“Making a Scene”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

July 12, 2015 – The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

 

King David is one interesting character. He’s a major player in the history of our extended family of faith, but somehow we don’t talk about him all that often any more. So, just in case the finer points have slipped your mind, let me tell you a little bit about David.

He was the last, the least, youngest one in his family. When the prophet Samuel was sent by God to Jesse to anoint a king from among his sons, Jesse paraded his sons before the prophet, beginning with the eldest. But each one was rejected. Finally, they reached the end of the line, and Samuel asked, “Don’t you have any other sons?” And Jesse sent for David, the baby of the family, who was out in the fields tending the flocks. When David arrived, Samuel knew at once that this was the one, a man after God’s own heart.

He was a musician, known for the power of his songs. When David’s predecessor, King Saul, was taken ill, David’s music was the only thing that would soothe him. He was a poet as well; tradition names David as the composer of many of the Psalms.

He was a warrior, known for his courage in battle. Armed only with a slingshot, David took on the Philistine giant Goliath and emerged victorious. He led his people in fights against the other peoples of the region—the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Arameans, the Edomites, and many more.

He was a morally complicated man, by no means free of faults. Nepotism, conspiracy, adultery, ethnic violence, murder—David was not exactly innocent. In spite of that, he has an important place in the lineage of Jesus. When we sing of Bethlehem, “Once in royal David’s city,” this is the man to whom we refer.

In today’s story, King David and his men were fresh off a victorious military campaign. They had marched on Jerusalem, the capital of the Jebusites, and they had taken the city and claimed it as their own. Because of its central location, Jerusalem was the ideal capital for a ruler who sought to unite the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. So David set up his stronghold there and made Jerusalem the political capital of the region.

But it was not enough for Jerusalem to be only a political capital. David needed a religious capital as well. So he traveled with his men to the place where the ark of God had been left. The ark—not to be confused with Noah’s ark—had been built back in the time when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. It was a sign of God’s guidance, a reminder of God’s covenant, a manifestation of God’s power, the location of God’s presence. The Israelites had carried it with them as they traveled and as they went into battle. Eventually, after many adventures, it had been installed in a safe location, where it remained until David went to collect it and brought it up to his new capital to signify that the presence and the power of God abided there.

And then—this is the best part—he danced! David and his people danced like they had never danced before. They do-si-doed and swung their partners. They waltzed and polkaed. They stepped and tapped. They boogied and breakdanced and let it all hang out. They shook what their mamas gave them until they were red in the face, so great was their joy in the presence of the Lord their God. They did not worry about what people would think. They did not wait until they were in shape, until they looked just so, until they knew all the steps and could execute them flawlessly. They did not hold back, but danced before the Lord with all their might. They made a big old scene.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a good New England Congregationalist. And as a good New England Congregationalist, I have to tell you that this story, this scene, makes me a little uncomfortable.

I don’t like to be the center of attention. I don’t like to be notorious. I don’t like people to talk about me behind my back. I know how to keep my head down, to live my own life and let others live theirs. (Does this sound at all familiar?)

I would rather not be stared at. I would rather not be written up in the paper. I would rather not be a character in one of those stories that get passed down through the generations. I know how to play nice, how to avoid offense or scandal, how to say the right thing, how to get along, how not to make a scene. (Can I get an amen?)

And then we good New England Congregationalists open our Bibles and read the assigned story from this week’s lectionary, and we get this: David dancing with all his might, without regard for propriety or notoriety, making a big old scene.

And so I wonder, is our New England reserve all it’s cracked up to be? More importantly, is our New England reserve big enough to encompass all that God calls us to be?

What if we lived as fearlessly as David danced?

What if our joy in the presence of the Lord was so visible, so audible, so palpable that everyone who passed our church on Sunday morning couldn’t help but notice?

What if we were so wild in our celebrations of God’s goodness that people started to talk, that we started to get a reputation?

What if we were so fierce in our work for justice that the people in power knew they would have us to reckon with if they trod on the people at the margins?

What if we were so adamant in our cries that Black lives matter, that racism is real and must be addressed, that we became known as “that church,” the one that won’t shut up about the things they believe in?

What if we were so tireless in our work to protect and preserve this planet that people were inspired to make changes of their own?

What if we were so proud of our Open and Affirming welcome that no one in Windham County ever needed to wonder if there was a church where they could be loved for all of who they are?

What if we were so loving in all the ins and outs and ups and downs of our everyday living that people wondered about us, and told their friends about us, and maybe eventually asked us what keeps us going and how they could get some of that?

What if we lived as fearlessly as David danced?

 

Our Connecticut Conference Minister, Kent Siladi, is fond of asking this question: “What is the witness of the United Church of Christ in your town?” With apologies to Kent, I’d like to rephrase his question a bit. What kind of scene will the United Church of Christ make in Woodstock? What are the things that bring us joy, and what are the things that bring our neighbors joy, and how are we going to magnify them? What are the things that break our hearts, and what are the things that break God’s heart, and what are we going to do about them? What are the things about which we cannot remain silent, the things that simply cannot remain unsaid, and when and where and to whom are we going to say them?

It is not always easy to make a public witness, a big old scene—especially for us good New England Congregationalists with our well-developed reserve. If we live as fearlessly as David danced, we will attract attention. People might start to talk. We might develop a reputation. We might become a little bit notorious. We might earn despising stares from those who disagree with us, just as David did from Michal. It is not always easy to make a public witness—but it is so worth it.

Because, friends, this world needs the good news you know. There are people out there, people you know, who live each day in the grips of fear, who need to hear God speaking words of courage: “Do not be afraid.” There are people out there, people you know, who live each day in deepest despair, who need to hear God speaking words of hope: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” There are people out there, people you know, who live each day in the throes of shame, who need to hear God speaking words of blessing: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

There are people out there, people you know, who believe that all churches are homophobic and misogynistic and ignorant. There are people out there, people you know, who believe that they are condemned to hell because of some part of who they are. There are people out there, people you know, who look at the state of the world around us and take it as evidence that God could not possibly exist, could not possibly be alive and at work in such a mess.

There are people out there, people you know, who need to know the truth you have discovered, and questioned, and wrestled with, and found to be trustworthy: that the way things are now is not the way they will always be. That war will end. That suffering will cease. That hate will not have the last word. That bigotry will be transformed by mercy. That death will be overcome by life and love will be all in all.

If we live as fearlessly as David danced, if we build our lives on the foundation of these gospel truths, there’s just no telling what could happen. So here’s what I say: let’s let it all hang out.