Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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Religion

2nd Samuel 6:1-11 and 12-23

 David has established his new capital in Jersualem.  It has become the economic, political, and military center of the nation.  But David also wants it to be the spiritual center of the nation.  So he intends to bring the Ark of the Covenant there.  Being creatures of time and space, we seek out holy times and sacred places.  

Jerusalem is not just to be a place of David’s rule.  It is to be a place of God’s rule, and the Ark represents that.  Bible scholars point out that this grand musical procession of the Ark is very similar to “enthronement rituals” of the ancient Near East world.  The difference is that enthronement rituals were about the enthronement of a human king.  In this case, David takes the part of a worshipper in the procession, rather than the guest of honor.  God, represented in the Ark, is being enthroned as king in Jerusalem.

The Ark is the most important religious item in the Old Testament.  It was a wooden box, measuring four feet by two feet by two feet, that was overlaid with gold.  It was topped with a golden lid decorated with two cherubim.  Cherubim were angelic beings, usually pictured as having the body of a lion, the face of a man, and the wings of an eagle.  It served symbolically as the footstool of God’s invisible throne, a constant reminder of God’s kingship over his people.

The Ark contained three items:  The stone tablets of the 10 Commandment, a jar full of the manna God gave in the wilderness, and the rod of Aaron, the first high priest, which he used several times to perform miracles in the Exodus from Egypt.  These three objects represent God’s commandments, God’s provision, and God’s mighty acts of salvation.  They are tangible reminders of God’s presence, character, and activity among his people.  The Ark reminded people who God is.  He is not a distant or unknowable or uncaring God.  He is a personal God who has entered into human history to act on behalf of his people.  

The Ark is not so different from our sacraments:  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Baptism reminds us of a God who became flesh, and walked among us.  It also reminds of God’s great command to make disciples of all nations.  The Lord’s Supper reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice and his love for us.  It reminds us of his command to love one another as he has loved us.  Ordinary objects become filled with extraordinary meaning because God has acted in human history.  

For the last 30 years, the Ark of the Covenant has been in the home of Abinadab, a priest, who lived in the village of Baalah, also called Kiriath-Jearim.  They go down to Abinadab’s home, and his two sons, Uzzah and Ahio, take charge of bringing the Ark to

Jerusalem.  They place it on an ox-cart, but as they approach Jerusalem, one of the oxen stumble, and as Uzzah reaches out a hand to steady the Ark, God strikes him dead.  

The big day is ruined.  Nothing spoils a party like an untimely death.  David is angry, angry that this joyful occasion is ruined, angry at God for killing Uzzah.  Soon his anger is replaced by fear.  “Do I really want to bring this thing into my new capital?”  

The procession stops and the Ark is left in the home of Obed-Edom for three months.  But soon David sees that Obed-Edom experiences great blessings while the Ark is with him.  After all, God’s presence brings blessing.  

So David decides to finish the task.  This time the responsibility of carrying the Ark goes to the Levites, as God commanded.  It is brought into the city with music and sacrifices and dancing.  David himself takes off his royal robes and dances with the procession.  He dances with all his strength.  

The first, and most obvious, question about the story is:  Why did Uzzah die?

Well, the short answer is that he violated God’s Law.  The Ark was only to be carried using poles by the Kohathite Levites, not placed on an ox-cart.  And no one was allowed to touch it, except for the high priest.  Uzzah was not a Kohathite, nor was he the high priest.  He had no business moving the Ark, let alone touching it.

But there’s more to it than that. It is fatal to take charge of God.  God will not be managed.  God will not be used.  God will not be taken care of.  In Uzzah’s mind, he had God in a box.  And he had to take care of God.  “God’s in this box!  Don’t drop it!  Be careful with it!  We don’t want anything to happen to God!”  

God is not safe.  God is not tame.  God is not domesticated.  He is not a God who can be managed or taken care of or put in a box!  

One of my favorite pictures of God comes from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I hope you’ve read those.  If not, get to it.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, God is represented by a lion named Aslan, the king of Narnia.  In one of the first books, a child from earth comes to Narnia and finds out the king is a lion.  And he asks fearfully, “Is he safe?”  And answer is, “No, he’s not safe.  He’s a lion.  But he is good.”  God is good, but God is not safe.  

Eugene Peterson, in Leap over a Wall, says that we should put signs outside our churches that say, “Beware of the God.”  He is holy.  He is powerful.  He is not someone we can manage or take care of.  And yet, religion is a breeding ground for God-managers, people who presume to take over God’s work on his behalf, to take his place.  

The other interesting question is:  Why did David dance?  

David never had the luxury of caring for God.  He was always living dangerously, on the edge.  He lived passionately.  He was always looking to God to take care of him.  The thought of taking care of God was foreign to him.  

Even when David was angry with God, which he was in this story, not to mention many other times in his life, he was still passionately alive before God.  Uzzah never would have been angry with God.  His God was too neat and tidy to invoke anger.  How can you be mad at a box?  

Being passionately and daringly alive before God, David danced passionately.  Religion may be fertile ground for God-managers, but it’s also fertile ground for joyful, passionate openness before God.  

Of course, not everyone likes joyful, passionate openness.  Michal, David’s first wife, did not.  Her love for David has grown cold.  Once she saved his life by lowering him from a window.  Now she mocks him from a window.  “Oh, how dignified the king looked, exposing himself like a common fool.”  

It’s not that David was actually naked.  It’s just that in his world, when you danced, you stripped down to your undergarments.  Bible scholars point out that there is no other story from the whole ancient Near East world of a king dancing.  That was beneath a king’s dignity.  In Michal’s mind, he should act like a king.  He should use God to give glory to himself.  He should manage God, just like her father Saul did.  

I can tell you that the Michals and Uzzahs of the world are still with us.  In 1995, at Annual Conference, we had a steel drum band for our worship services.  And once they got going, it was hard to stay still.  I’m not a dancer, trust me.  But the one evening, at the end of worship, they got going, and next thing you knew, everyone was dancing.  Well, almost everyone.  I distinctly remember that there was a fellow standing near me with arms crossed and a scowl on his face.  This foolishness had no place in the Church.  Maybe he was a God-manager, protecting God from all this foolishness.  

It is death to use God, death to take care of God, death to manage God.  But it is life to let God take care of you and to live passionately before him.

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