Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Two Dances – Two Kings

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19; Mark 6:14-29 July 15, 2012
© 2012

I.                Last fall when I began to journey with you, I explained that my approach to preaching would be to listen together for the voice of God in the Scripture selections suggested by the Lectionary. What did you hear from God as you listened to the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem? I’m not going to read it again, but you may want to open a Bible to 2 Samuel 6 so you can look at it this morning.
A.           After the death of King Saul, David became King of Judah but the other tribes continued to follow some of Saul’s family and military leaders. (2 Samuel 2-4) After Saul’s dynasty collapsed, the rest of Israel came to David and asked him to be their king as well. For 7 years Hebron was David’s capital. David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, then in a shrewd political move, he moved his capital there. Since Jerusalem had not belonged to either Judah or Israel, it became the ideal place from which to reign over all Israel.
B.            By bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, as we read today, David made Jerusalem the worship center of Israel. This solidified his royal power and demonstrated his priority on having God at the center of his kingdom.
C.            In this past week 1st Christian Church, Duncanville called David Bondurant to be your next pastor, and I accepted a call to become the interim pastor for 1st Christian Church of Midwest City, OK. This is a pivotal week. Our paths have taken definitive turns into God’s new future. As I have read about David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, I believe I have heard God saying to you and to me, “Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry God is opening ahead of you.”
II.            Mark 6:14-29 tells the colorful story of another dance and another king who is a macabre contrast with David dancing before the Lord. In this story, I hear God’s cautionary voice for leaders in times of transition. What do you hear God saying? Jesus had sent his 12 disciples out to preach and heal.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
A.           David’s dance was an expression of humble joy. Herod Antipas personified arrogant anxiety. He was not actually a king, but he wanted to be. By referring to him as a king, Mark may be sarcastically making fun of Herod Antipas’ ambition. He wanted to be the hot-shot ruler, but when he regrets his rash, precipitous vow, his pride won’t let him back down. By being afraid his guest would think he was weak, he surrendered the strength of character required to admit his poor judgment and refuse Herodias’ request.
B.            Since at least Watergate, we have heard that regardless of the severity of the original crime, the cover-up is what gets leaders in trouble. We’re seeing that played out in the Penn State scandal this week. In an apparently fearful desire to protect their prestigious football program, the university’s leaders have shattered the whole school’s reputation and sullied their own character.
C.            As these past two weeks have unfolded with this church calling David Bondurant to be your next pastor and the church in Oklahoma calling me as their interim pastor, this story has prompted me to think a lot about the ministry of John the Baptizer. He was like an interim pastor between the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. His job was to point people to the coming Messiah. In John 3:26 some people apparently wanted to make John jealous and told him about all the people flocking to Jesus. In verse 30 he responds, “He must increase but I must decrease.” We have come to a turn in the road. In the four weeks ahead of us, my job is to encourage you to release me and embrace David. Pastor David must increase, and Norm must decrease. I, too, must release you to David so I can embrace the people in Oklahoma.
III.       As he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, King David continues to teach us how to navigate the twists and turns of our journeys. Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry God is opening ahead of you.
A.           Just because bringing the Ark to Jerusalem was a shrewd political move for David, we should not cynically discount David’s spiritual sincerity. The Ark had been neglected and moved around some after Joshua brought Israel into the Promised Land. Though Shiloh was the worship center during the time of Samuel, the Ark does not seem to have been brought there. By bringing it to Jerusalem David symbolically united Israel under God and made God the center of political unity as well. King David wanted God to be at the center of his reign. As Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” A church does not move into a new future with publicity, programming or personalities. They may bring institutional success, but unless the Lord builds the future, everything else is hollow.
B.            Did you notice in verses 1-5 the Ark was carried on a new cart and in verses 12-19 is was carried on poles? David knew the Ark was holy. They didn’t load it on an old hay wagon. They made a new cart for this one time use only. What we didn’t read in verses 6-11 was that Uzzah died when he reached out to steady the Ark. The usual understanding of this incident is that the instructions God gave Moses for the Ark warned that it was not to be touched and was to be carried on poles by priests. Whether they were ignorant of these instructions or chose to ignore them, they got it right for the second part of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem. While other lessons may be drawn from this, one that I think is important in a time of transition is not to let even serious blunders prevent us from pursuing God’s call to ministry.
C.            Verses 5 and 14 report that David danced with all his might on both stages of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem. He did not let the intervening tragedy inhibit his exuberance. Both David and the people were putting the same energy into celebrating the new era of a united Israel that they had put into bringing it about. You can’t coast through a transition from one era of ministry to another. Turning the corner takes exertion, energy, enthusiasm. And it can’t be just the new pastor’s labor. King David danced with a huge crowd who also danced with all their might. Everybody has to work.
D.           Especially if we compare what we read today with the more detailed account in 1 Chronicles 15 we see that David’s dance was a dramatic demonstration of humility. No royal robes, only the most basic tunic. No regal dignity, only vulnerable emotion. No pretense of power, only childlike delight. Perhaps you’ve heard an expression to the effect that there is no limit to what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. Humility is the path to spiritual maturity and the path to effective ministry together.
IV.      The contrast between King David and would-be-king Herod Antipas should not limit our thinking to the qualities of spiritual leadership but also point us to the kind of spiritual followership needed for the transition between eras of ministry. Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry opening before you. If you were not already convinced, I hope that the events of the last two weeks have confirmed that God has called David Bondurant to be the next pastor of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. Nevertheless, I can tell you he is not magic; no pastor is. He is totally incapable of bringing this church into a new era of fruitful ministry by himself. All of you must follow with faithful prayer and diligent work. I did not make any effort to find out what happened in the Search and Call Committee, and they were very careful to respect confidentially, though that is not easy. But I did pick up a hint of something I think is important. Usually a committee will ask candidates why they think they are right for the church. At some point, David asked the committee why they thought he was right for this church. The answer boiled down to, “We believe we can follow you.” Spiritual leadership and spiritual followership are a matched set. Both are needed together.
A.           As you follow Pastor David, remember you are following him to Jesus. Listen for the voice of God as he preaches and teaches. Pray for him and his family. Pray for all the leaders that together they may discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.
B.            I know Pastor David is going to suggest new things for worship, new things for evangelism and outreach, new things for ministry with children and youth, new ways to grow spiritually. Just because you want to be following the lead of the Holy Spirit does not exempt you from blunders. Amazing as it sounds, the Holy Spirit works through our broken humanity and through the varieties of sometimes conflicting opinions in the congregation. Not everything is going to work. Don’t give up. Be persistent and give new ideas enough time to have a chance to work. Don’t give up. Be ready to make adjustments as you go. Don’t give up. When something crashes, catch your breath and try something different. Don’t give up. If someone gets tired and burns out, invite someone new to give it a try.
C.            Tackle the challenges and opportunities of your new era of ministry with all your might. Nothing is automatic. Everything takes effort. All the publicity in the world will not make the church grow. It may make people aware of the church, but you still have to invite your friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives. A new pastor and new programs give you the opportunity to do that. You can say, “Our church just got a new pastor, and I am enjoying his sermons. I’d like to invite you to come with me to hear him.” But people will not come just because David preaches dynamite sermons or because of a new outreach program. You have to invite them. Nothing can substitute for word of mouth!
D.           When I was in graduate school forty years ago (can it really be that long?) I took a course called youth culture. Each of us was assigned one high school young person to get to know and follow around for a semester. We went to their homes and ate with their families. We went to their schools and met their friends and teachers. We attended church and youth group with them. The young man assigned to me lived in the extremely upscale community of Oak Brook, IL and attended a large church with a high energy, high quality youth group led by a fully professional staff. Others were paired with urban kids with single parents who had minimum wage jobs and attended small storefront churches and everything in between. In our class seminars we compared notes about what was similar and what was different in the lives of our students. One think that stuck out was that the most successful youth groups were not necessarily those with the highest quality of programming or even the best qualified leaders. The most successful youth groups were the ones the kids were most excited and enthusiastic about. Some were done with excellence, but others seemed poorly done but the kids loved the group, their friends and leaders. I think the same is true of congregations. Enthusiastic commitment is the essential ingredient for ministry effectiveness and for growth.

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