Mark 6:14-29; 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Sermon Presence of the Lord
Good morning! It was so good to see so many of you in church yesterday for Bob Saylor’s memorial service. I know that Patsy was very happy with the way everything turned out. It made me proud to be your pastor as I saw all the love and support you showed her with your presence.
As many of you know, the history of the Presbyterian Church is one of division and reunion. The largest schism in the church occurred just prior to the Civil War, when the church was divided over the question of slavery. The church split into the United Presbytery Church and the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Those two branches finally reunited in 1983, which is when we adopted the name Presbyterian Church, USA.
At the same time, the newly named PCUSA issued a document called “A Brief Statement of Faith.” It’s part of our Book of Confessions. It’s a statement of our shared beliefs. It begins with a simple declaration: “In life and in death we belong to God.” It’s such a plain and simple statement of our common identity.
This is going to sound strange, but it’s true: I love a good funeral! While it’s always difficult to say goodbye to a friend or loved one, at a good funeral, we are reminded that the person who died belongs to God. In life and in death. We are reminded that we all belong to God, in life and in death. And in the process, we are reminded that we are all connected to one another.
I felt that sense of connection yesterday at Bob’s funeral and I hope those of you who were there felt it, too. I certainly hope that Patsy felt it. I believe that that sense of connection, that feeling of belonging, that’s the Holy Spirit in action among us. That’s the presence of the Lord.
In our reading from Second Samuel, we see King David dancing before the ark of the Lord—you know, the ark of the covenant. Now, thanks to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and to a lesser extent, John Williams, I don’t need to explain what the ark was. But I need to tell you why it was significant.
The ark was the sign of the presence of the Lord. We see the ark in the beginning of this morning’s lesson because it is a sign that God is present, is with the people called Israel. David had recently succeeded in uniting all the tribes of Israel. His armies carried the ark with them into battle as they defeated the enemies of Israel and Judah. These victories, along with the ark, were a sign to all the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel that David was the true king.
Remember, David was anointed king as a young man, long before he ascended to the throne. He was anointed when Saul was the king of Israel, but really, Saul was king over the northern tribes. And he didn’t exercise his power in a fair and judicious way. David was only anointed king after God lost confidence in Saul. But even then, it was many years before David was truly affirmed by the people as their rightful king.
In today’s reading, we see the proper response to the presence of the Lord: “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5). They celebrated the presence of the Lord with music and song and dance. They expressed their joy in the best way possible. Literally, they rejoiced!
Yet not everyone was rejoicing. David’s wife, Michal, was enraged: “As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16). She despised him in her heart. On that day, Michal was NOT rejoicing.
Michal had reason to be upset. As a reward for killing Goliath, King Saul gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David. God moved away from Saul, and eventually, Israel’s enemies defeated Saul, killed him, and his sons. Presumably, Michal grew up believing that God was with her father, Saul. We don’t know how she felt as God abandoned Saul. But we do know that Saul and his son Jonathan were killed shortly before the events that are described in this morning’s lesson.
King David is not busy mourning Saul or his sons. David is dancing with all his might. David is celebrating his success and God’s presence. I think it’s fair and reasonable that Michal is upset. I’m calling this to your attention because it’s a good reminder of how easy it is for us to be pulled out of that space where we feel the presence of the Lord. Our faith is easily interrupted by grief and loss.
In our world today, there are so many ways in which we, too, are pulled out of that space where we feel the presence of Lord. Let’s start with the obvious. Over the last sixteen months, or so, because of the pandemic, we’ve spent a lot of time disconnected from one another.
I do believe that it’s a lot easier to feel the presence of the Lord among us when we are gathered together, in worship, celebrating communion and baptism, and singing hymns. I think we’ve made the best choices we could, given the circumstances. Online worship isn’t the same as in-person worship, but for a while, it was the best option we had. And yes, worship is better when we can sing together—and when it’s completely safe to sing together. And it’s great that we can begin to move back into this space, to worship as we always have—even if there are still a few constraints.
It’s also tough to feel the presence of the Lord when we’re busy fighting with one another. We have so many disagreements in our society. All too often, we lead with anger and outrage. We are all dissatisfied with the world as it is, with our society as it is. The problem is that we take every opportunity to yell at our neighbors who disagree with us. We yell at them on social media and we call in to talk radio so we can rant and rave some more. We forget that we are all beloved children of God. We forget that in life and in death we belong to God. Instead, we substitute our judgment for God’s judgment. The result is that we further separate ourselves from one another.
The simple answer is to come together. Or maybe I should say, the simplistic answer is to come together. The difficult part is figuring out how to do that.
In our Old Testament lessons from last Sunday and this Sunday, we see how the people called Israel came together and affirmed David as king and shepherd for all of God’s chosen people. They affirmed that David was the anointed one, even those he was anointed many years before he became king.
In doing this, the members of the twelve tribes had to set aside their tribal identities to affirm their common identity as Israel. They had to believe that their common identity was greater than their individual or tribal identities. Maybe it was easier because they could see the ark, the presence of the Lord among them. Maybe it was easier because they saw the victories that they won with David and the ark going before them. Maybe. We don’t know. We weren’t there. The Bible only tells us that they sang and danced and clanged cymbals; they rejoiced in the presence of the Lord.
That’s my call to you: Seek the presence of the Lord! I’m sure some of you felt that yesterday. I hope all of you feel that today. Now share that feeling with the people who aren’t here in worship.
You can start by sending a card to Patsy Saylor. Or Ed Chan. Or any of our homebound members. You can also pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t seen in a while. You can reach out to one of our excellent deacons and ask to accompany them on a visit.
You can also reach out to the people you see here in worship today—or any other Sunday. It’s much safer to socialize now than it was a year ago, especially if you’re vaccinated. This is cookout season. Invite someone over for a barbecue. Break bread with someone else from this congregation. Bonus points if it’s someone you don’t typically socialize with.
When you come together, you may feel the presence of the Lord—even if you don’t realize it at first. Most of us don’t see a blinding flash of light, like the Apostle Paul did on the road to Damascus. Engage with one another. And after you’ve done that, do it again! Find someone else to socialize with. Continue to spread and share the love.
We are all creatures of habit. Before the pandemic, we were in the habit of gathering together and sharing the love of God and the presence of God with one another. All of that is a wonderful thing. But we got out of the habit of doing that, and into the habit of isolation. To a certain extent, that was a good thing, it was an act of self-preservation. It was necessary.
At the same time, all of the divisions that are present in our society were there a year ago. Two years ago. Three years ago. We have to remember our common identity in God and Christ. We have to set aside our allegiances to our various tribes and remember who we really are. We must always remember, “In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember to seek the presence of the Lord, and then share the presence of the Lord with your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!