Sunday, 21 June 2015

Sermon, Sunday 21 June: 'When the storms of life are raging stand by me'

As part of our service this morning, the occasional singing group sang the old spiritual, 'When the storms of life are raging stand by me' during the offering. We dedicated that song to our brothers and sisters in Emmanuel Church, Charleston, South Carolina, remembering that grieving community in our prayers for others.  Our hearts go out to the members of that church, families, friends and the wider community affected by the terrible events of this last week in South Carolina.  May they find comfort, and feel God's presence close with them at this time....

This morning's sermon:

1st READING: Ps 107:1-3, 23-32
2nd READING: Mark 4:35-41

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth, 
and the meditations of all our hearts, 
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Several summers ago, the Times newspaper carried the following story:
A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth 
was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. 
A coastguard spokesman commented 'this sort of thing is all too common.'
... I think that coastguard must have a very odd life at times!
Given the gospel reading, this news story conjured up 
some very odd images in my mind as I contemplated anew 
the disciples in the boat on the stormy sea...

The bible stories involving the sea,
and ships, and even storms at sea,
are ones that I particularly resonate with, 
as someone who grew up and who has lived by the sea most of my life:
I used to sail a lot when I lived in Australia, 
but thankfully never encountered the kind of storm 
that the disciples were suddenly hit with when crossing the Sea of Galilee.
And what’s really striking in the story
is that these were tough men,
several of whom were experienced sailors -
fishermen who made their living from the sea.
And they were terrified...
which just emphasises the absolute severity
of the storm that they were faced with.
The other striking thing about the story?
In the midst of the raging storm,
the howling gale,
the lashing of the waves
and the boat being thrown about
like a wee matchbox...
is that at the other end of the boat
Jesus is sound asleep,
totally oblivious to what's going on.
While physically he's there with them,
in every way that counts... it seems that he's not.

It had all been so very different just hours earlier.
Jesus and the disciples had been surrounded by eager crowds -
so many in fact that Jesus had hopped in the boat
and was teaching from it.
He told them parables: stories about
a sower sowing seed,
lamps and bushels, mustard seeds.
The crowd was receptive,
it had been a good day and,
as day had crept into evening,
he said to the disciples
'let's cross over to the other side.'
They sailed away from the shore,
from the crowds, and, as Jesus -
exhausted from his teaching,
exhausted from the crowd's demands -
sailed into the land of Nod,
the boat sailed into a sudden and unexpected storm.

Within the space of a few hours,
it felt as if the disciples' world
had turned upside-down.
They had been happily chuntering along,
things had been going along nicely,
smoothly and now...
quite literally, they felt swamped
and all at sea and     scared.
And so,       they woke Jesus up...
Jesus who had managed to sleep so soundly
in the midst of the turmoil
that it made the disciples feel even
more afraid and abandoned and alone.
They woke him up, and you can almost
hear them yelling at him in their fear:
'Teacher, don't you care?
Don't you care that we're about to die?!'

They'd done everything that they
knew how to do to weather the storm.
They were at the end of the resources;
at the end of their rope.
They'd learned, as they had walked with Jesus,
that he had extraordinary powers and abilities.
They'd seen his heart of caring compassion.
And here, on what at that point
may have felt like the worst night of their lives,
they looked to the person they expected
to help them...
and Jesus was sound asleep.
'Don't you care that we're about to die?'

Sometimes, in our own lives,
we find ourselves chuntering on quite happily
in the normal, cheery, humdrum
routine of our lives.
And then something out of the ordinary happens
that completely shakes our very lives
to their foundations:
the job we thought secure
disappears because of the credit crunch;
a sudden illness occurs;
a relationship or friendship founders
through a misunderstanding,
or because of some ill-judged words;
we grieve the death of someone we love....
So many unexpected things that
come like storms in our lives,
creating chaos, causing confusion...
and like the disciples we can feel
scared, and abandoned, and alone...
as if Jesus is asleep at the back of the boat,
while we're in turmoil.
And in the same way that the disciples did,
we might find ourselves almost yelling:
'don't you care Lord?'
and we might add:
'are you so indifferent to all this mess,
this stress, this pain,
that you can sleep right through it?'

And yet, while the disciples felt -
and while we might feel abandoned
by God's seeming indifference...
we ... are... not.
We cry out 'don't you care, Lord?'
and perhaps find the answer to our question,
our heart's cry as we remember parables:
the parable of the mustard seed
and resting in the shelter of God;
the parable of the sower
and God's abundant, extravagant love...
We're reminded that God loves us
beyond our wildest imaginings,
that God's love is everywhere, ever-present -
even in the midst of the worst of storms.

And... it's absolutely okay to cry out to God -
and even shake our fist.
Like the disciples, when we cry out to God,
we're doing exactly the right thing.
In fact, God invites us to cry out:
we're told to ask, to seek, to knock...
to pound on the door of heaven.

Paradoxically, even though Jesus rebukes
the disciples for lack of faith,
the very act of crying out
demonstrates that somewhere,
deep in the core of those who cry out
is enough faith to know that they -
that we - will be listened to.
I wonder if underlying the rebuke of Jesus
is more a question of:
'why didn't you ask me first?'
'why did you try to do everything you could
under your own strength...
and only when everything else had failed,
call me? Last...!'
You can almost see the disciples
as the waves break in and the storm is furious.
They do the one thing that is left to do.
....They'd done everything else...
they finally get Jesus involved - they cry out.

And we cry out...
and sometimes I wonder if that sense
of abandonment by God is more due
to our own habit of just getting on with things,
and forgetting to ask God in the first place...
not quite seeing that God's in the boat?
As the disciples, and as we, find ourselves
in the places of storm and tempest
we cry out to God: 'don't you care, Lord?'
And as we do, we find out
that the God who we thought was absent,
or asleep, has actually been there
with us all along,
right in the midst of the storm,
right there in our boat, wide awake,
right there hearing our cries,
right there feeling our pain...
and even though he knows we're sometimes
so very slow to understand just who he is,
and that his love is both abundant
and ever-present...
in the midst of the turmoil,
in the midst of the storm,
Jesus, the storm-stiller, the peace-bringer, 
brings us to a place of calm and 
gets us through the storm and across to the other side.

The disciples woke Jesus saying
'don't you care that we're about to die?'
And in response, Jesus got up
and said three things:
to the wind: 'be quiet'...
to the waves: 'be still'...
and then, to the disciples:
'why are you frightened?
Have you still no faith?'
And then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
And the result?
They were all relieved, had a good laugh,
and sailed to the other side
singing a cheerful song....
Well, that's what might have happened
if the story had been re-written as a Hollywood movie -
but we know that's not what happened.
The result, according to our writer,
is that the disciples were still terrified,
but now, not of the storm.
The disciples were terrified
and they asked each other:
'Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.'

Having cried out to Jesus
and expected him to do something,
Jesus indeed does do something:
something so utterly unexpected,
so utterly astonishing,
that they are forced once again in their journey
to think again about this man they are following.

Much of the turmoil in our lives
isn't simply the turmoil from outer circumstances,
it's the turmoil that churns within us,
tearing us apart.
We cry out to God and then,
to our astonishment,
we discover that God comes.
In fact, that God is already here.
God is not absent, but present,
and God speaks to the storm
that is within our turbulent and tossed spirits.
God, who knows our cry, knows what it means
to be in a boat swamped by the storm,
and yet has the power to give peace
and strength and help
even in the midst of such incredibly difficult,
very scary circumstances.
The disciples cried out for peace
and God, made flesh in Jesus, met them at their point of need.
And as we cry out to God,
God meets us at our point of need as well,
because God is right here:
in the middle of all our need,
our despair, our pain,
our chaos,
our fear.

The disciples - who knew what a storm was like -
watched Jesus answer their cry...
and knew that they were in way over their heads.
'Who is this?'
And it was to be a question they would find
themselves asking again and again and again
as they journeyed with him...
thinking they knew him,
thinking they had his measure,
until something extraordinary would happen
along the way to teach them that they were
on a life-journey of discovering
who this Jesus was.

Again and again, as the disciples,
and as we, continue to follow Jesus,
part of the ongoing, unfolding discovery is that 
we are following no ordinary man.
This is the One foretold by prophets:
God’s Word, made flesh.
Son of God.
Son of humanity.
The One who knows us,
and understands our fears,
because he is with us on the boat,
and rescues us with his ever-present love.  Amen.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Sermon, Sunday 14 June: 'What is the kingdom of God like?'

A sermon based on:
1st READING: Ps 138
2nd READING: Mark 3:20-35

SERMON ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?’
Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts,
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
According to our bible passages this morning:
A kingdom that challenges the too-readily accepted way of things;
A kingdom that overturns our assumptions;
A kingdom... that keeps us on our toes.
This is what the kingdom of God is like...

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
According to our bible passages this morning:
A kingdom in which the least and lowliest,
the small and the insignificant
are viewed with promise
are valued
are seen as having huge importance in the great scheme of things.
This is what the kingdom of God is like...

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
According to our bible passages this morning:
A kingdom of sprigs and twigs that, when planted,
become the mightiest of cedars;
A kingdom where the tiniest mustard seed
can grow to become the largest of plants.
And, as sprig, and twig, and seed
produce branches, and blossom and thrive,
so the kingdom becomes a place
where others flourish:
in a kingdom where all find shelter and rest.
This is what the kingdom of God is like...

For the prophet Ezekiel,
in this particular passage,
the kingdom of God was a kingdom that brought
Restoration of the Kingdom of Judah,
under the restored House of David.
It meant liberation from the weak King Zedekiah,
who trusted more in the chariots of Egypt
than in the Lord God of Israel.
Zedekiah is ‘the tall tree’
that will be ‘brought down’ -
the ‘green tree’ that will ‘dry up’.
Restoration, too, of Jerusalem, of Mount Zion -
‘the high and lofty mountain’.
It is a powerful vision bringing good news,
and good news is sorely needed:
Ezekiel’s message is delivered to those
living in dark times -
the people of the kingdom of Judah.
A small, insignificant kingdom that
has been continually toppled and trampled upon.
A kingdom whose people live with uncertainty;
live with the bitterness of defeat by Babylon,
live with the knowledge of
their destroyed temple,
live in exile and captivity:
a kingdom of people living lives
that seem to have an utterly bleak future.
And, in the midst of their shattered lives,
Ezekiel, God’s messenger,
brings them a vision of hope.

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
According to the prophet Ezekiel:
unlike any other kingdom
the world has ever known.
A kingdom where the disregarded and the fearful,
the oppressed, and the refugee
are given sanctuary and rest and comfort;
A kingdom of tenderness and mutual blessing,
a kingdom in which each inhabitant
seeks to serve the other:
self-giving, not self-serving.
A kingdom that all the kingdoms of the world
will point to and acknowledge that
this is a kingdom created and ruled over by
the merciful and compassionate God.
‘In a situation where the powers of the world seem to have prevailed
with devastating fury and finality,
the prophet comes along
speaking a word that God will have the final say.’
[Bert Marshall, Feasting on the Word, p127]
God neither tramples nor topples,
rather, God is the tender gardener
who prunes and plants.
This is what the kingdom of God is like...

The words of Ezekiel can also be heard
in the song of Mary -
not one of our readings today,
but the similarity of the texts are just
too hard to ignore.
Mary, on hearing another messenger of God -
the angel, Gabriel -
bring news of the growth of the Kingdom
in a most unlikely way...through her,
rejoices that God has seen fit to raise 
such a humble and lowly-born one as herself 
to a place where all will call her ‘blessed’ among women.
What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
Mary’s song tells us:
in words of restoration and liberation;
in a song evoking the surprising, unconventional, growing Kingdom of God
where the proud are scattered,
rulers brought down ‘from their thrones’
where the hungry are filled with good things...

And Jesus, in our passage from Mark,
tells us that it’s:
a kingdom which sprouts and grows
producing a great harvest;
and, in what is an ongoing theme here:
a kingdom in which the smallest
is the greatest
and in which, the greatest provides for the least.
A kingdom where all humanity can perch under the branches of the Tree of Life -
for the kingdom is, in effect,
the new Eden, restored.
It is indeed a kingdom in which
the seemingly insignificant matters a great deal...
A kingdom in which
the out of place, and the unwanted
are the very foundations
upon which that kingdom is built:
for, to the hearers of Jesus’ parables,
mustard plants where very prolific weeds.
This is what the kingdom of God is like...

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
It’s a kingdom in which a man jokes,
and tells stories to his friends,
and, to anyone with ears to hear...
The stories seem simple, and homely,
and often contain bad puns,
for this man -
who will become known as the Word of life -
enjoys playing with words,
enjoys the power of words
and knows the power of
painting pictures with words -
the power of story.
He is a teller of many stories,
a man who will become living story,
as those who hear
pass on his stories and his story.
His own story mirrors the kingdom and
the kingdom’s focus on the small and insignificant, for, in the words
of James Allen Francis:
‘here is a man who was born in an obscure village,
the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village,
where He worked in a carpenter shop
until He was thirty,
and then for three years
He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never owned a home.
He never had a family.
He never went to college.
He never put his foot inside a big city.
He never traveled two hundred miles
from the place where He was born.
He never did one of the things
that usually accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself.
While still a young man,
the tide of public opinion turned against Him.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied Him.
He was turned over to His enemies.
He went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
His executioners gambled for the only
piece of property He had on earth
while He was dying—
and that was his coat.
When he was dead He was taken down
and laid in a borrowed grave
through the pity of a friend.
...centuries have come and gone...
and all the armies that ever marched,
and all the navies that ever were built,
and all the parliaments that ever sat,
all the kings that ever reigned,
put together
have not affected the life of people
upon this earth
as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.’

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like...?
If we want to know what the Kingdom of God looks like,
we look to the One who modelled
the Kingdom of God
in his person, and in the life he lived: Jesus.
Jesus, who saw those who society had made invisible, insignificant...
Jesus, who talked to foreigners,
to freedom-fighters,
to collaborators...
Who spent time with thieves and prostitutes
and even talked to Roman centurions.
Who touched lepers
and those deemed ‘unclean’ by the powerful.
Who welcomed friend and stranger
to hear his stories,
to walk alongside him,
and to follow him.
Who, in his life, his death,
and through his resurrection
restored and liberated humanity
and who continues to give us hope and meaning
in the midst of our own lives even now.
For the kingdom is not just some
‘way over yonder’
‘in the sweet by and by’,
the Kingdom of God is within us -
restoring and liberating...
As we learn to hear Jesus’ words
as we learn to follow -
our lives embody the kingdom:
as we make strangers welcome,
as we create places where all
can find shelter and rest,
as we practice loving-kindness and compassion,
and use our influence for the greater good,
as we tell the story of the One who told stories about the Kingdom...
For, in so doing
This is what the kingdom of God is like...


Friday, 12 June 2015

Sunday preview: Second Sunday Summer Services

This week, it's a 2 service Sunday as we begin our:

'Second Sunday Summer' Services

Can't make morning worship?
No need to worry!
We've evening worship as well.

10.30am in the parish church, Abington: 
we'll be pondering the mysteries of Jenga blocks and mustard seeds...

6.30pm at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington: 
is time for candles and contemplation -
a quiet space in the midst of the busyness of life.
Take time out to 'be'...

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Sermon, 7 June - Communion Sunday

1st READING: Ps 138
2nd READING: Mark 3:20-35

I've said it before, and no doubt, I'll say it again:I love the gospel of Mark with its fast-paced telling of the story of Jesus.
Here we are, only in chapter three and already:
Jesus has been born,
been baptised, 
been tempted in the wilderness, 
called the first disciples,
performed miracles - exorcisms and healings -
and begun to build up a bit of a reputation.
People, upon discovering he’s in their area, flock to him,
wanting to see, to hear, this new teacher and healer.
But his reputation is something that causes division:
division between seemingly ordinary, everyday people,
and those in positions of authority -
particularly religious authority.
While praised by the first, he’s being openly criticised by the second.
So, to some, he’s a looked-for hero,
while to those in charge, he’s a potential trouble-maker and rabble-rouser.
A rabble-rouser, quite literally, for Jesus seems to have the uncanny knack
of rousing those deemed as ‘rabble’ from despair, to hope;
from feeling bound up in the chains of oppression
to sensing that liberation might just be around the corner.

Hope is a dangerous thing to people in power.
Hope unites people in a common cause -
and, when people, spurred on by hope,
are united in a common cause, 
amazing, transformational events have the capacity to take place:
the status quo - and I don't mean the band -
the status quo, the way in which ‘it’s aye bin’, is in serious jeopardy.
But the problem with hope and unity,
and the power to unite and to change and transform the way
people and power, and the structures of power are organised,
is that it’s wildly threatening to those who are in power,
who are used to particular ways of being -
who are used to the privileges that come with power,
who are used to being in charge.
Hope is wildly threatening because the possibility of change,
and of transforming long-established systems of power and privilege
has the potential, of course, for those in power
to lose their power and position and prestige.
How then, to retain power?
Well, divide and conquer is an age-old strategy.

In our passage today, we see the seeds of disunity being sown
in the words of disquiet being uttered by the scribes from Jerusalem.
The scribes from Jerusalem?
The scene we have before us is set in the Galilee -
the region in which Jesus grew up and calls ‘home’. 
He’s been on a preaching and teaching tour
around the villages in the area, and, in the course of his travels,
word of him has got back to the officials in Jerusalem. 
These are the ‘strong’ men, the powerful men,
and they are now watching this rural rabbi with keen interest - 
and not in a positive way.
Jesus is becoming a marked man.
From their places of power, the religious elite are wondering 
if he will become a strong man -
powerful enough to topple them.
Is he planning to enter their own religious house, bind them,
and set to plundering long-held traditions and ways of doing things?
Do they need to get to him, and bind him first?
And so, he is being scrutinised,
and already, there are those hatching plans to dispatch him....

Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus has healed a man in a local synagogue, 
on the Sabbath. Having challenged those who would criticise
the breaking of the Sabbath to perform an act of compassion and care,
he’s made enemies of the Pharisees who were present:
they go and plot with another group - the Herodians - how they might kill Jesus.

These are not the only divisions apparent in our text this morning.
Jesus also seems to be at odds with his family. 
Fearful that he does seem to be stirring things up,
that trouble is brewing,
and that some of the neighbours are openly speculating about his sanity,
his family actively try to stop him.
On learning that his mother and brothers are outside
and are trying to get him to come home,
trying to restrain his ministry,
he looks at the crowd who have passed on the message and says:
‘Who are my mother and brothers?’
And pointedly looks to those sitting around him,
those willing to listen and learn from him, and says:
‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’
...Family here,    is much wider, much broader.
While there are biological ties,
Jesus is highlighting spiritual ties - spiritual kinship:
those who do God’s will,
those who follow,
those who enable the work of the kingdom to progress -
they are family.
So, in amidst a passage that features layers of division,
we come to that which unites: Jesus.

Gathered together here, as followers of our brother Jesus,
like those who have gone before us, we are connected, 
joined together as brothers and sisters in him:
we are one in Christ.

Now unity does not mean uniformity:
we were not made to be clones.
God calls each of us to follow authentically.
We bring ourselves, 
our understanding of God,
the way in which we read scripture,
our quirks, our habits,
our individuality,
our unique gifts and skills
and we offer them to God,
to be used as we follow Christ.
And thinking of various differences of opinion that seem 
to be currently in play within the wider church,
it’s important to remember that 
it’s God who truly knows each and every one of our hearts,
and it’s only God who gets to decide who is, or isn’t a ‘real’ Christian.
We don’t get to make that judgement call.
We don’t get to point fingers at others -
only God sees the full story of someone’s life.
Better then, for each of us to look to God,
and to concentrate on the way - the unique way -
each one of us walks our particular faith journey;
giving thanks for God’s grace - full and rich and deep -
and at work in the world and in our lives.
So, while there may be a diversity of ways in which we love and serve God,
whoever we are,
however we’ve arrived here,
whatever our gifts:
in faith, and as we follow,
it is Christ who makes us one.

We are united in the One
who calls us to minister to one another:
to build each other up,
not tear each other down;
who calls us, 
who dares us to hope,
and to spread that hope through telling others of his story,
and through practical acts of justice,
of mercy, 
of kindness, 
and of compassion.
Who calls us to question tired old power systems
just as he did in his earthly ministry.
To champion the most vulnerable in society;
to challenge the 1% who cling grimly to power 
and who try to rule through fear and division.

We are God’s people - a people of hope:
a people who dare to believe that, in Christ,
and through the power of the Holy Spirit,
transformation is possible;
and that change can be a force for good -
and for God.

Shortly, as God’s people united in Christ
and as his family gathered here this morning,
we will be nourished as we share in bread and wine;
as we do what other family members of Christ
have done down through the centuries in response to his command
‘to remember him’.
We come to the table as, and who, we are.
We come with our hopes and our fears,
with our strength and our frailty,
with our faith and with our questions.
The great theologian, Karl Barth said of communion that:
“Holy Communion is offered to all,
as surely as the living Jesus Christ is for all,
as surely as all of us are not divided in him,
but belong together as brothers and sisters,
all of us poor sinners,
all of us rich through his mercy.”
       [Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives]

We come to the table and remember that it is Christ’s table,
and that we are one in him,
and that all are welcome to come,
to share,
to be open to transformation.
For in the act of receiving bread and wine,
we declare our hope,
in the One who lived, and died, and rose again for all
and who calls us his family.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Sunday preview: Communion service

Join us for Communion, this Sunday at 10.30 at UCPC.  All are welcome.

Our theme focuses upon division and on unity as we reflect on Mark 3:20-35.  
As he settles into his ministry, Jesus is getting a bit of a reputation.  
For some, it really is Good News.  
For those in power, however, will this rabble-rousing rabbi 
upset the apple-cart and turn prestige and entitlement on its head?
What is the message of the man from Nazareth that
makes those in power nervous?
What is the message for us, as we meet him in bread and wine?
Join us, this week.    

Monday, 1 June 2015

Sermon, 31 May 2015: Songs of praise service

A huge 'thank you' to Leadhills Silver Band and to 'Junction 13' Community Choir
for sharing in our Songs of Praise service of worship this morning.
The music was fairly bouncing from the rafters of our wee church.

For those unable to make it to worship today, here's the sermon.

1st reading 2 Samuel 6:1-5. 13-22
2nd reading Ephesians 1:3-14

Sermon ‘Dance as if nobody’s watching’

What can we say about King David?
David… danced.
David danced… as if nobody was watching.
David, I suspect, was probably not a Presbyterian.

The scene of celebration and dance we heard about in our reading, gives the impression that David was perhaps the kind of person who wouldn’t have had much time for our cherished Presbyterian concept of ‘doing things decently and in good order’!

David wore skimpy outfits in public – an ‘ephod’ –
which according to some of the commentators I’ve been reading,
left very little to the imagination.
Not only did David dance, and wear skimpy, revealing outfits,
it appears at first glance that he was a bit of an exhibitionist:
he was exuberantly leaping about half naked in front of all the assembled people…
Now, David had a reputation for being rather handsome,
and I have a hunch that some of the women in the crowd
were looking on … rather… thoughtfully...

At second glance, however, was David an exhibitionist?
Why was he dancing about in the first place?  What was happening here?
Well, we need to go back a little in his story:

David has finally managed to bring together the tribes of Israel
into one united kingdom.
As a united group, under David, they defeat the group
known as the Jebusites
and take Jerusalem, where David decides to create his capital.
Then the Philistines appear, ready to attack,
and David and his united nation of Israel defeat them.
Having achieved victory, they go and reclaim the Ark of the Covenant
and, rejoicing, bring it back home.
So, the setting for our bible reading is at a time of celebration,
a time of national victory,
of national pride,
of thanksgiving and recognition that God was with them,
was on their side.
It was like one huge praise party to God…
And in the middle of all of that, David danced –
joyfully, unselfconsciously, before God,
placing God at the centre of the celebration.

Cynics could say it was a very politically shrewd move -
and yes, David could be a very shrewd operator at times politically –
though sometimes personally it was a little hit and miss...
let's not mention Bathsheba...

And there are all sorts of questions around this text –
the issue of God singling out and favouring one particular nation for starters…
But I want us to focus more positively today:
To focus on joy, on worship…
And on walking a little on the wilder side of worship with King David.

As we noted earlier, caught up in the midst of the amazing God he worships,
David dances as if nobody's watching:
unselfconsciously, joyfully, exuberantly.
We’ve already established that David is not really wearing much
as he dances before God.
In a sense, he's allowing himself to be quite vulnerable:
no weapons or armour here,
just himself, trusting in the God he worships.
He’s also exposed to potential ridicule –
just look at the reaction of his wife, Michal:
she is not at all delighted by what David’s doing – and she despises him...
for her, this is not the way a king should behave.

And yet, totally oblivious,
David worships,
he delights in God and dances before God…
celebrating in a loud and rowdy uncontained way,
because underpinning his act of worship
is a sense of awe for the untamed, uncontainable God he worships.

The ‘uncontainable God’...
As I was thinking about this,
I was reminded again of  the C.S. Lewis Narnia stories
and of one of the Narnian mantras about the lion, Aslan, who’s the creator of Narnia:
Aslan is not a tame lion.
Lewis’s depiction of Aslan captures the wildness of God –
God beyond our boxes… wild, uncontainable.. awesome.
God, who is both ground of our being, and the Lord of the dance

Now, I’m not advocating that we all need to worship God
in exactly the same way as David did – after all, this is Scotland!
Apart from it being just too cold,
there are certain societal and legal niceties we also have to take into consideration.
But what I am advocating is that we remember:
while there are times to be solemn,
there are also times
when it’s appropriate to be exuberant,
times when we can allow ourselves to get caught up in the wonder and awe
of the God who we worship.

As the writer of Ephesians observed,
God has lavished his grace on us…
We are his …    
and he is ours…
And it is right that we celebrate and give thanks
for God’s rich and free and awesome love…
And, as we give thanks,
that we allow ourselves to be open, vulnerable…
opening ourselves to the potential of being shockingly, utterly
transformed by the boundless, amazing, wonderful, known-yet-unknown God,
who is closer to us than our breathing….
And that we continue to make
our lives an offering,
in the expectation that the wild God who is always with us,
may want to dance with us.

Worshipping God can be dangerous:
The writer, Annie Dillard summed it up this way:
“Does anyone have the foggiest idea
what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats
and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers
and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense,
or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

Are our dance cards already filled,
or, have we left some space where we can wait,
with eager anticipation, to dance with God – the Lord of the dance -
allowing ourselves to be drawn, in that dance,
to a place beyond our wildest imagining?  Amen.