Sermon: “What Moves You?”
Singing, music and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned three times in this passage (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19*). I’ve learned that when scriptures repeat themselves it is because it is important. It is a way of telling me to slow down and think about what I’ve read. All scripture is given for our instruction … so what is this passage trying to teach me?
In our reading of second Samuel we learn that the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to Israel. A little history may be needed here.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered wooden box which contained the Lord of Hosts, was surrounded by golden winged cherubim/angels. It was made to specifications given by God during the years of wandering after the children of Israel fled Egypt. It contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, a container of manna, and the covenant between God and Israel Moses’ writings on parchment.. From the area above the Ark God issued His commands for His people.
Some of you may remember the movie of Indiana Jones’ fictionalized search for the Ark. It was scary to watch the supernatural explosion that arose out of the opened ark. In the movie, there was a mixture of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box and Revelation’s judgment day.
So, take away the special effects and what do we have? The most sacred words of God, if not God, himself, the Holy History of Israel, from the wilderness to the Promise Land and finally it is returned to the anointed King David.
In the fourth chapter of first Samuel we read how the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Israel was once again fighting a defensive war against the Philistine army … and they were loosing. So they decided to bring the Ark to the battle. Understand this was man’s decision and not God’s. They were using it like a good luck charm. And it didn’t work. The philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.
They took it and placed it next to the statue of their god. The next day they found the statue in pieces lying on the ground... Next the people started developing tumors. The Philistines kept moving the Ark from place to place. However, wherever it was taken, people died and had tumors. Finally they made arrangements to take the Ark back to the boarder with Israel and leave it there along with an offering. This is where today’s reading begins.
The Ark, literally the point of contact with God, was being returned, everyone’s enthusiasm was at a fever pitch. The musicians were working those lyres, harps tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. There were choirs of singers belting out praise songs. And David was getting his groove on and rockin’ to the tunes as the spirit moved him.
David strips off all of his royal finery and dances exuberantly as the Ark of the Covenant is brought to its resting place in Jerusalem, the new capital. It is a dance full of life, celebrating the joy of the presence of God entering the city that will become the center of worship.
David wasn’t the only one moved to dance. The scriptures say all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might. Their joy turned to dance and music and the music and dance heightened the joy in a kind of feedback loop that just kept becoming more intense.
I have tried to imagine what that day was like to the people of Israel. Their point of contact with the living God was returned to its rightful place. Since we can go directly to God at any time, it is hard for me to imagine what the loss and then return of the ark did to the spiritual and emotional lives of those in that time and place.
It is hard to come up with a modern equivalent. Maybe a giant Super Bowl party after your team has won? Nope! That just isn’t big enough. Perhaps the celebrations at the end of World War Two would come close. Imagine the whole nation in exuberant celebration and feasting.
David’s dancing may have been part of a prolonged and complex liturgical procession. The details are long lost, but its intensity remains in the description of David's whirling and leaping. His gyrations almost convey a mood of desperation. David might well be terrified of the power of this Ark should anything go wrong before he got it home. After all, it was returned by the Philistines because of the catastrophes that seemed to follow it. And one Israelite has already died because he touched it.
Not everyone was moved the same way that day. Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of King Saul, had a negative reaction to David’s dancing in the streets. A superficial reading of the text makes it sound as if David must have exposed himself. What happened, in fact, is that David saw the return of the Ark as a solemn occasion. And he saw it unfit for himself to wear his royal garments, and instead he wore a very simple garment.
Michal seemed to be really angry for David’s perceived impropriety. However, we must look at the context in which this celebration takes place. God had turned his face against King Saul, her father, and God had blessed David and promised him a Kingdom and a Covenant that would last forever. That's part of the story in Samuel. It is not surprising that Michal would despise her husband David, because he was about to take her father’s throne, and she knew it.
A point can be made that David’s first and deepest allegiance was to God. And he saw it only fitting to dance in celebration of the God who had chosen him and his descendants to be a covenant partner forever. David felt it to be inappropriate to come as the King of Israel before God, - but rather as a common servant and partner with the people of God. Instead, David acknowledged the Kingship and Rule of God in Israel. In this context he perceived his royal garments to be an impediment to worship God in humility and truth.
When God calls us to be His covenant partners we are wise to remove all impediments that may stand between God and us. Rather than elevating ourselves before God, we are called to humility and awe before the God who has saved us. God is King! And He deserves our humblest devotion and praise.
As we celebrate and rejoice before God, as David and the Israelites did, we pass on the inheritance of our faith to generations yet to come. Our children and grandchildren will assimilate that which is most important to us. Therefore, may God’s praise flow richly from our lives.
We are chosen by Jesus Christ to celebrate God’s love and grace toward us. We are invited to be expressive in our gratitude toward God. The Christian life is a life of joy and celebration. It was the joy and hope that I saw in Christian friends that brought me to Christ. I wanted that peace that they had even in times of trouble.
When our lives are touched by the love of God, His grace flows into this world through the channel of our love, healing it, straightening its twistedness, mending its brokenness, and enlightening its darkness. That is the celebration of the Christian life - to touch the lives of others and so invite them to experience the blessings of God. We have been promised a cup overflowing. All of that “extra” is to be shared with those around us. Christianity is an outward looking religion. We received as so we share. We are servants not masters.
Our Lord invites us to be intentional about our celebration of God’s grace. Let us express God’s praise in every breath we take. Let us be a people who enthusiastically celebrate the goodness of God.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things. Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, These are a few of my favorite things. Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, Silver white winters that melt into springs, These are a few of my favorite things.
When you hear that list of favorite things did you have an emotional response to some or all of those? Sights, sounds, scents, touch, movement and more can elicit an emotional response. The reverse is also true. An emotion can lead to a physical response.
Imagine that you are driving along peacefully when some idiot speeds up to pass you and then slams on their brakes to take the next exit! Anger will make your jaw clench and your hands to ball into fists that pound on the steering wheel while you yell obscenities questioning his parentage. Don’t raise your hands, but does that sound a little familiar?
You are enjoying a sunny summer day listening to the birds sing. And then you receive a call that a close relative has died suddenly. Grief will make your shoulders slumped and your knees buckle and the day somehow seems darker and colder than before.
You are walking through an unfamiliar part of town and half of the street lights are out. Suddenly, someone steps out of doorway right in front of you. Fear will make you recoil and your arms go up in an effort to protect yourself.
You are watching the football game in your local high school’s stadium as your team plays against their arch rivals. The game is tied with only seconds to go when your quarterback throws a “hail Mary” pass that is caught in the end zone! Joy will make you jump and shout.
Music taps straight into our emotions and can lead us to highs and lows. Music moves us. It is hard wired into us. Watch a toddler wiggle and shake to music. I’ve seen Alzheimer and dementia patients who seem totally disconnected from the world tap their feet or move their hands to the rhythm of the music. Every Sunday throughout the world, Christians gather and sing together. Many are songs of praise and many are hymns full of solid theology. This sharing of words is a way to bring us closer to God and to each other. Singing together brings us into rhythm with each other. The repletion of the words can imprint on our unconscious mind in a way unlike any other form of learning. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish politician and writer, understood this when he said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”
I often find myself whistling or humming the tune to a hymn. As I recall the words it helps to move me closer to my God. I wonder how our faith and the faith of those around us might be affected if we sang and danced our way to church. How would non-church people perceive us? Would they think we were drunk (as the crowds thought the disciples were on that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them), or would they be so moved by the enthusiasm that they joined in?
What moves you? Is it the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God?
May God’s Spirit move us to be free in our celebration of Him who saves us, and who dwells in our midst. Amen.
*2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
6:2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
6:3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
6:4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
6:5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
6:12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing;
6:13 and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
6:14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.
6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
6:17 They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD.
6:18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts,
6:19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
While most of this sermon is original material, I have borrowed some portions from helps found on www.gbod.org and from a sermon preached on July 15, 2012 By Rev. Dr. Deborah Lind-Schmitz At Covenant Presbyterian Church, Madison, Wisconsin. And, of course the words from the song, “Favorite Things”.