Holy Hoopla: II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Preached by Terrell Carter on 5/5/13

I want to ask what is probably going to seem like a goofy question to most of you.  Can any of you remember the last time you were involved in some hoopla?  Wait a minute.  Terrell, did you just use the word “Hoopla?”  Yes, I did.  Hoopla.  You know; something exciting.  Something with a little razzmatazz.  A bustling or exciting activity.  Something that caused a commotion.  A big to-do.  A hullaballoo.  No one?!

Let me rephrase the question and come from a different angle.  When was the last time you danced in celebration of something?  Not a waltz or a dance with your grandkids at a family reunion.  Not a formal event with your son or daughter.  I mean, when was the last time you cut a rug?  When was the last time you did the Charleston?  Have you ever danced the Lindy Hop, or the Jitter Bug, or the Harlem Shuffle, or the Boogaloo, or the Foxtrot, or even the Moonwalk?  Have you ever broken a sweat doing the boogie oogie oogie or joined James Brown getting on the good foot?
I realize that some of us may not be comfortable with this kind of question.  For some of us, the idea of dancing in celebration of something, or participating in something that could be considered obnoxious, or uncouth, or be considered as unholy is not something that we would consider.  I respect that.

As Baptists, throughout our history, we have sometimes taken pride in being known for what we do not do as much as what we actually are willing to do.  For a long time, Baptists were known for not dancing.  We were known for not going to the movies.  We were known for not wearing short skirts and long pants.  Good Baptists wouldn’t be caught dead in a situation that looked like, or could be perceived as not being holy.

For three years, I taught as an adjunct at a local Baptist institution that will remain nameless.  At this lovely institution, a Vice-President regularly told his female students, “Good Baptist girls don’t drink and don’t chew.  And good Baptist girls don’t date boys who do.”  Have any of you ever heard a similar saying?  Overall, the idea that he was conveying is that good Baptists don’t do anything that would bring about undue attention or shame to themselves or God.  Whether it was on a personal level, or corporate level, we should not embarrass God or ourselves.

Before I go any further, let me say that I don’t think doing something to solely bring attention to oneself is a good thing.  That’s not what I’m talking about this morning.  The question, or idea, that I want us to think about is when was the last time you celebrated?  Specifically, when was the last time that you celebrated God and God’s greatness?  When was the last time you celebrated God in such a way that it really meant something?

I think we find an example of a glorious celebration revolving around God in reading II Samuel 6.  In II Samuel 6, we see King David as he and God’s children are in the midst of praising God.  It’s not necessarily a pretty event.  It seems like David and the people are involved in a hullaballoo.  They are dancing and singing.  If I didn’t know better, I would say it looks like they are involved in holy hoopla.

Before we dive into II Samuel 6, it would probably be a good thing to see what has occurred prior to this passage.  As you read through the early chapters of II Samuel you find out that Saul has been slain, and one of his son’s is now in charge as ruler of Israel.  At the same time, David is now the ruler of the small kingdom of Judah.  Throughout II Samuel, there is a lot of political and military maneuvering by certain individuals to try to gain power, position, and favor from Saul’s son and King David.  Eventually, people change sides and ambush one another in attempts to show that they either support David or Saul’s son as the true king.  People are stabbed in the back, literally and figuratively, and when the dust settles, David is the king over all of Israel.  He’s conquered his personal enemies, and the enemies of God, including the Philistines.  He is on a political and military high.

II Samuel 6 starts with David assembling a group of soldiers.  Not just any group, but a large one.  30,000 men strong.  All for the purpose of taking back the Ark of the Lord/Ark of the Covenant.  You all remember the Ark don’t you?  It’s where the two tablets that contained the 10 commandments were stored.  It also contained several other items.  When God’s people marched around the walls of Jericho, they followed the Ark.  When they crossed the Jordan River, they followed the Ark.  The Ark represented God’s presence among His people.

Over 20 years prior to David consolidating these two kingdoms, the Ark had fallen into the hands of the Philistines.  Eventually, it brought only bad experiences to the Philistines, and they didn’t know what to do with it.  So, they left it at someone’s home so it wouldn’t cause them anymore problems.  And so, the Ark sat in a strange land, in a strange home, collecting dust.  All the while, God’s children continued on with their lives.

I don’t know when or why David got the idea to go and retrieve the Ark from the Philistines, but II Samuel 6 opens with him assembling a squadron to go and get it from a place called Baalah in Judah.  And II Samuel 6 tells us that what David and his men went to go get, they got.  They recovered the Ark.  It doesn’t tell us how many men lived or died.  It doesn’t tell us how long the fight lasted.  It doesn’t tell us by how great of a margin that David and his men won.  All we need to know is that they recovered the Ark and began the trip to bring it home.

As they began to return home, they placed the Ark on a cart pulled by oxen, and people walked in front, beside, and behind it.  People played harps, other stringed instruments, tambourines, cazoos, and other noise makers.  Kind of sounds like something from a Dr. Seuss story doesn’t it?

They weren’t just singing and making noise.  It says that David was happy and danced for the Lord with all of his might.  Not just him, but everyone else.  Sounds like hoopla doesn’t it?  They were dancing because what they intended to do on God’s behalf was accomplished.  They got the Ark back.  And everyone lives happily ever after.  Well, not really.

Verses 6-12a of II Samuel 6 tells us that the opposite actually happened.  Verses 6-12a says that at one point, the cart that carried the Ark of God looked like it would tip over and the Ark would fall to the ground.  Uzzah, a man walking near the cart, tried to stop the Ark from falling.  When he touched the Ark, he was struck dead, on the spot.  Not sick.  Not injured.  Not knocked out.  He was dead.  And he died because he simply touched the Ark in an effort to keep it from falling.

David the king responded like many of us would.  He was terrified, but he was also angry.  “God, why would you do this?  Why would you strike one of your children down for attempting to protect the Ark?”  David was afraid and frustrated.

Now, I struggle with how to view David at this point in the narrative.  I struggle with whether David should be let off the hook for this incident.  Should he receive pity or blame?  I ask this for a few reasons, and these reasons are not to judge David, but to see him and these circumstances realistically in light of what happened.

I wonder about David’s motives for bringing the Ark back.  I realize that having the Ark of the Lord present among God’s people was what God wanted all along.  God never wanted the Ark to go into enemy hands.  But, why would David try to recover the Ark in the manner that he did?  Was he motivated by the political and military victories that he had recently achieved?  He may have thought, “What better way to seal my position, power, and authority before the people than to defeat our most vaunted enemies, the Philistines, and take back our most precious religious icon?”

Again, I am not judging David.  I’m simply asking about his motives, which I believe eventually influenced his actions.  I say this because in reading verses 1-5 of II Samuel 6, you get the sense that David’s mind is not fully on doing things God’s way.  Why am I saying this?  Because David clearly violated God’s commands as it related to moving the Ark.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but in Exodus 25 and Numbers 4, God gives very specific instructions for how the Ark is to be constructed/built, carried, and treated.  One clear warning is that it should be carried by priests with poles that were made only for the task of carrying the Ark.  God goes on to say clearly that no one is to touch the Ark and the other holy items within it.  If they did, they would die.

Again, I am not judging David.  I’m just asking/thinking about his motives, especially in light of his response of anger towards God.  It almost seemed like he had a certain level of righteous indignation.  The CEV says that David even asked the question, “Should I really take the sacred chest to my city?”

David makes an executive decision and decides not to take the Ark to his city.  Instead, he takes the Ark down the road to the home of Obed Edom.  I feel sorry for Obed.  Can you imagine what he must be thinking?  He probably thinks, “Someone just died for trying to stop the Ark from tipping over.  Now you want to bring that thing into my home.  You’ve got to be joking.”

But David wasn’t joking.  And he did leave the Ark there.  Eventually, David and all of the people returned home and continued to live their lives and build David’s kingdom.  Obed Edom is left at home hoping he lives long enough for David, or somebody, to come back and get the Ark out of his home.

The Ark remained in Obed’s home for three months.  During this time, something strange occurred.  It says that he was greatly blessed while the Ark resided in his home.  We don’t know how he was blessed.  Or how much his blessing was?  Whatever way the blessing occurred, it was great enough for everyone to see.  Eventually, word got back to David on how greatly the Lord blessed Obed.  The eventual conclusion was that the blessing was due to the Ark being in Obed’s home.  After hearing all of this, David determined that it was time to bring the Ark to his city.

But what would happen this time when he tried to move the Ark?  Would he do anything different?  The books of I and II Samuel and I and II Chronicles tell some of the same stories, just from different perspectives.  I Chronicles 15 gives a different perspective of the story of David’s second attempt at moving the Ark.

I Chronicles 15:1-3 says, “David built houses for himself in the city of David. And he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the LORD had chosen them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister to him forever.  And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place, which he had prepared for it.”

I Chronicles 15:11-16 says, “Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites.  Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.”  So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.  And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.  David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.”

I Chronicles 15:25-28 says, “So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing.  And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams.  David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers.  And David wore a linen ephod.  So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.”

Sounds like more hoopla, doesn’t it?  This time it all ends well.  It actually ends very well.  It seems like David acted in a contrite way and followed God’s instructions.  After they brought the Ark home, they made sacrifices according to God’s commands and worshipped God.  II Samuel 7:1 even says that after all of this occurred, “God gave David rest.”

In short, David initially attempted to do something on God’s behalf/in God’s name, and failed miserably.  But, God gave him a second chance at getting it right.  When David and the people do things God’s way it all went well.  David and the people celebrated God’s mercy and were able to rest.

So What?

How many of us are like David?  Even when we do things related to, or what we believe to be on behalf of, God, do we always have the right motives?  I know you all do, but I have to check my ego some times.  For all of the things that I am involved in, all in the name of the Lord, am I involved in them so God can get the glory, or am I involved so I can simply see my name in print?  Or am I involved so more people will know who I am?  Or am I involved so people will know how important and smart I am?  Are the decisions that I make made in consultation with the Spirit of God and God’s word, or are they based on my ego?

The blessing, even in the midst of my potentially not so pure motives, is that God is the God of second chances.  As God’s children, as people who are in active, and sometimes inactive, relationship with God, God seeks/grants opportunities for us to get life right.  God is mercy, patience, and grace.  God gives us second, third, fourth…..chances.

When all is said and done, we don’t have to tip toe and be afraid of God.  Notice that I didn’t say that we shouldn’t respect and be in awe of God.  I didn’t say that we shouldn’t recognize God’s holiness.  All of that is different.  Instead of tip toeing in God’s presence, we are free to do as David did.  We are free to celebrate.  To dance.  Not just a two-step, but to make a ruckus.  Hoopla.  We are free to dance, worship, and praise God with all of our might.  We are free to celebrate God.

Now, I’m not saying do something that looks like the church scene from the Blues Brothers movie where Elroy catches the spirit and everyone jumps up and down the aisles doing backflips.

What I am saying is that in light of God’s mercy, grace, love, and patience, we should praise and worship God with all that we are.  We have the right to praise and worship God.  I would go so far as to say that we have a duty to worship God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.  We should praise every day, in spite of what others may think about us.  You could even say that it’s our duty, every now and then, to raise some hoopla.  Not just any hoopla.  But, holy hoopla.

Okay, Terrell, we get it.  But how does this apply to WGBC?  As the winds of change blow around WGBC, there is the opportunity to do things the same way they have always been done, or there is the opportunity to do things in a different manner.  As decisions are made, sometimes, we will have the right motives.  Decisions will be made and actions will be taken and things will likely go well and sometime they may not go as well as anticipated.  But, sometimes, our motives may not be as pure as usual, which may lead to decisions that aren’t as pure and things not occurring as we would hope or expect.

The good things about all of this is that even when we don’t get it right, or necessarily have the right motives, God is still able to cause positive things to happen.  God is able to bring about things that bring God glory.

As WGBC deals with inevitable change and what may seem like uncertainty for the future, please don’t forget that you have much to celebrate.  WGBC has a glorious past in which God has been faithful.  You are about to celebrate 100 years of serving God right here in Webster Groves.

WGBC will have even more to celebrate because WGBC has a bright future.  The foundation for this bright future has already been partially laid and will be built upon in the coming months and years.

As we recognize the blessings of the past and the potential of the future, we can celebrate.  We can dance.  We can praise.  We can be involved in holy hoopla.

Will you pray with me?

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