Sunday, 29 July 2012

Anatomy of Sin- David and Bathsheba- 2 Sam 11

2 Samuel 11

David and Bathsheba
11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die. 

            Every few years there is some sort of celebrity or famous preacher that ends up in some sort of sex scandal. We have come to expect it. You might remember the news around the relationship between American president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. These news stories almost don’t even surprise us anymore. The story we read in 2 Samuel today has been re-lived many times throughout history. A powerful man is involved in some sort of sexual misconduct. The newspapers in the grocery store eat it up. I can almost see the front page. There’s some grainy picture of King David. His hair is messy, and he has an awkward look on his face. And, it looks like the picture was taken from the bushes behind his palace and they caught  David looking out his window.
            And we love the pictures. We love the scandals. We can feel very righteous- “can you believe it?” “What a stupid thing to do!” We love the gossip. I think this is part of the reason we love reality shows. We love to sit and watch someone else do silly things and then talk about how silly they are. It feels better to pick the sliver out of a celebrity’s eye than to deal with the log in our own. 
            We sometimes are shocked to find these same scandals in the Bible. Even more shocking is that David is not really one of the bad guys in the Bible. He’s one of the good guys.   I said last week that David is not a perfect moral example for us to imitate. David is more like a mirror. He reflects us. He shows us a very human life. He shows us the life of someone who is reaching out to God- and that’s who we are. We are living trying to follow God. Sometimes we seem like we’re doing a good job, but sometimes we fall flat on our faces. This week David fell flat on his face.     The story between David and Bathsheba is a powerful story about how sin works.
David’s armies have gone off to fight, which is what you did in Spring at that time and in that culture. But, David has now proven himself and so he is able to stay behind. From the roof of his palace David sees a beautiful woman bathing. I guess they had a rooftop culture we know nothing about. He asks about her and finds out that she is a married woman. She is the wife of Uriah, who is one of David’s soldiers. He sent for her and he slept with her. He’s the king and I can’t imagine Bathsheba felt she had much say in the matter.
David didn’t feel like a sinner at this point. The pastor and writer Eugene Peterson points this out.[1] No one ever really feels like a sinner when they are sinning. That’s the sneaky thing about sin. When we are sinning we feel powerful- like a god. When David sent for Bathsheba he didn’t feel like a sinner. He felt like a lover. Sin is sneaky. We think it will make our lives better, or more exciting, but really it leads to destruction and chaos in the end, if not sooner.
We see this in Genesis ch 3 as well. Adam and Eve didn’t feel like sinners when they ate the forbidden fruit. They felt like gods. The serpent said that when they eat the fruit their eyes will be opened and they will “be like God, knowing good and bad”. Basically they will be able to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They felt like gods over their own lives. They saw that the fruit looked good to eat and that it was desirable for gaining a kind of knowledge. We never really feel like we’re doing something wrong when we sin, we feel like we are doing something good, or exciting, or something that will make our lives better.      
Sooner or later we have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. David quickly learns that Bathsheba is pregnant. David’s first instinct, like ours, is to cover up the sin so no one finds out. It is hard to face our sin. It’s hard to look people in the face when they know you’ve done something horrible. It’s just easier to cover it up so no one finds out.
David suddenly has to scramble to cover up his sin, so he comes up with a plan. He calls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back home to give a report from the front lines. When Uriah has given his report David tells him to go home and enjoy the company of his wife. “Wash your feet” is sort of a Hebrew phrase that we might translate with an eyebrow wiggle and a nudge of the elbow. David hopes that if he goes home and sleeps with Bathsheba then Uriah will think the child is his and the sin will never be discovered.
Uriah leaves the palace, but rather than go home to sleep with his wife, he sleeps at the entrance to David’s palace. Uriah is a model of honour and faithfulness. He will not go home and sleep with his wife when he knows the army and the Ark of the Covenant are out in the field in tents. Out of solidarity with his fellow soldiers Uriah decides to not go home. It is a beautiful act. Uriah remembers the soldiers in the field and so denies himself. Contrast Uriah with David, who is willing to stay in the palace and sleep with a soldier’s wife while the army is away fighting battles. David’s faithlessness is contrasted with Uriah’s faithfulness.   
Instead of David being moved by Uriah’s honour, he becomes frustrated. David asks him to stay another day and this time he gets Uriah drunk. David is hoping that a little liquor will loosen Uriah’s libido- so he’ll go home to his wife. Again, even when drunk, Uriah has more honour and self control than King David.
David is frustrated. Now he has to go to extremes to hide his sin. Often hiding a sin requires another sin. David sends a command to Joab, Uriah’s commander. He tells Joab to put Uriah in the front lines where it is most dangerous and then have everyone pull back from the front line leaving Uriah alone with the enemy.
It is sneaky. David again is playing God. He feels like a king and a general here, not a sinner. David isn’t plunging a knife into Uriah’s chest- someone else is. It’s not technically wrong to command such a thing. A king and a general can command troops to go where they want and sometimes they die. That is part of the job description for a soldier. David doesn’t feel like a sinner here. We don’t feel like sinners when we’re sinning. But the heart of what David did was murder. He can dress it up, but it was murder. His action with Bathsheba was adultery as best- Rape at worst. It wasn’t a romantic love affair. His action with Uriah was murder. It wasn’t a king fighting a battle.
Sin often leads to more sin. Adultery in David’s case led to deception and murder. Bathsheba, and Joab would both now have a new understanding of God’s anointed king. That has an effect on relationships. Would you feel safe knowing your king was capable of such things?  Sin is like a disease. It spreads and infects others- even if it only causes people to be suspicious of each other and their leaders. And the more we try to hide it the more it digs in. That’s why Jesus came calling us to repentance. In repentance we stop pretending that our sin is something else. In repentance we stop pretending we are gods. We stop pretending that we are lovers and admit we are adulterers. We stop pretending we are kings and we admit that we are manipulators and users, and murderers. Repentance is what stops the sins that we use to cover up other sin. In repentance we limit the destructiveness of our sin.  In repentance we face our responsibility.
Repentance also calls us deeper. In repentance we recognize that adultery, and murder are really just symptoms of a disease that sits deeper in our hearts. It’s not just “goofing up”. It’s an expression of our hearts. Part of us doesn’t trust God. We might think God maybe doesn’t really love us, so we look for love in another person’s spouse. God won’t protect us, so we murder to protect our own interest. The actions we call “sins” have deeper roots in our hearts. Part of us might suspect that God is not actually good and so we take steps to protect ourselves.           
David’s sins of murder and adultery might have their roots in either a misunderstanding of who God is, or maybe even a forgetting about God. In David’s day to day life God has perhaps moved from the front and centre to “Sunday mornings” only.  David operates under the power of his own cleverness. Essentially he’s living without an awareness of God.  David thinks he’s beaten the system. David thinks he won’t have to face what he’s done. He thinks he’s gotten away with it. And we can for a while- a short while or a long while. We can get away with it for a while. We can cover our sin. But we’ll find out next week that David hasn’t really gotten away with anything. David at the very root of the whole episode with Bathsheba and Uriah has forgotten about God. David has acted as if he was God- master over people’s lives- even master over life and death. David will be reminded as we all need reminding, that God is with us. David May have forgotten about God, but God hasn’t forgotten about David.  
God is like a loving parent watching over us. Sometimes parents need to correct their children. Sometimes they need a timeout, or need to say sorry, or need to have a serious talking to so they know the seriousness of playing in the road. It is love. It doesn’t always feel like love, but it is. A God who doesn’t care wouldn’t care if you were playing in the road, or if you hurt someone, or if you were becoming a cruel person. It is a loving God who cares who we are becoming and on what path we are walking.
We don’t always like to look at this aspect of our spiritual lives. We don’t want to look at sin. It doesn’t feel nice. It feels gritty and uncomfortable. When we aren’t feeling well we go to the doctor. The doctor will poke and prod a bit. They might ask us to take off parts of our clothing. They might place a cold stethoscope on our chest and ask us to breathe deeply, or cough. And then they might ask us about our lives. Do you smoke? How do you eat? Do you exercise? Then they might find the cause of our discomfort and they will describe a particular disease to us. It’s not a comfortable process, but when we get down to understanding how it works then we can make changes by taking medicines or doing certain exercises. Then we will begin feeling better. We would like to jump over the uncomfortable part- David would have liked to- but that would be to lead a shallow life. We are called to lead lives of deep transformation, and that means honestly facing who we really are- the parts we like and the parts we don’t. God doesn’t shy away from our not so pretty parts. God sees us truly and loves us knowing all our deep dark secrets, but God also loves us too much to leave us as we are. God calls us, like he called David, to face our sin so we can lead a better life. Amen      

Questions for reflecting on 2 Sam 11:
1. How do you feel when you hear that a respected Christian leader has committed a serious sin?

2. When was a time you had to deal with the consequences of a personal sin? Who was effected by it? How did it effect their lives?

3. How do you think this action entered into David’s mind as an option? Was it an action that came out of the blue, or do you think this action is the fruit of a smaller series of temptations, thoughts, or sins? What might David have done to prevent this action?

4. Why do we want to cover up sin rather than confess it?

[1] Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson

Sunday, 22 July 2012

David sat 2 Sam 7

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."7:3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you."7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.7:13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.7:14a I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

David is in a good place. He is no longer living in the wilderness. He is no longer fighting King Saul. The country is no long torn by civil war. David has established a new capital city in Israel. David is the new king. He has moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. … This is the beginning of a golden age, where the people will be unified once again. David is on top of the world.

David is riding high on the wave of his success. David is full of momentum. He is full of energy. He feels unstoppable. He is full of stories of his own success. David is also in danger of being full of himself, which is always a danger for us when we meet with success. Just as a side note. The way we look at David’s life is not as an example to always be imitating. When we look at David’s life we are looking at our own lives. We are looking at a very human life. It is a human life that wants to honour God, but there are also many times that David acts inconsistent with that ideal. David’s life is not necessarily an ideal life. His life isn’t one we should always imitate. His life is much like our lives. Sometimes he’s got it, and sometimes he doesn’t. When I look back over my life there are parts of my life I wouldn’t mind my sons imitating, but there are many parts of my life I hope my sons never know about. David, like us, often has mixed motivations.

So David has met with success. David wants to keep going. He is restless. There are no more enemies to fight. There are no more cities to conquer. David wants to keep going. Bigger, more, better. “Let’s build a temple!”- David says.

He wants to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. Part of this is genuine desire to honour God, but part of this might also be political maneuvering. A temple can honour God, but it can also trap God (in a way). The Ark is mobile, but that means the Ark can leave David’s city. A temple would be a stable place for God’s presence to dwell. A temple can’t leave so easily if David messes up. The Ark of the Covenant is troublingly mobile. A temple would also help establish David’s reign, and it would also help establish David’s city, Jerusalem, as the new capital city that will unite the tribes of Israel. Again we don’t want to be too suspicious, but we don’t want to be too naïve either. David wants to do something more to establish his rule. A temple is a good “something”. Like us David is filled with mixed motivations. He, like us, might not even be aware of it.

David mentions his idea to the prophet Nathan. David basically says, I want to build a new church and I’m going to pay for it all. And like most pastors, Nathan says “go for it”. It seems like a good idea. What pastor would say no to that?

However… Nathan hears from God that evening. And God says “no, don’t build a temple. You’re not going to build me a house. I’m going to build you a house”.

It is surprising, because it seems like it is a non-issue. It seems so obvious that it is a good thing to do that David doesn’t even think to ask God about it. It seems so obvious that the prophet Nathan tells him to go for it without even really having to think about it. Of course, build God a temple. You want to build a youth drop-in centre attached to the church and pay for youth workers for the next 10 years- of course! You have my permission! We don’t even have to ask Vestry! Do it! How could it not be the right thing to do?

God’s answer is surprising. We are so used to “doing”. We are used to being active. We are used to being asked to take part and get involved. We need Sunday School teachers. We need volunteers to support a youth ministry. We need volunteers for Coffee and for cutting the grass. Imagine being full of energy and showing up to help set up tables for some event and then those who are organizing say, “actually…. You know what? … We’re not going to set up. We’re going to go pray.” But you’re full of energy. You want to do something. You want to accomplish. More, better, bigger.

God says to David, “You’re not going to build me a house. I’m going to build you a house.” David’s building plans were going to interfere with God’s building plans.

When God said “no” David didn’t pout or get angry. Instead he did something very important- and it is an underrated activity in our world. David sat. He sat in God’s presence. He heard from God and he sat. There are times when that is what God is calling us to do. It is not always an easy thing to do. It sounds easy until you’re doing it for any length of time without a TV, or an iPod to entertain you, or a friend to talk to.

This is what one commentator said, “When David sat down before God, it was the farthest thing from passivity or resignation; it was prayer. It was entering into the presence of God, becoming aware of God’s word, trading in his plans for God’s plans, letting his enthusiasm for being a king with the authority and strength to do something for God be replaced with the willingness to become a king who would represent truly the sovereignty of God the high king.” (Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 164).

All the good parts of David’s life come out of this stance before God. When David considers God first and then acts- When David acts when first placing his eyes on God- those are the most beautiful and powerful parts of David’s life. They are probably the most beautiful and powerful parts of our lives as well.

This is the moment when David will have to decide what kind of a king he will be. Will he be full of God or full of himself? And this is a question we all have to ask ourselves each day when brushing our teeth. Who am I living for today? We might even want to do something good, but sometimes it’s coming out of a place that’s not God.

The same commentator I just quoted said this, “When we do wrong, we usually find out soon enough and repent and get back on track. But when we do good, become pleased with ourselves and receive applause and commendation from our leaders and friends, we easily lose our sense of dependence on God and our always and ever increasingly desperate need for grace, God’s grace.”

We can lose our way, even when we think we are doing something good. In our ambition our own motivations can become just slightly twisted, so that suddenly the good thing we intend to do stops being about God and starts being about us.

I remember when I first moved to Toronto. The situation on the streets downtown was pretty overwhelming. Everywhere I turned there were people asking me for money. In Lethbridge I could “give to anyone who asks” because I really wasn’t asked that often. But, in Toronto I was getting asked 6 times on the way to get groceries and six times back. If I gave to everyone who asked in Toronto I would pretty quickly run out of money. In that time I noticed something inside myself. It was very subtle. I noticed that what was bothering me wasn’t entirely the plight of those who were forced to beg for money on the streets of downtown Toronto. What really bothered me was how I viewed myself. In Lethbridge I could give to anyone who asked and feel like I was a generous person. But now I wasn’t able to see myself as generous anymore. In each person who asked me for money I didn’t see them, I saw myself. They were mirrors. I saw myself as generous or not generous. It became all about me. It was a subtle shift, but it was enough for me to stop seeing the person in front of me. I had to stop and sit before God. I had to get my eyes off myself and onto God, and then I saw actual people on the street, not just mirrors.

God speaks. David stops. David sits. David focuses on God and God resets David’s focus. God is not in need of a temple. He has never asked for one. From the time of Moses he has never asked for a temple to be built. Rather than asking David for a temple, God has been busy building up David. When David was shepherding sheep, as the smallest of his brothers, God started preparing him. When becoming a king was the furthest thing from his mind, God was preparing him to be king. God’s plans are always better than ours, even though we don’t usually know where they will bring us when we start out on the journey. God protected David and blessed him. David didn’t deserve any of it. It was completely free. God picked him- a nobody from nowhere- and made him king. He didn’t deserve it. It didn’t even cross his mind to ask for it. It was grace. It was pure gift.

God piles on the promises. Usually God says to Israel, if you do this then I’ll do this, but not here. God makes pure promises with no conditions. He will make David’s name great and make him a great house. God promises that a Son of David will sit on an eternal throne in an eternal Kingdom. God will be a Father to him, and he will be a Son to God. The Son of David will also be known as the Son of God and will have an eternal reign in a kingdom that will last forever. Sound familiar? Here is the root of God’s promise about Jesus. Of course these words also point to David’s son Solomon, but folded up in that promise is a greater promise- The promise of God’s reign through Jesus. And the promise of Jesus is more than David could even think to ask for. Jesus will replace the Ark, and even the temple which David’s son will build. The ark and the temple were to be places where heaven and earth overlapped. In Jesus heaven and earth will overlap in a way David could have never imagined or even thought to ask for. God’s Grace is unexpected. God gives to us in a million unexpected ways. His plans are always greater and more amazing than our plans- if we can only see the end result. We might not understand those plans when we are in the middle. When God says “no, don’t build me a temple” we want to argue. “But, it’s such a good idea because….”. We don’t understand God’s grace at that moment, but the end point will always be better than we can imagine.

We all have ambition. We all have plans- Just like David. They might make all kinds of sense, but it is important to take time to sit before God- To allow him to remind us who we are, and who He is. Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it”. Sometimes we are called to sit, like Mary in the presence of Jesus. There are plenty of things that we could be doing. Martha would understand David’s desire to build a temple, but sometimes the better thing to do it to sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary.       

Monday, 16 July 2012

God is not safe, but He is good- 2 Sam 6

2 Samuel 6

New International Version (NIV)

The Ark Brought to Jerusalem

David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah[a] in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name,[b] the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it,[c] and Ahio was walking in front of it.David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets,[d] harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.[e]
David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.
12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificingthe burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty.19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
20 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!”
21 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. 22 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.”
23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
  1. 2 Samuel 6:2 That is, Kiriath Jearim (see 1 Chron. 13:6)
  2. 2 Samuel 6:2 Hebrew; Septuagint and Vulgate do not have the Name.
  3. 2 Samuel 6:4 Dead Sea Scrolls and some Septuagint manuscripts; Masoretic Text cart and they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill
  4. 2 Samuel 6:5 Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint (see also 1 Chron. 13:8) songs
  5. 2 Samuel 6:8 Perez Uzzah means outbreak against Uzzah.

I love the chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. There is a great moment when Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are speaking to the children who have entered the magical land of Narnia. The beavers are trying to tell the children about Aslan the lion, who is the God character in the books. The children are a little nervous about meeting a lion, so they ask if he is a safe and tame lion. Maybe he has been trained to not hurt humans, or wears a muzzle, or has been de-clawed. Is he safe?  
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

            We sometimes think that goodness is always kind of fluffy. We have a hard time imagining a goodness that is at the same time, not always safe.
            We worship a God who is good. He is more good than we can imagine. However, he isn’t always safe. God could knock you off your horse and blind you, which is what happened to Paul when he was running around trying to arrest and kill Christians. God might even call you to stand before a giant named Goliath- as he called little David.
            David knew that the God he prayed to wasn’t always safe.  Like Aslan there is a ferocity that causes us to be transformed. He is like a fire that burns away impurities. He challenges us. He stretches us. He puts us in situations we don’t want to be in. He introduces us to people we don’t want to meet. He calls us out of our safe little corners and asks us to be a part of real life. The God we worship is not tame, he is not safe, but he is good.   
            David knew this well. In our reading today David is bringing up the Ark of the Covenant to its new home in Jerusalem, after sitting for 20 years. Saul had been chosen as the first king of the tribes of Israel, but turned out to not be an ideal king. King Saul turned his anger on David, who was a bit of an up and coming superstar. David was the runt of his family, but God saw something in him and prepared him to lead the people of Israel. King Saul was not pleased with this and he began to try to kill David. David’s forces eventually overtook Saul. Saul killed himself and becomes a very tragic character in the story. David and his forces win the battle over Saul’s forces and David begins uniting the Tribes of Israel. He captures Jerusalem and makes it the new capital of Israel. This is his motivation for moving the ark up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem political power and religious authority will be centralized, in the same place. God’s rule and David’s rule will be inseparable.  
            It’s likely that David had mixed motives when moving the Ark. On one hand David loved God and desired to be in God’s presence. God’s presence was with the Ark of the Covenant in a special way. David’s dancing and devotion were likely genuine acts of worship and love for God. It is natural for someone like David who loves God to move the Ark to the new most important city- and for David to want the Ark close.   
On the other hand, moving the Ark to David’s new capital city was a clever political maneuver. The Ark was an ancient symbol that carried with it the authority of Moses and the history of the people of Israel. It contained the stones on which the Law was written, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff. It was said to have been made according to God’s own instructions, which was overseen by Moses. Bringing the Ark to David’s new place of political power was a very clever way of unifying the people, who had been unified under Moses and Joshua when they originally entered the Holy Land. Having the Ark legitimized David as the King.
It would have been very easy to view the Ark merely as a political tool. It would have been tempting to use the ark to manipulate the people, especially those who disagreed with him. It would have been easy to use the Ark to claim God’s approval, especially against those who would dare oppose David.
God is not pleased to be used this way. God is not to be manipulated. God is not a chess piece to be moved around a board. The Ark is not merely a political object. It is a symbol of God’s presence and power in the midst of the people. It is not to be treated lightly or manipulated. No doubt David also loved God and was devoted to God. We don’t want to be too skeptical, but we also shouldn’t be too naïve. David had a lot to gain by moving the Ark to his new capital city.                 
            The death of Uzzah is a reminder that the Ark, and God, are not to be taken lightly. The Ark is not to be treated a merely a political object. The death of Uzzah reminds us that holiness can be dangerous. There is power there that, if not respected, can do real damage.
            Uzzah and his brother had been in charge of caring for the ark. They inherited this role from their father, who was also a Levite Priest. One of the dangers of serving God in this way is that you can begin to take God less seriously because you are always surrounded with God “stuff”.
            I know a man who, when he was first made a chalice bearer, couldn’t stop the tears from rolling town his cheeks as he presented the cup and said “the Blood of Christ shed for you”. In his hands it was the Holy grail. It was the very cup of Christ used at the Last Supper. That act was so important he couldn't stop the tears. But, the more he did it the less the tears were there. And he still has a great respect for the Eucharist, but there is a danger there that we can loose that sense of awe if we aren’t careful. It is a danger for anyone who gets deeply involved in the “stuff” of God.
There was a time when Christians would rather die than give up their Bibles to be destroyed. They were a bit more rare in those days, but that’s not really the point. The point was that these were the instructions of God, ands the history of the people of God, and the teachings of the saints of God. It is the history of salvation. Familiarity can lead to a kind of unintentional disrespect.
Uzzah lost his respect for the Ark. If you asked him, he might have denied it, but it shows in his actions. Specific instructions were given for how to handle the ark. It was to be carried on poles by Levites, not pulled on an ox cart. And it was not to be touched. The instructions were not followed on those two counts.   
            With David, we are disturbed by Uzzah’s death. How can this happen? Why would God allow this? Uzzah meant well. WE can’t completely explain this away. We will likely always feel uncomfortable with this. There is a mystery here. But it seems as though Uzzah’s act of touchging the ark was an expression of Uzzah’s heart, and what he truly thought of the ark. It was just a special box and “I’m a special person for taking care of the special box”.   
            When I was learning to be an electrician I remember my uncle Don, who is also an electrician, said to me, “the minute you stop respecting electricity, it will kill you”. Electricity is a wonderful blessing to our lives. We can use it to light our homes and make our meals. We use it to run computers and phones and motors and you name it. But, if we don’t respect it- if we don’t remember the boundaries and are careless with it- and maybe touch the wrong wire- we will get shocked and we might not survive. Uzzah touched the wrong wire. He was careless. The procession was careless, and Uzzah paid the price. 
            There are pretty specific directions about how to respect the holy power around the Ark, which were given to the people for their own protection. David and the procession were being careless with the Ark. Mix with this carelessness a desire to use the Ark for political maneuvering, and to manipulate, and then you have a dangerous combination. Power has to be respected. If you don’t respect it you might get shocked. Uzzah didn’t survive the shock that day and everyone was reminded that holiness is not always safe.
            God is not safe. God means parts of us harm. God means parts of me harm. The Christ who is selfish, lustful, mean, and greedy- God means that Chris harm. God wants to kill him actually. The reason is that if God doesn’t kill that Chris, that Chris will kill the kind, gentle, God- loving Chris. God iosn’t safe because sometimes I don’t want that selfish Chris to die. St. Augustine once said, famously, “Lord Grant me Chastity, but not yet”. Sometimes we aren’t ready for that version of us to die. Lord make the kind of person who speaks kindly of others, but not until I share this bit of gossip about so and so. It’s just too juicy not to share.   

            So Uzzah dies- he touched the wrong wire and found out God is not safe. The celebration stopped and David wondered what he was doing bringing such a dangerous object to his new capital. So he gave it to Obed-Edom for safe keeping. I’m not sure how Obed felt about this. “Here. This Ark is way to dangerous for me to take to my home, can you look after it for a while”. But, how do you reject the king, so Obed took the Ark into his home for three months … and he was blessed. Holiness is good. Obed-edom’s household was richly blessed. God is not safe, but He is good. When David saw how blessed Obed was he thought he might try to bring the Ark to Jerusalem again. This time he knew he could not deal carelessly with the Ark. It is not safe, but it is good.   
                     The procession begins again. This time there is more respect, more humility, and more joy. David dances in a very undignified way before the procession. Imagine Queen Elizabeth taking off her clothes and dancing before a parade. The focus shifts. The Ark’s procession is no longer about David. David humbles himself. He is a fool dancing for the pleasure and amusement of the true King enthroned on the Ark. David empties himself of his dignity to honour God. This procession is about God’s enthronement in Jerusalem, not David’s. David understood that. That is what his dancing is about.
            We sometimes think that taking holiness seriously means being very dignified, very somber, and very proper. That is not so as we learn from David. Our reaction to holiness is respect, but also joyful abandon. We might be left speechless in silent prayer with tears filling our eyes, or we might be left unable to stop singing, dancing, and laughing.
We are called to empty ourselves before our king. We are called to take his holiness seriously, recognizing that God is not safe, but that he is good. We empty ourselves. We abandon ourselves. We forget ourselves as we enter God’s presence.
And as we process, through our own kind of dance, to the altar rail.  There, we put out our trembling and joyful hands to receive into ourselves God- The creator and Lord of the universe. And as that bread sits in our hands we recognize that the God we worship is not safe, but He is good. He is so good that for our sake He has so emptied Himself that he became a human being, and now He comes to us through simple naked bread. He is not safe, but he is good. Amen.

Questions based on the reading (2 Sam 1-22):
  1. C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia that Aslan the lion wasn’t safe, but that he was good. What does it mean for God to not be safe, but also be good? For someone to be good, do they also have to be safe? Reflect on Uzzah (see 1 Chronicles -15). Where else might danger also coexist with blessing?
  2. What do you think of Michal’s response to David’s dancing before the Ark? Why did she feel this way? Have you ever seen bitterness and contempt get in the way of joy and celebration? 
  3. What makes you feel joyous? Have you ever felt like dancing because you were so happy? What has been your most joyful experience with God? Have you ever looked like a fool for God’s sake?

Post notes:
Readings like this can be hard for us to get our head around. Is this the God we believe in? The one who strikes people dead for offence? A God who gets angry when rituals aren’t followed properly? This is not an easy issue. It points us towards a mystery. God is always bigger than the box we try to fit him into.
I don’t think a reasonable solution, though, is to say “that is the God of the Old Testament and I don’t believe in that God”. That leads us to becoming Marcionites (see ). It doesn’t recognize that the Old Testament is the Bible Jesus had, which expressed the God he identified with. It also might leaves us suspicious of our Jewish friends, whose Bible is ouir Old Testament.
That being said I think we need principles for interpretation. Simply, I think we always need to read the Bible in the light of Jesus. He is our clearest vision of God and God’s Word. Secondly, we need to take the Bible as a whole and read it with itself. Perhaps we also need to take into account the ideas about God that existed at that time period. God is always about meeting us where we are. Perhaps the people of this culture needed a story about life and death that showed God's power over life and death.
There are plenty of other principles of interpretation, such as genre, placement in the canon/salvation history, etc.  
If you want to look more into Bible interpretation John Stott has a great video series which is also quite inexpensive-

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