[preached at the Hammondsport First United Methodist Church]
2 Samuel 6:1-15
We Christians talk about “the presence of God” – don’t we?
We say things like, I really felt God’s presence during that time. We pray for someone, that God would be with them: ‘let them feel your presence.’ We remember back to special occasions when God seemed close to us. Maybe some of us feel very far from God right now, and wish that wasn’t so. In any case, it’s easy for us to think about God’s presence in somewhat narrow and immediate ways. We forget that this reality of God’s nearness to us has a long, long history, and has come to us at great cost, to people and to God. This morning I want to remember with you the story of God’s presence, because I think that remembering the cost of God’s nearness will make us all the more thankful for him in our lives now.
I’ll get to 2 Samuel in a minute, but first let me set this story about David and the ark in context. We’re often prone to think that Bible is kind of an instruction manual for people seeking God. But it’s not! The Bible is the story of God seeking us. If there’s one thing that you can be sure of in the Bible, it is that God loves humanity, and wants to be present with us. But we are all people like Adam and Eve. Even though God wants to be present with us, we know we have disobeyed God, and we hide from his presence. You remember that story? In a deep sense, aren’t we just like that first couple, crouching down in the underbrush and ashamed to be naked in front of God? Or take another example. We all are like Cain, Abel’s brother. Both he and his brother made offerings to God. They were worshippers, like us this morning. But Cain resented God’s response. He killed his brother, and, if you recall, God banished Cain from his presence. We haven’t killed somebody, but the point I am trying to make with these stories is, our sinful ways obstruct God’s purpose to be present with us and love us. In fact, because God is holy, his presence is actually harmful to us! So in the big story of the Bible, God doesn’t try to recover all of humanity at once. He starts small, picking out one people from all the rest. The Old Testament is the long and agonizing drama of God’s attempt to make
people that he can be present with. Israel
The story that we read about David is actually one of the high points in this Old Testament story. In this chapter, two representatives of God’s presence come together. First there is King David. Kings of Israel were supposed to be God’s stand-ins. They made God present in a way by embodying God’s rulership and God’s justice. Second, there is the ark of the presence. At the end of Exodus, God’s presence descends in a cloud onto the ark. Our text in 2 Samuel says that the ark is “called by the name of the Lord of hosts,” meaning that the ark shared in God’s own identity.
In 2 Samuel 6, these two representatives of God’s presence, the king and the ark, come together for the first time. God has been blessing David and his kingship for many chapters before. God’s own angel army fought for David. God has given David favor with all the people, even with Saul’s son Jonathon who was lined up to become king. After political intrigue and infighting, God has given David sovereignty over both the northern and southern tribes. 2 Samuel 6 is the climax of all that blessing on David: this is like the scene at the end of the movie where everything comes together and all you can hear is the swelling music. Now David the king takes the ark of God to his new capital
. David and all Jerusalem rejoice
and dance with all their might: God is near, and this is cause for wild
The biblical story here seems so close to fulfilling God’s desire to be present with and love his people: the ark of his presence is about to take up residence in the capital city of his people under the care of his special human representative, the king. But even here, at the high water mark of God’s presence with his people – what happens?
Death breaks out. Things go terribly wrong.
Sure it was unintentional: Uzzah just reached out to catch the ark when the cart went over a bump. But God’s holy presence is dangerous just on contact to the unqualified. Uzzah is struck down. And what is David’s response?
David, who had been so close with God, enjoying God’s favor and dancing before him, is angry at God. Then David is afraid. Here when God’s purpose is so close to dawning – what does David say?
David the man after God’s own heart cries out, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (NIV; 6:9).
The two representatives of God’s nearness are wrenched apart: the king God’s stand-in treats the ark of God’s presence like hazardous waste, abandoning his plan to bring it to the capital.
That’s not the end of the story, because God wants to be present with his people. As we read, after a few months, God’s love radiates out. The text doesn’t tell us how, but God blesses the household to which David committed the ark. David hears about it and starts over again. On the second try, David makes sure to have the properly qualified priestly people carry the ark, rather than leaving it in a cart: and they make sacrifices every six paces as a kind of holiness buffer. David and all
once again dance and dance and shout with joy at the nearness of God. But the
damage is done. The holy presence of God is unsafe. The text presents us with
the agonizing question: how can God ever fulfill his desire to draw near to us
if our sinfulness puts us in such danger? Israel
How are we as Christians prepared to answer this question?
As we think back today over the long, painful story of God trying to draw close to us, we must remember its most agonizing chapter [point to the cross on the table].
The story of the ark and Uzzah and David helps us to understand what is going on with this Jesus Christ. In a way, Jesus Christ is each of these taken to their fullest extent. Jesus Christ is like the ark, but more! God’s determination to come near to us runs so deep that God took on human flesh. Like Paul says, “God was in Christ” – the presence of God was bound to Jesus Christ far more closely than to the ark. It can never be parted from him: the presence of God is who he is, in human form.
And Jesus Christ is like Uzzah, but more! In the death of Jesus Christ, God put himself in Uzzah’s place: God wants to be present with us so much that he accepted the cost of his holiness on sinful humans. Jesus Christ was struck down like a sinful human would be on contact with the holy God, so that we sinful human beings would never be threatened by the presence of God again.
And Jesus Christ is like David, but more! By resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God showed that Jesus like his ancestor David is God’s special representative and king– only this time, the blessing of God on Jesus cannot part from him as it did David. And the presence of God cannot be wrenched apart from God’s king like it was in 2 Samuel.
In Jesus Christ, God has made himself permanently and safely present for his people.
So then let us celebrate the nearness of God, like David and the people of
let us be even more thankful as we
remember the long story behind God’s presence with us, and its high cost. Israel