Centering God

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

October 20, 2019

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 6:1-9

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.

The Book of Judges is 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’ giant Goliath 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 Game of Thrones, Succession, and Dynasty, maybe even Duck Dynasty, 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 republic, from theirs to ours, is dependent on people feeling their neighbors needs matter as much as their own. And that broke down.

Saul was from the Northern tribe of Benjamin.
David from the Southern tribe of Judah.

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, where the two kingdoms are united, think about political alliances and geographical realities. Think about church splits, and family feuds. Think about why we want kings to lead us, even when God warns us against the idea? What is so appealing about following another human being as if they could do no wrong?

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

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 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 church closet 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.

There is this story we heard where God struck down Uzzah for trying to stabilize the ark. To our ears, God sounds a little mean here. Uzzah was just trying to protect the ark, God, calm down, we might think.

But that’s just it.

God doesn’t need our protection. Not from Philistines, not from a little instability. The ark represented God and was a visible sign of God’s invisible presence. If we think God needs our protection, we should think again.

The great irony of the story of Huzzah is that as they were trying to bring God to the center, Huzzah still put himself at the center, as if God was just a box he could help steady.

Putting God at the center requires us to remember God is God, and we are not. When we pretend God shares our politics and our prejudice, it is time to take our hands off the ark.

Putting God in the center of our lives requires things of us. It requires our time, care, and attention. 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, more importantly, 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. It may be an earthly king or ruler.

What takes up space in the middle of your life?

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.

You’ll be hearing soon from the stewardship committee, as we begin to consider the ways we can commit our time, talents, and financial resources to support the church next year. Is God at the center of our giving?

These scripture verses make it 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 a journey. So wherever you’re at on the journey is okay.

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

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