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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville
Dr. Todd B. Jones
July 15, 2012 

A Person After God’s Own Heart
Mark 6:14-29
2 Samuel 6:1-19

Politics and religion.  In some gatherings, these are topics that should never be breeched, as they are simply too volatile. People feel deeply about each subject, and both can be explosive. But in case you have not noticed, we have a presidential election just before us.  It is clear now who the two candidates will be.  And it is impossible to offer a narrative of Barrack Obama or Mitt Romney without talking about religious issues.  And in both cases, questions are going to be raised that will be very hard to answer.

Politics and religion cost John the Baptist to lose his head.  Still, our best leaders have understood how important the connection is.  Washington spoke about America “being in the hands of a Good Providence.”  And our best theologian President had to be Lincoln, whose life was marked by a humility that only belongs to those who fear the Lord.  Franklin Roosevelt was not noted for his piety, but when he addressed the nation by radio on D-Day to report on the invasion, he led the nation in prayer.  Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer is still a blessing to read.

Usually it is hard to avoid this matter of politics and religion.  Our Old Testament lesson this morning is about almost nothing else.  What David accomplished in bringing the “ark of the covenant”  into the City of Jerusalem is breathtaking, and this one symbolic act would change the history and significance of Jerusalem forever.  It was a bold, imaginative move by David, and an act that had his own politics and religion written all over it.

We forget how politically perilous these early days of David’s rule were.  David barely escaped being killed by his predecessor, King Saul, and the whole idea of a king was still new and yet to be established in Israel’s life.  Saul did not exactly set the template of what a great king should do!  And Israel had a history of tribes and clans that still needed to be unified into a nation.

David boldly and imaginatively seeks to solidify his kingdom by making Jerusalem its new capital and center, and the ark of God plays a crucial role in making this happen.  The ark embodies what is unifying among the tribes of Israel; it embodies for old Israel the holy rule of Yahweh.  It speaks of the dangerous and crucial presence of Yahweh to Israel’s life.  Its full name is articulated in verse two: “the ark of God which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 

The ark had been all but forgotten for twenty years in Israel’s recent history under King Saul, though it spoke more powerfully than any other symbol of the raw presence, the awesome power of the Sovereign God of Israel.  David’s rule will be a radical departure from the old tribal order of Israel, and he is in urgent need of legitimation.  So David seizes on the central symbol of the old order, the ark of the covenant, to legitimate the new order that is to come.

Walter Brueggemann captures the essence of this bold, imaginative mingling of politics and religion by David.  “Looking back, it meant the reengagement with the taproot of Israel’s religious vitality….  Looking forward, the reclaiming of the ark is an opportunity by David to assert the new regime as the rightful successor to the old tribal arrangement.” David is a gifted leader, and he is capable of looking both ways.   This moment speaks of how complex and how gifted David is.  Looking back, David shows his genuine regard for Israel’s God and its religious vitality.  But looking forward, we see this man’s political calculation and we witness a masterful political maneuver.  Brueggemann says, “The wonder is that David is able to hold them together in a kind of personal authenticity that resists choosing one factor or the other.”

So let us look at the three principal characters in this powerful account for what they have to teach us.  First, as David goes to reclaim the ark from the house of Abinadab, he has the ark placed on a new cart.  As they are moving the cart, the oxen stumble, and Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark, trying to take hold of it.  Uzzah forgets for a tragic moment that this is Yahweh, the Holy One, whose presence the ark offers.  Yahweh will not be held or controlled.  So God smote Uzzah, and he died right on the spot, before the ark of God.

We are told first that David was angry because the Lord had done this.  But then we are told, “And David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’”  And David decides to leave it there, with the household of Obed-edom.  When leaders are no longer awed, respectful or fearful of God’s holiness, the community is in danger.

David is a very complicated figure in the Bible.  He is Israel’s greatest king, he is a musician and a poet, a warrior, but we know as well that he was far from perfect.  Yet the Bible tells us that “he was a person after God’s own heart.” This is the first great sign of why this was so.  David is capable of fearing the Lord.  He would never presume to have Yahweh, the God of Israel, figured out or measured.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” David feared God.  Do you?  Do you know you cannot take hold of God and use God for your own tiny purposes? God is not here to serve your personal preferences.  Like David, wise ones fear the Lord.

Secondly, David “danced before the Lord with all his might.” David danced and worshiped before the Lord with everything he had to offer.  He held nothing back.  Girded only in a linen ephod, David leaped and danced before the Lord in a way that literally turned out to be unforgettable.  Have you ever wondered why Jerusalem to this day is called, “The City of David?” I think this moment, this act, is one of the reasons.  David knew how to worship the Lord his God.  He offered himself with all his heart.  He will say at another time in his life, “I will not render unto the Lord my God that which dost cost me nothing.” David understood that worship without sacrifice and passion is empty of power.  David understood that God had given Himself to Israel fully.  That is one message the cross holds for us every time we enter this sanctuary.  In a sense, the cross functions as our ark of the covenant – it tells us who God is and how God gives to us the gift of the divine presence.  God does not save us from suffering.  God saves us through suffering – through His suffering on the cross.  It is why we call it the passion.

And worship that is devoid of all passion and sacrifice has to be an affront to God.  David had a passion for the Lord.  He loved the Lord with all his heart.  And he danced before the Lord with all his might.  He made a holy fool of himself.

We get to do that every Sunday!  We come to worship the Living God, the Holy One who in Jesus showed us that He is the Generous One.  Let’s do it with passion and joy!

I love the phrase written by, among others, William V. Purkey:

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,

Love like you’ll never be hurt,

Sing like there’s nobody listening,

And live like its heaven on earth. 

We pray it every week: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”  We need to live like we pray: with joy and passion.  “David dances before the Lord with all his might.” How do we come before the Lord?

Finally, David was a man after God’s own heart because he knew who his audience was.  As soon as anyone shows in public the kind of passion David showed, you can count upon the fact that critics will emerge.  David did not have to go any further than his own household.  His wife, Michal, who is described as “the daughter of Saul,” is appalled at her husband’s actions.  “How the King honored himself today…,” she says, dripping with sarcasm.  Now to be fair, David and Michal share a rough history.  David wins her as his wife from Saul in 1 Samuel 18, and Michal saves David’s life once from her father’s hand.  Then David loses her to Palti in 1 Samuel 25, then claimed her a second time in 2 Samuel 3.  We don’t know exactly why Michal is so offended by David, but we could guess at least four or five good reasons why his behavior caused her to despise him.  Maybe David was not acting like she thought a king should act.  Maybe Michal resents being one of many wives David has collected.  Perhaps she is jealous of David, or resentful of his power which now exceeds that of her father Saul.  Maybe Michal is bitter because it will not be her child who will be king one day.

But for whatever reason, she could not be more devastating or cruel in her attack upon David.  She says he is vulgar and accuses him of exhibitionism.  I love David’s response!  “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father, and above his house, to appoint me prince over Israel, the people of the Lord – and I will make merry before the Lord.”

It is, you know, before the Lord first, foremost and finally that we live our lives.  No one else’s view of you finally matters.  And David knew this, at least at his best he did.  Live your life before God, whose eye is always upon you.  Fear the Lord, and worship the Lord with all your heart.  Do this and you too shall be “a person after God’s own heart.”

Amen.

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