At the Center

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church on October 25, 2015

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 6:1-5

Ruth’s story from last week took place in the time of the Judges, a story whose last verse is:  In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

It’s not really a ringing endorsement for the people of God.

Israel really, really wanted a king. God, through the prophets, told the people they didn’t know what they were asking and that it was a bad idea.

Yet they really, really wanted a king. So God gave them Saul. And almost as soon as Saul is on the throne, David is there, a boy who defeats the Philistines with a sling and some rocks, a boy with his lyre whose music can soothe the troubled heart.

The story of Saul and David is full of intrigue and drama. It is Dynasty, Dallas, and Scandal all rolled in to one show from which we can’t look away.  There is also a sense of inevitability in the narrative—we know David will become king the minute he enters the story.

The end of the narrative of Saul and David is of civil war. They are two personalities who love each other but cannot trust each other. Their egos won’t fit in the same country, let alone the same castle. It ends in division, in civil war, in many deaths.

People fighting over turf, over power, over who gets to be God’s man.

Before Saul, the tribes of Israel were more of a confederation, but each of them were facing threats from their neighbors. The idea of Israel coming together under one kingdom makes sense, in some ways. Rather than each tribe on its own, they are stronger together as one. But any alliance is dependent on people feeling their needs are represented.

Think of the current situation of the House of Representatives.

Nobody currently wants to be Speaker of the House because if you could get the endorsement of one group, you surely wouldn’t get the endorsement of another.
Saul was from the Northern tribe of Benjamin.
David from the Southern tribe of Judah.

Those are just names on a map for us, but imagine if Saul were from the Freedom Caucus of the Tribe of Benjamin and David were from the Progressive Caucus of the Tribe of Judah. The people could—if they were more concerned with the health of all of the tribes—come together and elect a Speaker, I mean a king, to work for common purpose. Or they could decide self interest was more important, and they could fracture.

After Saul’s death, the Kingdom is somewhat fractured into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by Saul’s family and supporters, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, led by David. At this point, it is a minor division. It will become a much bigger fracture after the days of David and his son Solomon.

And so as you think about our story today, think about political alliances and geographical realities.

Hebron was a town in the land of Judah. It is where David settled when he broke off from Saul, whose home was in Gibeah, north of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, David’s next home, is not far from Hebron, but it is in the land of Benjamin. Jerusalem also has the advantage of being on a hill, easily defensible, and  centered almost in the middle of all of the tribes of Israel.

David gets military and political control when the leaders of the tribes of Israel come to him and beg him to be king.
david king

David is easy for me to fault. He kills lots of people. Collects lots of wives. Makes questionable parenting decisions.

And yet. He is God’s chosen king. It is to David that we look back to the glory days of a united Israel, the militarily and politically strong nation. And even though God will tear his divine hair out over David’s behavior—not even God can resist David.

And after David reunites the family and moves his seat of power to Boise from Lewiston, I mean to Jerusalem from Judah—after that he does something really important.

David moves the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem.

The Ark had been built during the Exodus. It accompanied the Hebrew people as they journeyed. It was a visible sign of God’s invisible presence with them. It was dangerous. The Philistines captured it during a battle, but they ended up giving it back because people kept dying and suffering from plagues when it was in their possession. It had been languishing in a barn somewhere for 20 years when David brought it to Jerusalem.
I can’t show you exactly what the ark looked like, although there are clear directions for it’s constructions in the midst of the other instructions Moses received from God. There are still people trying to find it today. And churches in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, all claiming they have the Ark in their possession.

Indiana Jones may be our last hope.

I think all of that conversation about what happened to the actual Ark gets us off track.

The ark was a visible reminder to God’s people to be God’s people, to build their lives and their work and even their battles around God.

This is why we love David, for all of his David-ness.
He put God in a visible, central place in his life.

It doesn’t mean that David will get everything (anything?) right. It means he understood that life makes more sense when God is at the center of it. He dances with all of his might before the Lord as the Ark is moved because nothing is more important than this.

What would it look like for you to bring the Ark out of the barn and put it in the middle of your life?

I understand why Israel had left the Ark in Abinidab’s barn for a while. God is dangerous. God is not something we control. The Philistines were begging Israel to take back what they had captured. They even offered gold with it.

Putting God in the center of our lives requires things of us. It requires our time, care, and attention. A few verses after today’s reading ends, someone dies for touching the ark casually.  If we really attend to what God is calling us to do, we change our behavior. It affects our relationships. It challenges our assumptions. No wonder we leave it in the barn and not in the living room.

Putting God in the center of our lives also leads to blessing and to ordering our lives in ways that give life.

The truth is, we always put something at the center of our lives. When David was at his best, it was God he was dancing before, celebrating and praising. At David’s less best, he may have talked about God, but his behavior revealed that something else was at the center—Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, or his desire to sit on Saul’s throne, or energy around one family drama or another.

What is at the center of your life, as shown by your words and your deeds?

It may be your job. Or some hobby, like golf or running or vacuuming your living room. The center of your life may be your own personal success or welfare.

What takes up space in the middle of your life?

Just by being here today, you’ve got God somewhere in the equation. And with all of the things that compete for your time and energy, that’s worth acknowledging and celebrating. You could be doing something else this morning. You are here, singing and praising and walking God’s ark toward the center.

I read an essay this week by Susan Pashman, who wrote about a time in her life when she was worrying about how to find balance as a high powered Manhattan attorney and a single mother of young boys. After she saw another attorney leaving Friday afternoon so he could go home to celebrate the Sabbath, she decided she could do that too. She was Jewish-ish.

She felt a little guilty about using God as an excuse to get out of work, but she went home with Challah bread and the candles needed and started a tradition. What started as an excuse to leave work and be home with her kids turned into something else.

That first night, she told her kids:
“I promise you that, no matter what the weekdays bring, I will always be home for dinner on Friday nights, and I will always be here for you on the weekends. This is my covenant with you,” I tell them. “I will be here for Shabbat… and so will you!”

Sabbath becomes the anchor in her family’s life. People are always invited to join them, but her family never misses it, going late to basketball games or birthday parties that conflict with Sabbath dinner.

She ends her essay with this:
As it is said, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Sabbath dinner outlived its usefulness as the ritual that kept my family intact, and shifted to being something else: a transfer point from the frenetic world of international banking to a world of reflective inwardness and peace.

Sabbath meals may not be the way you re-orient your life. How could you orient your life with God at the center?

I invite you to talk with your loved ones in the coming days. To take stock of where you are and think about where you want to be. These scripture verses were frustrating for me today because in 10 short verses, you feel like it all happens at once.  In truth, the ark lived in Abinidab’s barn for 20 years. It took David, and the people of Israel, years before they made God the center, and even then it was  journey.

And as you think about David’s story, with all of his excesses and flaws and tragedy, remember this. At his best, he was a man who danced with joy before the Lord. May we do the same. Amen

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6 thoughts on “At the Center

  1. There’s a weird quality of Pashman’s article, insofar as she says she’s not becoming more observant because of belief, but because it makes her life easier. This is actually how following Torah (in Jewish lingo, putting G-d at the center of your life) is supposed to work: its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. (So even thought she doesn’t do it because she “believes,” her motivation is actually quintessentially Jewish — to find the easiest way to follow the Law.) This is not how it usually works for me, and that piece of the article bugged me. There’s usually some kind of trade off for making this kind of decision, she didn’t say much about htat, and it would be good to get some advice about how to deal with that part. The OT is good on this — it’s pretty clear how Israel is treated for being faithful (or not). I wish there were such clear narratives in modern life.

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