Sermon for October 18, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 6:1-5; Psalm 150

Mark 11:8-10


For those of you tuning into this fall season of a made for church series, we are making our way through the narrative stories of the Old Testament that bring us to the life of Christ, our focus that will begin right after the first of the year. To catch you up, last week we reflected on the story of Ruth and Naomi, and Ruth’s covenant as a foreigner and outsider to remain faithful to creating a life with her mother-in-law  Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, where you dwell, I will dwell, your people shall be my people and your God my God.

This story points us beyond Ruth to the redeeming action of God in the world over time, uniting and reconciling all people. Our story continues today with King David’s praising and worshipful entrance into Jerusalem. David’s story matters, because he demonstrates that God is praiseworthy, the theme of our reflection this morning. David’s story matters as the heritage of Jesus, who would be born about a 1,000 years later. There were about 500 years from Abraham to David, and about 500 years from David to the exile, and about 500 years from the exile to Jesus.

According to tradition, David was born in Bethlehem, in the territory of the Tribe of Judah. His grandfather was Obed, whose mother was the Moabite Ruth and whose grandmother was the former prostitute Rahab. David's father was Jesse. His mother is not named in the Bible. You recall that Jesus was born of this line, from the root of Jesse.

The story we began in September with creation is now starting to make sense sequentially. We’re learning more about how God has worked across all of time through our own spiritual branch of the human family tree. And today, we’re considering how we join the one of our ancient spiritual leaders, in living an Alleluia life in response to our praiseworthy God.

                                              Praise Worthy

         When my ministry colleagues and I have the occasion to travel, we invariably begin the usual airplane chatter with our seatmate. “Where are you heading today?” we might ask. “Oh, we’re going to Charlotte for the week.” “And where are you headed?” They might ask. Usually my answer would be one of the locations where we have family, but early last year I was headed to a conference and I continued the conversation as we were preparing to take off.

“I’m heading to Florida.” “And what will bring you to Charlotte?” I asked. They told me they were retired, and all about their son and his wife and four grandchildren. “And what do you do?” they finally asked.

         This is the riskiest part of the conversation. If I say, “I’m a reverend, or a pastor,” it will invariably conjure up certain images. They may suddenly freeze as if remembering some off color joke they recently told or as if their last thoughts were written across their forehead and I can see them. So I said, “I work for a global enterprise.”

“Do you,” the husband said, now interested.

“O yes,”

“Tell me about it,”

“Well,” I said, “We have an outlet in nearly every country of the world.”

“Have you?”

“Oh yes,”

“And what does your company do?”

“We look after people from birth to death.”

“Do you?

“O yes, and we run hospitals, and hospices, and orphanages. We look after refugees. We offer comfort for the bereived. We’re in education. We do marriage work and justice and reconciliation work. We run homeless shelters and feeding programs for people who are hungry.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Isn’t it?”

“You might even say we’re in the behavioral alteration business as well.”

“Wow”, he finally exclaimed, “What’s it called?”

“It’s called THE CHURCH.”

                                    (Story told through Trinity Broadcasting)

         We gather as the church on Sunday mornings like this one for many reasons. But the number one reason we gather is to worship God, to praise God. The Bible tells us that there are eight purposes for the church.

         The first purpose of the church and the one that gets us out of bed on Sunday morning is to worship God. We gather as the Bible tells us in Luke 4:8, John 4:23 and Rev. 4:10 to worship and praise our God and to help us figure out how to serve God only out of all the worldly Gods that compete for our loyalty and attention.

Though we won’t talk about the other seven until next spring, I’ll give you a sneak preview of coming attractions. The purpose of the church is also to study God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15, 1 Cor. 4:6); to pray (Acts 2:42); to love one another (John 13:35, Phil. 1:1-4); to help each other (Gal. 6:2); to partake of baptism and the Lord's supper (Luke22:19-20); to learn how to live as godly people (Titus 2:11-12); and to be equipped to share God’s good news with the world (Eph. 4:12, Matt. 28:18-20).

         In today’s text David made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem having reclaimed the Ark of the Covenant and returning it to its rightful home. At the age of 30, his action was later paralleled by Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem the last week of his life. It would be tempting to imagine that the people gathered to praise David as a great King, but David came into Jerusalem praising God, and welcomed all God’s people to join him.

         We quickly lose our way as the church when we look to our leaders to be praiseworthy. Only God by God’s very character is praiseworthy. All pastors, all presidents, all persons in the pews are flawed and foibled creatures with all our messy complicated gifts and vulnerabilities. Our leaders will fail and disappoint us because they are human.

         In our Bible, we know that the great King David was just such a complicated man. King David was a man of contrasts. He was single-mindedly committed to God, yet guilty of some of the most serious sins recorded in the Old Testament.

David lived a frustrating life, first in the shadow of his brothers, then constantly on the run from vengeful King Saul. Even after he became king of Israel, David was engaged in almost constant warfare to defend the kingdom. King David was a great military conqueror, but he could not conquer himself.

His lust for Bathsheba, the wife of his neighbor had disastrous consequences in his life. He brought her to his place while his neighbor was away in battle, and when she became pregnant, he brought his neighbor Uriah home, hoping that through the sexual union of a beautiful woman and her soldier husband, he would believe the child was his. When Uriah refused the comfort of his home while his men were still in battle, David arranged to set him up on the front lines, then withdrew protection so that he would be killed.

Although King David fathered Solomon, one of Israel's greatest kings, he was also the father of Absalom, whose rebellion brought bloodshed and grief.

King David's life was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, triumphs and largely self-imposed tragedies. He left us an example of passionate love of God and dozens of psalms, some of the most touching, beautiful poetry ever written. And he served as a warrior King, killing the mighty Goliath, champion of the Philistines (the ancient equivalent of Osama Bin Laden), when David was a youth of about 14.

But David was a human creature. What made David great was that he trusted in God for victory, not himself. At the center of his life was a commitment to praise God.

Hear his words in this 30th Psalm he wrote in praise to God.

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,

    and give thanks to God’s holy name. 

For God’s anger is but for a moment;

    God’s favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may linger for the night,

    but joy comes with the morning.”A

We often talk about the importance of gratitude to God in the church for all that God has done for us. We count our blessings. We remind one another of the power of thanksgiving, and that the most important prayer we ever pray is the simple one, “Thank you.” In fact, you’ll hear a sermon on gratitude in less than a month. We’ll even gather for an annual Thanksgiving dinner here at the church on November 22 after worship, and with our families and friends thank God around feast laden tables. But gratitude is different than praise.

One of the most important things we can ever say to God of course is “thank you.” It's a habit that never gets old. When we give thanks to God, we are usually responding to specific gifts or blessings God has been pleased to give us.

Praise, though, is different. When we praise God, we are not so much thanking God for what God has done for us. Rather, we are honoring and adoring God for who God is. If you read Psalm 30 closely, you discover that like many of the psalms, it is characterized by both praise and thanksgiving. Most of the psalms consist of David's expressions of thanks to God. David thanks God for hearing his voice when he called out to God and for lifting him up when he was down. But nestled in the middle of the psalm, in verses 4-5, is a call to praise. Like all expressions of praise, it is rooted not only in God's actions but also in God's character. It's important that we remember the difference between praise and thanksgiving. We work hard at practicing the vertical habit of saying “thank you” to God in response to all God’s gifts. But we should also remember to praise God simply for who God is. Perhaps in this way we can become what St. Augustine said every Christian should be: “an alleluia from head to foot.”

This changes our attitude towards one another and the events of our day. When we live as alleluia people as an embodied spirit of praise, we cannot help but be joy-filled people. Instead of focusing on all the crummy things that have happened to us, or the anxiety producing circumstances of the day, we turn our attention upward with praise. Rather than spending our lives dinking around with the details that fussed with too closely can derail God’s best laid plans, we look upward and outward beyond ourselves. (By peter Hoytema)

Last month in the newsletter I shared some of the bad news of decline in church participation over the past fifty years, but most steeply in the past ten. The tendency of church members to drift has been well documented among all churches nationally: Roman Catholic, Protestant, and now evangelical conservative churches, with notable exceptions of course. When we hear statistics of decline in Churches, it’s a bit like listening to international news. We always assume the news story is about somebody else far away, and not about us. Yet we feel uneasy when people we once shared a pew with, no longer come to church. Of course, in every church, there are a variety of reasons that people don’t come: they don’t like the minister, or the church is becoming too progressive, or it’s becoming too conservative, or it caters mostly to the old and we're young, or it caters mostly to the young and we’re old. Maybe we don’t trust how they spend our money, or we want more say in everything.

         Of course we’re going to be unhappy with our church if we think the purpose of the church is about us. We’re human. Of course we’re going to get it wrong sometimes. That’s what being human is all about. The purpose of the church is not to correct one another until we get it right. We simply can’t be the church when we get in our own way like this.

         Much of the time we act as if the purpose of the church is like managing a major airline, or learning to pilot a Boeing 747 through some terrible storm with God as our co-pilot. What if the purpose of the church were more like hang gliding, trusting wholly in the wind of God’s spirit to catch and lift us and to take us where we need to go. What if we considered that at best, God is the pilot, and we the galley steward, serving people on a plane not our own, traveling to a place our work orders direct us to go?

Today’s scripture gives us such great hope through what God is doing in the world. It would be tempting to wring our hands over this or that, and worry ourselves into a puddle. But God will have none of it. God has always moved God’s ways forward, using the unlikeliest among us for purposes beyond ourselves. The antidote when we forget that the church isn’t about us is to turn our attention from naval gazing to God praising. This is the purpose of the church. This is our hope and God’s promise for the future.

Join me in concluding our reflection this morning, with David’s words of praise from Psalm 150, in your bulletin as both our call to worship, and now our sending:

Praise for God’s Surpassing Greatness

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in God’s sanctuary;

    praise God in God’s mighty firmament![a]

Praise God for God’s mighty deeds;

    praise God according to God’s surpassing greatness!

Praise God with trumpet sound;

    praise God with lute and harp!

Praise God with tambourine and dance;

    praise God with strings and pipe!

Praise God with clanging cymbals;

    praise God with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!