Friday, August 3, 2012

Committed







Rising Star of David
2 Samuel 6:1-19
July 29, 2012
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

2 Samuel 6:1-19
1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. 7 The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. 9 David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?" 10 So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.

11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household. 12 It was told King David, "The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.



This is the 5th sermon in our series on the life of David.
Before we go any further, let’s recap, in case some folks have been on vacation.

We started our series with the story of David and Goliath. David, son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, was sent by his father to take bread and cheese to his brothers, who were in the army of King Saul, fighting the Philistines. Down in the valley, the troops were assembled for battle, and every day, twice a day, this Philistine giant named Goliath stood in no-man’s land and taunted the army of Israel, challenging them to send out a champion. David presented himself to Saul, and offered to fight the giant, in spite of all the objections that he was only a boy. He bent down in a ravine, picked up five smooth stones, and faced the giant. When Goliath approached, David ran forward, slung a stone at Goliath, and knocked him flat. Then David cut off the giant’s head and took it to Saul. That’s the first episode.

Then we flashed back and saw that David, son of Jesse, a descendant of the Old Testament Moabite woman, Ruth, was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the king of Israel. The only thing that stood in his way was his age. And the problematic fact that there was already a king of Israel. David was brought to the house of Saul, to play his harp and soothe the king, and while he was there, he became fast friends with Jonathan, the son of King Saul and presumptive heir to the throne. David also married Michal, the daughter of the king. Both Michal and Jonathan loved David, with crazy passionate love, and they protected him from the crazy rage of their father the king.

And then King Saul and his son were killed in battle, and although David was deeply grieved, he was ready to step forward to take the throne. David was crowned king, first of Judah, then of the Northern Kingdom, and under his rule, he united the North and the South for the first time. Israel was now one kingdom.

But the work was not done. The next task for David was to defeat the Jebusites and take the city of Jerusalem, henceforth known as the City of David. Under his rule, Jerusalem became the center of the kingdom, as it is today under the nation of Israel. Now, we come to this story, where David, in a brilliant strategic move, has decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem.

We’ve seen how many of these stories serve a political end, to legitimate David as king, and to solidify his position in history. To bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem will do both. In addition, it will establish Jerusalem as the spiritual heart of the nation.

We have to flash back a bit again to remember the significance of the Ark of the Covenant.
You may remember less about the Ark from the Bible and be more familiar with it in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Remember how powerful the Ark was – so powerful that Indiana Jones was in a life or death race with the Nazis to find and retrieve the Ark. The bad guys – the Nazis -- believed that the Ark would make them invincible.

But the real story from the Bible is this:
When God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, and gave him the stone tablets with the ten commandments, those stone tablets were put into the Ark of the Covenant, a large elaborate box, decorated with cherubim, on which dwelt the presence of Jahweh, God Almighty, the Holy One, the Lord of Hosts. Those cherubim were not fat pretty little angels from a valentine, they were huge fierce winged creatures, more like griffins than baby angels.

The Ark of the Covenant was so holy that you couldn’t even touch it. It had been taken in battle more than once, but the enemy nations who made off with the Ark of the Covenant discovered to their dismay that having the Ark in their possession did not provide a benefit to them as it had to the Israelites. The Philistines at one point captured the Ark and took it to the city of Ashdod, where they placed it next to an image of their god, Dagon. Dagon was discovered the next day face down on the floor. They stood him back up, but the next day they found him with his head and hands cut off. Then all the people of Ashdod were stricken with hemorrhoids. The Philistines figured this had to be the work of the God of the Israelites (who else would do this to them?) so they sent the Ark over to their neighbors at Gath.

And guess what happened to the people of Gath? Yep, more hemorrhoids.
They finally consulted the priests of Dagon, who told them to make some hemorrhoids of gold, put them in a cart with the Ark, smack the oxen a good one, and send it away!

In the death of Uzzah we see the overwhelming power of this object. Uzzah’s audacity in reaching out to touch the Ark, Uzzah’s presumption that God needs his help, is punishable by death.

In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the Nazis manage to get the Ark. When they opened it up, at first they saw only sand. And then the overwhelming power of the cherubim and the Spirit of God roared out from the Ark and literally melted them into nothingness. Presumably, the evil Nazis had read something about the Ark of the Covenant, but they hadn’t read this far in Second Samuel!

The Ark is powerful, and meaningful, and of extreme importance to the people of Israel. Getting it back, for David, symbolizes God’s blessing and God’s power. It is a strategic move that legitimizes him, of the lowly house of Jesse, even in the minds of the most conservative citizens of his kingdom. It is a political move that demonstrates David’s power. And it is a spiritual move that acknowledges the Lordship of God over his rule.

So you can see why, after that first effort that resulted in the death of Uzzah, and a three month delay in returning the Ark, you can see why David would be ecstatic with delight, so thrilled, so enthusiastic, that he literally tosses his clothes off and dances around the streets in a loin cloth. It is a moment of exquisite triumph. So he dances in front of the Ark, dances with complete abandon. Whether or not it is appropriate to his role and his station in life is completely immaterial to him.

It’s hard to imagine a circumstance in which a public figure nowadays would celebrate with such lack of inhibition. Think, for example, of what it would have looked like at the news of the death of Bin Laden for President Obama to dance around in his briefs.

It may be hard to imagine dancing in the streets, but once we think about it, lots of examples come to mind: remember when the Berlin wall fell? or the celebrations of entire cities when their team wins the Super Bowl, or the World Series? How about Mardi Gras, or New Year’s Eve, or the glorious display of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? In fact, once you think about it, our lives are filled with occasions on which dancing in the streets seems an appropriate, if uncommon response.

What accomplishment in your life, spiritual or otherwise would move you to such wild rejoicing? For David, it is the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence is revealed, where God’s power and presence – for blessing or trouble – is made real.

What object or symbol would make you dance naked in the streets— or barring the nudity, what would move you to such celebration? For David, it is this powerful symbol and historic record of the Ark, which honors the traditions of the past and gathers the people in rejoicing for the future.

For us, such powerful symbols might be objects- a family heirloom quilt, an antique wedding ring, or maybe a treasured picture.

It might be an event, like a wedding  or a baptism, that calls to mind the covenants of the past and the promise of the days yet to come.

For many of us, a sense of power may rest in a place: the family home place, a secluded mountain glen, or a church building.

But even these cannot equal in power and symbolism the power of God contained in the Ark of the Covenant, a power so overwhelming that to touch it is to be struck dead, and to be in its presence is ecstasy. What is there in all the world like with kind of power--  but God?

All too often, like the characters in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we underestimate the might of the Holy One. We place our emotional and spiritual investment in buildings or artifacts, or objects or memories. We open the scriptures, and because we cannot easily or immediately see or understand their meaning, we think we have found only sand.

We take our faith and carefully pack it up in a crate and put it in storage, figuring that if the day comes when we need it, we can send down a message to the archives, and some internal librarian will rouse the artifacts of our belief. Or, as happens all too often in our contentious political climate, some Christians regard their faith, and their God, as powerful political weapons, a kind of divine mojo to whip up on those with whom they disagree, to melt them into oblivion with the wrath of God.

None of these mistakes are likely to get us killed. But all of them are likely to deaden us to the kind of complete delight expressed by David in this story. All of them eradicate the contagious joy of life in Christ.

When we experience our faith as a blissful dance rather than a dutiful march, we have a sense of the delight expressed by David as he danced.

When we live and move with a happiness inspired by the knowledge of God’s abiding presence and continued covenant with us, we can avoid the temptation to reach out a hand and shore up God, as if God needs our help.

When our faith in God is a dance, in which we participate with joyful and grateful response to God’s leading, we are less likely to fall into the sin of using our faith as weapon or a political tool.

Giving ourselves to the joy of belonging to God inspires us to hold out our hands and beckon others into this dance, and let God’s love catch them up in the rhythm of a life of faith.

David danced before the Ark, and though his motives were an all too human mixture of self interest and faith, his dance was an expression of pure delight in the steadfast love of the God of Israel.

We too might dance for joy, for God in Christ is with us, and it is in him we live, and move, and have our being.

Amen.



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