Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sermon Sketches: II Samuel 6:1-5 ~ The Work of Celebration

1David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3They 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 4with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.        2 Samuel 6:1-5 (NIV)

Last week, we heard about and joined with Ruth in her journey to the land of Israel. She, the one who was welcoming and embracing of foreigners, became a foreigner, embraced by her new land. If you had a chance to read the rest of the book of Ruth this week, you learned that in the land of Israel, she worked the fields of Boaz…a man who fell in love with her and eventually married her. Together, they had a son, Jesse, and he in turn became the father of David—the future king of Israel.

David is the stuff of legends. Even in the Old Testament, he was quite the figure—an amazing warrior and leader, a wise king (most of the time!), and—as Luke reminds us in Act 13:22—a man after God’s own heart. Add to all that his amazing good looks, and David becomes the ‘whole package.’ He was able to do what Saul, the first and previous king, could not do—he united the kingdom of Israel.

But, besides his great feats of war and diplomacy, we find tucked into II Samuel 6 an act of faith, an act of religious importance—he moves the Ark, that symbol of God’s presence that had preceded the People of Israel as they left Egypt for the Promised Land, to the city of Jerusalem. Oh, we dare not separate this act of faith from his feats of war and diplomacy. His life, like ours, is not broken up into little boxes; rather, all aspects of his life—and ours—are woven together, each sphere of our lives impacting the others—whether we admit it or not. So, the act of bringing the Ark from Baalah to Jerusalem in simply another facet of David’s expansive life of leadership and faith.

As I read these verses, I was taken by verse five:

5David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord…

Celebration—we generally love this part of life. When we have a chance, we rarely pass up the moment to gather with family or friends to celebrate something. When my grandson, Santiago, turned four months old a couple of weeks ago, it was a fine excuse to get together with our daughter and her husband to celebrate. When our daughter, Meg, got married last month, family came in from Wyoming, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama to celebrate with us. When my birthday arrives towards the end of the month, we’ll celebrate…eat lasagna and chocolate-chip pound cake. Usually, we love to celebrate.

But, there are those days we do not enjoy celebrating. There are those days that we are weighed down, tired, empty…and we just don’t want to celebrate. I know those times have come when a friend has invited me out to celebrate, and I beg off saying that the day was long and I’m too tired to be good company. Maybe I was a little tired, but more than anything, I didn’t feel like going out and ‘celebrating.’ I was heavy and did not care to be surrounded by joy and laughter…and I didn’t want to have the pressure of being a source of joy and mirth. Have you ever felt like not celebrating?

I suppose this is why II Samuel 6:5 catches my eye. Did you see it? 5David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might…. “Celebrating with all their might….” They weren’t just celebrating; they were working at it! “Might” is strength, energy. I imagine that not everyone there felt like celebrating. David and his men had just returned from battles (see II Sam. 5)—while they were victorious, that does not mean they not suffer losses. Friends, brothers, cousins, uncles probably fell on the field of battle. Others may have suffered life-changing injuries—lost limbs, broken bones that would never heal properly. While there was victory on the battle field, certainly there was loss and pain. And, I’m guessing they didn’t sleep great during those days in the field, so people were tired. No wonder celebrating was a chore!

But, they did it. They chose to celebrate…with all their might. The put aside their feelings of loss or weariness or whatever else, and they determined to celebrate the coming of the Lord’s presence to their capitol city of Jerusalem.

How often do we gather on Sunday to celebrate the goodness of God, to worship, to celebrate Communion, and we really don’t feel like celebrating. We’ve had a difficult week. The test at school was harder than we thought it would be. The results of the check-up weren’t what we expected or wanted. The diagnosis of a parent’s condition left us with little hope. The deal we were working on at our job fell through. The visit the children promised didn’t materialize. The retirement isn’t turning out how we expected. Or, that fool driver who cut us off on the highway is still very present in our thoughts…even though he drove on his merry way two hours ago. For whatever reason, we arrive on Sunday morning, and we don’t feel like celebrating anything.

David and his people were not relying on how they felt. They determined to celebrate the coming of the Ark to Jerusalem. They celebrated with all their might—they physically forced themselves to celebrate.

And, when we gather for worship, we may have to do the same…if we don’t have the feelings. We may need to make ourselves smile. We may need to force ourselves to greet the old friend and the new visitor. We may need to coax ourselves to sing the songs with passion. We may need to push ourselves to recite the Creed, to join in the Lord’s Prayer. We may need to apply our ‘might’ to the acts of worship.

I imagine some will ask, “Are you asking me to be a hypocrite? Are you asking me to put on a fake smile and act happy when I feel like crap and would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else?” No. I’m not asking anyone to be a hypocrite. I’m asking us all to embrace what contemporary psychology now understands and teaches us: not only do our feelings and attitudes affect our behavior, but our behavior affects our feelings and attitudes. How we act directly impacts our feelings. Just try it. Stand before a mirror and smile at yourself—you’ll be amazed at how it changes or reinforces how you feel.

When I officiate wedding ceremonies, I remind the couple that love is not a mere feeling. Feelings come and go; they’re about as predictable as the weather. If we rely on feelings, we’re in for a world of trouble. So, I remind the couple that love is what Paul describes in I Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. These are not descriptions of feelings; these are ways of acting, thinking, behaving. I encourage the couple not to rely on the feelings but to do the acts of love, for when we do the acts of love, the feelings return…again and again as we act in love.

So, no—I’m not asking anyone to be a hypocrite. I’m asking everyone—all of us—to remember to do the sometimes hard work of celebration, to celebrate with all our might, to worship with all our power. Perhaps this is why Jesus reminds us that we’re to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Jesus knew there would be days we didn’t feel loving towards God, so we would need to rely not on our hearts alone but also on our strength and mind to carry us forward in the life of faith.

As we determine to do this hard work, we will find that our hearts, our attitudes, will catch up with our actions, our behavior, and so the set smile on our faces will soften in natural smile. The words of grace spoken haltingly soon becomes flowing conversation. The somewhat perfunctory greeting soon shifts to warm welcome. The song that our lungs force out of mouths slowly crescendos into words of praise that lift our hearts, if not our hands, to God.

As David and the people celebrated the moving of the Ark—that symbol of God’s presence—to Jerusalem with all their “might,” we, too, gather to celebrate God’s grace, love, and presence through worship and Communion…and we may need to do so with all our might. In fact, we should do so with all our might! As we ‘share the peace,’ may we do so with all our might. As we lift our voices in song, may we do so with all our might. As we come to the Table, may we so with all our might. As we pray, may we do so with all our might.

May we do the work of celebration…and allow those actions of joy, kindness, and celebration to change us from the inside out.


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