Raiders of the Lost Ark

(2 Samuel 6:1-19; Psalm 24) – J G White
11 am, Sun, July 15, 2018 – UBC Digby


How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?   “Change?!?  What’s that??”

This, really, is a sermon about change.  Though you might not guess that from the title.  Ever see the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark?  It was a real fantasy blockbuster adventure, put together by Spielberg and Lucas; top grossing film of 1981.  The film tells the dramatic struggle between Nazi and American archaeologists, in the late 1930s, to find and possess The Lost Ark.

What is this lost Ark?  Well, we just read about it in the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 6.  But let’s hear how Indiana Jones explained it, in the film. Talking to some government agents, the archeologist says:
JONES: Yeah, the ark of the covenant, the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments in.  
AGENT: What do ya mean the commandments, you’re talking about THE Ten Commandments?
JONES: Yes, the actual Ten Commandments, the original stone tablets that Moses brought down out of mout Hereb [Horeb] and smashed, if you believe in that sort of thing.  
Any of you guys go to Sunday School?…
Oh look… the Hebrews took the broken pieces and put em in the Ark. When they settled in Canaan, they put the Ark in a place called the Temple of Solomon, [in Jerusalem], where it stayed for many years, until, all of a sudden… whoosh, it was gone.
AGENT: Where?
JONES: Well nobody knows where, or when.

Raiders Clip

That’s a fairly accurate, brief description, coming from fictional film.  In fact, by the time of Jesus, very little is said or known of the Ark of the Covenant.  It is seldom mentioned in the New Testament.

You might well ask, what does this ancient piece of religious furniture have to do with me today?  It has been gone for almost three thousand years. What’s the point now? It can teach us about spiritual change in a community of faith.

The scene we read today has King David leading the way to bring the Ark into his new capital city, Jerusalem.  Famously, David dances with joyful abandon as it is paraded up to Zion. This is, in the history of Israel, a time of dramatic change.  Political change – they are firmly now in the age of having a monarchy; they are a united nation of tribes. This goes hand-in-hand with the religious changes going on. This city becomes the centre of their faith and worship, and this old Ark eventually moves to the centre of their holy space: their next king, Solomon, will build his Temple, and the Ark will be there.  

Looking back – way back – to these spiritual forefathers and mothers of ours, we may get influenced so we can handle changes in our lifetime better.  Can these ancient tales inspire and teach us? We are, after all, just looking at a piece of religious furniture. Yet we know so well how important things like this can be to us Christians.

We get very attached to our buildings.  Just a few of our fellowship remember the high, pointed steeple that once stood on our bell tower: how it was creaking; it was decided to take it down; but it turned out to be just as strong and stable as when it was first erected in 1876! That was a change for Digby Baptist.

I sometimes look at hymn boards in church sanctuaries.  I suppose they were very helpful back in the day before paper bulletins were available for services.  Today, do we need hymn numbers here?

We are all facing plenty of religious changes, in our nation, and in our churches, in our lifetimes.  Amid the things that shift, you and I can be agents of change for the good.

Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, said, “There is no improving the future without disturbing the present.”  (Claiborne, Shane, et al., Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 2010, p. 56)  

To enter changes well we can do a few things.

Repurpose the old.  A building or room gets renovated for some new ways of doing things. The scripture stories we hold sacred get understood in fresh ways by oncoming generations. What used to be adult Sunday school now becomes small groups that meet during the weekdays. We repurpose the old.

This is what happened with the Ark of the Covenant.  It was a fancy large box, with handles so it could be carried. It moved with the people all over the desert for forty years. But once it got installed in Solomon’s Temple, it did not need to be moved.  And, in time, it was gone, and Judaism went on without it. Those were major changes.

In one sense I’d say, don’t be a raider of the Lost Ark. I mean, don’t live in the past, don’t strive to keep things the way they were, or bring back the ways that once worked.  But take the power and meaning of our past, and let it feed our growth and development now.

When change is to be made, Celebrate!

So we see the celebration in the days of king David, with David leading the way, dancing and offering worship sacrifices as the Ark is brought, in stages, into his new capital city.  

We sometimes need to honour the past even when certain things are out of date, over and gone.  We give thanks for a Sunday school that was filled with 100 children. We respect the ways our grandparents dressed in their Sunday best whenever they came.  We also rejoice that some of our old ways have ended; they needed to end. We celebrate how far we have come! How much we have learned. How new things and new ways are now part of our church.  When we can say a happy goodby to the old and a welcome alleluia to the new, we help make the changes.

Also, Take God seriously!  Take our religious ‘tools’ seriously.  Today I included the story of Uzzah, the man who reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant, when he thought it was tipping over. Bam! Uzza died by touching the holy box inapprop- riately. The ancient Hebrews clearly understood Almighty God to be Holy and dangerous.  They knew the Ark as an object that brought the presence of Holy Power close to them. After this episode, king David is cautious about bringing the Ark into the city and into his care and keeping. He hesitates for three months.

The powers we are in touch with now have their blessings and their dangers.  The way Christians use or misuse the Bible can help or harm others, for instance. Our attitudes about being Church, and gathering on Sunday, can include or exclude others, and people get helped or harmed by how we act as a Church.  The changes in how we live out our spirit- uality can have great influence on those around us.

There is an oft-quoted dialogue from C. S. Lewis’ children’s novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  There are lots of talking animals in the story.  The children are going to meet Aslan, who represents Christ, in the story.  Mr. Beaver tells them, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

What we tell others about God matters.  It matters a great deal. And whenever we change things in our religious life, we must recognize the impact of the change.  There are some welcome changes we can make, in how we know and share the Good News of Jesus today. If there is real power in the Amazing Grace we sing about, we must pay close attention to how we give (or refuse to give) it away. To hinder some other person from being closer to God is serious.  One place in scripture, Jesus warns of ‘causing one of these little ones to stumble.’ (Mt 18:6)

And we face change best when we Do it together.  What I read today from 2 Samuel was a community affair, a national event, when this centerpiece of their worship was brought into Jerusalem. Together, the people were coming to terms with an exciting new time: with a king, a capital city, the return of this worship box, and eventually a temple would be built. The people gathered, they paraded, they celebrated, they worshipped, they partied.

Facing change together is important.  The revolution going on in spirituality, the reforms of Christianity, are everywhere.  It is fast-paced change. It is complicated and sometimes confusing. Together, as a faith family, we can face the challenges and change with the times.  Change as the Spirit leads us. Change for the better.

In his day and age, 1000 BCE, king David was a ‘raider of the lost Ark.’  It was retrieved from the enemy, and brought back to the centre of Hebrew religious life.  But it did not last forever. May we be blessed today to live into the challenging days we have, as people of faith in Christ.  Holding to and sometimes reclaiming the strong traditions that are good for us, and ready for amazing change.

Holy Week Concert

Holy Week Concert
With Carol Dondale
Accompanied by Cairine Robertson
Noon, Wednesday, March 28, 2018 ~ Digby Baptist Church

Welcome to our Holy Week Concert, featuring soloist Carol Dondale, accompanied by Cairine Robertson on the piano.
This time draws our attention to the story of Jesus in the week of His pain and execution. There are many paths we can take to follow Him, many stories from scripture that can guide our personal devotions. The songs Carol has chosen tell the story in their own creative way, and instill a response in our souls.
I chose to punctuate the music with the Psalms. As the ‘hymnbook,’ so to speak, of the Jews, is was, of course, Jesus’ hymn book also. Twentieth Century theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, taught that the secret of the Psalms, for the Christian disciple, is to remember we are hearing Jesus pray, whenever we read these ancient poems.
So we start with words of Psalm 25, and work our way back through a few pages, as Jesus descends into the depths and darkness of His suffering and death. Christ knew these words at least as well as we do. Listen for his heart at prayer with the Psalms today. And listen for your own soul, praying with Him.

The way of God: Psalm 25:1-5

Just before the music begins, let us pray.
To You, O LORD, we do lift up our souls. With the songs of the day, may we ponder anew what You, Almighty, can do. You lay aside might and power and control, and show yourself in a Man who submits to rejection and execution. Lift up our hearts to have hope: that violence may cease, blaming can end, and light shine out of darkness in our world.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked

That classic devotional song inspires our sanctified imagination. We imagine ourselves in those Bible scenes. We picture them as best we can. And, sometimes, the presence of the Holy One shows us something new we had not found before.
The next song is one of my many favourites, among the wealth of English hymnody. We have here the scene of Jesus welcomed into the City that holy week, long ago, the people waving branches and calling out to Him.
Psalm 24 is one of my own favourite Psalms, with its words of welcome into the Temple of worship. In your mind’s eye see the King of Glory coming in. Not the glory of battles won by violence, but the glory of bowing down to enter the desperate human plight.

Entering the gates: Psalm 24:7-10

My Song Is Love Unknown

‘Tis Midnight: and on Olive’s Brow is still in hymn books today – including ours here. It has an interesting lyric, to me. As it reflects on Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives, it says:
yet he that hath in anguish knelt
is not forsaken by his God.
Though we sometimes speak, and sing, otherwise, we find that God the Father does not desert God the Son. The whole Trinity of love and power is seen in Jesus, as He dies. In Jesus we see God, and Love.
So our beloved Psalm 23 is very fitting. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me…. Remember again, Jesus knew this poem as well as we do.

The darkest valley: Psalm 23:1-6

‘Tis Midnight; and on Olive’s Brow

It is the time of the Saviour’s woe. The end has come. One of His so called ‘seven words from the Cross’ is the first phrase from Psalm 22. We are told Jesus said this out loud. For other Jews watching that day, who knew the Psalms, it would bring to mind the whole prayer of desperation and deliverance. In our Bibles this lyric is two pages long. It cries out about a horrible situation, at great length. But ends with trust.
For the moment – this moment of Jesus’ death – let us hear the first eight verses.

Abandonment: Psalm 22:1-8

They Crucified My Lord

This ‘greatest story ever told’ is, I believe, intended to touch every person’s story. Your life story. My life story. Where love needs to break in, it breaks in.
Our own late poet, Leonard Cohen, famously sang
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in (Anthem, 1992)
Flipping back the pages, the biblical poet next gives us a Psalm of Thanksgiving for Victory. Is that what you see in the Cross of Jesus? Psalm 21 has a word in it, one of the greatest words in the ancient Hebrew language of the Bible: Hesed. ‘Steadfast love’ is the best we can do to translate it. This Psalm is actually about their king. With Christ we can see a King, very different from others, who is all about this holy ‘steadfast love.’

Steadfast love: Psalm 21:4-7

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

Jesus, beyond the Cross, lives, we Christians say. We say it with our whole lives, not just our words, eh? A prayer for victory such as Psalm 20 uses phrases about our answers, our help, our favour, our heart’s desire, our petitions. Down in our heart of hearts, where hurts can be hidden, it is there that Holiness meets us, joins us, heals us, shines with inner light.
Jesus is the anointed one – Messiah and Christ are just two other words for the Anointed One. He rises and stands upright. He lives within my heart.

Your heart’s desire: Psalm 20:1, 4-8

He Lives Within My Heart

Now let us go out to love and serve the Lord. Even in this dark and holy week. Thanks to Carol and Cairine for this musical program they prepared. I think the journey has been not only beautiful, but personal.
The tables are prepared in the hall for us to share our lunch with one another. Join us for this feast of fellowship. Amid the chatting and munching, may we know that a shared meal is also a holy and gracious time.
Prayer of acceptance: Psalm 19:14

Let us have grace for the meal.
Jesus: for the feast of music and scripture we give thanks. For the unity of sisters and brothers we rejoice. And for the generosity of food at Your tables we bow with gratitude. AMEN.