Where Does God Live?

Where does God live?                            

 

20 December 2020

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a house prepared for himself, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Where does God live?

This question troubles David in our Old Testament reading this morning. Life has slowed down for him. He is older. The battles and wars he  fought over the years are behind him. He wants to build up his capital city.  He is talking to the prophet Nathan. “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”

To which Nathan replies with words appropriate – or maybe politically appropriate - to a powerful King who likes to have his own way: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But maybe sort of like the time we were in a big meeting with the big boss and we said something that we thought was politically correct but maybe not exactly what we should have said or wanted to say. Then that night we toss and turn thinking about what we really should have said. And so we have this long conversation with ourself…

This is sort of what Nathan went through that night – except the conversation wasn’t with himself – it was with God: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus  says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house?…I have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from Egypt to this day. I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle…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?” Now…you say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of Hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following sheep to be the prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went. I have cut off all your enemies from before you.  I will make for you a great name…I will give you rest from all your enemies…Moreover I declare to you that I the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

Where does God live?

Maybe a couple or so years ago one of the members of our church was having an operation.  Several of us were there along with some of her family members, waiting. We were gathered in the large waiting room and as the time passed, we talked. I happened to be seated next to her mother. As we visited, she began talking about her husband who had served in WWII. He had been in the Battle of the Bulge. She said he related to her how cold, how bitter cold, it had been during that time; how glad he was when they were finally re-supplied. I guess that battle was about this time of year.

I had an uncle who also served in Europe during WWII. I have a photo of him sitting on his tank with his buddy. From time to time, I’ve wondered what would it have been like to have served then?

Recently I completed reading a book by an Oklahoma man who had in fact served in Europe during that time. Frank Sisson whose book is “I Marched with Patton.” He grew up in a small town in Oklahoma during the Depression years. There were seven kids in the family of which he was the oldest boy. When he was 15 his dad – who worked in the oil fields – died suddenly. Without his dad it looked pretty grim for his family. That day he told his mom he would take care of the family.

He dropped out of high school. He went to welding school. Then he caught a bus to California to get a job where he could make enough money to support his family. He got a job working in a shipyard in Oakland. He kept his word and sent money back to his mom. By then we were at war. At 18 he signed up for the draft and went into the Army. He was shipped to England then over to France. He served in Artillery – part of the forces commanded by George S. Patton. Promoted to Corporal he was in charge of a communications squad. In his book he tells of his experiences. His unit was involved in  the Battle of the Bulge, then his unit moved across Europe until finally they were in Germany. In Germany his unit sees the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after it is liberated. He is promoted to sergeant and moved to a military police unit where he spends time in the divided city of Berlin even after the war ends.

Growing up in the Depression years his family attended a small church in his hometown. Before shipping out to England he tears a page out of a Bible and keeps this page with him throughout the war. It is Psalm 91.

As the war nears its end, he is given some time off – I think in the Vietnam days it was called “R and R” – rest and recuperation. He is sent to Paris which has been recently liberated and stays in a hotel used by the Army for R and R for its men.

Let me share some of his words as he tells of that time in Paris:

“To walk the streets of Paris was a dream come true. I had always wanted to stroll down the Champs-Elysees and gaze at the Arc de Triomphe. Although I knew nothing about art, I’d heard of the Louvre museum. I wandered down its long halls, overwhelmed by its paintings….

“Parisians, now nine months removed from the brutal years of Nazi occupation, seemed relieved the war was almost over; the sidewalk cafes hummed with business….

“…I continued my walking tour of the city, I jumped on a tourist bus and settled back to see the sights. …When we came to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, I got off. For as long as I could remember, I had wondered what it would be like to see the inside of this great building. Well, its splendor …was more than I expected. I felt like I had walked into the private abode of God Himself. I sat on the one of the benches and almost wanted to cry.”

A few days pass and rumors are swirling that the war is almost over.  “On Sunday I went back to the Notre-Dame Cathedral to pray that all fighting would stop. The church was packed with others doing the same. People kept nodding to me, some saying “Merci,” over and over again. Surrounded by the awesome, towering walls of one of the world’s greatest structures, I said my thank-you’s to the Almighty.”

“I awoke on Tuesday, May 8, to sunshine beaming through the window of my hotel room. I stretched and tried to get my wits about me. After a few moments, I could hear the noise outside. People were rushing up and down the street, singing, clapping, shouting for joy. Some were hollering who knows what over and over. All of Paris seemed to be in an uproar. I switched on the Armed Forces Radio Service, and at nine o’clock American time, I picked up a speech by President Harry Truman. He was saying that the fighting wouldn’t be over until the Japanese suffered, but the Allied armies, through sacrifice and devotion with God’s help, had brought Germany to an unconditional surrender.”

“I leaped out of bed. My most fervent prayers had been answered. I wanted to be part of the celebration outside. I rushed downstairs and into the street…One old lady was kneeling beside a large building and praying, tears running down her face. A man was dancing in the street, holding a bottle of champagne above his head…Everywhere, people were hugging one another and dancing…Children found their way into the crowd and were celebrating with equal joy. The little ones kept clapping their hands…I kept hoofing it down the streets as if I were a real dancer. And then I was in front of Notre-Dame - again. I looked up at those magnificent spires rising into the sky. The carvings over the entrance seemed to beckon me inside.”

“The…chancel was filled with people. The little side chapels were crowded with men and women kneeling on the floor in prayer. The overwhelming sound of the organ playing a triumphant hymn sent chills through [me]. Down near the front, I found an empty space and sat down next to a young woman. Her body shook slightly, and I knew she was crying…. Perhaps she had lost someone…maybe her husband or lover or friend. One of the many who had died.”

“We had lost so many soldiers in these past months. By the grace of God, my unit had been spared, while others had been wiped out. I had seen the enemy dead, sprawled in ditches, German soldiers frozen in ponds or turned into cakes of ice by the subzero snow and ice. At times, I didn’t believe I would survive the winter. How I did, I’ll never know.

The organ stopped. A holy hush descended over the congregation. In an unexpected way, the silence was more emotional than the loud rejoicing in the streets. Waves of sentiment swept over me. I became more aware than I had ever been that the hand of God had sustained and guided me through a thousand pitfalls. Bullets had whizzed by, shrapnel flying past me, yet never breaking the skin.

I had survived.

I reached in my chest pocket, and that piece of paper was still there. Psalm 91 had carried me through the worst of times…

Where does God live?

He lives in the hearts of those who love him.

We are in the last Sunday of Advent – The Coming – The Coming of our Savior.  It is a time we remember the visit of an angel sent by God to a country girl in an obscure part of Israel.  That through her would come the One spoken of so long before. The One who is of the “House” of David.

Maybe it’s also a time for asking ourselves has He come into our hearts? Someone said one time, “truth is like water, it requires a vessel to carry it.” This man, this soldier, carried the love of Christ in his heart. In the living of his life in that terrible war he was a vessel for God’s truth and His love. In his book he didn’t talk much about his church  - just a little church in a small Oklahoma town. Yet in that church he did learn about God  and come to trust him in his life.  And that faith carried him through the dark times of his life. And it brought him through that terrible war.

My prayer for all of us this Advent Season is that we may be a vessel of His truth and His love.

So that at His coming He may find in us a house prepared for Him.


Amen.

Richard Robertson

For a review of Frank Sisson’s book see “From a Soldier’s Point of View” by Mark Yost in the November 10, 2020, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Quotes from “I Marched with Patton” by Frank Sisson with Robert L. Wise, Morrow, 290 pages.

 

 

 

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