Sermon delivered by Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., on July 19, 2009.
II Samuel 7: 1-14a
Since the first of the summer, we’ve been walking with David, the smallest son of Jesse who grew in stature until even today he’s considered the greatest king in all Israel’s history. Every encounter, every battle, every challenge set before him was successfully engaged. David entered the time in life when he had as much life behind him as he did ahead of him and he began to focus on what to do now that he had himself on his hands. He came to the peak of adulthood and yet he didn’t know fully what to do next or what to expect out of the next stage of life.
David became obsessed with the fact he had a king’s palace made of cedar wood while the Ark of the Covenant, the uniquely Jewish symbol of God’s presence and mighty power, was still in the tent it had been in since the days of the Sinai when the people of Israel roamed about the desert like Bedouins. You see, David and his men had roamed the whole of the Middle East fighting as if war was all they knew and likely it was. Now he worried about what to do in the quiet days of hard fought peace. And his idle mind turned to building a home for God.
When John Claypool was pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, he preached a marvelous series of sermons on the various stages of the life cycle from childhood to old age that later became the basis for his book, Stages: Living the Unexpected. In those sermons he wisely observed that in each stage of life there is a corresponding struggle of the spirit. And in the struggle through adulthood, the longest stage of our lives, there is a pointed difference in the challenges of climbing the mountain than from descending the mountain. Claypool makes a crucial observation: “If adolescence is the most intense stage along the way,” he notes, “(then) adulthood is the most demanding.” What makes it so tough is that by middle adulthood, we struggle on so many fronts … relational, professional and personal.
There is the obvious struggle of the first half of adulthood we can call “The Season of Accomplishment.” But once one reaches the summit, reaching the peak of their powers having achieved with a mixture of success and failure, how do we turn and make the descent down the mountain? In the struggle of older age he asks poignantly, “Where are the navigational charts for the afternoon and evening of life?” Most of us are so busy in the first half of adulthood achieving and conquering we are caught unprepared for the uniqueness of aging. It’s the kind of experience that comes when someone has focused all his or her adult energies on only one growth front during the early years of adulthood. How do we then cope with the second half of adulthood when climbing the mountain is no longer the primary challenge?
One middle-aged man commented to Gail Sheehy that after his season of accomplishment, he was not nearly as fulfilled or satisfied as he supposed he would be. “I am near the top of the mountain that I saw as a young man,” he noted, “but lo and behold, this is not snow up here, it is mostly salt.”
David was at the pinnacle of his powers, at the mid-point of his life, and looked for a way to legitimize his reign and secure his place in history. He was worried about what he’d leave behind. Would it last? Would it mean something? David was in the season of his life where he hoped to find some way to balance the books between the gains of his accomplishments with the losses of his failures. Notice in the text, there is peace on all Israel’s borders. The wars were over and there were no more enemies to fight. He had done his job well in leading the people of God into a quiet peace in the Middle East.
David desired to mark his career with a lasting gift of remembrance in the form of the construction of a great Temple as a house of worship. Both he and Nathan the prophet were in agreement that God’s ark had lived long enough in the portable tents of the Tabernacle and it was time to provide a permanent residence for God in the newly christened City of David. But Nathan was told in an oracle that it was not to be; in fact, God made a play on the word “house” and offered instead to build David a house of his own, “I, Yahweh, will build you a house.”
The word play comes in knowing that in Hebrew, the word “house” can mean either a Temple or a Dynasty. Thus, the roles are reversed. David will not build Yahweh a house (a Temple). Instead, Yahweh will build David a house (a Dynasty). And in the word play, the seriousness of their conversation shifts. They’re no longer talking about building a place for the Ark of the Covenant to reside. They’re not contemplating building a structure that will house the visible presence of God. Instead, God speaks of the prospects of David’s reign being remembered for all time as a sign of his greatness.
How about one last story to help us see the point? It’s told in India about an argument among the gods over where to hide the secret of life so men and women would not find it.
“Bury it under a mountain,” one god suggested. “They’ll never find it there.”
“No,” the others countered, “one day they will find a way to dig up the mountain and uncover the secret of life.”
“Put it in the depths of the deepest ocean,” another god suggested. “It will be safe there.”
“No,” said the others, “some day humankind will find a way to travel to the depths of the ocean and will find it.”
“Put it inside them,” a wise, old god said, “men and women will never think of looking for it there.”
All the gods agreed, and so it is said the gods hid the secret of life within us.
David’s story up to this point is an example of the value of working hard and working on difficult tasks with all your heart. But there’s a limit to sheer force of will unless one is willing to take time to take an honest look at the major growth fronts upon which we struggle … relational growth (how we balance the need to both give and receive love), professional growth (our calling to a vocation), and personal growth (the willingness to accept both our successes and our failures). Gail Sheehy calls this “concomitant growth” and it’s the key to knowing the path that leads down the mountain of adulthood. The question for the second half of our long journey through adulthood seems to be, “Will we continue to grow or just grow stagnant?”