Sermon preached by Rev. KJ Norris on July 11, 2021 at Kerr Presbyterian Church. The recording and transcript are not identical to the worship service but the author and intent are the same.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-21
- How has knowing God changed your life?
- How has being a part of a worshiping community changed your life?
This week as I’ve been studying our lectionary Scriptures I’ve been asking myself these two questions and thinking a lot about a relationship with God and a relationship with the church.
I was texting this week with a person who shared with me a beautiful story of how she came to faith. Her grandparents owned a large farm which she use to walk over as a child. And when she was in first grade, she was running across the farm to her grand-mother’s house and something stopped her immediately in her tracks. She couldn’t say what it was. Maybe the sweet smell coming from the lilac bush or the way the rays of the sun shined through the clouds. Maybe it was fish jumping in the pond. Whatever it was, the Holy Spirit got her attention in that moment and she thought to herself, “Wow. God made all of this.”
Maybe you have a similar story.
Like my friend, like Moses’s story we looked at last week, maybe at one point in your life God just stopped you in your tracks. God got ahold of you. Maybe you were just a child in 1st grade but you still remember that moment vividly.
Or maybe for you, it isn’t one moment in particular, but rather a slow build of faith. Maybe it was your grandmother, living her faith day by day or your parents singing hymns around the house, or a mentor living a life that was so different than the kind of household you grew up in.
Romans 1 says it this way: Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been made known (Roman 1:20, Pastor’s Paraphrase). God reveals God’s ownself to us. Sometimes through creation and sometimes through other people and yes, sometimes through the church itself.
(I’m thankful for you who shared your many positive experiences in the church. My life in the church has been beautiful, too).
In my friend’s case, she hasn’t stepped into a church in years. Decades, actually. For her, the church has become an unsafe place. A place where people espouse the words of unconditional love but then choose to exclude some.
I hear her. I think all of us have been hurt by the church at one point or another. And some of us have been hurt more deeply than others.
For some, they have been excluded from the church as a matter of principle. The church has said: no, we will not accept that here. And yes, church members may know that Jesus never excluded. That Jesus opened wide his banquet table to all—even those whose whom in his day were considered the “tax collectors and sinners.” But we in the church like rules. We like to say what is acceptable behavior and what is not. And even when the Bible shows us that maybe our assumptions about behavior are unmerited, we struggle to change. “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” we tend to say.
For others, exclusion has not come as a matter of people group or custom, but rather because of something that happened personally. Christians are not perfect people. Pastors are not perfect people. Yes, we believers dedicate our lives to knowing God. To worshiping God. To following in God’s way. But nevertheless, we sin.
Again in Romans we are reminded that all have fallen short of the glory of God. There is not one who is perfect except Jesus Christ the Lord. And even he was betrayed by one of his best friends.
So what do we do with this? How do we live into the space of recognizing that God is worthy of all praise and glory and honor and the church is full of sinful people?
Well, one way is to simply stop going to church. Simply stop worshiping together. If God is everywhere, then why do I need to go to church? I can find some good podcasts and study the Scripture. As your pastor, I’m humble enough to know that there are some incredible preachers out there and that you have lots of other people you could listen to and you would learn a lot. Why come here? Why go to any church?
Our Scripture today addresses just that question.
The people of Israel in this time have little to no centralized worship. People worship in their homes. They are aware that their ancestors worshiped a God who revealed God’s ownself to their forefather Moses as “I AM.” They know that before Moses and his sister Miriam, who was the worship leader, God had walked with Abraham and Sarah. And their children and grandchildren.
But outside of a few festivals there is not really what one might call regular faith gatherings. Some people may keep Sabbath in the sense of resting one day a week from work, but they don’t generally go to “church.”
David has been walking with the Lord all his life.
We don’t know if David ever had a moment when God first revealed God’s self to him. We don’t have a story in the Bible about David that is like the burning bush story. There is no specific moment when he turns aside to see the Lord.
But we do know that David has great faith. Faith which leads him to write songs and poems of praise. Faith with leads him to have bravery even to face a giant. Faith which allows him to live for years wandering in the desert, risking death every day from hunger or wild animals or the jealous motivations of a king who would murder him. And yet, through it all, David kept faith. Faith that God was with him. Faith that God had a plan, even when he couldn’t see it. Faith that one day he would be king.
And now, all that David had hoped for is becoming a reality.
What should the king do? What should be one of his first acts in his new leadership role?
One of his first acts is to worship.
And for David, it is not enough to just worship alone. He wants to worship in community.
Yes, David could have just spent some time privately in prayer. He could have just sung a hymn that he wrote. He could have just read from the Book of Law in his own palace.
But no, David longs for community. He knows that we people of faith are a messy group. He’s been through trials and tribulations. But even if it is harder to worship in community. Even if it will causes trouble and make others’ point fingers at him, David knows there is nothing more joyous than worshiping in community. David knows that God is a God of love. David knows that love cannot exist alone but that it must be shared.
So even though it may be easier at times to worship alone, David makes a point of getting people together for worship.
David goes and finds the arc of the covenant. Did you notice that part? The arc at one point, in the time of Moses, had been the center of worship. People had seen the arc as a symbol of God’s very presence with them. But now the arc is out way out in a village somewhere and the priests have to go find it and bring it back.
They find the arc and they bring it into the city. And David is so excited. David’s whole life has been changed by God. David who sings out in his Psalms, “Your steadfast love is better than life! God alone is my rock and my salvation!” God has rescued David from the mires and the wild animals and from shame. God has been David’s delight day in and day out. And now the symbol of God is being raised high so that all might turn aside and see the glory of God.
And so David is so excited and he dances before the Lord. He worships alongside all the people from richest to poorest. People of all walks of life and backgrounds. He raises up his voice and his hands and worships in reckless abandon. It’s possible that he is worshiping so freely that his robe even starts to fall off at one point. The king is half-naked dancing in the street.
All the people come together for a mighty celebration. Church as it is meant to be. Rejoicing and sharing in all that they have—food passed around for everyone. Laughter and joy from the greatest to the smallest. Everyone has a place at the table. Everyone is invited to see God. Everyone is welcome.
But, of course, there is one person who doesn’t think much of all this. Saul’s daughter, Michal. She knows better. Or at least she thinks she does. She is the daughter of the former king. She knows how to live with decorum and respectability. And here is this new king. Dancing with ordinary people. What is he thinking? Doesn’t he know he should not associate with them. He’s a king now. He needs to set a better example.
How about us? What does worship look like for us? Over the past year so many of us have become scattered and now it may seem hard to come back. The arc is way over in the corner of our lives and bringing it central is a lot of work.
And, though I hate to admit it, I think sometimes we are all like Michal. I know sometimes I am. Sometimes I would rather just separate myself from the messiness of life. From the messiness of church. Isn’t is easier to just stand up above it all? Don’t we sometimes think we know better than others? Perhaps in those still small moments of confession we are willing to admit that sometimes we even believe that we are better than others. We serve more. We tithe more. We pray more. Can’t we just worship away from the fray? Sometimes it seems easier to be Michal.
But David is the one known as a person after God’s own heart. David enters into the messiness of life. Can we be like David’s example? Do we dare to come to worship? Do we come to worship, okay, yes, maybe in our pajamas, half dressed with our hair a mess?
Do we dare enter into the fray knowing that the church is not a perfect place. Do we dare mix with people who don’t think like us or agree with us about everything? Do we dare risk getting hurt for the sake of love. For the sake of worship.
Do we come, not expecting perfection, but being drawn into worship anyway. Do we come to confess. To confess that we, like the people of Israel, have too often put God into a box in the corner of our lives instead of placing God in the center.
To confess that too often we have decided what kind of people can worship with us and who cannot and put restrictions on our relationships.
To confess that sometimes we hurt people without intending to or even knowing that we did it.
And yes, to find forgiveness. To find forgiveness for ourselves when we royally make mistakes. And to learn to forgive others. To let go of hurt and resentment and prejudice. To find the freedom that comes in Christ alone.
Do we dare to continue to live into Kerr’s motto to “To win those that the church misses and to redeem those that the church loses,” even if we know we are the ones whom the church has missed or lost and even when we recognize that we are the ones who have caused hurt and caused others to go missing?
Friends, today we are called to worship. To worship without restriction. To worship by lifting our hands in praise or bending our knee in humility. To dance before the Lord as the Spirit moves us. To worship not alone but together. Knowing along with David that we are not meant to be separate from one another but that God is a God of love and love cannot exist unless it is shared.
Let us do as David called us to do. Let us Bless the Lord. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Let us stand and dance together as we bless the Lord together.