July 15, 2012
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
I’ve always liked today’s Old Testament story about David dancing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. I think, at a time in my life, when I was finding traditional Presbyterian worship services rather reserved and focused on the head rather than the heart, the thought of David “dancing before the Lord with all his might” was rather inspiring. It seemed to me that in his dancing, David was worshipping God, not only with his words and his mind, but with his whole self – body, mind, and spirit. And that’s the way that I wanted to worship as well.
Of course, when you read the story from the perspective of someone who is longing for freedom in worship, David becomes the obvious hero. He goes to retrieve the Ark from the place of storage where it has been neglected, if not forgotten, for a long time. For tribal Israel, the Ark was the chief symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people. It was a gilded box made of acacia wood surmounted by winged cherubim, which served as a pedestal for the invisibly enthroned Yahweh.
So David returns his attention to God’s presence with him and with his kingdom. He worships God, and celebrates the fact that God is the true ruler of Israel, the one responsible for Israel’s victories, the one who will guide and direct them into a victorious future. And David worships with abandon. He’s not wondering what people will think of his dancing. He’s not worrying about what he’s wearing in front of the crowds because he’s dancing for God and not for them.
When Michal looks down from her window and scoffs at his unseemly behaviour, she becomes like those who might criticize the more emotional praise and worship style of service in favour of a more thoughtful and less exciting service of worship. She becomes the nay-sayer who won’t try anything new and who complains about the young people trying out lively music, new instruments, or even dance in their worship of God.
But the analogy doesn’t quite work when you understand the context of what’s happening here with David and the Ark and Michal. You see, Michal (the daughter of Saul) is David’s wife. She was given to him reluctantly by Saul when David made a payment of a brideprice for her. Later, when David became a fugitive from Saul, she was given as a wife to another man, Palti. And then later, in another political deal, David demanded that she be returned to him, and she was forcibly taken from a weeping Palti and brought to David. At one time, the story reported that “Michal loved David”, but nothing of that love remains.
In other words, Michal is not a neutral bystander, observing David’s dancing in his underwear and disapproving of his public display. More than anyone, perhaps, she knows David. She knows both his love and his cruelty, and she knows that what he’s doing as he dances along is not just pure praise and worship of God.
In many ways, it’s a political demonstration. By transferring the Ark to Jerusalem, David is linking the Kingship of God to his own rule over Israel. The procession serves as a public ritual to inaugurate Jerusalem, not only as a royal capital, but also as the religious centre of Israel’s life. David announcing to the world that God is with him and he is with God. And that is a pretty bold political statement, don’t you think?
Michal likely struggles with the fact that she is married to this man – she belongs to him – and yet, she is the daughter of the former king, Saul, who has been clearly rejected by God. Watching David dancing in the streets, she understandably despises him as he boldly claims God’s approval of his kingdom over others.
I don’t know how honest or authentic David’s worship really was that day. Perhaps it was just a spectacle put on for the crowds. Perhaps David’s intention was to raise up his own profile by associating himself with the powerful God of Israel. Or perhaps he truly wanted to worship God and give the glory to God for all the success that he had experienced.
Certainly, authentic worship is not self-centered. Worship that is done “in spirit and in truth”, as John’s Gospel puts it, is all about God and not about personal status or gain. And authentic worship is not measured by our feelings either. It is not something that only happens when we are feeling joyful, or when we’re feeling inspired, or when we’re feeling particularly close to God. And God does not appreciate our worship any more if we are swept away by our emotions rather than simply acknowledging God’s holy presence with our words and praising God with our lives.
David and all of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might. They gave glory to God for the victories they had won in battle, and they brought the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of God’s presence and holiness, into the city of the king. They proclaimed in that act that Yahweh would be their God, and they would be his people.
We, too, are invited to make God the centre of our lives. We are called to worship God Sunday by Sunday, and to look to God’s living Word in Jesus Christ for guidance and direction in our lives day by day. Whatever songs we sing, whatever dances we dance, whether we respond to the good news of the Gospel with tears or laughter or careful reflection on its implications for our lives and relationships, we are called to worship God.
God may not have won battles for us or made us kings or queens. But God has made us, and loved us. God has forgiven us for our mistakes, and shown us the way of love in Jesus Christ. God has blessed our lives in countless ways, and God promises to stay with us and encourage us through the challenges and struggles that we encounter through life as well.
When I was doing a few visits yesterday, I was inspired by two things that I heard and saw. Early in the afternoon, I was visiting with a congregation member in the hospital and hearing an update about his continuing medical issues, discomforts, and struggles. And then he paused and looked at me directly and said, “Amanda, I have so many things for which to be grateful to God.”
He wasn’t dancing. He wasn’t singing. And he probably wasn’t feeling particularly joyful. And yet he was worshipping God… giving praise and thanks to God for the blessings of life and breath and relationships and caregivers and God’s presence with him in the hospital.
Then, as I was visiting another person in a care home, I met her 90-something year-old neighbour who dropped by and joined in our conversation. As we were talking about walkers and balance and getting up and down the hall ways, my friend said to her neighbour, “You have both your original hips, don’t you?” And the lady smiled and said, “I sure do!” and then she wiggled her hips in a joyful little dance.
Before I left, the three of us joined hands and prayed in thanksgiving to God for the home where they lived, for the ability to move about, for good neighbours and friends, and for all the blessings of God.
Before I finish my reflection this morning, I would like to share a song with you that is one of my favourites. I’m not a dancer, but I love to sing, as most of you know. And this song, in particular, speaks to the call to worship God and to celebrate God’s presence and God’s blessings in the midst of, and in spite of the difficulties and challenges of life. Like David, who perhaps could not keep himself from dancing with all his might before the Lord, I do not know how I can keep from singing.
“How can I keep from singing?” (Anonymous, from ‘Bright Jewels for the Sunday School, 1869, Adapted by Robert Lowry)
1. My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
2. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing;
it sounds and echoes in my soul; how can I keep from singing?
3. What though the tempest ‘round me roar, I hear the truth, it liveth;
what though the darkness ‘round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
4. The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine since I am his; how can I keep from singing?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” With thanksgiving, may we live for the praise of his glory. And let us keep on singing and dancing our praise to God, as we sing #250 – I danced in the morning.