Sermon on 2 Samuel 6:1-19
Let me set the scene for you. Watford, England. Late 1990’s. Soul Survivor Church, which is part of the Anglican Church but built around youth and college ministry. Modern worship. Matt Redman is the worship leader. Mike Pilavachi was the pastor and he began to notice something in the church. It had become something else. Something other than what he thought church should be. It was built on the props. The show. The music was great. The feeling of euphoria it left for the people was amazing. But he realized that the worship had become almost stale. Going through the motions. Something to do. The worship time, the music and the feeling it gave to people had become the thing. Basically, like King David here, except no one died because of it.
That’s what catches your attention first, right? If you read this story as new to you, that is what you see. The Ark of God is on a cart. Pulled by oxen. The ox stumbles, and like any other merchant of goods or services, the young man Uzzah reaches his hand out to steady the load so it might not get broken, and…ZAP! What a terrible story.
What we haven’t heard though is the story of this ark, this box. God telling Moses to build it as the depository for the stone tablets that bore the Word of God on them – the 10 commandments. An item connected to the people through God’s Word. That it was designed in a particular way as a symbol of God’s presence in and among Israel. It was said to have the Mercy-seat of God upon it’s lid. So not just the Word of God, but a particular Word attached to it – mercy. A better Word for us? Forgiveness. And yet, we are left with Uzzah dead and David mad.
As a king, David wants to cement his power and make Jerusalem the center of the nation. In this same reading in 1 Chronicles it says that all the people wanted the ark to come up to Jerusalem because they had not inquired of it for the whole reign of Saul. The people re-discovering the necessity of God in their midst and yet David retrieves the ark from Baale-Judah like he would a new cow or a trophy of war.
David goes up to the city, to Abinadab’s house and brings a new cart. Oxen. A band. Dancers. And like good Lutherans, they process back to Jerusalem. Then Uzzah touches the ark and God ruins the whole trip. David gets mad at God and the ark is left in the custody of Obed-edom for three months.
God seems vindictive. It’s just a box. Or is it? That’s the rub. It’s not supposed to be ‘just a box.’ It was a particular symbol of who God was for the people of Israel. What type of God they had. A God that was all together different. Different enough that God tells Moses that it is to be carried and handled only by those set aside for priestly work. That it was to be carried on the shoulders of the priests, not in a cart like a piece of meat. Treating the box as more than a box. Something more than just a piece of furniture or everyday thing. Something sacred and unique.
This made me think of my worship. Ours. What of our worship is sacred? Unique? Different? What of it is driven by Christ for us, or has it become just a box?
That being said, I’m more interested in what takes place after Uzzah. Something happened during those three months the ark sat at Obed-edom’s house. David must have asked the priests, what did I do wrong? Asking that question of them in verse 9 – How can the ark ever come to me? Because the next thing we see is David goes back up and something has changed. Verse 12 - David went and had the ark of God brought up from Obed-edom’s house to the city of David with rejoicing. When those carrying the ark of the Lord advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. What changed? Every time those who were…carrying the ark, for one. God coming to David, to Jerusalem, to the people, the way God desires. But two, offerings. Blood. God coming in his way through sacrifice. Through offerings. God, seen in the ark, coming to David as God intends. The ark being focused onto what kind of God we have.
Even more so, I don’t know the composure of David when he went to get the ark the first time, but think of this new picture here of the king of Israel, stripped of all his regalia, dancing in his underwear as the ark comes into the very city that bears his name. What a picture. Casting aside what makes him king in order for God to be God. Then David, out of his storehouses, gives unto all the people his gifts. A very different scene of worship. A naked king and gifts.
Returning to the story from England. The pastor at Soul Survivor Church fired the band. Got rid of the music. They showed up for church and basically sat there until someone began to sing a song acapella. Could be any hymn or whatever. Or they would read Scripture and pray. Begging for their worship, apart from musical accompaniment, to be that of this God who comes to us. Their hearts, the way of the heart as our series is called this summer, to be turned in a different direction. Towards God. A particular God who comes in a particular way. Through mercy. Through blood. Through Jesus.
When the experiment at Soul Survivor church ended, and the band returned, Matt Redman wrote the song “The Heart of Worship” and it detailed his own personal experience during that time.
When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come.
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth, that’ll bless your heart.
I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required
You search much deeper within through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart
I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about You, it’s all about you, Jesus.
When we, like David, have had all ourselves stripped of everything apart from God, we are left with ourselves and Jesus. Stripped and bare. Nothing to impede our worship. Nothing to cover us but Christ, his cross, his blood, his mercy. Coming into greater knowledge of Christ and what he has done so that everything else becomes nothing.
It is interesting to read of David hear and remember that one of the last times we hear in the Scriptures of something being carried through the city of David, through Jerusalem, was a cross. Carried by God stripped bare. This God, your Jesus, clothes’ himself in the world’s sin, your sin, to dispense his gifts to you. To clothe you in his mercy and grace. Nothing pretty. Nothing elaborate. A God-man, three nails, and a death. Laid in a tomb of convenience without fanfare or requiem mass. Raised three days later. That is your Jesus for you. Here in David we see our God working in one king to bring back a symbol of God’s mercy to his people. In Christ we see THE King working to bring back a people to God because of his mercy.
Of many of the stories we have of David, this is the one where he comes to us in his most Christ-like way. Where we as followers of Christ have God’s spirit working in us to move us closer and closer to God and how the Lord comes to be in us in Jesus. Going away from worship on our terms to Christ on his terms. Moving away from worship as something that is just done for our sakes, into worship, into a spirituality in which it happens for God’s sake. For Christ’s sake. Our worship centering on Jesus. Our service in it centering on Christ.
Our worship lives and dies by Jesus. Without Jesus, it’s a sing-a-long. A country club. A TED talk. A nice story. An interruption to the weekend. With Jesus it becomes an entrance through the gates of heaven into the realms of the Almighty. With Jesus, God is laid bare and becomes seen as who he is for you. Not what you want. Not all dressed up for a party, but who he must be for you. Who he chose to be for you. Destined to be for you as your forgiveness before God, stripped of all his godliness to be for you his mercy and love. And he won’t allow anything else to get in the way of him and you. Thanks be to God. Amen