Lessons in Leadership: #7 David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem
July 15, 2018 – 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
How many of you have seen the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s a great movie that came out in 1981. It is set in the late 1930s just before World War 2. Harrison Ford plays the character of Archaeologist, Indiana Jones. Jones battles a group of Nazis searching for the ancient Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence in ancient Israel. The Nazis believe that the Ark holds special power, and if they can find the Ark, their armies will become invincible. There’s a great clip on YouTube that shows the ending of the movie as the Nazis open the Ark, and the power contained within it consumes them all. https://youtu.be/0APF3SO9tqE
The basic plot of the movie isn’t very true to history. The Nazis would never have tried to find ancient Israel’s lost Ark of the Covenant. In reality, they hated the Jews and tried to destroy the Jewish people, culture and religion. But this is Hollywood, and in the movies almost anything can happen when it comes to telling stories.
Just like the Nazis in the movie, ancient Israel had similar beliefs about the power of the Ark. The Ark was a symbol of God’s presence and power. The Israelites often brought the Ark to battle with them as if somehow the Ark would guarantee a victory. If they won the battle it meant that their God was more powerful than the gods of their enemies. Having the Ark with them would inspire the army and give them confidence.
Maybe you can understand why King David was so excited to have the Ark come to his new Capital City. The Ark would insure success for David. His armies would win their battles. If David took care of the Ark, then God would surely bless him.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that King David was treating the Ark like a good luck charm with magic powers. If David had the Ark, he thought he could control God and use God for his own selfish ends, to win his battles and expand his kingdom.
Remember the context of this story. David had just become king of a United Kingdom. He desperately needed to bring the country together. He had a new capital city. But he was still missing something. He needed to show everyone that God was on David’s side. And if he could do that, he would consolidate his power. That’s what the Ark was going to do for David.
No wonder David was excited to have the Ark in Jerusalem. He threw a grand party. He sacrificed lots of animals and shared the meat with everyone. He assembled all the musicians. This was a grand festival with music and dancing and feasting.
The only problem is that God would not be controlled by David. There is a part of this story we didn’t read. When the Ark was being transported to Jerusalem, it was on an oxcart. When the cart hit a bump in the road, it looked like the Ark was going to tumble off. That would not be good. So one of the servants named Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark and keep it from falling. He touched the Ark something no one was allowed to do. The story says that, “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.” That doesn’t seem quite fair does it? Poor Uzzah was only trying to help, and yet he died because of that. The story goes on to say that David was angry at the Lord because of what God did to Uzzah, and David was afraid to take the Ark into Jerusalem. I think what David learned from this was that he couldn’t control God. God could not be tamed and manipulated and used for David’s own selfish ends.
I’ll admit, there is a lot in this story that I don’t understand. But I think there are some lessons we can learn from it today. First and foremost is that we can’t control or manipulate God. God is not some lucky charm that we can take out of our pocket when we need something. God is not some kind of get-out-of-jail-free-card we can pull out whenever we get into trouble. We can’t control God. We can’t make deals with God. “God, I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.” We can’t control God: we can only submit to God. God doesn’t make deals; God makes covenants. The same God who came to David, comes also to us today. He comes to us in Jesus Christ offering his love and his forgiveness. God doesn’t want our deals. God wants our hearts. God comes to us in love and makes us God’s children. God makes promises to us. Those promises aren’t dependent on our good behavior. Those promises are dependent on who God is. They come from the heart of God. God loves you and that love has the power to change your heart. We can’t make deals with God. We can only submit to God, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ and to do the things in our daily lives he asks us to do– to love God and love our neighbor, to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
There is a second thing I see in this story. God was willing to enter into a relationship with King David, a deeply flawed and imperfect human being. Next week we will hear a story of just how deeply flawed David was. But what I learn from this is that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect before God will love us and enter into relationship with us. That’s good news because, when I’m honest with myself and look within, I know what a flawed and selfish human being I am. As the Confession of Sin states, “we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” That is who David was and that is who we are. So if God is willing to be in relationship with David, then I know God wants to be in relationship with me. That’s what grace is all about. God is willing to enter into the mess of our lives and patiently work in our hearts. God’s grace can free us from our guilt and shame. God’s love sets us free from our burdens. And when we truly understand that we can lose ourselves in the amazing depth of God’s love.
That is the third thing I see in this story. David may have wanted the Ark in Jerusalem for selfish reasons, but at some point, David got carried away in his worship of God. As the Ark was approaching Jerusalem the story tells us that “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might…” God’s love captured David’s heart in a way that had never happened before, and David lost himself in worshipping God.
The famous Christian author, C. S. Lewis, once said that the most common word we will hear in heaven is the word, “Oh!” “Oh!” is a word of surprise when we discover something new about the love of God. “Oh!” is what we say when discover in a deeper way the love that God has for us and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. “Oh!” Say it with me. “Oh!”
One of my favorite hymns is Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The hymn celebrates God’s love for us. The last verse talks about how God’s love will be perfected in us in heaven. The end of the verse talks about losing ourselves in the wonder of God’s love for us.
Changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.
I love that phrase- lost in wonder, love and praise. It is an ecstatic experience. The word ecstasy literally means to stand outside yourself. It means to lose yourself in the wonder of a moment so completely that you forget yourself because you are so caught up with something or someone so amazing and so beautiful. That’s ecstasy. And that’s what David experienced, dancing before the Lord with all his might, lost in wonder, love and praise.
Today, I think we experience that most often with music. Have you ever listened to a song or some music that just moved you to tears? Music has the power to do that- to move us beyond ourselves so that we become lost in the moment. Martin Luther said that next to the Word of God, music is God’s greatest gift to humankind. Music touches those deep places in our hearts and moves us in profound ways. And when music helps us to focus on God’s love for us, it can be especially powerful. That was David’s experience that day dancing before the Lord with all his might. Hopefully, we too have experiences being lost in wonder at God’s love for us.
God is here today. He is here in the Word that is proclaimed. God is here in bread and wine of Holy Communion. God is here offering love and grace and forgiveness. That’s something to sing and dance about. Thanks be to God.