Monday, July 13, 2015

The Ark of the Covenant Comes Home

2 Samuel 6:1-19, Lectionary 15 B, July 12, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Our gospel shows us the dangers of corrupt power. Herod is fool hardy as he offers anything to his daughter. When she takes her mother’s advice and asks for John the Baptist to be killed, Herod grants the request without a second thought. John the Baptist was murdered simply because he denounced Herod’s marriage. He was never legally sentenced to death. This whole story is one of human power gone corrupt. This is human power gone wrong.
Yet our first lesson is part of a long history of God’s power in the ark of the covenant. God is near to the people in this ark, for better and for worse. God’s power is just as dangerous as Herod’s power, yet the Lord is never corrupt.
The story of the ark of the covenant goes back to the time of Moses. Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments and detailed instructions for building the ark of the covenant. This will be a place for the Lord to dwell among the people without being a graven image. Yet when Moses descends the mountain, he is angry to find the people worshipping the golden calf. Moses destroys the golden idol and then has the ark of the Lord built with new gold.
Essentially, the ark is a box. It is made of the finest gold and the most precious wood. On top, two cherubim - winged angels - sit with their wings stretched toward each other. Between these angels is the mercy seat. It is not a literal cushioned place to sit, yet it is the place where the Lord dwells. Inside this box is the ten commandments. Two poles extend from both sides. The people carry the ark from these poles, but they are not allowed to touch it or to look inside. 
The people do carry this ark with them wherever they go, and they benefit from the Lord’s presence. When not on the move, the ark is kept in the tabernacle, which essentially is a tent. Once in the promised land, the people bring the ark of the Lord with them into battle, and the Lord often helps them to defeat their enemies.
Until they fight against the Philistines. That time, they lose the battle and the ark. The Philistines take the ark back with them, yet they do not expect how terribly they will be cursed. The Philistines suffer so greatly in possession of the ark that they cannot take it anymore. They return the ark to the Israelites, delivering it to the people of Beth-Shemesh.
These Israelites are so excited to have the ark returned to them that they do not remember the rules. These men peer inside the ark of the covenant, and the Lord killed them for it. Maybe it was as gory as what was shown in Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe not.

Some time later, Saul takes the ark of the Lord into battle, and the Lord helps him conquer his enemies. Saul returns the ark about ten miles west of Beth-Shemesh to a town called Baale-Judah. This is where our lesson begins. 
David wants to bring the ark to Jerusalem, so he gathers 30,000 men (and women?) to bring it home. They lead the procession with singing and dancing. Two men, Uzzah and his brother, are set in charge of actually transporting the ark of the Lord. They have it on a cart driven by oxen. Huzzah is walking next to the cart when it begins to sway and threatens to tip over. He throws out his hand to stabilize the ark. The instant Uzzah touches the ark of the covenant, the Lord strikes him dead. 
David is terribly afraid of this ark now. He doesn’t understand why the Lord would kill a man who seemed to be doing the right thing. David is stricken by the fear of the Lord. He will not let an item so powerful into his city. So, David sends the ark out of Israel to Obed-Edom. 
After three months, David receives word that Obed-Edom and his family have been greatly blessed. Because they have the ark of the covenant, the Lord has helped them to flourish. Now having received a good sign, David will finally bring the ark of the Lord home.
Just like before, David gathers his people to join him in this procession. They sing and dance and make music because of this joyous occasion. David is so overwhelmed with relief and excitement that he takes his clothes off. He dances about Jerusalem only wearing his underwear. He looks a bit foolish, yet everyone can sense his enthusiastic joy. 

Once the ark is in place, David makes sacrifices, and the people feast. The people of Israel is blessed by the presence of the Lord found in this ark of the covenant. The ark will later be placed in the Temple Solomon builds. It will remain there in the Holy of Holies until the Temple is destroyed hundreds of years later. 
These stories surrounding the ark of the covenant show us how dangerous our Lord can be. We often domesticate our understanding of the Lord. We focus on how loving, kind, and forgiving our Lord is. Yet the Lord also can take life without warning. We are to fear the Lord, falling to our knees and shielding our eyes in His presence. 
The Lord is not safe, but the Lord is good. Unlike Herod, our Lord is not corrupt. Our Lord loves us enough not just to send us an item in which to dwell. The Lord sent us Jesus Christ. The Son of God lived and breathed among us, only to die and rise again for us. Jesus showed us that the Lord is loving, kind, and forgiving. Yet even Jesus had his angry moments.

So let us love and fear the Lord. Let us feel the Lord’s presence near to us while also honoring the fact that the the Lord is larger than we can ever comprehend. Let us respect the Lord, and maybe the Lord will bless us in return. Amen.

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