On God Making a House for Us

July 21, 2024 | Rev. Dr. John H. Young

Readings: II Samuel 7:1-17; Psalm 139; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This Sunday’s Old Testament lesson centres on David’s desire to build in Jerusalem a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, that most central sacred object in ancient Israelite religion. The previous chapter in II Samuel (last Sunday’s Old Testament lesson) recounts how David brought the Ark to Jerusalem. Now he wants the Ark to be in a suitable setting in Jerusalem. But Nathan, the prophet, has a word from God during the night, a word that he is to bring to David indicating that David should not build a temple. Rather, it is something David’s successor will do. God, in this story, makes a remarkable promise to David, namely that his lineage will occupy the throne forever and that God’s steadfast love will always be with David’s descendants. David’s line ceases to occupy the throne after Jerusalem is occupied and the southern kingdom of Israel is destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE. Subsequent generations of Jews, and after the beginning of Christianity, Christians also, have interpreted this promise of God in a more expansive way. Sunday’s sermon will explore some of the dimensions of the story and about how we might hear and understand that promise of God.

On Trying to Control God

July 14, 2024 | Rev. Dr. John H. Young

Readings: II Samuel 6:1-19; Psalm 24; Mark 6:14-29

The reading from II Samuel concerns David’s decision to move the Ark of the Covenant, that is the ark containing the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, to his new capital city of Jerusalem. David has relatively recently become the king of the entire land, not just the king of Judah; in other words, the ten so-called northern tribes, who had retained an allegiance to one of the late King Saul’s sons, have now agreed to have David as their king. The Ark of the Covenant, while historically important for all the people of Israel, had particular importance for those ten northern tribes. Until the Philistines had captured the Ark in a battle with the people of Israel, the Ark had been located in the main worship centre of those northern tribes. David’s decision may well have reflected his own valuing, as a person of faith, of this important religious symbol. However, his decision to move the Ark to Jerusalem also had political value for him. If the Ark of the Covenant was in Jerusalem, it made Jerusalem not only the political and military centre of this newly united kingdom he ruled but also its religious centre. In other words, while David may have had religious motives for this action, it was also politically advantageous for him.

The story has some troubling details, not least the death of Uzzah who dies after touching the Ark in an effort to stabilize it. But the story raises questions that still have applicability in our time. What is the effect on a religious symbol when it gets used for political purposes? Does such use undercut the religious value of the symbol? This week’s sermon will look at these and related questions.

On Being Subject to the Governing Authorities

June 30, 2024 | Rev. Dr. John H. Young

Readings: Romans 13:1-7; Psalm 99; Matthew 22:15-22

Romans 13:1-7 definitely stands as one of the more of the apostle Paul’s more challenging directives. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” [New Revised Standard Version translation] is how it begins. Indeed, J.C. O’Neill, in a 1975 commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, wrote: “These seven verses have caused more unhappiness and misery . . .  than any other seven verses in the New Testament.” Various rulers, from sixteen and seventeenth century European monarchs to twentieth and twenty-first century dictators, have used this passage as Biblical warrant for their demand for the absolute obedience of the people of their countries. Certainly some Christians in Nazi Germany appealed to this passage in their demands for obedience to Adolf Hitler. During the Viet Nam war, some American Christians used this passage as a Biblical justification for opposing those who raised questions about American participation in that conflict.

So what do we make of this passage? Do we just ignore these seven verses, as though we could somehow just snip them from the New Testament? Do we believe that we should always “be subject to” the governing authorities, no matter what the policy or matter in question? These questions are important ones for us to ponder, as people of faith. The Canada Day weekend, when we think particularly about our land, its history, and its future, seems a good occasion for thinking about Romans 13:1-7 and the questions it raises.