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.
Footnotes:
  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.



Sermon:
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism ). 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- http://www.amazon.com/John-Stott-Bible-Christian-Life/dp/0310272971


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