2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 132: 1-9, 13-18
September 18, 2011
You ever heard this prayer?
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Man, isn’t that the truth! I sure wish I knew when to let things be, and when I should step in and take action. Life would be a whole lot simpler if I could figure that out!And the wisdom to know the difference.
I remember hearing about a Congregational Church on the coast of Maine a few years back. For a number of years, the church debated the pros and cons of relocating its sanctuary, which sat just a few feet from a busy intersection in their small town. Back in the days of horses, ox carts and gravel roads, when the church was built, the road was no big deal. But now, with asphalt and busy intersections, it had become a bit of a safety concern. The church hired an architect to draw up plans to move the sanctuary some 35 feet back from the road; but the plan got kind of lost in church busy-ness and other more pressing needs.
That quickly and decisively changed one Sunday morning, when at some point in the first half of the service, sometime during the second stanza of “Blessed Assurance,” an unwelcome stranger made his way through the sanctuary doors. Now it was rare for this church to scorn a visitor – it had always been a very open and inviting place, much like you all. But the worshippers had their welcoming skills put to the test when a red Nissan Pathfinder, having failed to negotiate the intersection outside, rudely thrust its front bumper through the sanctuary doors and into the narthex – where car bumpers do not belong, and are not welcome. Not surprisingly, the decision to act on the previous plan to move the church came pretty soon after that!
So yes, there are times when you need to have the wisdom and fortitude to make a needed change. On the other hand, there are instances when the best advice is to settle down and set up roots. Take, for instance, our scripture reading this morning. We find David, King of the Israelites, near the beginning of his reign. This was a man who was blessed by God with, among other things, wisdom to know when it was the right time to change. God’s people had gone through some chaotic change over the years. And what David wanted to do was unite his people and, at the same time, provide them with a sense of consistency in their lives; a center to rally around.
And I imagine God almost whispering it into his ear; bringing to mind that which had been with God’s people for hundreds and hundreds of years; that which would command the uniting of everyone in this blended family: the Ark of the Covenant.
Point of clarification here – this is not, as one embarrassed Sunday school teacher heard their students tell their pastor, the boat in which Noah carried the animals during the flood. This is a different kind of ark! This is the wooden case that held the sacred tablets of the Ten Commandments – the very pieces of stone that Moses received on Mount Sinai. It was made of acacia wood, overlaid with the finest gold. It measured approximately four feet long and a foot and a half deep. It was carried by two wooden bars that jutted out the front and back. Attached to the top of the Ark were two cherubim; and, depending on which source you use, they were either standing or kneeling. They, like everything else on the Ark, were coated in gold.
For a long time the Ark held a very esteemed place in the Israelites’ psyche. And while it was never confused with being an object of worship, as surrounding nations had their idols, it still represented the very presence of God in their midst. And the fact that it was portable – able to be carried by six men – it served to constantly remind God’s people that no matter where they went, no matter what kind of change they went through, God would always be there with them.
The problem, though, was that over the years, especially as the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Ark kind of faded into the background. You know how you get a Christmas present, and at first it stands out and has your attention, but over time it kind of blends in with everything else in the house? That’s kind of what happened with the Ark. It was stored away in a small town about seven miles outside oJerusalem, pretty much forgotten. For a while it was even captured by the Philistines.
All that changed, though, when David came to the throne. David recognized something special about the Ark – not only what was inside it, but the powerful symbol it could be for the people, like it once was. And so with the craftiness of a politician and the sensitivity of a new pastor paying homage to the past, David and thirty thousand men processed to the small town of Kiriath-jearim and brought the Ark back to the temple in Jerusalem, where this grand celebration and worship service took place that would rival the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade. And David, King David himself, was right in the thick of it – dancing and singing and showing everyone that this was something to celebrate. That now finally, God’s people had arrived home.
You know, as I read about what David did, about how he found that common focus that everyone could rally around, it reminds me of how fractured our society is today. How we live in a fast-paced, 21st century world where people are always on the go, where change is an accepted part of life, where the reality of “home” is a bit of a novelty. How our immediate focus in relationships is often not on what we share in common, but what sets us apart. How our very culture, it seems, is geared toward avoiding the “Ark” in our lives, much less even knowing where that Ark is.
He is an executive in a large corporation, and he works on the 33rd floor at the high-rise in town – corner office. He has a wife and three kids, but his life, for all practical purposes, is consumed by his work and the lifestyle he maintains. He makes a healthy salary, and the country club membership and beach condo were perks when he signed on. But now they seem more like burdens, serving to sustain an image of privilege and prestige that, frankly, he’s tired of. He can’t remember the last time he made one of his son’s soccer games.
She is a single mother, ever since her husband walked out on her, her two daughters, and the family dog. He never said why. Her meager salary barely provides for the family, and she has no idea how she’ll pay for college for her high school sophomore. She is still amazed and hurt by the disapproving and judgmental looks she gets from people in the neighborhood and even at church. It’s been six months since she really had someone to talk to about all that’s gone on in her life.
He is 42 years old and lives underneath the highway overpass in town. He lost his job at the factory seven years ago, and his apartment a year after that. Now he is sustained by the local food bank, the homeless shelter that provides a warm lunch, and the occasional handout from a kind person walking on Main Street. He has tried to find work, but everyone wants a recent work history and a valid driver’s license, and right now he has neither. Just yesterday the police made him move once again, so he is out pounding the pavement, desperately searching for a place to call home.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how those three people couldn’t be any different; and yet all share one big thing in common: in their own way, they’re searching for the “Ark” in their midst. They’re looking for a “centering” in their lives. Looking for home. And the thing is, home is about so much more than just a roof over our heads. Those Israelites before David’s time wandered in the wilderness for 40 years looking for their home. And yet how ironic, that it was with them all that time – The Ark; a symbol of God’s very presence. Life would continue to change and be in flux for them. But they would never again be separated from their home.
Sometimes it makes me wonder if we in the church today have lost a sense of our home. And I’m not talking about doctrines that divide or amendments that ruffle feathers. I’m talking about losing a sense of the divine presence in our midst. Perhaps, just perhaps, David himself shows us a way to reclaim that presence – a presence that hasn’t really gone anywhere, but a presence that we’ve led blend in with all the other things in the house.
I mean, look at what David does in our passage – did you notice. He does three things. The first thing he does is bring the Ark back. He finds the center. So what’s that center for us? You know, the funny thing is, I think I’m looking at that center right now! You remember that thing they taught you as a kid in Sunday school?
Here’s the church / Here’s the steeple
Open the door and there are the people!
Kinda silly, I know. But the things is, these ten fingers tell a powerful message – a message that, while the focus is sometimes on the building itself, what really makes the church the church is the people inside it. You, me; we all are what makes up the body of Christ – the center in which we in the church today find our home.
So when we find that center, what comes next? Just look at David – he goes nuts! Look at him jumping and dancing and running around; singing and yelling and making a fool of himself. But he’s making a fool of himself for all the right reasons – he’s celebrating the home of his faith! And we need to do the same thing. And no, it won’t always involve jumping and dancing and yelling, but it will involve an attitude of celebration in everything we do. Worship, study, fellowship, prayer, mission – all of it, a grand Macy’s-Christmas-Day-Parade-like celebration! And if David shows us anything, it’s that no one is above the celebration. No one is too high and mighty to kick up their heels. As God’s people, we all need to celebrate the church a whole lot more than we do.
There’s one other thing David does, and we almost miss it, because the dancing thing kind of distracts us. But did you notice what David does at the very end of the passage, after he’s done celebrating? He gathers the people around the Ark – their center, their home. He gives thanks to God. And then he feeds them. He feeds them! No speeches, no sermons. Not even a word from the sponsor. He – King David himself – hands out bread and meat and raisin cakes to every Israelite family. Every last one of them! So the celebration goes from being a personal expression of joy to an outward expression of grace. And that’s the only way to go with it, isn’t it? Because when we find our joy as the people of God, it makes no sense to keep that joy to ourselves. We can’t help but want to share that joy with others, by feeding everyone else around.
Finding our home in God. Celebrating that Home. And then sharing that Home with the world. How cool is it to think that God calls this church to do those three things from an obscure Old Testament passage? Our lives are constantly changing; constantly in flux. Thank God that God does not change. Thank God that we can celebrate. And thank God that we can share our joy with the world. Thanks be to God. AMEN.