In a time when some people are excited about such marvels as multi million dollar missiles that are meant to shoot down other missiles, or transistors the size of an atom, or the cloning of animals or investigating the geology of distant planets, in these times many people wonder, "why bother with an ancient book?" And, fair question we might say!
Why spend time on the distant past? Why take notice of old stories about primitive civilizations and today, why bother about what excited an ancient king? Or what got the apostle Paul fired up?
Leave that question at the back of your mind.
What ever the cause of it, I think that in Australia, people who show a lot of emotion, are treated as suspect or not quite right.
We don't like to go overboard or "loose control".
We aren't good at expressing feelings openly, or sometimes in private as well.
If you cry you are said to have "broken down." Thats extraordinary language if you think about it! It says effectively that to show emotion is to be dysfunctional! Do you remember the fuss when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and shed tears in public? People who are expressive, whether the emotion is joyful or angry, happy or sad, the expression of their feelings makes others uncomfortable.
Imagine if someone spontaneously burst into a dance of joy in the middle of worship here one Sunday, suddenly carried away by the need to express praise to God with their whole being!
David had some good reasons. He had recently been made King of all Israel, the Bible tells us. He danced with all his might in front of the ark of God as it was being brought into Jerusalem. Were they all much more free with their feelings in those days? I wonder. Have things changed so much? Was it normal for a King to dance wildly in the streets? The reaction of Michal, the daughter of Saul, tells us that the answer to such questions is no, it was not normal. And this dancing business of David's earned him the scorn of this woman who is, by the way, David's wife. So the human issues addressed here of faith and commitment and cost start to relate to our living, ancient stories touching our humanity.
David, we know, was not one for doing things by half measures. Whether he set out to battle, to praise or bring the tribes of Israel together into a nation, he did it with a wholehearted enthusiasm and threw his whole self into it. We also know that later in his story he gets himself quite wholly into trouble. But the theme of this passage is the worship of God and David used no half measure here either.
Praise is a theme we all know something about, it's part of the reason why each of us is here. But our worship can get into the rut of dry ritual, our enthusiasm can get jaded, and worse, we can come to see praise rather than to engage in it actively, and loose sight of our purpose for being here.
Some think that church is like a moral police agency, existing to keep us on the straight and narrow, to tell us what to do.
And while that may be good at times it is not what the church exists for. A catechism of the Reformation that many of you will be familiar with, had this as its first and most important teaching; "the chief aim of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy God forever". (-modern translation.) This is our reason for being!
Glorifying God, all of us bringing our praise to God is the main focus of our worship. The hymns we sing are about what God has done and not about what we have done or ought to do. Our prayers are addressed to God, not a leader giving advice to others. In church we come and are all active participants in the main aim, to praise and worship God.
There should be no "actor and audience" mentality about church.
We are all here to do the one thing, that one thing is to give glory to God.
This is exactly what David was doing, he glorified God with all his might, without care for what the people around him might think.
Think for a moment about why his praise was so exuberant.
The ark had laid mostly forgotten for the last 20 years. David had just been made king over all Israel, having been king of Judah for 7 years already. It was not a united kingdom up to this point, and as we read in the chapter just before this story, Jerusalem had only just been conquered from the Jebusites, Israel hadn't been cemented together under Saul.
It was time for a new beginning in Israel, with the territory more secured than it had been in the past and a new united nation under strong and Godly leadership. So to mark this transition David calls on the tradition of the past. He hit on the idea of bringing the symbol of God's presence, the ark of the covenant into his new city from where it had been forgotten.
David binds the old ways to the new future. By bringing the ark to Jerusalem he is re-engaging with the taproot of Israel's religious vitality, the long standing tradition of their faith .. is made relevent to the present.
David illustrates to us that the presence of God is something to be celebrated with unashamed extravagance. Gods presence is the thing that unified them as a nation, Gods presence is still what unifies us.
Now David, we could say, was excitable, it was in his character to do that. Is it appropriate for us though? Dancing, music, tambourines?
My family and I had some exciting times on our brief holiday, seeing some of the beauty of creation and trying out some skis for the first time. Very exciting and good fun, but still it's not really the stuff of dancing in praise in the city centre, not the same stuff as the cosmic plan of God that Paul is dealing with when he gets excited.
In Ephesians Paul is grappling with God's strategy for the world, the long term plan, the big, big picture !
Paul is talking about God acting to save the world, the cosmos in fact, through Jesus Christ. He writes of Jesus being the fullness in which all things hold together - all things, it's an amazing statement. We, the cosmos, would all fall apart if it wasn't for Jesus, the world would not be if it wasn't for him.
And Paul assures us that salvation was always God's plan, God's aim- to unite all things in Christ, with no divisions and no exceptions. That's what it says here in black and white. And it's a cause for great excitement, a cause for joyful praise and giving Glory to God.
In verse 12 Paul says "we have an inheritance in Christ so that we may live to the praise of his glory". What a challenge! To live our whole lives to bring praise and glory to God is a mighty task to be entrusted with, as well as a humbling one!
What might we here do in the spirit of these readings?
A few ideas to stir us along.
David used the ark of God's presence, an old symbol, - in a new way, for a new time, we need to do the same - not with arks but with the gospel and our experience of God.
David looked at his situation and thought about the need, the resources, he thought about what could be done - and he did it, even though there was a cost for him!
We need to not only celebrate here today, but let's look for what is needed and meet it, look for ways of revitalizing our faith, our life and our church, and of course, look for ways of expressing our joy for what God has done for us and do it not just in church, but in the everyday things of life, in it's special events and it's ordinariness.
The good news that excited Paul is far from being outdated or irrelevant, it's still the same cosmic stuff of turning lives around.
This gospel that brings hope and meaning is cause for even more celebration than we see in David dancing before God. May it be so in us, to the glory of God! Amen