Sunday, December 21, 2014

God Chose To Live In A Mobile Home

Model of the Tabernacle in Timna Park, Israel
"And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us..."
John 1:14 (Amplified)

"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..., saying, 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?'"
2 Samuel 7:7 (NRSV) 

In today's Advent lectionary reading, King David is troubled about the fact that he is living in luxury in a new palace while the ark of the covenant, representing God's presence, remains in a mobile tent.

For over four centuries, ever since their emigration from Egypt, God's visible "home" for the Jewish people was a portable tent rather than a permanent temple. Apparently God preferred it that way, having given elaborate instructions (Exodus 25-27) for this modest size "mobile home" and having never given any direction to build a more elaborate structure dedicated to the worship of God.

King Solomon, claiming God's approval, took it upon himself to build the first permanent Jewish temple, with elaborate features but still relatively small compared to many of today's places of worship. His temple was destroyed and then rebuilt on a somewhat more modest scale under Nehemiah after the Jewish return from their exile in Babylon. 

Model of Herod's temple, Museum of Israel
In Jesus' day King Herod built a beautiful temple that symbolized the hopes of a nation, then under Roman oppression, that was longing for its former glory under King Solomon's rule.

It is clear that Jesus was never impressed by such signs of religious splendor and power. Of all the statements he made that enraged the religious establishment--and most certainly led to his crucifixion--the most inflammatory were those in which he announced that their beloved temple was, in fact, about to be destroyed, with "not one stone left on top of another".

Among the incendiary words of Stephan, the first Christian martyr, that caused him to be stoned to death were, "It was Solomon who built a house for him (God). Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands, as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool'" (Acts 7:47-49a). To not show reverence for the temple was considered a sacrilege.

But Jesus, like our spiritual ancestor Abraham, never owned any real estate and chose to consider his followers as his living home, his sacred dwelling. Never once did he instruct his followers to go into all the world and construct buildings for worship, and members of the first century church met in each others' homes and in other available spaces.

God likes tents, prefers to live in mobile homes, in a people who are solely devoted to his mission as announced by the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NIV) 
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