Dear Friends in Christ,
Most of you here today will no doubt be able to recall one of the biggest hit movies of all time that was released in 1984. It was called “Footloose.” It featured actor John Lithgow as a very stern and strict pastor in a small town where a tragic and fatal accident had occurred years before following a school dance, after which all forms of dancing were banned from the town. But then a rowdy teenage boy from the big city named Ren McCormack moved to town. Played by Kevin Bacon, this boy knew how to dance and began to teach all of his classmates how to dance. All of which led to a showdown at a town meeting where much to everyone’s surprise the wise-beyond-his-years Ren pulled out a Bible and read a passage that showed even God approved of dancing. That passage was found in our text for today, 2 Sam. 6:14, where it says that David “danced before the LORD with all his might.” The good pastor couldn’t argue with what the Good Book said and the students were allowed to have their first school dance in many a year.
Well, this morning we want to continue and finish up our look at this interesting story from the life of David that we started two weeks ago under the theme “One Man Dead, One Man Dancing.” Just to refresh your memory of what we talked about that day, David is now the king of Israel. He has captured the stronghold of Jerusalem and made it his capital. And one of his first orders of business is to bring to Jerusalem the most important religious artifact that the Jews possess, the Ark of the Covenant. So David schedules a festive parade to usher the Ark into the city. He invites 30,000 people to join him for this celebration. The Ark is loaded onto the back of an ox-drawn cart and attended by a couple of priests, one of whom was named Uzzah. At one point in the parade, the oxen stumble, the wagon rocks, the Ark teeters, and Uzzah reaches out his hand to steady it, only to be struck dead instantly. That brings an abrupt end to the parade. The Ark is taken to the nearby home of a man named Obed-Edom. And David goes back to Jerusalem to figure out what went wrong.
In time he discovers that they had not transported this holy relic as God had instructed because what was holy had become humdrum, what was sacred had become second rate. So David corrects all that was wrong and 3 months later resumes the parade. And just as we were puzzled by God’s instant death blow to Uzzah, so also we are puzzled a bit by God’s reaction to David’s behavior in this newly resumed parade. For just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, just when we think we’re supposed to worship God stiffly, somberly, seriously, here comes David kicking up his heels and dancing up a storm. So if the message of one man dead last week was that we must be careful to never allow that which is holy to become humdrum and to approach God with great reverence and respect, what’s the message of one man dancing? Well, that will be the focus of my sermon today.
Now David’s initial response to Uzzah’s death is anything but joyful. He returns to Jerusalem, confused, discouraged, and dare I say even angry. Verse 8 of our text says: “Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah.” But he was also afraid. Verse 9 says, “David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?’” After 3 months he’s told that the Lord had richly blessed the household of Obed-Edom where the Ark was being kept. So I guess he figured it was safe to give it the old college try again, only this time on God’s terms. I’m reading now from I Chron. 15 which contains the same story but adds a few details. In vv. 14-15 it says: “So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the LORD.” So poles replaced the wagon, priests replaced the oxen, and proper preparation by the priests replaced convenience. This time no one is in a hurry to get the job done. In fact, in v.13 of our text we find this interesting statement: “When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he (David) sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.” It’s almost as if David takes six tentative steps and kind of looks around to see if anything bad is going to happen. When it doesn’t he breathes a big sigh of relief and offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Then sensing the favor and blessing of God, guess what David does next. Does he pray humbly? Does he worship solemnly? Or does he dance mightily? You know the answer to that question. Verse 14 says he “danced before the LORD with all his might.” Try to picture that for a moment: David doing high kicks, pirouettes, cartwheels. David spinning and jumping. This is no mere tapping of the foot or swaying of the head. The Hebrew word here portrays David spinning and spinning, jumping and jumping, with reckless abandon. I’d demonstrate it for you, but one time around in a circle and I’d be so dizzy I’d be on the floor. But I think you get the picture.
Now, to put this in perspective, could you imagine Donald Trump hopping, skipping, and jumping down Pennsylvania Ave. in our nation’s capital? That’s what’s going on here, for remember, David is the king. He’s the leader of the nation. But there’s more. I don’t know if it’s because he gets hot or his royal robes get in the way, but the next thing David does is he strips. At least partly. He removes all his clothes except for what our text calls a linen ephod, which was like a prayer vest. I would describe it as a long t-shirt as far as the territory it covered on David’s body. It was more divinely decorated, of course. But there’s David out there dancing in the streets in his Fruit of the Looms…his holy skivvies. And when we get to this part of the story, we hold our breath. We duck because we remember what happened to Uzzah. We know what God does to the irreverent. And there’s no way David could be doing this dancing reverently, right?
So we wait for the lightning bolt to strike. We wait for the fire to fall from heaven. But the sky is silent. And David…well, David just keeps right on dancing, apparently all the way back to Jerusalem. So Uzzah got zapped by God, but David didn’t. Why? What did David have that Uzzah didn’t have? What did God see in David the king that he didn’t see in Uzzah the priest?
Maybe the answer to that question can be found in something that my daughters would do years ago when they were much younger. When I would come home for supper after making calls in the afternoon, if they were outside, sometimes when they would see my car guess what they’d do? They’d start to dance. They’d spin and hop and jump with a reckless abandon and freedom that only children can display. When they did that, do you think I told them to stop? Do you think I said, “Children, aren’t you concerned what the neighbors will think?” Or do you think I said, “Straighten up, young ladies, and act more mature. Don’t you know that you are the daughters of a preacher?” Of course not. Instead applauded their dance. I appreciated their dance. I accepted their dance.
Could it be that’s why God let David dance? For David was expressing nothing but sheer and unbridled passion and praise for the One who had given the greatest gift of all to his people, the gift of himself as represented by the Ark of the Covenant. So maybe one message that we need to take home from this part of the story is this: God’s presence gives us reason to dance. God’s presence gives us reason for joy. God’s presence gives us reason to be excited.
I find it interesting that this is the only time in David’s life where he is portrayed as dancing. When he defeated the Philistine giant Goliath he didn’t do a victory dance. When he escaped the wrath and jealousy of King Saul over and over again he didn’t do a dance of deliverance. When he was inaugurated as king he didn’t do a ballroom dance. But boy, when God came to town, David could not sit still. And sometimes I wonder how we can. For we have and enjoy what David had in this story, don’t we, namely, the presence of God. Did not Jesus say, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”? Yet when is the last time that that simple thought of God’s awesome presence attending you sent your heart to racing and made you feel like kicking up your heels and dancing?
So maybe another lesson we can learn from this story is this: God’s present to us is his presence with us. His gift to each one of us is the gift of himself. Sure, he gives us so much more besides, like sunsets that steal our breath, babies that can bring tears to our eyes, lifelong love that comforts our hearts. He gives us so much more, but listen. If he did not give us anything else but himself, we’d still have reason to dance. For in him, we have everything we need. In him we have life. In him we have hope. In him we have forgiveness. In him we have salvation. All made possible not because of anything we’ve done – that was the whole point and message of the Protestant Reformation back in the 1500’s. But all of that was made possible only because of what he did for us when he visited our planet in the person of his Son Jesus Christ and suffered and died on the cross as our sin-bearing, sin-paying substitute. And think of this, my friends. Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper and partake of the bread and the wine, we experience his presence in the most incredible and even miraculous way. For Jesus joins himself to those earthly elements and gives us himself in the most personal and intimate way imaginable. You know what that means? That means we are never alone – never alone with our fears, never alone with our disease, never alone with our death, never alone with…you fill in the blank.
So let’s just summarize this story and note the difference between Uzzah, one man dead, and David, one man dancing. Uzzah, it would seem, had a small view of God, or maybe I should say a view of a small God – a God who could fit in a box, a God who could be loaded onto a wagon, a God who couldn’t keep his own balance but who needed Uzzah’s help to keep him stable. He saw a God who handed down laws and regulations to his people but who really didn’t care whether they were followed and obeyed. But what happened to Uzzah reminds us that God does care, that he does take his laws and commands seriously, and that he expects us to do the same.
Who are the Uzzahs of our day? They’re the ones who say or think, “I can live like the devil for 6 days and worship once on Sunday and everything’s alright. It doesn’t matter to God. I can do whatever I want as long as I keep my bases covered, as long as I have a certain cross around my neck or Bible on my shelf or my name on a church’s membership list.” But God says, “No. That’s not how it works. I love to come to my people. I love to bring hope and help and healing. But I come only on my terms. I come to repentant, trusting, believing, God-seeking hearts.”
So from Uzzah we learn the importance of being reverent and respectful when we come to God. But from David we learn that it’s ok to rejoice, to get excited, to kick up our heels when God comes to us.
Let me close then with one more thought. Remember when I told you before how my daughters used to dance in the front lawn when I came home? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I used to dance with them. I’d pick them up in my arms and whirl them around. For what father can resist the temptation to dance with his happy kids. Which makes me wonder whether there may have been more than just one man (David) dancing that day, but one God dancing right along with him. Amen.