July 15, 2018
We are into our third week in “Jacob's 11”, the traits the Wetterling Foundation recommends people live by to honor Jacob. I will not be preaching for the next two weeks, next week Judy preaches than Sandawna Ashley will be our guest preacher on the 29th. We'll return to the series in August. Today's trait is the call to be joyful. And we are looking at the Old Testament lesson for our scriptural reference.
A little background about the task King David took on—bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. How many of you remember the Indiana Jones movies? Do you remember their quest for this same Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark? And when they found it? Indy's archrival found the Ark, opened the lid and unleashed the power of the Ark, which quite literally melted all those who looked upon the glory of the Lord. This is the Ark in today's account.
The ark was carried into the promised land when the Israelites crossed the Jordan.
Eventually, the Ark was captured by Philistines during one of their wars. They held for a time but it actually caused them so much suffering that they gave it back. It ended up in Baalah where we join today's reading.
David and his army are bringing the ark to Jerusalem, called the City of David. David's plan is to build a temple to hold this ark, but because of David's sins, God gives the building task to Solomon. The ark served as the Lord's throne, the presence of the Lord in the the Holy of Holies in the temple. The ark is believed to have been destroyed with the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar some 600 years later.
As David and the army bring the ark to it's new and hopefully permanent home, they celebrate. They form a parade, and as Julie read, they were, “singing at the top of their lungs and playing mandolins, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.” This was a celebration. They were filled with joy that this symbol, this sign of God's presence with them, was being brought home. They were, “celebrating extravagantly all the way, with frequent sacrifices of choice bulls.” And David was particularly filled with joy and, “danced with great abandon before God.” A bit of a side note, but his wife Michal witnessed him dancing and evidently felt this was not proper for a king; she watched with scorn. Michal was the daughter of the former king, King Saul. She was one of several wives of David. And she is instrumental later in a conspiracy against King David...which fails. But the abandon with which David danced in joy did not sit well with her. It was not how she would act. She believed in dignity and decorum. And I understand that feeling. I am uncomfortable in a worship service where we are expected to raise our hands in praise. But that's who I am. I'm reminded here of Roger's Dad, Tom Crosbie. He worshiped with us quite often a few years ago. He liked to raise his hands when we sang or prayed. And he told me that he felt that we disapproved of that action. I tried to reassure him; and I need to be reminded myself that we can celebrate the joy of the Lord in many different ways. Some churches raise their hands in praise. Some dance in the aisle. Some give the preachers encouragement with a shouted “Amen” to a salient point. None of that is wrong. We should feel free to express our joy. But Minnesota Presbyterians are generally not quite so expressive, I've called us before the “Frozen Chosen”. Although I have seen some swaying to the music when we sing “Lord of the Dance” or the Edelweiss blessing hymn, we don't dance in the aisles. So what does it look like when we as the church live out this next trait in Jacob's list—be joyful?
Probably the way we best express our joy is by praising the Lord. And we do that most often here in our singing. Singing is a natural expression of joy and praise. I don't know about you, but I've been known to break into a song when life is good. I kind of hesitate to share this, but there is a song I often sing when I'm getting dressed in the morning, when I am feeling joy. It is not a hymn, but it is a joyful song. A little background first. When my next older sister was engaged to be married, she played this song over and over and over...because she was happy, she was anticipating the joys of marriage, she sang along with it. The song start like this: “Shine on me sun-shine Walk with me world It's a skippedee-dooda day! I'm the happiest girl in the whole USA.” What can I say? It is a joyful song and I find myself singing it when I'm happy...changing happiest girl to happiest boy of course. It was driven into my head by repeated playings 40 years ago. My point being that it is natural to express our joy in song. And we do that in worship with hymns of praise.
I've heard the old hymns compared to comfort food. Like the smell of a special dish can stir warm feelings, so hearing a beloved hymn can create warm, fuzzy feelings of our relationship with God and His people. Music has the power to transform us. It isn't only an expression of joy, it can actually make us joyful when we sing with our spirits fully engaged.
There is power in our singing, power in the hymns that touch all of our lives. There are certain hymns that bring strong feelings; feelings of melancholy perhaps. Memories of loved ones who have left this world. Remembrances of days when life was less burdened with worries or trials. Or remembering special events; weddings, baptisms, confirmations. There are certain hymns that bring me back to a simpler time, hymns that bring me into closer communion with God, hymns that touch my heart with the joy of the Lord.
And it is not just warm feelings we gain. Back in 1998, researchers found that music creates brain messages that ripple through the body, influencing muscle tone, equilibrium and joint flexibility. The human heartbeat is especially attuned to sound. As music changes in tempo and volume, it acts as a natural pacemaker. Our breathing slows down or speeds up along with the music.
A separate study at Michigan State University found that just 15 minutes of listening to music increases levels of immune chemicals that are vital to protect us against disease. In addition, they found that music has a direct effect on the function of the brain. It can slow down and equalize brain waves to create a meditative state or it can energize brain waves, quickening the thinking process and enhancing creativity.
God never says: “IF you can sing, sing” God simply says – SING! Sing your joy!One person once put it this way: “Be more like a child today, for children sing whether they sound good or not."
Although, I did read this true story about a woman who bought her daughter a really nice Baby Grand Piano for her birthday. A few weeks later, one of her friends asked her how her daughter was doing. “Oh,” she said, “I persuaded her to switch to a clarinet.” “How come?” asked the friend. “Well,” – she paused - “with a clarinet, she can’t sing.” God commands us to sing and make music to the glory of the Lord, but there are some of us who maybe should just be given clarinet....
Music, hymns, piano, organ music...power to change us. Now did you know the book of Psalms were all meant to be sung? They don't translate into English that way, but hymns they were. And for over 3000 years for most psalms, they've been sung, recited and studied. And many were written by David himself as praise songs and many cal on us to sing praises to the Lord. David expressed joy in dance on this one occasion, but in music and psalms on many occasions. And in Ecclesiastes, Solomon made the point that there is a time for laughter, for joy. He put it this way, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” Life brings with it times of sorrow, weeping, mourning. But life also gives us opportunity for laughter, dancing, for joy. And Sunday mornings should be a time set apart for expressing the joy we have in the Lord.
And just why do we praise the Lord with joy in this often tough world in which we live? Our Ephesians reading gives us a quick review of just what we have received by the grace of God. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing ... he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.... He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,... to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
It is hard to read that without being amazed at God's loving grace. None of this had to be ours, God did it all as a gift of love. And the author of Ephesians, perhaps Paul but we don't know for certain, three times used the expression “to the praise of his glory.” As I just read, in praise of the grace that saves, later that we might live for the praise of his glory, the thirdly, simply reminding us that the seal of our salvation is the Holy Spirit and that bring him praise as well.
How are we doing at being a joyful, praising people? Now remember that joy is not the same as happiness. A person can be happy and have joy. A person can be unhappy and still have joy. For happiness is largely dependent upon circumstances, joy is dependent upon the Lord. Jesus said, just before going to the cross, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). You will have “sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). Filled with joy that no one, or no circumstances can take away, that is the promise of Jesus.
And finally, how is joy expressed? As I said, in hymns of praise and musical offerings. But also in dancing as David did. In hands raised in praise, in prayers of thanksgiving. In laughter, in quiet moments of knowing God's presence, in fellowship shared—sometimes in tears shared. Jesus also said, you might “be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy”
Joy is that knowing that God loves you, that God has chosen you, that God has your name written on the palms of his hands. Jesus was a man of JOY and so should we be! He had a sense of humor! He was fun! He laughed! He played! Live with thejoy of Jesus.
In our reading today, David rejoiced because the presence of the Lord had come to Jerusalem. We rejoice today because the Lord has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. And we especially celebrate that at Christmas when Jesus came to earth as a baby. But we know he grew to become our Lord and Savior who has chosen you to be a child of God! That is reason for joy.
Our next hymn is a Christmas hymn, and as we hear the music it will trigger in us memories and feelings of Christmases in the past. And I pray that those feelings are filled with joy and happiness. The Lord has come...let us receive him with joy. Amen.
Joy to the World! 40 PH