Sermon for 15th July 2012. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Punta Gorda, FL
2 Samuel 6:1-19
My parents and your parents would annoy or amuse us greatly when they began to talk about the “good old days”. We would roll our eyes when they began to talk about going to the “five and dime” to buy candy, then to the movie house to see the latest “talking picture” , followed by a malted at the drug store, and all for a nickel.
“The good old days”: In our American memory they were either when George Washington was President, or in the 1950’s when in a new age of American prosperity we thought “God is in his heaven, and all’s right with the world” (unless of course we were black, or were poor whites in Appalachia).
The ancient nation of Israel had its own myths about their “good old days”. They looked back to the long reign of King David as a golden era, never to be repeated. David was viewed as a hero, with super-human, even semi-divine status.
Of course it was not that clear. David became King as a result of back-stabbing, treachery, violence, intrigue and double crossing. He had all the qualifications to become a modern American President! Yet he was the Lord’s anointed, and was described as a man after God’s own heart.
We enter his story at the time when he is consolidating his reign and bringing about national peace with secure borders. But allwas not well.
All was not well because the Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines in battle.
That Ark, a huge bronze chest surmounted by carved cherubim was said to contain three things: the two tablets of the law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and some manna. It was a sacred object, so sacred that it was carried at the end of long wooden poles which were inserted into bronze rings at its four corners. So that it could not be touched by human hands.
For those ancient Israelites the Ark represented the very presence of the Living God in their midst. So when the Ark had been purloined by the Philistines it was as if God himself had left the people.
No Ark. No God.
The Philistines found the Ark too hot to handle. And now King David, with his thirty thousand warriors is bringing the Ark back to Israel. They are bringing God back to Israel.
Oh what joy. Oh what jubilee. It’s the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day and my birthday all rolled into one: singing, dancing, lyres, harps, castanets and cymbals, all combining to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
They pause in a threshing field. The Ark wobbles on the ox-cart. Without thinking, Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark, with deadly consequences.
Of course that instant death of the hapless Uzzah sounds horrendous to our modern ears. Whatever we think, the compilers of Second Samuel believed that you do not treat the holiness of God lightly or thoughtlessly.
The consequences were so deadly, that David moves from joy to fear. He is afraid to take the Ark into his own care. He is afraid of the awesome Lord.
He leaves the Ark in the care of a man called Obed-Edom.
The Ark, the presence of God, proves to be a great blessing to the family of its temporary caretaker.
Thus David came to realise that the presence of God is not only awesome; it is a source of blessing. So he renews his dance, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. His dance is wild, ecstatic. He is wearing little more than a loin cloth, thus exposing his nether regions. He has forgotten all notions of respectable behaviour, for the sheer joy of the presence of God.
He has also forgotten his wife Michal, she who loved him dearly, she who had once saved his life. David is so caught up in his moment of great triumph that he ignores the love of his life. No wonder she despised him - at that moment.
In a part of the chapter which we did not read it says that after this incident Michal never bore children. That’s not necessarily the judgment of God. It may well be that David refused thereafter to have sexual intercourse with her, thus preventing her from bearing a child who could become his heir. She was, after all, the daughter of the first King of Israel, King Saul. Maybe David wanted to make it abundantly clear that future Kings would be descended from him alone, without a trace of King Saul’s blood in their veins.
We have no Ark
But we do have the presence of God:
– in our lives as we are open to the wisdom, guidance and judgment of the Holy Spirit,
- and in our congregations as we gather to worship.
It’s very easy, and very usual to take this presence of the Lord for granted.
Let’s think about it for a moment. We are blessed above anything we could expect or deserve by the presence of the Living God.
But this is not the God of our imagination or our wishful thinking. It is the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That living God is awesome in his holiness. He is not to be trifled with. His presence calls us to repentance and amendment of life, so that we too can be Holy – so that we can be God’s Holy people.
That living God is also fabulous in his grace. Were we to be deeply and fully aware of the measure of God’s grace we too would dance for joy, dance shamelessly, and dance with wild ecstacy.