Let us pause for a moment of prayer:
God of many names and faces,
we come to worship this day with our doubts and fears,
our questions and uncertainties.
With thanksgiving we also come with the sure and certain hope
that you are revealed to us in a multitude of ways
in the ordinariness of our everyday lives
and in awesome and mystical encounters.
Help us to watch for your presence
and celebrate the blessings you offer us
in this time of worship and in the days to come.
There is a story about a little boy who wanted to find God. He figured it might be a long trip to where God lived so he packed a bag lunch – a bag of potato chips and two cans of root beer. After a little while he was tired of walking so he decided to take a break. He was close to a park bench. There was an old woman sitting on the bench staring at some pigeons but there was lots of room so the boy sat next to her. While he was sitting the boy felt hungry so he opened his bag of chips and was about to eat one when he thought to offer a chip to the old woman. The kindness of the gesture made her smile as she accepted gift. Her smile made her whole face glow and the little boy wanted to see it again so he offered her one of his cans of root beer. Again, a beautiful smile spread across her face. They sat together on the park bench for a long time, eating their snack, without saying a word. Suddenly the little boy realized it was time to go home. He collected the empty cans and chip bag and waved at the old woman as he turned to go. When he got home his mother was surprised to see a look of pure joy on his face and so she asked him what had made him so happy. He replied, “I had lunch with God.” Before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy returned to her home. Her son was surprised by the look of peace on his mother’s face and he asked her what had made her so happy. She replied, “I ate potato chips in the park with God.” Before her son had a chance to respond she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”
I believe the beginning of faith is an openness to God’s presence. If we confine our imagination when it comes to God then we will surely miss meeting God in unexpected places.
The Hebrew people in the time of King David had a profound sense of God’s presence. Even though their lives had been extremely difficult they believed that God had constantly been with them. The story that we heard today from 2 Samuel chapter 6, is a story that comes from a difficult time of transition for the Hebrew people. The people had experienced a time of political upheaval with the death of King Saul during a battle with the Philistines and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. There was political intrigue, the assassination of the heir to the throne, and other unscrupulous events that eventually led to a man named David becoming the king of a united nation that incorporated the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The new king needed a capital with no association with either the former northern kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah. He chose Jerusalem as the capital of the newly unified nation because it was well fortified and strategically located in the central hill country. Jerusalem became the political and military centre of the “united kingdom” but King David knew that it would also need to be the religious centre in order to solidify the union of the two kingdoms. That’s where the Ark of the Covenant comes in. The Ark was the most sacred symbol of Yahwism, the religion of the northern tribes of Israel. It was the most tangible and important symbol of their history as a people and as a distinct religious group. The Ark of the Covenant dated back to the time of Moses and was said to contain the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. King David was a sophisticated statesman who understood the importance of this symbol of religious heritage as a validation of his leadership so he waged war on the Philistines, defeated them and reclaimed the Ark of the Covenant. This is where today’s scripture reading is located. King David led a great parade of 30,000 men into Jerusalem jubilantly bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to his people. It is the celebratory nature of this event that is recounted in 2 Samuel in startling detail: “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5) In other words, they were celebrating God’s presence with all kinds of music, joyful singing and dancing.
I am often baffled when I am told that some instruments are not appropriate for use in worship or that liturgical dance is not acceptable in a worship setting. The idea that we must stay still and be almost somber in worship comes from a more recent time in history. I personally have difficulty not swaying to the musical rhythm of a stirring hymn. Worship, I believe, is meant to stir in us the desire to be moved by the spirit to faith-filled action. It is also about celebrating God’s presence and being refreshed and energized in the hope that springs forth each new day.
A story comes to mind. A number years ago my daughter, Heather, was visiting and came to worship at the church where I was serving. She sat near the front of the church beside a woman who I’ll call Maggie. Heather didn’t know anything about Maggie. There were painful memories that Maggie rarely spoke of about how her mother had been murdered and how she had fled her homeland in pursuit of a new life. From the time Maggie came to Canada, church had been an integral part of her life. Her experience of the love of God had healed old wounds and had given her a passion for justice and a vibrant song in her heart. Heather, didn’t know any of this. All she saw, at first, was an old woman who was quite badly crippled with arthritis. Moving, was painful for Maggie and standing up for hymns took sustained effort. No matter how difficult, Maggie always stood up for hymns and she’d sing with joy. But, what really surprised Heather was that although Maggie was unsteady on her feet she’d move her body as much as she could in a sort of dance to the music. At the end of one hymn, Maggie sat down with difficulty and with twinkling eyes said to Heather, “sometimes a body just has to dance!” I believe, in that brief encounter, Heather witnessed the presence of God and was blessed by the experience.
To truly recognize God’s presence in our lives is reason for celebration; reason to dance, literally or metaphorically. Our faith is nurtured and informed by our faith tradition and communal worship, our personal experiences, and in a many and varied ways. God’s spirit is present and active in our lives and cultivates our understanding of the meaning of our lives and our purpose as people of faith. I believe as followers of the one we call Christ, we are called to embody God’s love for the world. It is a high calling and a reason to celebrate in quiet ways and in boisterous ways.
It is my hope, and my fervent prayer, that we will be a visible sign of the joy of God’s presence in our community and in our world. As we continue on the adventure of this journey of faith together I offer a Prayer for the Journey adapted from words of blessing by Keri Wehlander:
God of blessing,
with pilgrim’s feet
we trace this fresh journey
one step at a time.
With an apprentice’s regard
we seek a clear vision
one landscape at a time.
With a dancer’s heart
we trust the centre to hold<
one leap at a time.
With a mother’s tender arms
you cradle our new spirits
and bless us in this dance of life
one movement at a time.
(Circles of Grace, pgs. 24-25, adapted, The United Church Publishing House, 1998)