Why are you in church on this lovely day? For Inspiration or Comfort or Joy?
In today’s passage [2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19] David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and he and the people dance for joy before the ark.
The ark had been standing in the house of Abinadab for about 70 years from when the Philistines had sent it back into the land of Israel.
This passage describes a joyful, participatory event. And this morning we’re following that lead. We’ve being having great music.
And now we’re going to be participatory and maybe even joyful!
Consider it a little like a choose your own adventure
So why are you here? Why do we come to church?
Out of Habit? To be inspired? To praise God? To be strengthened in our resolve to be a better person?
To be comforted in sorrow or affliction?
To be in a safe sanctuary space?
To be in the presence of God?
Okay, time for some participation.
We’re actually going to answer that question about why we’re here later on. And depending upon your response, we’ll see where the message goes today.
That’s part of the adventure. The problem – or the joy – with inviting lay voices to the pulpit to speak is that it’s a little like the proverbial box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.
So what’s the main feature of today’s passage?
Remember this is participatory. We’re going to start with some hand raising. I am going to give you a three options. Raise your hand when I come to your favorite choice. There’s no one correct answer.
What’s the main feature?
Is it King David? [raise hand]
Is it the noblemen?
Is it the Ark?
Is it joy?
Yes, I too think the main features are the Ark and Joy.
So what is the Ark?
No hand raising this time, let’s start with some scholarly references.
In the movie Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s the climactic scene when Indy’s archrival,
– I told you it was like a box of chocolates didn’t I? –
So Indy’s arch rival Belloq, dressed in priestly garb (see Exodus 28), opens the lid of the Ark and unleashes the glory of the LORD, which quite literally in the movie melted Belloq and all his Nazi benefactors.
So even your average movie-goer got the idea. The Ark is something powerful – it is inviting the presence of God into our midst.
In Old Testament tradition since the time of Moses, The Ark was regarded as the dwelling place of God in the midst of God’s people.
In this passage from Samuel today, after many years in captivity The Ark is brought home to the nation’s capital with great rejoicing.
Joy flows from and accompanies the movement of the ark;
the movement of God’s presence into the city. Into this place.
So back to the participation part. This time I just want a show of hands.
So how many of us have ever felt like we could use more joy or laughter in our life?
[PAUSE Raise hand)
There are times when we all could use more laughter and more joy. Maybe it’s one of those times now in America.
Maybe that’s what King David was thinking when he went to get the Ark.
I know that’s what Maria Shriver was thinking recently when considering that state of our world.
Maria Shriver, the first lady of California during the last Republican administration there and the niece of President John F. Kennedy, believes there are benefits to having more joy and laughter and appreciation of the good, often, little things in our daily lives.
She calls them yippie moments.
What is a yippee moment, you ask? Maria says “it’s a moment you consciously celebrate. It’s a moment where you decide to feel joy-filled at least once per day, since most of us don’t focus on finding joyful moments on a daily basis.”
I recognize that in any given week, there are those among us in worship who are not in a place where joy and celebration is possible for them.
People, including myself, come to church at times because we feel sad, or lost, or are grieving.
But when we can, taking time for a little conscious celebration every day, builds our compassion for our world, for ourselves and for one another.
I think conscious celebration was what David may have been thinking when he:
[6:1 again] “gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.”
And decided to go and fetch the Ark.
The point of stating 30,000 “chosen men” was to suggest, in the words of a traditional Bible Commentary that “this was a large noble cavalcade that would help to inspire the young people of the nation, many of whom had scarcely heard of the ark.
They would see the great veneration for it, and that it as was a treasure of great value about which the king himself and all the great men of the nation were joyful.
“This occasion… might well put the people into a spirit of great joy seeing the ark raised out of obscurity and moved toward a very public station.”
Even in today’s 24/7 digital environment, it’s hard to imagine a leader inspiring great joy among a whole nation!
And this was 3000 years ago or 1000 years before Christ when David decided they needed a big celebration.
We think we have it tough.
And 1000 years before Christ the Ark had been in obscurity for a long time before David had this idea to bring it up to Jerusalem.
Still it was – and is – a very powerful symbol that endures throughout time
Professor Giere of the Wartburg Theological Seminary, helps a little with the Biblical history of the Ark and it importance to the people.
“The LORD’s instructions to Moses for crafting the Ark were very specific in Exodus 25, then in verse 37 we have an Israelite artisan Bezalel building the ark (Exodus 37:1-9).
It was a gold-covered wooden chest about 4 feet wide, three feet front to back and three feet high with lid cover described as containing the Ten Commandments.
After it was built per the LORD’s instructions (Exodus 40:1-3), Moses placed the testimony in the ark and ark was placed in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:16-21).
So then – depending on your favorite archeologist – around 1,500 Before Christ or 3,500 years ago the ark traveled with the people of Israel from Sinai into the Promised Land.
Led by the ark of the LORD, the exiles crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:7-17). The ark also functioned as a talisman of sorts in the siege of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-14).” “In the narrative of Israel, the ark then goes virtually unmentioned then for 400 years.
It’s not until (1 Samuel 3:3) when we hear of it again. That’s when Samuel, who was a child servant in the temple of Shiloh before he was King mentions it.
The ark then takes center stage in 1 Samuel 4-6, where the ark is captured by the Philistines, subsequently causing so much pain and suffering among the Philistines that they give it back (1 Samuel 5:1–6:12).
It first ends up in Beth-shemesh, where the townsfolk greeted the ark with rejoicing and fear (1 Samuel 6:20). And then the ark is picked-up by the people of Baale-judah, where it remains for 70 years until the time of today’s text.6:1”
It was sitting around in a guy’s house for 70 years. 70 years is a long time.
How many of today’s thirty year olds could tell you what was happening 70 years ago in 1948? How many of us could say what was happening in 1948?
Strangely enough, seventy years ago this May David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.
According to historical accounts Ben-Gurion pronounced the words “We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel,” prompting applause and tears from the gathered crowd. Talk about joy.
So 70 years is a long time. Even 7 days is a long time – especially without any public celebrations of joy.
So imagine King David’s challenge – his people were ready for – even needed – some celebration of joy. So what does he do?
If we want our church to be a place of more frequent public celebrations of joy, what do we do?
David came up with this idea – we’ll go get the Ark and return it Jerusalem. And it doesn’t seem like he had to coerce the noblemen to do it. It was like he invited them to a party or to an adventure.
So maybe that’s how we bring a little more joy into our church – or into our lives. Let’s have an adventure. In addition to being conscious of the little “yippie” moments, or the high-five celebrations, I try to think of even my daily journey as a fun adventure. I recently moved and I’ve been excited to see the next town over with fresh eyes – like I’m a tourist in a new land.
So where are we as God’s people going? Where are God’s people going to be in the next 70 years?
I missed Dick Engle’s talk about the history of this building, but I know this church has great history. You can read it on our website:
“The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland was established in May 7, 1733, when the General Court of Massachusetts set aside lands south of Fore River as the “2nd District Parish…”
We built our first meetinghouse in 1734, across the street from the present building, in what is now Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. The building featured hand-hewn white oak timbers, two tiers of windows, galleries on three sides, and square box pews, but no heat and no steeple!
That was nearly 280 years ago. Talk about an adventure!
So why not come to church for a little adventure? I for one am excited to see where God will take God’s people in the future. Sometimes we mistake our role in all this. Make no mistake. God will be here in another 280 years – with or without our help.
God’s gonna have a celebration – with or without us. So why not enjoy it and join us on the journey?
It can be a little scary but that’s part of the fun. Just like that box of chocolates, who knows what you’re going to get? And when you’re in a loving community there’s always someone who will help you eat the cherry filled ones.