The presence of God

A Sermon for Proper 10

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 24, Psalm 85:8-13, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

No one knows what happened to the Ark. It is not in the inventory of loot taken when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and took everything and everyone back to Babylon. It is not a part of the Second Temple’s furnishings; by the way, that is the Temple of Jesus’ day. There are many occasions when it could have been destroyed, captured or carried away for safe keeping by either human or divine means. (Sakenfeld) No one really knows when or how it got lost, or where it may be, not even Indiana Jones. I am sure you remember Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you do not, it is worth watching. Spielberg and Lucas did a great job of storytelling about finding the Ark. And they actually got reasonably close to the power and the danger of the Ark in the scene on the Island when the bad guys open it just to be sure it is not empty. Everyone and everything there is destroyed, except Jones and Miriam, who kept their eyes closed and did not look on the presence of God. The movie’s last scene, when the Ark is hidden away, forever lost in a bureaucratic jungle, is a nod to the unpredictability the Ark.

Last week David was anointed king over all Israel. Since then Israel has defeated two Philistine attacks after David consulted with God about what to do. We do not know chose idea it is to go get the Ark, but David does. It may be a deliberate attempt to join his reign with Israel’s ancient religious traditions. The Ark is the home of the Ten Commandments, and God’s footstool on earth. In Moses’ day, Israel took it out in battle, against his wishes, because God will not be with you, and they are defeated. (Num. 14:43) Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land, with the Ark heading the procession. When the Ark is carried into battle, even the Philistines are afraid. Eli’s sons carry the Ark into battle and in a disastrous effort are killed, and the Ark is captured. The Philistines take it into their temple, whereupon the statue of their god falls over, breaking its hands off, and plagues begin to break out. So the Philistines put the Ark on a new cart and set it off, with golden gifts for appeasement. It stops at Kireath-jearim, for twenty years. That is where it is when David goes after it. (Sakenfeld)

In the beginning, things go well enough. The Ark is put in a new cart that Uzzah and Ahio drive. David leading, the procession dances towards Jerusalem with songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals accompanying. Today’s appointed reading skips the verses where Uzzah reaches out to stop the Ark from falling off the cart because the Ox shook it, and dies. We frequently skip over these sorts of uncomfortable verses; they complicate our vision of God. The story goes:

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:7 (NRSV))

It does not seem fair, Uzzah was trying to protect the Ark. I did a little word work in Strong’s Dictionary. The root word of the Hebrew anger means face, the root word of the Hebrew aroused also means glow or blaze, the root word of the Hebrew struck means struck. (Strong’s) So maybe touching the Ark is the same as seeing God’s face, always considered dangerous, which blazes forth, striking Uzzah and killing him. This may make us a little more comfortable, with the unfortunate results of an unintentional act. Still Uzzah is dead as the results of an encounter with God. It is a stark reminder that God’s presence is as dangerous as it is gracious.

Back to the story. David is angry and afraid and leaves the Ark with Obed-edom a Gittite. Remember a Gittite is from Gath, the same Philistine city as Goliath.  (Holman Bible Dictionary) After three months, during which Obed-edom’s household is blessed, David decides the Ark is as much a blessing as it is a danger and returns to complete the journey. There is another procession, which David leads while scantily dressed, perhaps showing he has nothing to hide before God. This procession is also replete with offerings. After their arrival there is a final round of burnt offerings, which are sacrifices to restore relationship with God or atone for sin, (Holman Bible Dictionary) and wellbeing offerings, which are a celebration of peace, or fellowship, part of a covenant agreement or a greeting. (Sakenfeld) After all this all Israel is feed with cakes of flour, cakes of rain and meat.

A couple of observations: David leads the sacrifices much the same way Saul did. Saul’s behavior provokes God’s wrath; David’s does not. This is likely because David is not violating God’s command, we do know David seeks God’s counsel. Secondly, we should not overlook that God blessing is given to Obed-edom a Gittite, a traditional enemy of Israel, God’s chosen people.

There are three elements to this story I want to touch on. First, the religious, political connection. We do not know whose idea it is to go get the Ark. As I mentioned, it might be David’s effort to gain credibility for his reign by connecting to Israel’s ancient religious traditions. We do not like the political implications in scripture. We use the Constitution’s prohibition of the state establishing an official religion as an excuse to separate politics from religion and faith. We cannot read and apply scripture to our lives faithfully without acknowledging the political dimensions in scripture and in our lives.

Buried within a complicated journey story and the story of legitimizing of David’s reign is a story of God’s blessings. I am not at all sure Obed-edom is delighted to have the Ark dropped off in his custody. He must have seen the tragic death of Uzzah and know the danger of the Ark. Nonetheless, the Ark is left on his land. And he and his household are blessed. That is not far from us hearing an irrefutable story of divine blessing upon Iran. It is a stark reminder that God’s grace is God’s, and God’s bestows it upon whomever God chooses. We have got nothing to do with it, and I rather, no I believe we ought not to get angry about it. David does not; in fact, it is Obed-edom’s blessing that shows David that the Ark can be a blessing.

Finally, we have convinced ourselves that God’s presence is all about grace and salvation. However, David Lose says:

… the presence of God on this earth is always a dicey proposition. … the intersection points of the divine with the human can be fraught. … We dare never be casual when it comes to the presence of God. We are right to be thoughtful about how we speak of it and approach it and ponder it. (Lose)

There two elements here I want to consider this morning. The first that God’s grace is God’s, well I suspect I have said enough.

Secondly, what we tend to speak of as God’s grace, our wellbeing, physical and material accoutrements are not grace; they are the results of the complex interactions of how we are a part of the socio-political-economic structures of the world, our country, state, county, and city. Our wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s presence in our lives. Others’ lack of wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s absence from their lives. God is wholly other, and God’s presence is wholly other, never as simple as we desire and always touching and relating everything to everything else. Uzzah died, and every day people die who should not, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. Obed-edom’s household prospered, and every day people prosper, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. The difference between prosperity or death is not God’s presence and grace or lack thereof; the difference well some of the difference is our perception, but especially our judgment of others from our faulty perceptions. There is a sense in this story, that when we stop judging and live fully exposed before God, then everyone can be feed. That sounds a lot to me like the Kingdom come to earth. AMEN.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2015. 12 7 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 6:15, 12b-19. 12 7 2015.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 2 Samuel 6,” 12 7 2015. Working Preacher.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Lose, David. Pentecost 7 B: A Tale of Two Kingdoms. 12 7 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net&gt;.

Petersen, David and Roberts Gavenat Beverly. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. e-book.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

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