Saturday, July 11, 2009

Delightful Dance

• HOW DOES IT FEEL TO RECEIVE SOMETHING UNEXPECTED? (they answer) What word would you use to describe how you feel?

• “Delightful?”
• We are used to seeing the plate passed and being expected to give.
David gave everyone ‘bread and a cake of raisins’ out of his joy. He made sure that everyone would share in God’s blessing. He extended the celebration into every home. It had to make him popular.
It reminded me of the promise of ‘a chicken in every pot’. I’m pretty sure David wasn’t the first politician to think of giving away something sweet (or at least promising to do so) in order to win the affection of his people, Or to offer them something from the blessing he received. I imagine both thoughts crossed his mind.

I may not be the first preacher to offer a cookie in order to have her sermon judged acceptable either. Hmmmm.

We understand David’s giving stemmed from the joy he felt that came from God’s presence with him - in its concrete, physical form of the Ark.
You remember; the Ark was a chest containing the Tablets of the Covenant between the LORD and Israel. The Ark served as a throne for the ‘LORD of Hosts’ On its cover were two Cherubim, probably creatures with
the body of a lion or bull,
the head of a human, and
the wings of an eagle. In the ancient Near East, such creatures used to flank royal thrones.
The Ark accompanied God’s people into the Holy Land and LATER was the holiest object in the 1st Temple when it was built. But the Ark has been separated from God’s people because the Philistines captured it in the great battle with Israel in the days of Eli. In fact, it was the news of this great battle; the loss of the Ark and the death of his sons that caused Eli to fall, break his neck and die. Being near the Ark – the seat of God’s power, can be dangerous.

As our story explains the Ark has been at the home of Abinadab for about 20 years, a lifetime for a young adult. And David decides to bring it to his new HQ, the NEW city of David, Jerusalem.

You may be wondering how the story of King David’s celebration and dance relate to our everyday lives. Let’s see if we can find some connections to this interesting story.

We have to realize that David is not a simple man. We need to leave behind our Sunday School images of David because he is a man of complex motives. You probably began to wonder about them as you heard his story explained.

HE has consolidated the Jewish people following battles and defections. (Samuel I & II have so many good stories with twists and turns like soap operas, they might be classified as ‘beach reading’.)

David has created a new capital city on the border of the 2 kingdoms; --- Israel (to the North) and Judah (South) -- which are BOTH now under his rule. AND he’s been busy building a new Royal Family.
“He added wives and concubines and fathered eleven more sons - the text of the previous chapter says in addition to the first 6 by 6 different wives (5:13-16). He is a busy man. A foreign king acknowledges him (5:11), and David once again defeats the Philistines, this time rather extensively (5:1-25). He has become "greater and greater."

David’s initial decision (v.1) to get the Ark and bring it to Jerusalem has religious AND political UNDERtones.
Religiously; the Ark of Presence which once guided God’s people, would be returned to a place of honor and eventually a temple would be built around it (by David’s son, Solomon.) A priestly celebration that includes sacrifices and gifts to the people is an appropriate way to bring the Ark of God’s presence into its new home.
Politically; This symbol of God’s power will shore up David’s own power and ‘bless’ the new vision of a monarchy united under David. The (former) kingship of Saul left much to be desired, and the transition to a new administration has involved fighting and now victory for David. He needs to solidify his base and bring the people of both kingdoms together. And he needs to connect his efforts to God’s wishes so he can keep the respect of his people. Gifts won’t hurt.

We can ask if David’s motives are pure but we can’t really know the answer. If we read enough about David and his life we will learn he’s a complicated man of multiple motives, very much like us.

How often do you hear religious pontificating and wonder if any of it is self-serving? How often do you view your own motivation and realize there is often more than one reason for doing something or for giving a gift?

Do you remember Billy Graham’s many visits with the presidents? A Time magazine writer, Diana Walker, speculated a bit about motives and the intertwining of religion and politics;

How far could a pastor go without becoming part of the political game? (She asks) Graham was the most famous preacher on earth. Simply by standing next to Presidents, he conferred a blessing both on them and on their policies. Every one of them was aware of this, in ways that Graham sometimes was not.
Was it crossing a line when he invited presidential candidates to his crusades or sent along suggestions for their speeches at National Prayer Breakfasts? What about when he lobbied lawmakers on behalf of a poverty bill or an arms deal, or consulted with candidates on their campaign ads or their running mates?
It was one thing to serve as Eisenhower's or Johnson's private pastor. But it was quite another to act as Nixon's political partner, carrying private messages to foreign heads of state, advising on campaign strategy and assembling evangelical leaders for private White House briefings.

There were times when Graham brought out the best in Nixon--and times as well when Nixon brought out the worst in Graham.

If there is a bottom line in such matters of people, politics and religion, its that humans are delightfully complicated beings.
We can learn from David’s experience and his fear following Uzzah’s death that God’s power is greater than human motive and will not be manipulated. We can also note from David’s story, from Billy Graham’s story and from that of any president’s - that the fallout from our decisions spills into other people’s lives. Taking personal responsibility for our actions doesn’t mean others won’t pay a price for our misdeeds.
Life and our relationship to our AWESOME God is also delightfully complicated. There is more to David’s story that can speak to us.

David’s 2nd attempt at moving the Ark after a 3 month break - is successful and includes his solitary dance that must have raised some eyebrows. He is risking a lot with his behavior and the story shows us two ways of looking at it.
1. David’s joy is so complete that he sheds - along with his clothes – the trappings of Kingship; all the elegant robes AND the refined dignity of a Ruler are left behind in order to ‘dance his joy’ before the LORD. He is offering himself and his actions as a sacrifice after the initial sacrifice of animals. It is a gift to God.
2. (but) Then there is Michal’s (sor MeeCHAL, Hebrew prounounciation) viewpoint. She is the daughter of the previous King and knows how a King should act. She is right in acknowledging the prohibition of exposure of the human body, at least certain parts of it. There are numerous stories in biblical history condemning for such exposure. She is upset at her husband behavior and believe his gift is self-serving.
Who is right? We don’t really know except to see that David’s dance wearing a priestly garment isn’t rejected by supernatural action.
They travel all of 6 paces to be sure before sacrificing and beginning the dance.
David’s exuberant offering to God of joyful dance seems to be accepted.
Whether his exposing himself was undignified and showing off to slave girls, or the expression of humility before God - we just don’t know. David also acts against Michal, never fathering a child with her which seals his dynasty and ends that of Saul’s, Michal’s father. Their will be NO joint heir. Does David have Dual motives? Quite possibly. David is both a religious being and a political one, AND he is blessed in many ways.

What we find from this story is that God can work with humans, real humans, like us- who have dual motives and layers of reasons for our actions. If only we are willing to risk involvement and give our true expression to God.

David’s dance of delight and joy are at the heart of the message for us today.

God’s presence demands celebration and so does the expectation of blessings to come. David’s reaction is not typical. The dance of delight is too much expression for most of us. We are more lightly to THINK exuberance but hold back our action. Perhaps we are more like timid teenagers at a dance. Try this picture on for size.

(by William McNamara)
“You are responsible for fifty teen-agers. [Rather young ones.] So you gather them together and put them in the fellowship hall and tell them to dance. Leaving someone in charge of the music, You go for a cup of coffee.
You return and witness this scene, four or five girls dancing in the middle of the room, and all the guys hugging the walls.”

Does that sound familiar? Perhaps its “pathetic” but is it an accurate image of Christ’s Church today?
At the heart there are a few live ones, participating, doing the Christ dance, re-enacting the mystery of faith, the birth-death-resurrection of the Everlasting man.

The rest of us are hugging the walls, cuddling up to the institution and the structure, smugly and securely “doing our thing” on the threshold of the Church; and from that safe distance we watch and discuss the appropriateness of the action at the center.

We seem a long way from King David and delightful dance, don’t we? We don’t risk, our giving or our involvement by giving ourselves. IF anything, we tend to stake our money on the safety at the edges instead of risking coming close to God’s presence and what God can do with our energy and passion.

Why are we more like the teens at the edge of the room? Are we afraid of –
- being embarrassed or of getting too involved?
- Or Are we afraid that God will expose us, and discover we often have dual motives? Pause
Can we accept God’s blessing and risk the places it(God) may take us? It might mean allowing ourselves to be open to the potential of being shockingly, utterly transformed by our boundless, amazing, wonderful ‘known-yet-unknown’ God.

We can learn much from King David. He lived a full and complex life. He is remembered for his greatness and yet the stories of his mistakes are repeated along with the glories of his successes. Still God blessed him and used him.

God can use us.

God accepts our offerings of passion and delight and uses us for good. God knows our motives and works with us and thru us to accomplish great things for all people. God can use everything and anything we give.
We are at the dance.
Some of us are timid and afraid of being exposed.
Some of our dance cards are too full to wait for the amazing partnership God has in mind.
Some of us are wondering if our passionate dancing will be accepted or judged.

What is keeping you at the edge of the room? What keeps you from sharing your gifts and dancing?

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