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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 12, 2015

 Knowing Who Really Matters

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19; Ephesians 1:3-10

              Today we read a passage that probably most of you have read before. It was one of those stories that made me absolutely fall in love with David, as a little boy. You have to love somebody who dresses himself in a linen ephod, and dances before the Lord his God with all his might! But we can lose sight of how boldly imaginative and brilliant an act it was of David to bring the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, the newly-established capital of the united kingdom of Israel, in order to legitimate David’s reign as king. It was brilliant because it was a reaching back into Israel’s history for that which was most sacred and most treasured, the ark of the covenant of God, the most powerful symbol that Israel had from its past and those years in the wilderness, of the presence of God in the midst of the people.

             If you read 1 and 2 Samuel, you will discover that for twenty years the ark of God has been all but forgotten by the people of Israel. David wants to restore this symbol, this living symbol of what is most central and precious to the identity of Israel, which is the presence, the gracious, holy presence of the Lord God, Yahweh. But David wants, at the same time that he is reaching back for something old, to do something very new and very risky, and ultimately very transformational, for the whole people of Israel. David wants to take this ark that dwelt in the Tent of Meeting and moved throughout Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, this symbol of the presence of the Holy God Yahweh in their midst, and he wants to establish it anew in a new home, with a new presence of God to be experienced in this city. This city, Jerusalem, which means, ironically and tragically, “the peace of Jehovah,” this city that will ever after be known as the city of David.

             David is reaching back to something old, but he knows life is dynamic, it is always on the move, always changing. David takes this that is old and establishes it in something utterly new, that will give to his people, the newly united kingdom of Israel, new life for generations to come. How fitting that we are remembering this occasion on communion Sunday, when Jesus did exactly the same thing on that Thursday we call Maundy Thursday – a Latin word that is “mandatum” or “command of the Lord.” Jesus took something old – remember, it was at the Passover meal that Jesus reached back into Israel’s rich tradition and life – and took that central act of worship – the Passover meal – and adopted it, and at the same time adapted it, changed it forever, for the people who would thereafter call themselves Christian.

            The center of the Passover meal was the Passover lamb, and in taking that meal and adopting it, Jesus also adapted it in this way: the lamb present at the center of the meal would become none other than Jesus, whom the church came to know in its worship life and liturgy as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So when we celebrate this gracious presence of Jesus in our midst as we worship, we do it literally linked to the past, to the worship life of the people of Israel in the wilderness, even as at this table we look forward to that great banquet that one day will be celebrated when all the children of God will sit at table, past and present and future, and the Lamb shall be seated upon the throne.

             Of course, our story does not end there. There is an interlude in the story – it could be a sermon in itself – when David unthinkingly places the ark of the covenant on a “new cart,” and when the cart begins to topple, Uzzah reaches out to steady it and is struck dead, immediately, in his tracks by the Holy God, for Uzzah forgot that no person can take hold of the Holy. David is angry at first, and then fearful as he stands before the Lord, and he leaves it there for a period of time, thirty days. When he receives word that the house of O’bed-e’dom has been greatly blessed by the presence of the ark of the covenant in their midst, David decides to complete the task that he first envisioned as Israel’s greatest leader of all. He takes the ark, this time according to the Lord’s ancient instruction, and takes it right into the city of Jerusalem, recognizing that this presence is the most crucial element of Israel’s future and Israel’s life. And as the ark of God is being carried into the city, David dances before it with all his might, wearing only a linen ephod.

             It is a moment of freedom and joy and passion, the likes of which I dare you to find an example of that equals it anywhere else in all the stories that humans tell. Irenaeus, that great Church Father, said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” This is such a moment, where David is fully alive! It is a moment of unbridled joy for David, for a very important reason. It is a moment, perhaps THE moment, of utter obedience of David to the will and the plan of God for his life. And David dances before the Lord with all his heart because in that moment when he is only focused upon serving God and being obedient to Yahweh, David is at the same time utterly free. He is free enough not to worry about anything or anyone else, except the one audience that matters most – the Lord God Yahweh, the God of all true freedom.

             Two things I want to say about freedom today. The first is this: there is a line in the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of England – it is a prayer, a Collect for the Day, that sees God as the one “in whose service is our perfect freedom.” Freedom is not doing whatever you want. That is bondage of the worst kind. Freedom is doing what you know you should do. Freedom is knowing whose eyes and which audience matters the most. The reason David was so utterly free and joyful in that moment – caught up in passion – was because he was only focused upon God and what God was asking of him. David knew who his audience was, whose eyes and whose ears finally mattered the most. Do you know that? You will never know freedom until you know whose word and whose approval matters supremely, and whose does not.

             There is a story told in the greatest sport: baseball. (Don’t we all agree?!) Babe Ruth was at bat in Yankee Stadium, a stadium that was rightly called, “the house that Ruth built.” The umpire behind the plate was Babe Pinelli, and Babe Pinelli called the first ball a strike. Babe Ruth did not like the call, so he did what many people do when they do not get what they want out of life – he made a populist appeal and he began to gesture theatrically, as only The Babe could do. You know what happened – Ruth got the result he wanted. Everybody in Yankee Stadium started screaming epitaphs: “Kill the ump! He’s blind as a bat! Kill the ump!” Babe, with a swagger, turned around to Babe Pinelli and said, “Sixty thousand people can’t be wrong, and sixty thousand people thought it was a ball.” Babe Pinelli said back to him, “There is only one opinion in this stadium that matters; it’s mine, and I said it was a strike.”

             You get the point. There is only one judgment upon your life, one opinion, one audience that matters, and that is Almighty God, who promises graciously to be with us and offers to us the greatest gift of all, true and abiding human freedom. And our perfect freedom only comes in service to God Almighty. It is why Michal’s opinion of David did not matter finally to him. It is why nothing else mattered to David in that wonderful moment, and the moments that follow it, other than what God, the Lord of Hosts, expected of him, and what he could do to cause God pleasure.

            Figure out who your audience is, dear friends, whose word and whose opinion really matters, and I promise you, you will taste the joy of freedom. I remember singing it as a little boy in Sunday School, and I have never forgotten the words: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”




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