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No Protocol

Old Mystic, July 12, 2009
2 Samuel 6:1-19

Summary

There is no protocol—no rules of etiquette or code of “correct” worship—when it comes to the privilege, joy, and the opportunity of celebrating the blessing of God’s presence in our midst. God welcomes honest and popular expressions of faith.

Sermon

In almost 25 years of ministry and a whole life in church, I have had my own share of discussions, controversies, and even conflicts about how we should worship or what is the “right way” of doing things when it comes to the praise and adoration of our God. I must affirm here once again that I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as a “book” on liturgy. After all, as Baptists we dwell in our principles of freedom, especially the principle of “Soul Liberty,” by which we declare that we have freedom of conscience and we are free to relate directly with God in prayer and worship with no interference of any human agent. So… there is no protocol for true Baptists when it comes to how we are going to engage in worshipping the Living God who is in our midst!

Of course, we have guidelines. For that reason we abide by covenants whereby we agree on how we are going to do certain things as a congregation and the beliefs we share and agree upon. But covenants themselves tacitly acknowledge that we leave out those things which we do not agree about—which are left to our freedom of conscience. As congregations—not that we include the worship style in our covenants generally speaking—we agree on how we do things and we have both spoken and unspoken rules. But we also know that nobody can tell us how we are going to approach the Living God.

In today’s passage we find King David freely celebrating God’s presence at a special moment in the history of the people of Israel. He had fought for 20 years to consolidate his kingdom, he had conquered the city that was going to be the capital of his kingdom, and then the time had come when he was finally being recognized as king. Only one thing was needed—and David was very aware of it: bringing home the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a box that contained Aaron’s rod and the tablets of the law and that symbolized God’s presence. It had accompanied the Israelites through their wanderings in the desert but had been captured by the Philistines who had also undergone disaster when they tried to keep it in their pagan temple. At that point, it was resting in the home of a man called Abinadab. And David wanted to bring God’s presence to his house and to his city.

So the time had come to recover the ark—that powerful symbol of God’s presence that for ancient folks was more than a symbol—it was God’s very presence. And that made the transportation of the artifact very risky. It was set on a new cart pulled by oxen and guarded by Abinadab’s two sons: Uzzah and Ahio. David and the people walked in front dancing in celebration and harps and lyres and all sorts of percussion instruments were sounding. Everything was ready for a triumphal journey into Jerusalem where the ark belonged.

They strongly believed that God was there, in their midst and that prompted them to celebrate with joy. For them, it was a fact. God was so close to them that it was even dangerous, as they learned later. They were not caught by doctrines of transcendence or immanence. They did not think of God being way beyond this world and unreachable for them or as a deity that can be found everywhere and in everything with no supernatural significance. It was the all powerful, transcendent yet ever present, and distant yet very close loving God that had made them His people. The Living God, the creator of the universe, was right there in that very spot with them and among them. So they danced and sang with joy.

Is it a fact for us that God is here? Does this presence prompt us to dance with joy or express that fulfillment in some sort of way agreeable to our culture? There is no protocol about how to worship the God that is among us and with us. We may choose ways of worship that are more akin to our New England culture. Is it silent reflection? Quiet prayer? Singing traditional hymns? Or praise songs that flow from the mainstream of the American Christian culture? It doesn’t really matter. The point is that when we experience God’s presence we have to celebrate! It has to be our way, our own way but let us celebrate because God’s presence is a fact.

And God’s presence is a fact because God has made it more evident to us than it was for the Israelites transporting the Ark. Jesus came to the world to reconnect us with God—that is why he was also called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Furthermore, by receiving the Christ into our lives we have been granted the Holy Spirit to abide in us. Do we need any other evidence of God’s presence?

But the transporting of the Ark was not easy; it was a risky business. As the procession went on toward the King’s city, something atrocious happened. On the grounds of the threshing floor of Nacon, because of the movement of the oxen, the box shook and prompted Uzzah—poor, unfortunate Uzzah—to reach out to the ark and touch it in an attempt to hold it so it wouldn’t fall. Right in the act he was struck dead for his sacrilege. This is, undoubtedly, very difficult to explain to a 21st century onlooker. Was the box so holy that it shouldn’t be touched? Why God was not merciful enough to forgive Uzzah’s impropriety? Don’t we know God as a God of forgiveness? It is confusing, and David was so angry and confused that he needed quite some time to recover from this disappointment before he tried to attempt again to take the ark back home.

And so the ark rested in the house of Obed-edom for three months and during that time there were no more incidents. In fact, Obed’s household was blessed by the presence of the Ark—by God’s presence. When David heard about of all the good things that happened to that family because of the ark, he decided to go back and retrieve it to take it to his city. Yet, something was clear to all: God’s presence is a privilege. Our relationship with the Living God id something serious, that cannot be taken from granted, or lightly. God’s presence prompts us to celebrate but at the same time to bow at His presence. That is what worship is all about: expressing with awe and fear but at the same time with joy and jubilation our sense of his blissful presence.

And the joy, happiness, and exultation before God’s presence were renewed in David. Taking off his robe, with dancing, and singing, and at the sound of harps, and lyres, and cymbals, and tambourines, he and the people led the ark into the city and lay it to rest in the tent that David had prepared. It was a very special day and the celebration was wide open. All the people participated except for Michal—David’s wife. The people danced and sang and went home with a gift from the king and the celebration continued in the homes as they shared their cakes of bread, their portions of meat, and their cakes of raisins. Many were beginning to learn that God’s presence is for everyone, not just for a few. And as God makes Himself available to all, God welcomes our free expressions of worship and adoration. There is no protocol.

When Michal, David’s wife, saw the happy procession and the king dancing and jumping she despised him because he had made himself vulgar by uncovering in front of the people. David’s response was powerful; “It was before the Lord… that I have danced… I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes.” David did not care what anyone said; he would do anything he needed to do to worship the Living God and celebrate His presence.

God is with us, among us, and in us. We are not in church just because we hold the expectation to meet God sometime in a distant future and somewhere far away; God will be fully revealed to us when we meet Him face to face. Yet, God is here now and His presence can be experienced in a powerful way. And we can celebrate with all our might as we experience the joy of his presence! We can rejoice and worship our way, honestly, openly, and not constrained by anyone, as we can also rest in his loving arms. Let us find our own ways of enjoying and celebrating God’s ineffable presence among us.

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