Getting Carried Away
When you hear that tune what comes to mind? (Kate Bennett played the theme on the piano) Yes indeed, Harrison Ford in the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” racing to discover the ark of the covenant and then, when found, trying desperately to keep it away from the Nazi’s. Ford knew the power of God was within the ark and you seriously didn’t want to mess with it. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s say when the lid was removed those who witnessed the power of God emerging melted before it.
The golden ark, with two winged cherubim on top, was filled with the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, some manna and Aaron’s rod. It was to be carried by priests on poles not on a cart, so the priests could feel the weight of God’s presence. It was to be handled with deep respect.
It still apparently is. Unlike the ending of the movie where the ark, encased in a large wooden storage box was placed in a large warehouse, the Ethiopian Orthodox church claims to have the original which is housed in a stone structure in Aksum, Ethiopia. I have seen the building. They believe the Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia visited King Solomon and that much is Biblical, but from here on – who knows? The king being taken by her beauty, has an affair with her and she returns to her country. Low and behold she is pregnant with his son and so years later when the son reaches adulthood she sends him to meet his father. The queen tells him, if the King inquires of him what gift he could bestow upon him, ask for the ark of the covenant. He does and so the son returns to his homeland with the ark and some 10 thousand Jews to protect it. Over the years it found its way to Aksum and its present home. No one has seen it in recent history but a monk sits guarding the door. They so believe this story that each church has a replica within it. While we don’t know the validity of this tale, it is fascinating that from the time of Solomon on, the ark is not mentioned. Nor is it mentioned when the temple is sacked and there is recorded in great detail the items which were carted away. Also, it may account for why there is a population of Ethiopian Jews. Interesting?
But I am getting ahead of myself with the story. Let’s return to today’s lesson. A little historical background: In the fourth chapter of I Samuel the Israelites were at war with the Philistines and the unthinkable happened – they captured the ark and carted it away. The ark however, seemed to make everyone ill and so the Philistines returned it. Not as one would expect, the Israelites weren’t really overjoyed. They were too busy ganging up on Samuel demanding a King so they could be like the other nations around them. During all the changes the ark seemed to be forgotten and the relic was placed in the town of Kiriathjearim.
When King Saul died, and David was crowned king he decided to relocate the ark hoping it would reunite the people behind him. He forgot about how to mount the ark on the poles and because of such Uzzah died when he reached out and touched it trying to steady the box. David was both angry and fearful, so he put the ark aside for a bit. When he realized those with the ark were seemingly being blessed, he sought once again to bring it into the temple in Jerusalem. This time he did so correctly and carefully, with priests carrying it on poles and an initial sacrifice offered to God.
So when the trumpet blew and the procession began, David let loose. His excitement overwhelmed him and he danced up a storm celebrating the return of the ark. The story tells us that he was clothed only in an ephod – which was not very kingly and in a subsequent story Saul’s daughter, Michal, was embarrassed beyond belief as she watched his antics from a doorway. David had won back the city of Jerusalem and was restoring it to its former days as the great political and spiritual center. This was to be the city of God and so God’s ark is returned to its dwelling place among God’s people. It was something worth celebrating and this was a moment for them to give it their all, to dance and sing and give thanks to their God. David just couldn’t help himself.
At times aren’t we like David when we just can’t help ourselves? Isn’t there something within us which cries out to worship? When something or someone sparks this desire to sing praises and offer glorious words of adoration and thanksgiving to our God? Isn’t that the major reason you are here this morning?
Sometimes when a glimpse of nature catches us off guard, (a sunset, a flower, a colorful tree), or something goes particularly well at school or at work, or someone tells us “I love you,” or a child is born, or a medical test comes back negative, or problem is solved, or a relationship is restored, or we are hugged by a grandchild, or a conversation we were dreading turns out well, or out of nowhere we suddenly understand the mercy of God and God’s love in Jesus Christ, or I could go on …. Don’t we want to do a little dance, a happy dance and clap our hands, jump up and down and shout “Thank you, Jesus!” Yet at other times we just need to come here and be centered and still and simply recall the goodness of God in our lives, to offer our thanksgiving. Our chef end, after all, as the “Shorter Catechism” puts it, is “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Often that comes easily and yet at other times we need a bit of assistance.
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian philosopher who lived in the 19th century, proposed worship was more like a play. He believed that too many Christians imagine the ministers are the actors in the play and the congregation is the audience. Instead, he wrote, we should see the congregation as the actors, with the minister and the choir coaching them to do their best for God, who is the audience. So when we leave worship the question to ask isn’t “How was it?” but “How did I do in giving thanks and praising God?”
Often I feel churches like ours are the Michals. We are standing in the doorways watching the non-denominational churches grow, shaking our heads because we don’t quite get all the praise music, bodies swaying and loud ‘amens and allelujahs’. Yes, it’s not our style of worship and their theology tends to be too thin and not necessarily what we believe, but they seem to know how to praise God. They are David, spontaneously dancing before the ark, and their joy tends to be contagious. We are more God’s frozen chosen, standing there grumbling in the doorway.
Take a deep breath. It’s OK. I’m not saying we should change our form of worship, bring out the drums and guitars, and start dancing in the aisles, but it’s worth considering, how do we allow our inner praise to emerge with those around us to give thanks to God. We need to give ourselves permission to celebrate.
Our worship demands our attention. It is important. David learned the hard way that bringing God, through the presence of the ark, into their lives needed to be done with care and respect as well as singing and dancing and praise. The staff spends a great deal of time seeking to make the service, worshipful and meaningful. I always shake my head when someone leaves a service of worship and tells me, “Wow, how amazing. Everything in the service just seemed to fit together.” My friends, that was not a fluke – it was hours of careful planning. The worship of God in this place is probably the most important thing we do all week. We need to remember it is a gift from God and for God. It is a vehicle God has given us to allow us to experience God’s self-giving presence in our community and our intentionality about how we worship together is of great significance.
A conviction of our faith is that liturgy and life, worship and mission are all inseparable. We come to this place with all our own thanks and praise, cares and hang ups, and past and present concerns seeking support and reassurance in prayers, words of scripture and sermon, and in the music which washes over us and bathes our souls. We find here a place where we can risk being our true selves in the presence of God and our church family. At the conclusion of worship, we are dismissed to carry on Christ’s mission in the world. One of the results of our worship, which maybe a scary proposition for some and a welcome relief for others is in our praise and thanksgiving we may find ourselves restored, renewed, reformed and resurrected.
When you stand in the presence of God for any length of time who knows what will happen.