First Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15
Sermon: “ David: A Passionate Worshipper of God”
One of the signature accomplishments of David’s reign was the establishment of Jerusalem as his royal city and the nation’s capital. The site of the city is truly ancient. Archeology tells us that it was first occupied in the third millennium BC and scripture tells us that it was a royal city in the time of Abraham. It was to Melchizedek, the mysterious king and priest of God at Salem (another name for Jerusalem) that Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils when he rescued his nephew Lot and the King of Sodom as well. Later, at the time of the conquest of the promised land, both Judah and Benjamin had attacked the city, but it was quickly lost again to the Jebusites.
The city David, as he named it, covered around 10 acres initially and could have housed about 3,500 inhabitants. Its location made it a natural fortress with steep valleys on three sides besides the walls which had been built up around it. It had an underground water system to supply it with water during sieges from nearby springs. It was also conveniently located on the border between Judah and Benjamin but was controlled by neither tribe. It was rather like our own capital which resides in the district of Columbia, not in Maryland, Delaware or Virginia; By locating his capital city in a newly conquered town on the border between the two segments of his realm, David was able to unite the kingdom under his rule without seeming to subordinate one part to the other. This was important after the previous division between north and south.
David was quite blessed by God militarily. He quickly gained control of a substantial portion of the territory originally promised to Abraham, and even managed to suppress, though not to totally defeat the Philistines. He soon began to enlarge his new capital city with terraces and new buildings. He was aided in this endeavor by an important new ally – King Hiram of the Phoenician city of Tyre just to the north. Hiram sent David beautiful cedar timbers from the forests of Lebanon and carpenters and stone masons as well. They built David a beautiful palace in Jerusalem. David needed a large place to live too. By this time, he had married a number of wives (at least 6) and had at least 20 sons and a number of daughters as well.
Only one thing was missing from this new capital and that was the Ark of the Covenant. To David, it was important that this powerful symbol and instrument of the Presence of God be right there with him. God had been with him though many difficult years and having to Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem seemed right to him. We haven’t heard much about the Ark in the last few weeks as we have been stepping through the History of Israel’s early kingdom. That is because it was still right where it had been left years earlier in the city of Kiriath-Jearim. It had come there, as you may recall, just before Samuel became judge of Israel. The Israelites had taken the Ark into battle with the Philistines where it was captured and taken back to the temple of Dagon in the Philistine city of Ashdod. It caused them much trouble with plagues and tumors, there – as well as to the other Philistines cities where it was soon sent. Finally, as we heard about a month ago in our series, the Philistines built it a new cart and hitched it to two heifers who had just had calves. The Heifers abandoned their calves and took the Ark straight back to Israel as a sign from God where it needed to go! Unfortunately, once there, the people treated it with disrespect as an object of curiosity. 70 men died in Beth-Shemesh when they open the Ark and poked around inside. They sent it to the nearby town of Kiriath-Jearim because they became so afraid of it. There it stayed at the house of Abinadab for decades until David decide to bring it to Jerusalem.
God had given Israel some extremely explicit instructions on how the Ark of the Covenant was to be handled and by whom. Moses warned that there would be deadly consequences if these rules were not followed exactly. By David’s time, apparently these rules had been at least partially forgotten or ignored from lack of use. And so it was that the first attempt to move the Ark was a disaster. It was designed so that the Levites could carry it with poles slid through rings on its side, it was not to be touched, opened or even viewed uncovered by anyone except the priests, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences when it was loaded up on a new cart (just like the Philistines had). Two of Abinadab’s sons, Uzzah and Ahio drove the cart. David had arranged for music for the procession and all went OK until the oxen stumbled as they came up to a threshing floor (which were also ways built up on top of a hill. Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark but was struck dead.
David was angry at God even though it was his own mistakes that set up the tragedy. The Ark was pulled over to the nearby house of Obed-Edom and was left for three months. In the meantime, Obed-Edom was blessed by the presence of the Ark and so David knew that the Lords anger had abated. He prepared again to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. This time, carried by the Levites as it should have been. David put aside his kingly robes and dressed in a linen robe with an Ephod over it like a priest. It must have been quite as sight, after they had gone just 6 steps, He offered sacrifices and music played, and they sang and danced before the Lord with all their might – David too and maybe especially David— for several miles – all the way to Jerusalem! The Ark was brought into a tent that David had prepared for it, like the tabernacle of old. More sacrifices were offered and David passed out bead, meat and a cake of raisins to everyone there. It was a wonderful, joyous celebration!
There was only one problem that day, and it was with David’s first wife and daughter of King Saul, Michal. We hear about it like this: (2 Samuel 6:20-22)  When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”  David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” Now folks, don’t blame Michal too easily. Initially she loved David. He had fought and killed 200 Philistines to earn the right to marry her, she even helped him escape once from her murderous father by letting David down from a window ledge. But when David had to permanently flee, Saul had (illegally) given her to another man as his wife – Palti. This second man loved her very much and was heart broken when David demanded her back as part of the negotiations with Ish-Boseth after Saul was killed. For whatever reason, (resentment, sense of propriety or just pride) she thought David had disgraced himself before the people with his worship of God and embarrassed her.
Can we talk about this for just a minute? In our world today, people worship God in many ways and in many styles. And just like with Michal, some of us just don’t like how other people do it. Sometimes we even think it is disrespectful of God. But I wonder what God thinks? Is God pleased only with soft reverent music? If you think so, scripture would have us think again. The list of instruments given in scripture is impressive and noisy indeed. Huge choirs, Drums, Timbrels, Horns, Trumpets, stringed instrument and cymbals to name a few. Shouts of joy and exuberant dance are featured as well. Hum…So next week, here is what we are going to start doing….(Pastor rubs hands excitedly)
No, just kidding. The point I mean to make is that sometimes, we censor ourselves in Church. We worry about being proper way too much. We sometimes deserve our nickname of the “frozen chosen”. We are invited to come to God with our whole selves. If that means singing a bit too loud, on key or off – so be it. If it means opening your heart at joys and concerns – Good! If you want to respond in worship go ahead! If it means sometimes showing emotion or even tears at times that too is good. You’ve probably even seen it happen to me up here in the pulpit from time to time. Part of our worship of God is to experience the love and joy and gratitude that is ours through the grace of God and to show it – to live it and to tell others about it. Our God is just too wonderful for it to be otherwise.
Let me offer an example from a couple of centuries ago – Methodist Pastor, Michael Beck writes of it this way in his blog: On April 2, 1739, John Wesley went to a field just outside what was then the city limits of Bristol, England. There he tried this new missional innovation called field preaching. Thousands of people showed up, many of whom who had no connection with a church. Later Wesley wrote in his journal, “At four in the afternoon I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation…” John Wesley April 2, 1739 (journal entry).
Vile is a pretty strong word! Despite the derision of his many critics, most of whom were fellow clergy persons, Wesley took up this “vile” practice of field preaching, and designed an apostolic discipleship process. Wesley reached the people that were not connecting with the established church, taking it to the fields, miner camps, and debtors’ prisons. He connected new believers whose only requirement for membership in the societies was a “desire to flee the wrath to come” to small gatherings of people who journeyed on in the life of grace together (societies, classes, bands). Wesley, a faithful Anglican priest until the day he died, sustained a tether back to the inherited church and encouraged people to participate fully in its life.
What I want you to hear today is that joy and genuine emotion in the presence of the Lord is a good thing. Our traditions are fine as long as they don’t get in the way of the Holy Spirit who is the presence of God with in us. If that means submitting to be a bit more vile – so be it. God has spoken even through the mouth of a donkey as we read in Numbers – perhaps he can speak through us as well.
Lets stand and sing like we mean it!