Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday, we all enjoyed a pleasant and familiar sign that normal life and patterns had returned to America. The once silent streets of July 4th, 2020 were again filled with the sound of parades. And of course, it wasn’t just in the streets. There were parades on the lakes in boats, and on the links with golf carts. Apparently, it is still true even after a pandemic. Everybody loves a parade- whether in good or bad weather. As G.K. Chesterton once penned. “And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. For without the rain, there would be no rainbow.”
Yes, everyone loves a parade, and I’m no exception. In summer, as a child, I remember watching parades and waiting for the clowns to pass by. In the fall, our family moved in doors and huddled around our black and white television to see the grainy images of Thanksgiving Day parade from New York with its giant balloons. Later in high school, I found myself, marching in parades. I began as a member of the band color guard and later, I was the drum major with a baton and whistle at the head of the band. I had a great uniform. Wide, crimson Jodphor pants, black knee-high spats, a white tunic with a letter A across it, and a tall, fur covered drum major hat. I was certainly no King David, dancing ahead of the ark, with 30,000 men, but “76 trombones lead the big parade” was my high school theme song, and when I strutted out in front of the parade people knew I meant business.
Every summer, I trained the new drum corps how to march in sequence and to keep the band in formation. With five whistle blows, and I could set any parade in motion. But very quickly, I discovered that it was equally important to know when to stop the steady beat of the band, marching in rhythm. For generations it has been the practice that marching military units and bands break stride when crossing bridges. The steady rhythms and vibrations of unison marching have been known to collapse bridges. You see, there is a protocol to marching in a parade.
King David would have benefited from knowing the protocol of carrying the ark of the covenant in a parade before he began. Perhaps the mishaps which he encountered may have been avoided. Our reading this morning is meant to make King David look good. We are intended to see a joyful, exuberant king praising God in dance before the backdrop of Jerusalem. He has no inhibitions leaping before the ark in nothing more than a loin cloth. But that is not the whole story. Both tragedy and delay occurred on the road to Jerusalem, and that is what we are going to focus on today.
According to the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses to build the ark during his 40-day stay upon Mount Sinai. The ark would come to house the Tablets of the Ten Commandments which Moses received. Basically, the ark was a large moveable box gilded entirely with gold. Four rings of gold were attached to its four corners, and through these rings poles also overlaid with gold were positioned for carrying the ark. A golden lid, known as the “mercy seat” was placed atop the ark, and ornamented with two golden cherubim. Whenever the Israelites camped, the ark was placed in a separate room in a sacred tent, called the Tabernacle. It was the dwelling place of God and considered too holy for humans to enter or touch. Only members of the priestly tribe called the Levites were allowed to carry the ark.
The ark traveled with the people of Israel from Mount Sinai for 40 years in the wilderness. Led by the ark, the wandering Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The ark also functioned as a religious mascot in the siege of Jericho. In scripture, the ark then disappears virtually unmentioned until the time of the prophet Samuel, when the ark was kept in Shiloh, the dominant place of worship. The ark then takes center stage in the story when it is captured by the Philistines, subsequently causing so much pain and suffering among them, that they give it back to the Israelites, which is how it ended up in the care of Abinadab and his two sons Uzzah and Ahio.
The ark of the covenant was the most sacred symbol for Israel and its most prized possession. Unfortunately, the people were also afraid of it. King David understood the symbolic value of the ark, and he knew that if he could transfer the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, his new capital city, he could leverage the power of the ark itself across his newly, united kingdom. So yes, the optics were great. Moving the ark was a good religious move, as well as a savvy political move. Regretfully, David didn’t know the protocol for moving the ark and marching in a parade.
The parade began well enough. King David gathered 30,000 warriors to celebrate the transfer of the ark from the home of Abinadab to his capital city. David blew his whistle five times, and the parade began to move in cadence up to the city of David. There were 76 trombones, lyres and harps, tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And as the regal drum major, David danced. It was a magnificent parade, except for one tiny detail. There were no Levite priests carrying the ark. Instead, Abinadab’s two sons Uzzah and Ahio had fashioned a new cart pulled by oxen to transport the ark.
Yes, it was a magnificent parade, and everybody loved the parade, until they came to the first bridge at the threshing floor of Nacon. The precious ark of the covenant started to topple off the cart in the sight of everyone. Uzzah was walking behind. It all happened so fast and Uzzah knew that he had to do something, disregarding all protocol concerning the ark, he reached up his hand to hold it in place. And at that moment we read, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him, and he died there beside the ark.
David’s savvy political maneuver had turned against him, and he was angry. He wondered if it was truly wise to bring the ancient relic into his new capital. So, instead of completing the journey to Jerusalem, David placed the ark in the home of a man named Obed-Edom the Gittite, and it remained there for three months.
Now you may be wondering: why was David so angry? Simply said, he felt misunderstood and humiliated. No, David’s intentions were not completely selfless. But he loved the Lord and he wanted God to be honored in his capital city, so he wondered, why had he failed? More painfully, however, David felt humiliated. The national celebration he had planned in front of 30,000 onlookers had ended with disaster. David’s relationship with God was also being questioned.
That’s how it feels when God’s ways don’t match our plans for him. We pray, we struggle, we do our best, and then, we feel misunderstood and humiliated when God’s strength and power don’t carry us through. It happens again and again. It’s may happen when you are faced with a difficult medical procedure, or when you are laid off from your work, in the name of “right-sizing.” It happens when your child struggles with friends at school after a move, and you don’t know how to help. It’s in these painful moments that we are tempted to abandon God, just when we need him most. It’s what David did when he turned the ark over to Obed-Edom the Gittite.
Surprisingly, during the months that the ark was in the possession of Obed-Edom, the Lord blessed the man and his entire household. Despite knowing about Uzzah’s fate, Obed-Edom welcomed the ark of the covenant into his home, and he seemed to have no misgivings. Indeed, Obed-Edom trusted that he had nothing to fear: In contrast to David, who saw it as a questionable source of power. Obed-Edom viewed having the ark in his home as a high honor rather than a nuisance, and God rewarded him for his faith.
When it was told King David that, “The Lord had blessed the household of Obed-Edom and all that belonged to him because of the ark of God,” David finally understood his folly and failure. With a new resolve and a respect for the protocol for the ark and for the parade, he planned to move the ark again. This time it would be different. Many burnt offerings were made to ensure the Lord would be honored. The oxen cart gone was gone The ark was carried by hand, and the parade moved forward into Jerusalem with only shouting and trumpet, just as the ark had been carried when the Israelites surrounded and entered into the city of Jericho at the time of Joshua and the walls came tumbling down. David danced and leaped with all his might. And so the ark of the covenant came to dwell in Jerusalem.
There’s more to the story, of course. David’s first wife Michal despised her husband’s shameful, peasant behavior dancing in the streets, with nothing more than a loin cloth. To her criticism, David predicted that in the future he would become an even more despicable figure. These details may confuse us about what lesson the story should teach us. But personally, I believe the story is about how we treat the symbols of our faith. How could King David and Obed-Edom see the ark so differently?
There are many today who have made the symbols of faith into their own personal lucky charm. Far too many of us believe that if we can mechanically go through certain motions, or if we can repeat certain spiritual phrases by rote, then God’s favor and protection will be guaranteed. Like King David, we are making the ark of the covenant into a lucky rabbit’s foot. We may do it to the Bible, to the cross, and to the church. My friends, when we do that, we run the risk of creating our own Uzzah moment, a little too much familiarity, and treating God too lightly. In that moment, God will disappoint you, just as he disappointed David.
Obed Edom, on the other hand, trusted that the ark was more than a lucky charm. He knew that it was more than wood, wrapped in gold, and that it was more the cherubim adorning the mercy seat. He knew that it was about the holy and living presence of God in his midst. For Obed-Edom, the ark always pointed to the larger story and promise of God’s delivering his people from slavery and his divine guidance into the promised land. And with that trust and confidence, he and his household were richly blessed every day.
My friends, everybody loves a parade and God is at the center of that parade- pouring out his blessings on everyone who receives him. So beware of treating God as your lucky charm. God wants more of you. You don’t have to twist God’s arm by chanting certain phrases, or repeating his name a million times in prayer, or having perfect attendance in church Like Obed-Edom you need simply welcome God’s presence into your life and into your home, and you too will be richly blessed and supported- even in difficult times. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.