Revering God's Holy Power

2 Samuel 6:1-19
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Central to our Judeo-Christian heritage is our commitment to worship God, to revere God’s holy power. The word “worship” comes from two words – worth and ship. To worship God means to devote ourselves to giving worth to God.

If I give worth or value to my house, then I devote myself to decorating it and keeping it clean. I spend money on its upkeep. I admire its beauty and try to figure out ways to make it more beautiful. Some people worship their homes. You can feel it when you walk in. Some congregations worship their buildings.

If I give worth or value to my relationships – my children, my husband, my friends, parents – then I spend time building those relationships. I spend money sharing meals and other enjoyable experiences. I spend energy relating to those people. Some people worship families and friends. You can see the way they orbit around and cling tenaciously to those relationships, sometimes to the detriment of the very relationships they treasure.

Some are totally career-focused. They give primary worth to their employment. Work, work, work. Everything comes second to work. Some people worship their careers, while other worship the entertainment that their careers allow them. For the money to have a boat or season tickets or money to eat out at all the best restaurants. Some of us worship the entertainment world. Some of us love our books or our music or our computers or our televisions, and spend most of our time and energy adoring them.

When I was in the 7th grade, I got some great new Converse shoes. It’s been fun to watch Converse make a come-back as a throw-back. Yes, those green suede Converse shoes were the best. I remember spraying them with that suede protectant stuff. Those shoes mattered too much. I was too crazy about those shoes. Just like it mattered way too much to me to own a house when we were moving here. We had never owned a house before. People always said, “Why are you still renting – you’re in your forties? 4 years rent in Atlanta. 9 years rent in Montgomery. 3 years rent in England. 2 years in a manse Why don’t you build up equity? Own a house. Too much concern for home-ownership.

I’m guessing that most of you would agree that life is a balancing act. All things in moderation can be a good motto. But all that we love, all that we adore, all that we worship is not worthy of such veneration. Let’s make sure that we’re focused first on the Holy One who made us, the Holy One who sustains us, the Holy One who will never abandon us.

We are created to worship God. Today’s text is a fascinating look at the worship of the Israelites under King David’s leadership. We can learn a great deal about worship from this story. You’ve heard me explain to the children about the ark of the covenant, the focal point of their worship, and such a revered symbol of God’s presence and power. It is difficult for us to appreciate just how revered the ark was. Even if you’ve watched every movie in the Raiders of the Lost Ark series, and you can quote Indiana Jones lines like Harrison Ford, you still cannot begin to appreciate the value of the ark of the covenant.

So, as I read the text, I’d like you to say with me any words in the passage about the ark. They will be marked in yellow. Please join me on all the yellow words.

Read scripture

Let’s talk about the most troubling part of the passage first, the shocking part. Uzzah and Ahio are doing their job with the ark. Then because the ark looks like it is unstable, Uzzah does the natural thing, using common sense he reaches out to steady it. Zap! He’s gone. We could have skipped over and not read that part of the story, but it’s there and I think we can find something meaningful in it. There are consequences for our behavior, even if our motives were pure. I mean, if you run out in front of a car to save your child, and you get hit in the process, we would simply say, “What a devoted parent, sacrificing life for the good of the child.” Touch the hot electric wire, and you get electrocuted. We could get angry at God or we could say it was natural consequences. What we have trouble believing is that anything like the ark of the covenant could be so mysteriously sacred and dangerous. Hot to the touch. We have trouble believing it because we cannot explain it like we explain electricity. Just like we have trouble explaining why one child with cancer recovers and another doesn’t. David gets mad with God, because he figured this death was unjust. It did not need to happen – Uzzah’s motive was pure. “God’s power is too dangerous for me to trust it,” David says, and so he waits for three months, leaving God’s mysterious power in the ark at the Gittite’s house, until he hears that blessings have come upon that house. Then he trusts God again.

So we can learn from David that the human problem of viewing God’s power as unfairly utilized is not a new thing. We don’t really need to dispense with this Old Testament God, as some might want to do, saying “I don’t believe in a God who strikes people down.” Obviously, David had a problem with it too. He got angry about it, and essentially said, “Let’s leave the holy power of God at the Hittite’s house.” I’m not going to say that God strikes people down, but I am willing to say that God allows bad things and sometimes even ordains things that seem bad to us, in order to teach us or bring something better than we could have had otherwise. God is holy and does things, which sometimes seem wrong to us. We are the children. God is the parent. Parents often do things that their kids think are horribly unfair.

Karl Barth addressed this problem we humans have with making God in our own image: "One cannot speak of God simply by speaking (of humanity) in a loud voice." (The Word of God and the Word of Man, pp. 195-196.) In the words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 8, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

And what we learn from Uzzah and from Isaiah and from Job too, is that God’s holiness is not to be trifled with. It is to be revered with utmost respect, with awe, even with fear and trembling.

Second point. We learn from David and the house of Israel traveling with him that worship is to be joyful and liberating. They did not just dance. They danced with all their might. Have you ever seen someone dance with all their might? I bet it was not in worship. With all liturgical arts, with visuals, with movement, with singing, and with instrumental music, we should pour ourselves into the worship of God. It is not wrong for people to worship God with all manner of enthusiasm and vigor, with any form of music or dance.

It is however, wrong, for God’s holiness to be handled carelessly, without deep, deep respect. So when we judge worship which is different from ours, as we inevitably do, let us judge it not by criticizing volume, style or vigor, but by the way God’s holiness is communicated or handled. Are the worship leaders and the music reverent toward God or does the music and the worship draw more attention to the leaders themselves or the music itself? Who or what is being worshiped? Sometimes one feels in worship that the human leader is being revered more than God’s own self. Pomposity, arrogance, self-aggrandizement can be seen in the leaders of many mega-churches. We talked last week about the danger of human power corrupting people’s souls.
Finally, let’s talk about Michal’s reaction to this service of worship. There’s always somebody upset about the worship, isn’t there? She is disgusted. Why? Later in chapter 6 we learn that she thought David was inappropriately dressed, that he was too intimate in front of the crowd. He had girded himself with a fancy set of boxers, called an ephod. Actually, an ephod was a decorative ceremonial article of clothing, ordinarily made of linen. It would have been elaborate and may have covered most of the torso. But Michal was not happy. Let’s remember that Michal is Saul’s daughter and David’s wife. Dear old dad has been displaced by her husband, who is too full of himself. Michal herself had been taken from another husband to appease David. She’s probably thinking that good ole dad would have never worn an ephod without a tunic over it. She’s probably feeling angry about being passed around between David and Palti, to make peace between the regions of Israel and Judah. She’s got issues and her complaint comes out in the form of frustration with David’s worship.

In summary I could say, “In churches, there’s always somebody dying, somebody questioning “Why God?” and somebody complaining about worship because they really mad about something else.” Someone’s dying, Lord. Kumbayah. Someone’s doubting, Lord, Kumbayah. Someone’s dissing, Lord. Kumbayah. Oh, Lord, Kumbayah. Meanwhile, the holiness of God continues to be a powerful force for good, and the majority keep singing God’s praise and celebrating God’s goodness.

Peace people, you have made good progress in loosening up the frozen chosen to celebrate in song and dance the goodness of God. Let’s keep working at that, while also remembering that we should never lose a sense of the sacred in our services. Annie Dillard said we should be wearing crash helmets in worship, in case the Holy God decides to show up in full power. There should be an element of respect, of awe toward the power of God.

When we see the water, when we hear the word, when we taste the bread, when we touch each other with the peace, when we pray the prayers, God’s holiness abounds. We are here to give God worth with all our might, with every fiber of our being, in spirit and in truth, to give God all the honor and all the glory. And to remember that God is an awesome God and we are merely God’s humble and thankful children. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and forever.