Getting Baptists to Dance
A Sermon for Northminster Church
Preached by Rev. Jillian Hankamer
July 31, 2122
2 Samuel 5:1-5. 6:1-6 & 12-13
I’ll never forget the time my dad ran into another church member at the liquor store. Being from a small town it wasn’t uncommon for us to see church friends while out-and- about. As a teenager I knew better than to try anything the cool kids were doing because someone from church would see me and tell my parents. Then, because I went Stephen F. Austin State University there in my hometown, I had half a dozen church members as professors.
So, when my dad ran into this church member at the liquor store it was a moment to remember. What is a Baptist to do in such a situation, he wondered? To make the moment every more delicious this wasn’t just any church member; this was Dr. Archie McDonald, a founding member of my home church, beloved professor of History at the University, and pillar of the community. Dad said after he spotted Archie he sidled over and jokingly said, “Well Archie, what do two Baptists do when they see each other in the liquor store?” Without taking his eyes off the beverage he was perusing Archie replied, “We keep our heads down, don’t acknowledge each other and save the handshake for church on Sunday so no one thinks we’re dancing.
Like it or not, accurate or not, when most people think of Baptists they think of a list of nos: no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing. We are stereotypically people who love casseroles, Pyrex, potlucks, and going to great lengths to avoid anything that smacks of fun and therefore sin. And while I already know that this congregation does not hold to or define itself by such prohibitions - people likely don’t even know at first that this is technically a Baptist church - I’ve spent this week wondering what it would take to get us dancing.
How good would the sermon have to be for Dr. Gaddy to tap dance? How much chorale music would it take for Debi to skip down the aisle after worship? Is it possible to inspire Mark and David to waltz around the sanctuary during the prelude? I know Patti Pate is on the Worship Commission. If DH played the right song, would she’d be willing to lead us in a congregational conga-line?
Of course, these suggestions sound outlandish. Not at all the kind of respectful worship behavior we teach our children until…
Until you consider them in the light of David dancing before the Lord in this morning’s text. Our verses begin in 2 Samuel 5 which “marks the culmination of David’s rise from shepherd boy to shepherd-king. It also completes Israel’s transition from a federation of tribes to a united monarchy with a capital city.”
You’ll remember that In 1 Samuel the elders of Israel demand a king from God. Eventually the Lord relents and sends the prophet Samuel to appoint Saul as their king. Saul’s reign is not a success due in large part to Saul’s jealousy of David. And despite marrying Saul’s daughter Michal and befriending his son Jonathan, David is continually pursued by a homicidal Saul.
2 Samuel begins with David hearing that Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle and then journeying to the capital city of Hebron where the people of Judah - the southern kingdom - anoint him king. A long war then ensues between David and Saul’s son Ishbaal over the northern kingdom of Israel.
This morning’s text picks up the story after Ishbaal’s death as David is anointed King of Israel, thus uniting north and south. Once he’s anointed David designates Jerusalem as the capital “of the newly united kingdom” because it’s “conveniently located between the northern and southern territories” and to cement his new capital and kingship, David puts together a massive procession to move the ark of the covenant from where it’s been kept at Baale-judah to Jerusalem.
The ark is important in the extreme because it ”functions as God’s throne; a visible place for God’s invisible presence.” The belief is that if the ark is present, God is present, so David, as both a faithful man and a shrewd politician, understands the value of being able to “deliver a visible sign of the LORD’s presence and dominion in the new capital.”
Unfortunately, his procession is interrupted when an ox pulling the ark’s cart stumbles. To steady the ark, Uzzah reaches out and touches it. God is immediately angered and kills Uzzah on the spot for daring to touch the ark. Angry and afraid of God, David leaves the ark in the home of Obed-edom, only returning after it’s clear that the ark is blessing Obed-edom’s entire household.
This second time around is more successful and dancing before the Lord in his linen ephod, David and “all the house of Israel” bring the ark to Jerusalem “with shouting and the sound of the horn.” The only damper on this otherwise joyous occasion is David’s wife, and Saul’s daughter, Michal who chastises David for his dancing. Their heated exchange is the death-knell of their relationship.
So, with everything going on these verses what’s our takeaway?
The first is one that requires you to read between the lines to see; the idea of not being overly familiar with God. What I mean by that is not that we shouldn’t have a relationship with God or think that God isn’t invested in every element of our lives. But one of my church members in Pennsylvania once said about this passage, God isn’t anyone’s “buddy”, and we lose something vital when we tame and domesticate the Almighty.
Too often folks throw around phrases like “Jesus is my homeboy” or “Jesus is my boyfriend” - yes, that’s real, Google it - without thinking about what such familiarity means. We negate the holy, ineffable majesty of God when we forget that She is both our shelter in a time storm and struggle and the creator of all that is. The biblical text talks about people fearing God not because God wishes us harm or intends to be scary, but because such power is uniquely inhuman.
We do not have the capacity to take in all that God is. That’s why Moses’ hair turns white on Mt. Sinai and Jacob forever limps after his all night wrestling match, because they both encounter the presence of the living God and survive.
And while the death of Uzzah is this morning’s story is harsh, when we zoom out and take in the whole picture, we see that this plan was flawed from the beginning. In his excitement David’s preparation is non-existent. From the beginning he’s set his men up to fail because he doesn’t treat the ark with the proper reverence.
This isn’t some box that can be plopped onto any old cart and rolled to a new city. This is the very presence of God that traveled with the Israelites through the wilderness. The word of God is laced into the grain of the wood and the weight of the gold. David should know how holy and sacred the ark is. But he gets excited. He gets careless. He gets too familiar and Uzzah dies. That’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around, it seems so senseless, but this story serves, as Dr. Elna K. Solvang points out, as “a reminder that the divine presence and power that accompany the ark are not under David’s control.” Neither are they under our control.
Our other takeaway this morning is the exact opposite of the first; we shouldn’t be so reverent and chaste that we forget to dance. Michal disapproves of David’s dancing because it’s outside of her definition of kingly behavior. To her credit David is only wearing a linen ephod, basically a skirt, and dancing “with all his might.” I can’t imagine any of us would be able to hold back if our spouse or partner decided to high-step down Loop Road in a kilt, but Michal misses the point.
Everything David has is God’s - his love, his body, his kingship, even his modesty. After his first misstep with the ark, he has given himself over fully to the Lord and dances not to celebrate himself, but for the sheer joy of his union with God. He will not be defined by what Michal considers to be kingly because his defining power and directive comes for God. And much like Uzzah’s attempt to be helpful costs him his life, Michal’s attempt to remind David of his dignity comes at the cost of her marriage and future children.
So, my friends, as we consider the balancing act of familiarity and not being needlessly reverent, what would it take for you to dance before the Lord? What would it take for us, as a highly liturgical congregation that is very specific in our worship, to not worry about what others think and simply move in joy for God?
Let me be clear, I have no expectation for Northminster to become charismatic or Pentecost in our worship. That simply isn’t who you are, and I think it’s unlikely that any of us have developed the gift of speaking in tongues. I can also promise that if any of you show up for church in just a linen ephod, I will send you home to change. I’m also pretty sure we can agree that no matter how much we feel the Spirit, God isn’t going to protect us from being bitten if we start bopping around the sanctuary hold venomous snakes.
But what would it look like for us to be so caught up in love with God that we stopped caring what people think? What would you need to experience in worship to simply let your body move in the joy of being present with God? How can we as a church support everyone who comes in our doors so fully that all reverent and sincere expression of worship and love for God are understood as good and holy and acceptable?
After all my friends, you are, we are that church and those Baptists people don’t quite know how to define. Why not be Baptists who dance?