“On Joy, Junk, and Honey Pots – A Sermon in Three Acts”
UCC Focus Text and Theme: 2 Sam 6: 1-5, 12b-19 “God-inspired Joy”
David R. Weiss – July 15, 2018 – St. Paul’s UCC (St. Paul, MN)
Children’s Message:In today’s reading King David has a big box that he’s bringing into Jerusalem, the city where his palace is – and he’s pretty excited about it. Now our box (just a big cardboard box) here is just plain, pretty new, and empty. So you’ll need to use your imaginations because David’s box was very decorated, very old—about 300 years old!—and, most important, it had some really special things in it.
In fact, while David led the box—called “the Ark of the Covenant”—into the city, he was dancing like crazy he was so excited, so happy. But why? What was in this big box that could make a grown man—a king!—risk looking silly in front of all his people? Well, two big flat pieces of rock. But not just any rock, these rocks had writing on them.They held God’s Covenant: Ten Promises to the people of Israel.
Now this is really important, because it helps you understand why King David was so excited. (And besides, most of the gown-ups don’t even know this, so you might need to explain it to them later on.) Sometimes we call these the Ten Commandments, like they’re ten really important rules. Almost like God is wagging a great big finger at us each time and saying, “Now you better not do this, and you better not do that …”
No.These are “imagine-with-me-promises.”They’re ten things God said to the people of Israel as if to say, “Now listen, this is what our life together can look like … I will be your God, and you will be my people, and you will love me more than anything else in the world … And because my very name means freedom and good news, you’ll never even want to use my name to hurt anyone—I mean, how could you? … And each week we’ll set aside one day to just enjoy each other’s company—won’t that be great? And because we’ll build a whole life around love, your children will grow up loving their parents … and there won’t be any killing, or any cheating, or any stealing, or any lying, and nobody will get jealous.”
Those aren’t rules.Why would David be so excited about a box of rules? No, they’re promises: “imagine-with-me” promises spoken by God about what life can look like when we put LOVE first of all. King David was so excited—silly excited—because he was already carrying these promises in his heart, but now he knew that the big box carrying the flat rocks that these promises were first written on was going to be at home in his city. No wonder he danced with joy.
And whenever youremember the promises of what might be—what can be—when God loves us and we love God, you might also finding yourself dancing with joy.
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Message for adults:
First—a concluding word about my message to the children. Probably any of us who learned the Decalogue—the “Ten Words” of the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai—learned them as “Ten Commandments.” I don’t mean to argue about that. Well, I suppose I do, a little bit. In Hebrew the verb form translated as “imperative”—as command—is actually the same as “future” tense. Only context—or perspective—determines whether it’s best to translate it as demand … or promise. I simply want us to remember that the God we recognize as still speaking today has alwaysbeen a God of gracious promises, even when our ears weren’t attuned to hear them as such. We have a mostly checkered relationship with the Ten Commandments. It might do us good to try relating to them as Promisesfor a while. And maybe the kids can help us learn how to do that.
Okay, on to my message: “On Joy, Junk, and Honey Pots – A Sermon in Three Acts”
Act One: The King’s Joy . . . and the King’s Junk
Sure, it was covered in gold, this big crate. But it was something like 300 years old. And it had seen better days. Been through sandstorms during the forty years that the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land. Been through battles, too. Sometimes victorious, sometimes not—and at least once captured by a foreign army. It was, no doubt, showing its age by the time King David brought it to Jerusalem.
Nevertheless the Ark of the Covenant had been the stuff of legend from its very beginning. It held the stone tablets containing the ten covenantal promises God made to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was regarded as Israel’s most sacred objectand the tales associated with it, both miraculous and frightful, wrapped this box in a mix of wonder and dread. Besides holding the stone tablets, the Ark was seen as home to the very presence of God.
Now, after having been carried by these people to and fro for several centuries, the Ark was coming to Jerusalem, the capital city of David’s united kingdom. It was coming home.
David’s fascination with the Ark had less to do with itsmany legends and more to do with hissingular love for God.
David loved Israel’s God—Yahweh, their liberator, the Holy One who pledged a future framed by justice and mercy—with a pure passion that was unique among Israel’s kings. In fact, despite his failings and flaws—and there were some big ones!—David’s exuberantlove for God became the standard against which every other kingin Israel’s history was measured. And nearly all of them were found wanting.
Because David loved God so dearly—with something like a mystic’s zeal as can be heard in his many psalms—he was entirely overcome with joy at the prospect of bringing this ancient well-traveled mysterious box to rest in a tent specially built to be its home in the city that was also David’s home.
And it is this joy that brings us to the king’s junk. Sometimes the Bible is so honest it catches you short. We read that David was giddy at God’s presence. So much so that, wearing only a linen ephod, he leapt and danced with total joy before the Ark as it was brought into the city. Now that linen ephod was something like a cross between a loincloth, an apron, and a hospital gown.
And this was the measure of the king’s joy: that both the royal jewels and the king’s junk were on full display as he danced. That’swhy his wife Michal despiseshim when she glances out the window in verse 16. Right after ourreading ended, in verse 20, she accuses her husband, David, the king, of having“uncovered” himself in front of the palace maids as any vulgar fellow might. Unfazed, David replies in verses 21-22, “You can’t even imagine my joy at the presence of God, you have no idea.”
Sometimes showing your junk is the risk you take to be clear about your joy.
Act Two: A Different Kind of Junk . . . A Different Kind of Joy
My Grandma Belling—my maternal grandmother—was the type of grandma who—like the Ark of the Covenant—filled you with a mix of wonder and dread. She was a stiff, stoic, stern German Lutheran woman. Her lips were almost always pursed in something just short of a frown, even when she was happy. I would not call her “wistful.”
But it seems she hada wistful side in her younger years. In the 1920’s and 30’s, over a sixteen-year period, she gave birth to nine children, eight of whom lived into adulthood. She loved them all, with a stern quiet joy. But during those years I’m told she also spoke often—wistfully—ofher hope that she might have a Christmas baby. Just like Mary. She prayed for this. But it never happened. Not to her.
But at 4:28 a.m. on Christmas morning, 1959, my mother, the youngest of my grandma’s eight children, gave birth to me. Grandma Belling died when I was eleven years old, but for those eleven years this woman of wonder and dread regarded meas the answer to her prayer. It was a regard that rested upon me with its own mix of wonder and dread.
Moved by the timing of my birth, my parents gave me a “Christmas name.” They didn’t dare name me Jesus, of course. And they didn’t care for Joseph or Zechariah or Simeon. Thankfully, they steered clear of Herod as well. They named me David—after King David—because, in Luke’s Christmas story, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, “the city of David.”
SoI’m named for this king who danced with such joy in today’s first reading. Maybe that makes me particularly well-suited to preach on this text, EXCEPT—… while I doshare David’s passionate, nearly all-consuming love for God … and I share with him, as well, some rather big flaws and failings, I have never been on such intimate terms with joy as King David was.
So this is a glimpse at MY junk: I livewith anxiety and depression. Some of it is just my temperament: in spiritual terms I have melancholy. Some of it is connected to trauma earlier in my life. On my better days I live with an understated inner quietness, knowing with cheerful irony that much of the time what strikes people around me as inner peace is just my exhaustion at simply being alive. But there are occasional days when a sense of nothingness swallows me whole and I prefer not even to come downstairs. Maybe thatmakes me uniquely UNqualified to preach about a text on joy. But listen to these words, which I wrote just over a decade ago:
For most of my intensely spiritual journey, I have felt nothing, or better said, Nothing[with a capital N]. No warm feeling in my heart. No soothing sense of peace. No creed held with calm (or fierce) conviction. I have lived in stillness—and yet I have known all along that it was a BreezeI longed for. I have always sensed, in a way just beyond the reach of words, that it was the Wind of Godthat stopped just short of touching me. I have felt the absence of God to such an unmistakable degree that God’s absence has been an unmistakable presence in my life.
Growing up in the Midwest, framed by forested hills and rich farmland, I spent years yearning for a lush, green spirituality, one full with palpable and obvious evidence of life. I felt nothing. I looked around inside myself, and where I hoped to see verdant fields or deep woods, I saw only vast stretches of barren land, sand that occasionally shifted in the Wind, but showed no sign of life, except for a cactus here or there, which only seemed to highlight the inhospitality of my inner terrain.
But what I came to learn is that the desert literally teems with life. Certainly not as lush as other places, not as crowded in green. But if you are Still. If you sit in Silence, in that place where the Wind Itself rests, you begin to see a landscape with life enough to fill a heart with wonder.
That was a decade ago. You see, mine has been a long meandering path. And I have neverdanced with wild abandon like King David did. I doubt I ever will. But not every instance of Joy comes as exuberance. And unless I let you see my junk, you can’t fathom my joy.
Act Three: Winnie the Pooh and his Honey Pots, too.
I’m going to close with a few words about Winnie the Pooh. And by now, I trust you recognize I’m not merely trying to be cute.
There is a tale in which Pooh and his friends are out adventuring and realize they are lost. If I remember, right, Tigger is mostly unfazed, but also mostly frenetically unhelpful. Fear sets in with Piglet; panic begins with Rabbit; and resignation is voiced by Eyeore. But it is Pooh who finally leads them home. Here’s how the scene plays out:
Pooh’s tummy rumbles. Piglet asks in a trembling voice, “W-w-what was that, Pooh?” Laughing Pooh replies, “My tummy rumbled. Now then – come on, let’s go home.” Piglet asks, “But Pooh, do you know the way?”And Pooh responds calmly, “No, Piglet, but I’ve got twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they’ve been calling to my tummy.” “They have?” Piglet asks incredulously. “Yes, Piglet.” Pooh announces. “I couldn’t hear them before because Rabbit was talking so much. I think I know where they’re calling from now, so come on. We’ll just follow my tummy.”
As for me, do I know the way to Joy? No, I don’t. There are days when my anxiety prattles away like Rabbit, or my depression sounds a lot like Eyeore’s resignation—only not nearly so cute. I don’t know the way. But I know this. Like Pooh, my tummy rumbles. And that rumbling bears witness to a truth deeper than anxiety or depression—or anything else in life.
That rumbling whispers, “justice is possible—and if not perfectly so, then dammit chase after it imperfectly.” It reminds me, “every instance of suffering is held in the heart of God—if you would find God, then go to where the suffering is and meet God there.” It declares with quiet resolve, “peace is the fruit of love—so love one another, that you might know peace.”
And, yes, my friends, that rumbling—though I can barely imagine it myself—sometimes dances with a joy far beyond words, its exuberant movementproclaiming, “God loves YOU, and you have no idea how much.”
Like Pooh, we have Honey Pots that call out to us. Our Honey Pots include the stories we tell from Scripture. The bread and the wine we share in Holy Communion. The water we sprinkle in baptism. The music that fills this space during worship.
But, just as much as these, our Honey Pots alsoinclude the stories of our lives shared with one another. The fair trade coffee hour as well as other meals we gather for. The restless longing we have for a world that truly reflects God’slonging for justice. And even the simple warmth with which we greet each other.Those, too, are Honey Pots.
And if we, too, listen to the rumbling in our tummy, it will lead us unfailingly to Joy. And that’s gospel—good news—for each of us.
So I hope you leave today with a deeper appreciation of King David’s joy—and perhaps a quiet smirk at his junk. With the recognition that there are other types of joy and other types of junk. And with a keener awareness of the rumbling in your own tummy—and a fresh attentiveness to the Honey Pots in our midst.