Before we hear this morning’s passage read, I want to take a moment and summarize the events that lead up to it - so that you can better understand the morning’s text.
The sixth chapter of 2 Samuel begins with a celebratory procession whereby Israel’s new king – David – wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the City of David as a way of establishing the legitimacy of his throne.
Somewhere along the way, however, the cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant was jostled a bit, and one of the attending priests – Uzzah – reached out to steady it. We are told that God got angry at Uzzah for breaking the command not to touch the Ark and struck Uzzah dead.
Upon seeing this, King David grew afraid of God for taking such an extreme act – so David decided to leave the Ark with Obed-edom as a means of protecting himself.
Funny thing happened. The house of Obed-edom prospered during the three months the Ark was in their care.
And so with that, let’s pick up the story with verse 12…
12-16 It was reported to King David that GOD had prospered Obed-Edom and his entire household because of the Chest of God. So David thought, "I'll get that blessing for myself," and went and brought up the Chest of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, celebrating extravagantly all the way, with frequent sacrifices of choice bulls. David, ceremonially dressed in priest's linen, danced with great abandon before GOD. The whole country was with him as he accompanied the Chest of GOD with shouts and trumpet blasts. But as the Chest of GOD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul's daughter, happened to be looking out a window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before GOD, her heart filled with scorn. 17-19 They brought the Chest of GOD and set it in the middle of the tent pavilion that David had pitched for it. Then and there David worshiped, offering burnt offerings and peace offerings. When David had completed the sacrifices of burnt and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies and handed out to each person in the crowd, men and women alike, a loaf of bread, a date cake, and a raisin cake. Then everyone went home.
Now those of you who know me, know that I’m usually a very dutiful person who restricts my focus to the section of Scripture designated as the lectionary text for the week. This means that if I stayed in character, I would restrict my comments to you this morning solely to the section of the text printed in your bulletin.
And I tried – oh, I tried, for five days – to pull together a sermon that did that. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do that. For the section of the Scripture I found most fascinating was the piece that appeared just before this morning’s passage: the section that talked about the priest Uzzah being struck dead simply because for reaching out to steady the Ark that was about to fall.
That little passage that was conveniently omitted by those who put the lectionary together raises a whole lot of interesting questions about the nature of this God whom we gather this morning to worship. If we don’t deal with those questions, we are likely to do what King David did – pull back from God and put as much distance between us and God as possible.
So let’s start this morning by throwing out some of the questions that account raises for us about the nature of God?
[Pause and let the people generate questions.]
These are all wonderful questions that relate back to something which we in the progressive church wrestle. You see we in the progressive church like to pay homage to a God that fits neatly into the preconceived boxes we have created. We like, for instance, to associate God with all things warm and fuzzy. Hence, we conceptualize God by using words like loving, compassionate, merciful, and grace-filled.
Given that those words are rather sedate and serene, we respond by creating spiritual lives that are rather sedate and serene. During our times of prayer and meditation, we sit – back straight and head bowed – and quietly wait for the presence of God to be manifest to us. We enter sanctuaries where the chairs are neatly ordered; sit down in our usual spots; and proceed through the worship order in the sequence printed out for us. And then we leave worship and engage in acts of service – often via church sanctioned agencies that deal directly with the recipients of aid for us. It’s all very nice and neat, isn’t it?
But is that all there is to God? Is that all there is to our spiritual lives? Or can there be something more?
Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard says basically, that there is more –so much more – to God than those four adjectives we have strung together. And in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, she explores the ramifications of these other dimensions.
“Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?” Dillard began. “Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.”
See where our warm, fuzzy, sedate, and serene images get us.
She goes on to add: “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet gloves to church; [instead] we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”
Now that’s starting to sound a bit more in line with today’s story. We’ve got some elements of that TNT out now.
“Hold on for a second, Craig,” you might be thinking. “I’m not yet ready to abandon my warm, fuzzy, sedate, and serene notion of God – only to replace it with a God who is cold, prickly, disturbing, and chaotic. That’s not going to work for me!”
I can certainly appreciate your concern. But I don’t think that’s exactly what Dillard is getting at: moving from one extreme to the other. Instead, she’s simply trying to create a more balanced way for us to think about God.
“Dillard’s reflection is not so much the description of a fearsome and punishing God,” Rev. Kate Huey noted in trying to help those seeking a more balanced image of God, “… it’s an attempt to convey an understanding of God’s awesome otherness, God’s transcendent power and glory.”
And then Huey hit the ball out of the park by noting how such an understanding – such a story as the one we grapple with today - can help us grow in our own spiritual lives. “It is oddly comforting,” Huey says, “in a very different way from the tamed and domesticated Comforter-God, that the universe is not spinning wildly out of control but is in the hands of a God so much greater than our imaginations.” So much greater than our likes and dislikes, I would add.
Now that’s the kind of God that lies behind this morning’s passage from 2 Samuel. The kind of God that can get 30,000 troops out of the bed early and head out on a tiresome journey simply to reclaim an Ark. The kind of God whose power radiates out of places we would call holy in such ways that can be constrained or predicted. The kind of God who motivates a grown man to strip down to his skivvies and dance jubilantly in front of a stunned public. That’s the kind of God we are hungry for.
Friends, I know it would be easy to walk away from this morning’s story and treat it as an anomy in our spiritual journey – eager to leave behind the Hebrew scripture and get back to the good stuff in the Gospels.
It would be easy to slip back into our safe and secure routines. It would be easy to keep God in those boxes to which we’ve grown so fond.
My word to you this morning is this: don’t do it! Don’t domesticate God. Don’t tame God. Open yourself to the dazzling, amazing, and transformative power of God.
I’ll be the first to admit those powers might overwhelm you at first. They might even scare you. But the good news is that our God is anything but safe and predictable. Our God can – and will – overcome any limitation place upon God: even if that limitation comes from us.