Message for Sunday, July 12, 2015. Scripture used was: II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Epehsians 1:3-14 and Mark 6:14-29. The theme was: “Joy.”
There is a great little line that says, “Find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I know that feeling. I have known that feeling more than once in my life-time, and in more than one occupation. There is a great joy in doing something that you want to do. And if it wouldn’t be for the necessities like food and shelter and such, one might even be willing to do those jobs without worry about compensation. But as my mother used to tell people, “My family has this crazy habit that they like to eat on occasion, so it is necessary to be paid.” But that wasn’t where I was going with this. I wanted to focus on the joy of doing something that you like. As I said, I have known that feeling and I have also known the opposite of that feeling and often times both feelings have happened at the same place just at different times.
There were years as a teacher that 10 p.m. on Sunday night was the worst hour of the week because I knew that Monday morning meant getting up to go back to my classroom. When you begin to feel a dread, a knot in the pit of your stomach at the thought of going where you need to go, or seeing the people you need to see, doing the tasks that you need to complete/ then joy has gone out the window, and life needs to take a different turn.
What is joy? The emotion of great delight or happiness according to dictionary.com. This past weekend was the Pollock All School Reunion and my Aunt and Uncle from Phoenix were home for it; my Aunt Roxie was a graduate there, and she and my Uncle Gene and their grandson, Cassius came home for the event. On Friday night we all gathered at my Aunt Glenda’s place to visit and have supper and Cassius who is nearly three and my nephew, Carson, who is nearly nine were playing together and every now and again we would hear them giggle. It was a joyful, infectious sound, and it was a wonderful thing to hear. It was like music of the best kind.
The lectionary theme for today is: God Inspired Joy, and the lesson we are to focus on is the story about King David’s dancing that we read in the book of II Samuel. Imagine dancing around as the Ark of the Covenant is being moved wearing only an ephod, which by the way is like an apron with two straps. Even his wife thought it was shameful.
Now we might think that talking about joy in church is a no-brainer. Of course we talk about Joy in church! Church is where we hear about how Christ died for us so that we can be heirs with him in paradise. Church is where we learn about getting to Heaven. We just finished singing songs that are all about joy and how we adore God and walking a little closer with Jesus and what isn’t joyful about that? We even spend time talking about joys during announcements for goodness sakes. How on earth could anyone think that church isn’t a place of joy?
Well, let’s go back a few years, like some place nearly 400 years ago. Let’s go back to the founding of our own country, maybe the time of the first Thanksgiving or maybe not so far back. How about just back far enough to get a few settlements in this area? Let’s look at the faces of our ancestors who built those stark white churches. As they sit in the pews with their stiff collars and stern faces. Smiling and joy and dancing were certainly not part of the vocabulary that was used in their churches. I will bet that many of you in the pews were taught at a young age as I was that when you come to church you have to sit quietly and listen to what the person in front is saying. There was not much room for wiggling or talking and anyone who was doing too much goofing off, well, there was always the possibility of being taken outside.
I think back to my own family. My mother, my grandmother, my great aunts and uncles would not think it right to consider dancing or even sometimes laughing as a proper way to behave in church. In fact my mother used to talk about how even a smile in church was not acceptable. In her later years she often told the story of how she smiled one year after giving her Christmas piece, and on the way home her mother told her she had acted like the girl in the congregation who was let’s say academically and socially challenged. In other words that smile was unacceptable behavior and had better not ever happen again in church. Our family even had an old superstition that if you laughed too much when you were together you would probably be “strophed” (punished) and so if we were laughing for any length of time; someone would say we should stop so nothing bad would happen. If not just in general certainly church was not for having fun, it was for solemn, serious worship of God, and there should never be any fun in that. You are getting my point, I hope.
Yes back in the past, in the long ago past, we believed that church was all about seriousness. Church was never about laughter and talking of God or to God was all about being serious. The very gospel lesson that we read today is proof that dancing and joyous occasions are not proper ways to act. I was tempted to leave the gospel lesson out of the mix today. It is a depressing story, and what does it really have to do with joy? The only connection it could possibly have to the lesson in Samuel is the fact that there was dancing, but the context is so different. The dancing mentioned in Mark is connected to drinking and immorality, and it ends in the death of a great prophet. How can we reconcile that dancing with what King David does? Perhaps it is the contrast we are supposed to see.
Oh King David! Our Old Testament lesson, the story in II Samuel is one of those stories about King David that is fairly well known, but still so strange. Not so many weeks ago we talked about the days before David was the king when he took the five stones and the sling shot and with one try felled the giant Goliath. We can understand that story so much easier. He was a brave young man, who grew up to be a formidable king. But none of it happened without God’s help. And King David’s life was not without many short comings. He did things that were good for his people, but he also did things which proved that he was only human. Today’s lesson in some eyes might not have been one of his better moments, but it teaches us something about how we are allowed to act in front of God, maybe even how we are supposed to act towards God that is a bit different from the way we might have been taught to act by a stern upbringing.
Today’s story in II Samuel is in reality about some pretty solemn stuff. King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to the tent where the people worshiped God. The holiest object in all of Israel was being brought back to the Tabernacle. It was significant because not only was a relic being returned to its rightful place, but in having this done, King David was showing the people that God should be at the center of their place of worship, at the very center of their lives. The Ark was being returned to where it belonged, and the moving of it should have been a slow and steady and very solemn procession. People should have been lining the pathway. Their stance should have been still and serious, and respectful and quiet. But wait that sounds more like a funeral, like a funeral for a dead king or great leader, like a time of endings.
This event was not about endings, but about beginnings and something new. This was a joyous celebration, a time for cheering and great happiness. And that is why David danced. He danced for joy that God’s covenant, the stones of law that God gave to Moses would be again in the area where the people would worship, and for that they needed to rejoice. Even if no one else realized it, or even if Michal, Saul’s daughter, Jonathan’s sister, King David’s wife, even if she was the only one in all the land to object, David did what needed to be done, he celebrated. He was so happy that he couldn’t contain himself. It is in a little way sort of like that infectious laugh of those little boys on Friday night. They were so happy that they couldn’t have stopped their laughing if they had tried. David was so elated he just had to dance for joy, and the people cheered and celebrated with him.
Maybe the business of church and God and Jesus’ death on the cross is serious stuff, but is that really all there is to it? There is more to Christianity than the death of Jesus. There should be more to church than thinking about that. If that is the case, then we are only Good Friday people. We might as well stop on Maundy Thursday in the garden with the prayers and the blood dripping out of the sweat on Jesus’ forehead. If we aren’t about Easter and the happiness of the empty tomb then what is the point?
As I think about it, maybe that is what gives Satan such a good hold on the human race. Satan and the powers of evil are the stuff of fun. At least up front. They are the type of fun that Herod and his friends were having when they demanded his young step-daughter to dance for them. It was not a dance of joy and happiness. It was a dance of coercion and immorality, and it led to death and unhappiness. There was no real joy in that dance, even for Herod. There is no real joy, no happiness in the events of evil.
King David found joy when he did what was right in the eyes of God. David found a great happiness when he restored the Ark of the Covenant, to the holiest place in the temple tent. When he put God in the center of the life of the people, he found joy. This story is an example for us. Worship doesn’t need to be only solemn and serious. Being about God’s work should be a joyful event. Doing for God should be something more than drudgery. Coming to church and participating in the life of the church needs to be joyful. Of course maybe not quite leaping and dancing for joy in case we would put our backs out, but it needs to be more than the stiff collared, stern faced stuff of our ancestors. It needs to be tasks that invigorate us, and tasks that don’t feel like work. I hope we are willing to find ways to make that happen together. Amen!!