Today we hear the story of God going into the city of Jerusalem. If you think this was a celebration of glittering praise, you’re absolutely right. The procession of the LORD comes with glad singing and dancing, probably crashing cymbals and loud Hosannas! If you think there was a chorus of Hallelujahs, you’re not wrong, you’re right. It’s just, there was also violence. There was fury rising up as fiercely as the praise.It got mixed up until the blessing sounded like cursing, and the cursing sounded like blessing. The praise sounded like protest, the protest sounded like praise. And the power of God was in the middle of the mix.
To begin with, there was a war between the House of David and the House of Saul. David prevailed. Right before he was anointed King of Israel, two captains from Saul’s army stormed the house of Saul’s son and assassinated him while he was sleeping in his bedroom. They brought his head to David, like your cat might present you with a deceased baby bunny. But David was not pleased! He had the captains executed, then he had their corpses dismembered. So this gives us a taste of the political climate. One moment David is slaughtering his enemies. One moment he is dancing before the LORD with all his might.
In the second scripture Sylvia read, David throws a parade to carry the ark of the LORD into Jerusalem. To picture the ark, it might help to imagine a classic treasure chest. The ark contained the tablets with the Ten Commandments, and the lid of the ark was adorned with angels — it was called the Mercy Seat. This Mercy Seat was thought to be where the LORD comes to dwell with the people, so the very presence of God was in the ark.
The ark was traveling to Jerusalem in a cart pulled by oxen. David and all the House of Israel danced before the ark praising God with songs and stringed instruments, with tambourines, and castanets, and cymbals. Suddenly, the oxen jostled the cart, so Uzzah reached out to steady the ark. Once he touched it, this kindled the anger of the LORD. Next thing you know, Uzzah falls down dead.
Immediately, David becomes furious with the LORD. Underneath his rage is a deep fear. He stops dancing and silences the castanets. Right in the middle of the parade, David takes the ark to the house of Obed-edom. He hides it there for three months, or maybe it’s really David who’s hiding from God. Either way, eventually word came to David that the LORD blessed Obed-edom and his house. In this story, the power of God kills and blesses; it gets ignited by rage and delighted by praise, and if that leaves you feeling uneasy about God, yeah, I get it.
Once David hears about the blessing, he decides to give the parade another whirl. But this time, as the ark of God goes into Jerusalem, Michal, the daughter of Saul, sees David dancing with all his might, and her heart gets filled with hate. After the ark is placed safely inside the tent, Michal confronts David and accuses him of dancing for himself instead of dancing for God. David denies it. And you and I know that Michal is not entirely right in her accusation. It’s just, she’s also not entirely wrong.
Can you imagine being in the crowd… Here you are one of the people who left your house when you heard the ark of the LORD was coming into town. If you get too close to the presence of God, you’ll be exposing yourself to the very power of God — the unreasonable wrath I can’t explain, the unreasonable mercy I can’t explain.
Here in the mix, you might notice these questions rising up in your own consciousness: How can I take seriously somebody else’s anger? How can I take seriously somebody else’s praise? After feeling offended, what can I learn…
These are the questions that rise up from the middle of the crowd; they make us listen when everyone around us is yelling. These are the questions of peacemaking.
In our world, it’s not hard to imagine a political climate where violence and praise rise up together. There are rallies that chant: “Lock her up,” and “Send them back.” There are rallies that chant: “Families Belong Together” and “ICE in our drinks, not on our streets!” It could be that we have always been a deeply divided nation. The difference is now, our deepest divisions are coming to light and coming to voice.
It’s not that we all agree on most things and disagree on a few things over here; that’s not it. It’s not that most of us are moderates in the middle, then there are few radicals on the right and on the left. If that were ever our world, that’s not it now. The divisions between us are severe and meaningful. The stakes are as high as the emotional intensity. Nearly everybody’s chanting something, and the blessing sounds like cursing; the cursing sounds like blessing.
Given this climate, it makes sense that we’re feeling the pressure to find our own house and stay inside. These houses (or silos) have their own journalists making sense of the world. They have other people who share our same values and beliefs. So you get it: find your team, find your preferred news channel, then stay in the house where everybody votes the same way. Of course, these houses are not without their problems.
One problem is that no house is a perfect fit. The world makes us choose: Are you Black Lives Matter or Police Lives Matter? because there’s no house for you if you’re both. Are you an LGBTQ person or ally or are you Christian? because good luck finding a house if you’re both. This is the first problem with the houses of our day.
The second problem is if you do find a house that’s a close-enough fit, it becomes all the more difficult to venture outside. It is much easier to stay inside where it’s safe and quiet. Let the others go to the protest, we will stay above the fray, thank you.
It’s just, what if what we’re actually doing is hiding? What if we’re taking a page out of David’s story and leaving the ark at Obed-edom’s house because we’re afraid of the presence of God… Get too close to the presence of God and you will get some of her power on you, and don’t let anybody tell you that’s not terrifying. It is. You could find yourself doing the work of peacemaking, and don’t let anybody tell you that’s not terrifying. It is.
My friend Leah is a pastor in Champaign, and it is not an exaggeration to describe her as a rock star pastor. She is incredible! Which is why it was strange to hear her talk about being nervous, but here’s what happened:
In early November, two thousand sixteen, Leah’s family had a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard. Their neighbors, Al and Betty, had a Trump sign in their yard. You can imagine. Leah wondered how the election was going to impact their relationship. So she decided to bake her neighbors an apple pie. On Election Day, she took the pie, went out of her own house, walked over and rang their doorbell.
When Al opened the door, he asked her why she had done this! This is why she was nervous, because she could have just left the pie and run. Instead, she stood there and told them the truth. Betty answered, “Well, we’re going to lose [the election]! At least we’ll have pie to eat! Oh honey, you’re so sweet. Thank you.” Of course, as it turns out, it was not such a rough night for Al, and Betty, and Trump after all. But a few days later, when Leah got home, she found on her porch a chocolate pecan pie baked by Betty.
I love this story because it reminds me of Reverend Kuenning and his teaching that we do not have to hide in our own houses. We have everything we need to go and share kindness with our neighbors. We have everything we need to be makers of peace. It’s these questions: How can I take seriously somebody else’s anger? How can I take seriously somebody else’s praise? We could carry these questions into the fray and listen until somebody else’s rage breaks your own heart, until somebody else’s singing awakens your own Hallelujah. We will draw near to the presence of God, even if that means we get his power on us. And what if God’s power is mercy, and what if God’s peacemakers are us…
Long after the time of David, there’s another story of God going into the city of Jerusalem. On one side of town, there was a military parade, so of course the people left their houses to see Pilate and his troops come into the city for the Festival of Passover. On the other side of town, there was an unlikely king. He came riding in on the back of a donkey, and the people couldn’t stay inside.
The procession of the LORD comes with glad singing, and dancing, and loud Hosannas! It’s just, there was fury rising up as fiercely as the praise. It got mixed up until the blessing sounded like cursing and the cursing sounded like blessing. The praise sounded like protest, the protest sounded like praise, and the power of God was in the middle of the mix. Jesus took one look at the city and he wept. Ah Jerusalem, on this day when you come out to rally for Pax Romana, you don’t even see the things that make for peace!
We know that peace is not hiding in the safety of our own houses. It is in the mix with the power of God where dancing turns into mourning, and mourning turns into dancing, where somebody else’s anger gives you pause and somebody else’s praise fills your heart, and we might be nervous, but we’re not going home, there’s apple and chocolate pecan pie for the sharing. If you have come looking for us, you know where we’ll be, we are out to make peace.
Come and find us in the fray. Amen.