temple, it is an obvious way to move beyond this place where we find God and to go out to meet God in the tent.
Friends, is what we say reflected in what we do? Can we commit ourselves to pulling those pieces closer and closer together?