We pick up our story of David this week with an entire different view of him. Gone, for the moment, is the violent and impulsive man. Instead we get a picture of David loving God with all his heart, all his strength, all his might. This gives us a chance to reflect on what worship is and why we bother to do it. Audio below and text after the jump.
David has finally assumed the throne, and he’s in the process of uniting all the tribes into one nation. He pauses all of his military campaigns to bring the Ark of the Covenant, this ancient symbol of God’s presence, to his new capital in Jerusalem.
Being David, he does nothing halfway. When he worships, he lets loose. Throws off his clothes, spares no expense, pulls out all the stops.
It’s a far cry from us sitting here fully dressed, politely and quietly.
What is worship? If it can encompass both this frantic parade of excess, and our pretty chill weekly gathering, what is it?
Worship is when we turn toward God. It’s as simple as that—when we turn toward God, with our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our very selves.
Sometimes, like with David, like with us this morning, worship happens in a religious ritual.
But it can also be part of our every day, walking around, ordinary and extraordinary lives.
As we go about our daily work, as we catch a glimpse of the mountain on a clear day, as we buy groceries and negotiate business and lay down for a nap, while cheering at a baseball game, while dancing wildly at a concert, while laughing too loudly with old friends as you tell off-color jokes—in all sorts of times and places, we can be caught off guard by the holiness of the moment, the beauty of this outrageous life, the generosity and insane abundance of our God who gives so much. Worship can happen in all of these times and places as we find that no longer is our body moving just with the music, but also to a deeper rhythm, in praise of the One who lies at the heart of it all. That’s what worship is.
Part of the beauty of this portrait of David is how completely he’s just given over to the moment.
Sometimes we over-think worship. We think it needs to be polished, or perfect, or that, for it to really be worship, our hearts need to be pure.
David’s probably wasn’t, though.
If you’ve got a political bent of mind, and are just cynical enough, you may be wondering if, perhaps, this is all just a power play.
David, after all, is consolidating enormous power in a new form of government. New power has to be legitimized. And what better to lend legitimacy to David’s rule than this old, old symbol of God’s presence?
Was this precession an act of devotion, or a canny political move?
Honestly, I think it was probably both.
David was a brilliant strategist. And he was a man who loved the Lord.
These two are not mutually exclusive. His motives may have been mixed, but he still worshiped with all his might.
While I was in Montreat, I was reminded of what it is to watch over a thousand teenagers line up outside of the doors an hour or more before worship began, eager to get in. That’s exceedingly unusual behavior, for any age group, and as I’d watch them stream in in the moments after we opened the doors, I wondered sometimes what on earth brought each one of them to that moment.
I am certain that for many it was peer pressure. All my friends are doing this, so I will too. For others it was probably hormones. Maybe I can sit next to that cute girl tonight. Maybe we’ll even sing a song where everyone holds hands. And, mixed in with all of that, was deeper pull, to hear a word of life, to see more of the really real hiding within our every day lives, to encounter the Living God and in that encounter be transformed.
I sometimes wonder on Sunday mornings, before anyone else is here and the building is quiet, what it is that brings you each here, early on a weekend morning. Why do you come worship?
In the times in my life when congregational worship has been a weekly choice my motives have been mixed. Maybe yours are too, like David’s were.
That’s okay. I f we wait to worship only on the days where we just really, truly want to, we probably aren’t going to worship a whole lot. It is okay if sometimes we show up for worship just because we think we should. And it’s okay if sometimes we show up in order to please another person—a parent, or partner, or a voice that lives in our heads. And it’s okay if sometimes we come out of habit, or tradition, or even boredom or loneliness. God can and does work with all of that. We don’t have to be perfect people, for God to love us—David sure wasn’t, and we don’t have to have pure hearts to show up for worship—David definitely didn’t.
Maybe you’re wondering, though, what difference does it make?
Does it really matter that much?
What difference does it make that David danced his way to Jerusalem, giving his heart over to God? In the long run, does it matter? This singing and dancing and hand raising, what difference does it make?
Worship is mysterious. We can’t know the ways it will affect us, what consequences it might have down the road. I wonder what work God is doing in our midst today—as we lift our voices in song, and prayer, as we pause and give thanks. I wonder who God is calling, to what; I wonder who is receiving strength for the journey, who is finding that balm in Gilead; I wonder who is discovering life, real life.
Our worship has effects we cannot begin to imagine.
This story today is not our only example of David’s worship. Tradition tells us that some, many of the psalms were written by David. So when we stand at a graveside and mouth the words, the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… God is comforting and sustaining us by using the fruit of one man’s worship, three thousand years ago, halfway around the world.
If this is the effect of David’s habit of worship, who knows what effect our worship might have? In our lives? In our neighbors’ lives? In our city? In the lives of generations yet to come?
But this isn’t why David worshiped that day. He didn’t worship in order to achieve an objective, or to make himself or anyone else better. He didn’t worship because his heart was pure, or because he had it all figured out. David worshiped, with his head thrown back, and his hands up, and his whole heart and soul beating in time with the music, because this is what he was created for.
All of us—we are created for worship. That is the key to which our heart is tuned. We were made to worship.
Sometimes we hear theologians say this, and it sounds as if God is a needy God, who is desperate for us to puff up a divine ego. That’s missing the point.
When we say we were created for worship, it’s more along these lines.
There is more to this world than meets the eye. There is a deep, fundamental MORE, and it is in our limited, finite, created nature to reach for and long for and yearn to connect with that MORE.
We are, as Paul said, citizens of heaven, even as we’re inhabitants of earth, and so our hearts are tuned to the harmonies that hover just beyond our reach.
We were created not as individual, isolated, independent jumbles of flesh, blood, and electrical impulses. No. Our faith confesses that we are children of the Creator, tied in our very being to the One who made the stars and rocks and trees. And just like the birds of the air and the seals that frolic in the ocean, it is in our nature to join the chorus of praise that fills this world.
As a child is never truly separate from his mother but always carries cells within his body that tie him back to her, so too we are fundamentally connected to the love and the power that made this world, and in Christ, came and dwelt within it.
Our capacity for awe, for wonder, our desire for extravagant beauty and transcendence, our longing for more, is all an essential part of who we are as children of God, claimed in Christ, and adopted by the Spirit.
This is why David danced. He couldn’t help himself. It’s who he is.
It’s who we are, as well. We were created for worship—here, now, this afternoon at home, tomorrow morning at work, when we rise and when we lay down. We are created for worship.
Our call is to open our hearts, to open our eyes, to see the really Real, and nurture those habits and practices that allow us to turn to God. Our call is to worship—extravagantly, outrageously, simply, and honestly. We were made to worship. Come, friends, let us worship.by Sarah W. Wiles July 8, 2012 Bethany Presbyterian Church Tacoma, WA