When God Says "No"

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, July 18, 2021
2 Samuel 7:1-14a

    When I was about 16, my cousin, who’s ten years younger than I am, so about 6 at the time, got me a Barbie for Christmas.  I was old enough to be polite about it, but I thought quietly to myself…”What the heck am I going to do with a Barbie? I don’t want a Barbie!”  It turns out my aunt and uncle had let her pick out the Christmas gifts herself that year, and so she gave most people things that she herself enjoyed, including Barbies.
    Can you relate to having received a gift that the giver perhaps thought you would enjoy because THEY enjoyed it, or giving a gift to someone in your household because you actually wanted it?  In our story from 2 Samuel today, David really wants to give God a present in gratitude for all God has done for him.  He means well!  And what present could you possibly give God, Lord of the universe and creator of all things?  Well, in Ancient Near Eastern cultures, it was common for the ruler to build a house of worship for their gods near their own palace.  The ark of the covenant, as we remembered last week, was the place where God “lived,” but it had been stored in a tent for hundreds of years.  So, David thinks to himself, “ I know, I’ll build a house for God, a temple!”  Other kings are doing it.  Surely God deserves a better building dedicated to the Lord than a flimsy tent!  He’ll love it!  But God’s answer to David’s gift suggestion is surprising and disappointing to David: “Have I ever asked you to build me a house?  No.  Do I want you to build me a house?  No thanks!”  God tells David “no,” or at least…”not yet.”
    It can be incredibly difficult to hear “no” from God, especially since often we experience that “no” as silence, which feels like God’s absence.  I would guess everyone listening to this sermon has had the experience of asking God for something and not having that prayer request be answered as we wanted it to be answered.  Maybe it was finding the right spouse and getting married on our timeline, or trying to have children and not being able to have children, not getting your dream job, or praying for a miraculous healing for a loved one that didn’t happen.  These experiences can leave us wondering, “Why doesn’t God want what we want?”  For some, it can mean distancing themselves from God and from the church, a deep hurt because we don’t understand God’s “no” or “not yet” to us all of the time.  But sometimes, like for David in this example, God’s unsettling answer can lead to a deeper faith over time, where we learn more truly what it means to pray as we do in the Lord’s prayer, “thy will be done” (and not MY will).  And we learn to ask different questions, like “What does God want of me?” rather than what we want God to do for us.
    In our gospel for this morning, we hear how Jesus is going everywhere – into cities and villages and farms, rural, urban and suburban areas, teaching, showing compassion upon all whom he meets, and healing all who are able to simply touch the fringe of his cloak.  As a pastor visiting many sick and dying people, I have seen people miraculously healed still today – 1 in a million chances, astounding the medical professionals.  These are times to praise God!  But of course, there have been many people who although we have prayed our hardest, have not recovered.  We wonder whether God has heard our prayers, even.  We wonder where Jesus’ healing touch is, sometimes for a long time.  And yet, even when people are not miraculously cured as we had hoped, as time goes on, God teaches us about a broader healing that goes beyond physical health.  Christ shows us how he’s been there for us, during the most difficult of times, to help us get through, despite our disappointments. God shows us all the ways he has said “yes” to us amidst the one painful “no.”  
At the beginning of our gospel passage for today, we hear how the apostles gather around Jesus and he listens to them, to all that they have been doing and teaching.  He is already equipping them to do what he does – to teach, to heal, to cast out demons, to pray.  The disciples ask what Jesus wants of them, and he shows them.  The disciples are never completely able to have the kind of miraculous healing power that Jesus has himself, but their efforts to share their faith, the love of God, and the power of healing for a world in need grows the early church!  Discipleship is a lifelong process of learning what Jesus wants of us and instead of asking why God says no, asking what God wants us to say “yes” to!
    It’s important to notice that along with God’s disappointing “no thanks” to David’s offer to build God a temple, there is a big promise, a covenant, actually, that God makes with David in the same answer.  Nathan assures David that the Lord is with him.  God re-emphasizes this by saying “I have been with you wherever you went.” God tells David that his name will be great, which it is, still today, that David will have rest from his enemies, and that his son will build God’s house, the temple.  So God’s “no” in this case is actually a “not yet.”  But notice that God doesn’t just promise that Solomon will build the temple, a house for God, God says, “The Lord will make YOU a house.”  God’s “no” is wrapped up in all kinds of hidden blessings for David and his family.
    In our wrestling with God’s “nos” in life, I hope and pray that as we listen and continue to ask “What does God want of me?” we begin to hear God’s promises and faithfulness to us despite the disappointments.  God has been with us wherever we go.  God promises to give us peace, to calm our fears, and to give us rest – common themes throughout scripture.  God promises to bless our futures, even if they don’t turn out exactly as we imagined or expected.  And like the first apostles, God in Christ sends us out to be ministers of healing, to pray for others, to share the good news of God’s loving presence with those who are hurting…essentially, to teach, preach, and share God’s love in Christ, our mission as a congregation!  It is an incredibly humbling thought to recognize that you could be God’s answer, God’s surprising “yes” to someone who is hurting and in need of good news.
    In the midst of God’s “no” to David, we actually hear a lot of good news “yesses.”  Most importantly, we hear how buildings are pretty but God is not confined to any one building or place.  In fact, God would prefer to be on the move.  God enjoys being among us!  As self-centered as we humans can be, focused on what we can get out of our relationship from God to a fault, God still wants to hang around us, his beloved children.  God wants to guide us which sometimes includes telling us “no,” but God also wants to bless us abundantly.  May our walk with God open us to new possibilities, and may we see God’s blessings and promises to us each and every day.  Amen.