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2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-15, 16-19
Tough Faith: David’s Struggle
8 July 2018
Today’s passage continues David’s journey with God, and his struggles with faith. And it could cause a person whiplash, trying to keep up with David’s relationship with God. First, we’ll hear how he’s excited to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem – It not only represents the presence of God; it IS the presence of God. And there’s a crowd and dancing and rejoicing. But then, when someone close to the ark dies, David gets mad, then scared, then abandons it for someone else to take care of.
And this may be the first time David’s trust in God is tested. Up until now, it’s like David could do no wrong. Like God smoothed the path for him: Choosing him over his bigger, stronger, more experienced, more king-like brothers. Remember last week in the children’s sermon, we played out David being anointed king, and it wasn’t Emmalyn and Cameron’s dad Ben who got to be king, even though he was the biggest. And it wasn’t 9 year old Nola who got to be king, even though she wanted it the most. And it wasn’t who 10 year old Michael thought should be king. It was the very last person – three year old Penny, who got picked as the next King.
And that was just the beginning of God choosing David, and being on his side. God helped him single-handedly take down the enemy giant Goliath. Helped him escape King Saul several times when the King wanted him dead. Helped him conquer the enemy the Philistines. Helped him become King of a united kingdom. Up until now, most everything in David’s life has gone David’s way. Up until now, David thought he understood how God worked in the world: If you’re chosen as King, you’ve got it made. Every plan you make turns out how you want. God is on your side.
And then, this passage. It starts off nicely enough:
Listen for the word of God, starting with 2 Samuel 6:1-5
David and all the people with him set out and went from Ba-a-lejuda to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with sons and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
David is joyfully moving the presence of God, the ark of the covenant, to Jerusalem! The lectionary would have us skip the next section and go right to the end, with David triumphantly bringing the ark home.
But that is not what happens next – What happens next throws a huge monkey wrench into David’s faith and relationship with God, because all does not go according to plan. They are carrying the ark, the presence of God, in a cart, when this happens:
When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand toe the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Per-ez-uz-zah; to this day. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?” So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obededom the Gittite.
Hmmm. What happened
to God smoothing the way for David? What happened to David feeling like God was on his side? All he was doing was taking the ark, the presence of God, home – and someone dies? If the ark is that dangerous – If God is that unpredictable, if the presence of God doesn’t keep you safe, maybe David doesn’t want God too close.
Today we continue the sermon series on tough faith, because sometimes it’s tough to have faith, and sometimes our faith has to be tough. And David is faced with this question: When life doesn’t go our way, when our understanding of the world turns out not to be completely accurate, are we still going to trust in the Lord?
For the first time, David is faced with a God who doesn’t seem to make sense to him. A God who may not be on David’s side. When life takes an unexpected turn, when a curve ball comes out of left field, when in spite of all our hard work and planning and effort, and how God seemed to be on your side all those times, when it falls apart, then what?
David? He blames God. He is faced with the reality that even when we’re doing what we think God wants, doesn’t mean it IS what God wants. He thought being chosen meant everything would go his way. And now, it doesn’t.
And that’s when faith really gets scrutinized. When something unexpected happens. When the world – our world – our life - gets turned upside down. David decides to walk away, to leave the ark under someone else’s care. If God doesn’t follow the rules – David’s rules - he doesn’t want to be in relationship with his Maker. And he turns away from the presence of God. For three months. It’s only when he hears that the household caring for the ark is flourishing, when he hears how much blessing has come upon them, that he goes back and decides he wants the ark after all.
It’s one thing to trust in God when life is predictable, and God’s call clear. It’s entirely a different thing when how we were living our life and practicing your faith takes a painful detour. And God turns out not to keep us safe; not to smooth our way; not to be on our side.
Do we, like David, get mad at God? Do we, like David, blame God? Do we, like David, walk away from God? Or, do we recognize the difference between our ideas and expectations of God are different from who God is. It’s an important distinction, and we’re watching the Israelites as a people, and as individuals, figure this out.
We’re watching individuals struggle to separate their idea of God from God is; their idea of faith from God’s idea of faith. They wanted a king to fix everything, and that didn’t turn out how they expected. The prophet Samuel had to let go of trying to protect people from their own bad decisions. He was faced with the difference between the law of God, and the law of the land. Which did he trust more? That’s tough faith.
And last week we saw how in spite of all King David’s flaws, for from the beginning he was not a great, ethical, kind, faithful king – He did keep turning back to God. Apparently, faith is an on-going way of life. We have to keep turning to God to remember we first and always are God’s people. Tough faith means asking what our faith in God’s love tells us is right.
And today, we’re watching King David do what we do: Ascribe the bad to God, the good to us, and walking away when God doesn’t work in the world the world the way we think is right. When the rules we play by don’t give us the results we want. When what we think is right isn’t necessarily what God wants for us or from us.
It’s a hard, hard lesson. Trusting in God doesn’t mean we’re always right, because we’re people of faith. Trusting in God doesn’t mean God makes our lives easier. David walked away when his faith didn’t work the way he thought it should. He was a beloved child of God, chosen, right? That should mean something, right?
Then he sees someone getting blessings from the ark, and he decides he wants those blessings, so he goes back to God. Back and forth, back and forth, push and pull, tug of war. That pretty much describes our relationship with God.
I had a conversation with an elementary-aged kid recently, talking seriously about God’s love and prayer. This kid had been through a really rough year – A year of family conflict, and death, and changes. And nowadays she prayed all the time that she wouldn’t go through another really hard time like that one. God would keep more bad things from happening, right? If only, if only faith worked that way.
Instead, we talked about how she knew God was in her life in that tough year. How she got through that year. How God helped her that year. And maybe her prayer could be that God would help her get through the next hard time, because no one escapes unscathed. Everyone’s worldviews get challenged. Everyone’s understanding of how God works falls apart. That’s what this human life does to us.
Sure, we can walk away, and many people do, and we do, too. And that is part of faith, too. Because we have to walk away from a faith that puts us front and center, that has our ideas about God as its foundation, instead of God’s love. We have to admit that, to quote the Apostle Paul, now we only see in a mirror dimly. We have to know that, like Paul, there comes a time to put away childish things – childish faith – Faith that assumes because God loves us, all the good we have, we earned it and we deserve it, and all the bad everyone else suffers, is because they must have done something wrong. Faith that God’s love will keep us safe, and smooth our way.
Faith isn’t about being safe. It isn’t about getting lots of blessings. It isn’t about life going our way. We all know that, because our own lives haven’t always gone smoothly. And so, we ask God, again, and again, and again, to give us strength – Strength to be faithful to who we called to be, and whose we are called to be, in Christ. Strength to see the difference between our ideas about God, and the one true God, who will never let us go, in Christ.