Monday, June 22, 2015

Dancing with David: David Dances

June 21st, 2015    “David Dances”   Rev. Heather Jepsen

Summer Sermon Series: Dancing with David

2 Samuel 6

          Today we continue our summer sermon series, “Dancing with David” and this morning’s reading is obviously the idea behind the name of our series.  Already this summer we have wondered at God’s choice of David as King, when he was anointed by Samuel to rule in place of Saul.  While Saul remains on the throne of Israel, David rises to power through charm, charisma, and his battle prowess.  Last week we read of the amazing defeat of Goliath; an act that was as much about David’s faith in the Lord as it was about his ability with the slingshot.  Today’s reading is all about bringing the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem, an act that will help to centralize power in Israel under David’s kingship.

          You will notice that we have skipped ahead a bit from last week’s reading.  In the chapters that we missed, there was a violent dance between David and Saul.  Saul was very jealous of David’s military successes, and was often threatening David’s life.  The death toll rises and yet David manages over and over again not only to elude Saul but to spare Saul’s own life, a sign of David’s great heart (or great cunning) depending on how you interpret things.  Eventually Saul and his sons are killed in battle with the Philistines and David takes over the throne.  There is a bit of uprising between Saul’s final supporters but after more fighting and more death, David is able to unite the kingdom under his leadership.

          This morning’s text is all about the ark of God.  Readers of the books of Samuel haven’t heard about the ark since 1 Samuel 6 where it was nearly forgotten in Kiriath-jearim.  Beginning in 2 Samuel 6, readers might assume David is amassing an army to battle with the Philistines again, but instead, David is rousing 30,000 men to go get the ark of the covenant and to bring it back to Jerusalem.

          The men get the ark and put it on an ox cart and begin to celebrate as they bring the ark into the city.  But, in the midst of the celebration, tragedy strikes.  The oxen begin to shake the cart and the ark becomes unsteady.  As the ark begins to fall, the priest Uzzah reaches out his hand to brace it.  No sooner does he touch the ark than he is struck dead upon the spot.

          Modern readers don’t know what to make of this.  Who is this God who would end the life of someone who was clearly meaning well?  David is also troubled and the writer tells us that he was angry with God for this outburst.  In fact David renames the place “Perez-uzzah” meaning bursting out against Uzzah.  David thinks to himself that maybe the ark is more trouble than it is worth and so he decides to leave it in the home of Obed-edom. 

          Well, three months pass during which the house of Obed-edom is richly blessed because of the ark.  Being a shrewd ruler, David desires this blessing for his own house and so sets off to bring the ark to Jerusalem again.  But this time he is more careful, stopping every six paces to make sacrifices in an attempt to placate his temperamental God.

          The ark finally arrives in the city of Jerusalem and a city wide party ensues.  There is great feasting and dancing in the streets as the people celebrate with joy at the presence of God.  Even David dances like crazy, leaping in the air with such abandon that he carelessly exposes his genitals.

          Alas, the reading does not end on a positive note.  Poor Michal, David’s pawn of a wife, is unhappy to see the king disgrace himself in such a way and she makes her views clear to her husband.  David replies coldly to a wife that he doesn’t love and the reading ends with the note that Michal was barren from that day on.

          Now, other than being an interesting read, you might be wondering what this text is really about.  There are two clear themes that the writer of Samuel wants to get across to the reader; politics and religion.

          We will begin with politics.  If we go way back in the story of David we realize what a political tale it really is.  You will remember that Saul had been ordained as the legitimate ruler of the nation of Israel.  And while Saul is still ruling as king, David is also ordained as the king of Israel.  As you know, there cannot be two kings, and so what follows is a game of cat and mouse between Saul and David to determine who will gain the power of the throne.  David is not the hero some might assume.  He runs around with a rag tag band of outlaws and his rise to power is violent and bloody.  Many will die before David finally sits on the throne, including King Saul.

          A sad story is found in the role of David’s wife Michal who is no more than a pawn in this political scheme.  Michal is the daughter of Saul and originally Saul offered to give Michal to David as his bride for the extremely high price of 100 Philistine foreskins.  Saul hoped David would perish in his attempt to secure such a prize.  But David succeeds (I’d hate to see that wedding gift!) and he and Michal are married.  But as David gains a following, Saul takes Michal back and gives her instead to another man, Palti. 

When David finally becomes king, he again takes Michal as his own, and she is forced to walk to Jerusalem in tears with her other husband, Palti, following behind her.  Needless to say, when we meet Michal in this part of the story she is not a big fan of King David.  Don’t forget that Michal is Saul’s daughter so if she were to have a son, that son might have a claim to the throne that would challenge David’s.  Her barren womb is a blessing to David’s kingship.

          For David, bringing the ark to Jerusalem is all about politics because it is legitimizes his rule.  If David has God on his side then David is the rightful king of Israel, no matter how he obtained the throne.  David is bringing the ark to Jerusalem to cement his leadership of the country.  He is also bringing it there to mark Jerusalem as the center of the nation.  David is attempting to build an empire with Jerusalem as its capital city.  It is all politics and if David can prove that God is on his side, then no one can stop him.

          Of course, bringing the ark to Jerusalem is also about religion.  The ark is the symbol of God’s presence among the people.  The Israelites used to haul it out into battle with them to scare away their enemies.  In some ways, the ark is God to the people, a very holy object that if one touches casually as Uzzah did the penalty is certain death.  David, though he may not be the innocent king we would hope, does have a heart for God.  He wants to bring God back into the lives of the Israelites, and he will do it by reminding them of the ark.

          As the ark comes into the city the people worship God with joy.  There is music and trumpet blasts.  There is singing and dancing in the street.  And there is food as the people celebrate around the table.  Everyone rejoices that the presence of God had come into the city.  Now God’s blessing will surely be upon the house of David and upon the nation of Israel.

          When we explore these strange and dramatic Old Testament texts of smiting and dancing in the streets, modern readers often see no connection to the God of the New Testament.  Surely the God who strikes Uzzah dead is not the same “Abba” that Jesus speaks of.  And yet we know that they are one and the same.           

          The God of the fearsome holiness of the ark is the same God we worship today.  We have just lost a little of our reverence.  God has always been wholly other and when properly considered should inspire a bit of fear into our hearts.  This is a God who demands to be taken seriously, not casually as poor Uzzah learned the hard way.  Perhaps we modern believers should not take attendance at worship as lightly as we do; walking in here every Sunday with the same casualness of walking into Wal-Mart.  Instead perhaps we should approach God with a greater humbleness, acknowledging the power of whom we seek.  For the God we worship certainly has the ability to consume us all, as much as God offers us great blessing.

          This week I was also struck by Uzzah’s assumption that he needed to help God.  The ark was slipping and Uzzah reached out to stop its fall, but what would have happened if it had fallen.  I am guessing that if the lid slipped off it wouldn’t be all “Raiders of the Lost Ark” melted faces.  More likely, nothing would happen.  God has all these rules about how to treat the ark but I think those rules were to inspire reverence, not to protect the ark itself.  Uzzah is trying to save the ark, trying to help God, and in doing so he puts himself above his station.  I wonder how often we try to help God in our own world.  We have some idea of what God might want or what God may be doing, so we reach out and try to do it ourselves.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea, and it certainly didn’t work out well for Uzzah!

          This week I was also really struck by the verse “David and all the house of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might.”  I’m not sure I have ever danced with all my might, and believe me I’ve got some great dance moves.  This week I was struck by the joy and zeal of this celebration.  By the all-consuming act of worshipping God with such abandon.  David gets so lost in the moment that he doesn’t even seem to notice that he is accidently exposing himself.  What would it be like for us to get so wrapped up in our celebration of God?  What would it be like for us to worship with such abandonment?  We can hardly clap our hands in worship, let alone dance our hearts out!

As we travel this summer through the story of David we will experience more of this seemingly foreign Old Testament God; this God of power and politics, this God of great temper and great blessing.  It is my hope that as we explore these texts together we will have a better understanding of the hero David, and a fuller sense of the God we worship.  But today, I encourage us to celebrate as the Israelites did.  For surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.  The Israelites were celebrating the presence of God in the ark, and as modern Christians we claim the presence of God here in our gathered worship today.  Our response should be as theirs was; to welcome God with songs, dances, and shouts of joy.  But please, keep your pants on.  Amen.



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