Celebrate!



Inspired by 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 6:1-5

I had no idea where this sermon was going when I started writing it. I mean, I had a general idea of what I’d like to say but it just didn’t seem like enough. It might have been because I was a little preoccupied with our trip to Rwanda but I think it was something deeper than that, and I also think it has to do with this particular story we have before us today. So let’s dig in. To be honest I was kind of shocked that the powers that be selected this particular story for today.

So far this Fall we’ve had Sunday after Sunday of some really great stories, exciting stories, adventurous stories, even difficult, heartbreaking stories. And so, a few weeks ago I opened up my Bible to see what was coming ahead for us, read this story, and immediately checked to see if I opened up to the right page! I did but still wasn’t convinced that this was the right story so I checked online to be sure, I thought maybe this is a typo!

Nope, this was the right story. Here’s part of my problem, by comparison with the rest of our Fall stories so far, this one seemed sooooo boring! David becomes king, woopdeedo! He brings the Ark to Jerusalem and they have a worship service with lots of musical instruments. And I thought, really? That’s it? What in the world am I going to say about this story? And then, it hit me, like a ton of bricks, why I just wasn’t feeling this story. But I’m gonna leave you hanging for now because this is one of those stories that needs some context in order for us to understand the significance of it.

So, last week we read the story of Ruth and that was during the time of the Judges, those leaders like Gideon and Samson who were lifted up in a time of crisis but were not given any kind of permanent power. Well, that only last for so long before the people began to gripe and complain. O were they a bunch of whiners! Nothing was ever good enough for them. You see, now they wanted a king! They looked at the world around them and saw that everyone else had a king and so they wanted one too. The prophets kept telling them that this was a bad idea, just trust in God, not in humans. But no, they wanted to be like everyone else! I’m surprised there isn’t a verse where a prophet says, “If thine neighbors were to jump off a cliff, would thou follow?”

However, the prophets finally gave in and anointed a king for them. And the first one was a wackjob named Saul. I’m not kidding. This guy was the worst! Maybe the prophets were trying to teach them a hard lesson, I don’t know. Think of the worst U.S. president in all of history and that was Saul. No, really, he was that bad. Do they learn their lesson? Of course not! They try again, and anoint David.

Now, we read about David last year in the David and Bathsheba story and so we know that David was not a huge improvement over Saul! Meanwhile, there is a huge civil war going on. And just like our own, it was between the north and the south. They could not agree on anything: on who should be in charge, on what God’s will was, on where the capital should be, on where their center of worship and spirituality should be, nothing! And so they fought.

It wasn’t until they had a common enemy, the Philistines, that they worked with each other. So, after a very complicated and convoluted squabble that included a bunch of family drama, both sides agree to have one king, and both sides agree that it should be David, because he had fought by their side in the past and would continue to do so against the Philistines and other enemies that they’d encounter. And that’s where we jump into the story.

David is anointed again by the prophet Samuel, this time to be king over a united kingdom, the north and the south, for the first time in their history. And the first thing that he does is have some of his men go and fetch God’s chest, as our translation puts it, better known as the Ark of the Covenant. And where has this been all along? At some guy's house, some guy named Abinadab. Who’s Abinadab you ask? Nobody! Just some Joe Schmoe who probably had room in his garage for it!

Why was it there? Well, first it got captured by the Philistines in a horrible loss when Saul was king. Then it was returned because the Philistines thought it was haunted. True story. And so, Saul had it stored away in Abinadab’s house and there it stayed for decades because Saul had no use for it. Now, let me explain the significance of that. We’re talking about the Ark of the Covenant, you know, the Ark from Raiders of the Lost Ark! Up until Saul, the Ark symbolized the very presence of God for them. For them, wherever it was, God was. Period. And so, for it to be in some guys backyard shed for decades said so much about who God’s people had become, in large part due to Saul’s leadership, or lack thereof.

So, David attempts to correct this error. For all of David’s faults, and there were many, at the end of the day, he relied on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his ancestors. So, David has the Ark brought back out and put in a central place of worship in Jerusalem. And that’s when the climax of our story happens, a worship service. A worship service! And that’s where I first had an issue with this story and that’s when I realized my own error. Had David not had to be king, he would have probably made a good pastor, because he knew that they needed a course correction, and in typical pastor fashion he did so with a worship service! This seemingly boring story was a beautiful reminder for me of just how awesome an opportunity we have here each and every Sunday.

It is in this place, that we return to, Sunday in and Sunday out, to celebrate the good that God has brought into our lives, no matter what may be going on around us, there is always something that we can bring here to celebrate. And that’s just what David did. It didn’t matter that the Philistines were still breathing down their necks. It didn’t matter that this new united kingdom was being tenuous at best. It didn’t matter that there were still hard feelings over the civil war that they had just gotten out of. It didn’t matter that David had personal issues of his own to work through. None of that mattered because David knew that what the people needed right now was to return to their roots, to return to the source of all goodness, and to say thank you to that source, the God of Eve, and Sarah, and Ruth, David’s great-grandmother.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every worship service needs to be a celebration. Sometimes the weight of the world is just too heavy to celebrate and those are the times when we gather here to lament and seek God’s guidance. We’re good at that! We don’t need any help in that department. But what I, and I can only speak for myself, if you don’t have this problem then you have my admiration, but what this story teaches me is that I could work on my celebration skills. I have a tendency to focus on the negatives around me, to the point that I forget that there is so much to celebrate. Think of it this way, we are more apt to call a funeral service a celebration of life than we are Sunday morning worship. And that should just not be so.

So, here’s what I’d like for us to do. Shelby and Jesha are going to pass out some paper. During the next hymn, I’d like each of you to write one thing that you are able to celebrate today. No matter how big or small, write one thing down. When the hymn is over, they will collect them all and then, during the prayers, Sid and I will take turns reading them out loud. Each and every one, so keep them short and legible. Because I believe that no matter how bad life may get sometimes, there is always something to celebrate, and it is here that we get a chance to practice that discipline. Thanks be to God. Amen.

My People



Inspired by Ruth 1:1-17

Last week you read the story of Moses getting the Ten Commandments and today we read about Ruth. There are a few things that happened between those two stories. After Moses gets the Ten Commandments the rest of the book of Deuteronomy goes into all the other laws and regulations that they were expected to keep, because they didn’t stop at just ten! There was lots of fine print at the bottom of those first Ten Commandments! About another twenty chapters worth! Anyway, they wander the desert for a while and Moses dies without crossing into the Promised Land, that land that was promised to Abraham long, long before, or, for us about a month ago when we read that story.

With Moses dead, Joshua is appointed their new leader. He is the one to finally take them back to their homeland. And that’s putting it lightly, because what ensues throughout the book of Joshua is story after story of their conquest of this land because, surprise, people are living there now, it’s been a while since they’ve been home. So, what we get are basically a dozen violent chapters of them brutally taking back this land by force, and then ten chapters of how they divided it up among the twelve tribes. The book of Joshua is not exactly full of children’s bedtime stories. So, they have their land, they’ve become a fairly good-sized nation with a powerful enough army.

Now, you’d think the next logical step would be to crown a king but they consider God to be their king and instead they raise up these temporary leaders whenever there is a crisis, and these leaders are called Judges, which is what the book of Judges is all about, where we get are some fascinating stories with characters like Deborah, Gideon, and Samson and Delilah. And this is the time period that we also get this little house on the prairie story of Ruth, who gets a whole book dedicated to her, a short book but a whole book just for her. And she deserves it. But the context that this story falls in is just as important as she is, and here’s why. I believe, that God’s people during this period had lost their way once again.

Because that’s what we do right? We lose our way, God finds us once again, points us in the right direction, and before we know it, God finds us in a ditch somewhere in Donner Pass to bail us out yet again. But the reason why that context that I shared is so important is because they had just conquered this new land, and were now trying to keep it, and were so focused on claiming territory, and keeping outsiders out, that they forgot who they were, children of God. How do we know this? One, because of their behavior, and two, because they blamed their behavior on God. When I mentioned that they violently took their homeland, I wasn’t kidding. They were downright genocidal. And what did they say, God made us do it. Convenient.

Did you notice how I, all of a sudden, started talking about God’s people in the third person? Right around the genocide comment. As I was writing this the other day I noticed that I did that without even thinking about it, but the reality is, I should be saying we, not they, because this is our story too, a story that we, unfortunately, continue to play out, again and again. But, we know that God would not command acts of genocide, right? Please tell me that we can all agree on that. So, when we read stuff like that in scripture, we immediately know, that something else is going on here. Something is amiss.

And so, in the midst of all this violence and land grabbing, we get this little story, about a little family of farmers, and a little lady named Ruth, who has a great big lesson to teach her people, us. And this story, I believe, is a corrective to the narrative that is happening all around her, this narrative of us and them, of insider and outsiders, this narrative of those people vs my people that is being spread throughout the land. And Ruth comes along with a different narrative, that is just as counter-cultural today as it was then. So let’s dig in a little deeper. Like many great stories, this one begins in tragedy. Ruth’s family goes through hell. So much death in such a short amount of time. Something I know many of you know something about. All the men in her family die, and in that culture that could easily be a death sentence.

Naomi, the matriarch of the family, decides that this could not be the fate of her daughters-in-law. Not only were they still young but they had family back home in their native land that they could return to. Naomi had no one. Why should they suffer needlessly? Not only that but she was in the throes of grief. And what do so many of us do in times like that? We say things like, “I’m fine.” When we’re anything but. Or, “I’ll be ok.” When we have no idea if we will be. Or, “Don’t worry about me.” When we can barely dress ourselves, let alone get out of bed. We distance ourselves because we don’t want to bring others down with us. And that’s where Naomi was. So she tries to convince her daughters-in-law to leave her and make a new life of their own, to go restart back in their homeland.

She convinces one of them but Ruth wouldn’t budge. Ruth has a solid case to leave Naomi behind, guilt-free. Naomi is making it so easy for her to do so! Ruth wouldn’t budge. No one would judge her for walking away, it was the expected thing to do, that was the way of things! Ruth wouldn’t budge. As soon as she is done weeping in Naomi’s arms, she utters what may be the most endearing, loyal, loving, words of commitment that the world may have ever heard before, and maybe since. “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” I can’t imagine more powerful words of commitment. And I honestly don’t know why we don’t use those words as wedding vows.

In those words, Ruth completely redefines the phrase “my people.” She completely turns that concept on its head. By the world’s standards, Naomi wasn’t her people. Naomi’s God wasn’t her god. Naomi’s family was not of her blood. Naomi’s culture, Naomi’s food, Naomi’s clothing, Naomi’s dialect, Naomi’s politics, not of those things were Ruth’s! All the things that we take for granted, that give us a sense of home, of safety, of the familiar, of comfort, Ruth was willing to sacrifice for the one thing that none of those things could offer—love, and not just any kind of love, but faithful love, covenantal love, in Hebrew it’s called “hesed.” It’s difficult to translate into English. It’s the kind of love that causes you to redefine who you consider to be “your people.”

That’s some powerful love. We’re not talking about your everyday, run of the mill, sugary sweet, warm fuzzy kinda love. No this kind of love changes you, changes you, to your very core! Changes the very fabric of what makes you who you are! It changes you to the point that you may be unrecognizable, unrecognizable to the people who you once thought were “your people” but now realize that you had a whole family outside! That is the kind of love that causes Ruth to unlearn everything that she had learned about how the world works, how love works, especially the nationalism that Naomi’s people were currently engaged in. And here comes this outsider, Ruth, to remind God’s people of who they were. Imagine that!

But let me be clear about this kind of love, it’s not gonna be very popular, it’s not gonna win you a bunch of new friends, people aren’t gonna bust the doors down to get in here and hear about this kind of love. In fact, it’s gonna lose you some people, but I don’t need to tell you all that. This kind of love that Ruth teaches us is just too powerful for some to handle. And to be fair, Ruth didn’t even know how powerful this stuff was! Let me read you the opening verses of the Gospel of Matthew, “A record of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Aram. Aram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.”

Matthew goes on through Jesus' family line, which without Ruth, would not exist. This is what made up the savior of the world. And when Jesus story was told and they heard the name Ruth, you better believe that remembered hesed, the faithful love of this once immigrant farm girl, who reminded God’s people of who they were, of whose they were, with a love so faithful, it changed her and those around her, all the way down her family line to Jesus. That’s the stuff that he was made of. That’s the stuff that we are made of. Thanks be to God. Amen.