2 Samuel 7:2: 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.”
I’m at my parents’ house in Virginia, sheltering in a new place for the next couple of weeks. (Requisite caveat: I tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday after isolating for two weeks. Isolation, for me, meant not being inside any building other than my home for longer than the 2 minutes it takes for me to grab my take-out order off the counter at Bean Traders.)
I have been very, very grateful to live where I live this year. My tiny apartment is tiny, but it is mine. My neighborhood has miles and miles of walking trails, allowing me to step out the door and get my 10,000 steps in easily. There are TWO local, quality coffee shops within a mile’s radius, and dozens of local restaurants, as well. My church is right down the road, and while we haven’t been meeting in person, our partners at the nearby UMC host the Food Hub where I get to volunteer in the garden and find safe, outdoor human interaction.
Durham is also *committed* to mutuality and caring for one another. Everyone wears masks. Local government and businesses have gotten super creative to keep people connected and fed and paid. I’ve been in meetings with clergy and health department leaders working tirelessly to keep lines of communication open and information sharing clear and robust.
And I live 3 hours from my parents and a little less from my sister and her family. That has meant that I’ve been able to see them all – at my nephew’s baseball tournaments, in my sister’s driveway, kayaking in Durham on my birthday – several times this year. I’m grateful to have a job and a life that is anchored just a few hours from my family.
I love where I live. I’ve lived in Durham 5 years now, the longest I’ve been in any place since I graduated from high school.
And. Even though geographic and economic disparities mean that, right now, some places are healthier and safer than others (church folks made sure I knew that Durham just got named Best City to Celebrate Christmas), today’s scripture reminds me that God isn’t any more or less present – no matter where we happen to be.
King David wanted to build God a house, to save God from living in a portable tent. But God wasn’t interested. The text after the highlighted verse, God says:
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. 7 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?” 8 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; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went…
I have been with you wherever you went.
Later on, Solomon does, in fact, build a temple for God. And you know what happens? Generations later, conquering armies blow through and destroy it, and send God’s people scattered into exile. And it sucks. The losses are unimaginable. The people cry out: “how can we sing God’s songs in a foreign land?!” But God doesn’t disappear. God sticks with God’s people – when they are at home, when they are in exile, whether they worship in a tent or a temple.
I’m filled with gratitude for this place where I have landed. And I know, too, that had I been sheltering in place in any of the other cities where I’ve made a home – in Richmond or Manassas or Salem or Oxford or Elgin or Atlanta or Williamsburg – there would be gifts and graces and newly discovered corners and wonders. I am certain that wherever you are – in your tiny city apartment or your isolated mountain home – God is with you. God has been with you, wherever you have been.