“Christmas In July” Sunday July 15, 2018
Scripture readings: 2nd Samuel 6: 1-5,12b-19 & Mark 6:14-29
Sermon: “But God…Sometimes Your Work Doesn’t Look Good!”
In the year 66 A.D. a small group of Jewish rebels tricked the Roman garrison stationed at the plateau fortress of Masada to let them in. Those rebels quickly slaughtered the Romans and took possession of the fortress. During the next several years, all over the Jewish Holy Land, various groups of Jewish rebels attacked groups of Roman soldiers and waged a guerrilla war against the occupying Roman Empire. Convinced by their success that God was with them, an all-out war was finally waged in an effort to drive out the pagan Romans once and for all.
However, by about 70 A.D. the Romans were firmly and brutally in charge of the Holy Land. They destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and forced every Jew living there to either flee for their lives or be slaughtered; this included women and children. Those who still clung to the belief that God was with them fled to the fortress of Masada and held off the Roman Army for nearly three years. Finally, the Romans built a huge siege ramp that would enable them to clear the high walls of Masada and kill every living soul inside the walls.
But when the Romans entered Masada early one morning, they found more than 900 rebels dead by their own hands. The Jews inside Masada were determined to take the victory from the Romans and to die in their own way. In doing this, those Jews convinced themselves that God was still with them.
Today, whenever a group of Israeli military recruits completes their training, their final stop is at Masada to contemplate the fate of their ancestors there.
While some might hesitate to call those militants at Masada in 70 A.D. “heroes” it cannot be denied that they all died believing in something higher than themselves.
Still…the question on their dying lips might have been, “Why, God? Why is this happening?”
We ask that question a LOT today. Why is this happening? Where is God in all this?
And the unavoidable conclusion is that sometimes what we perceive as the work of God doesn’t look so good in our eyes.
In today’s bizarre readings from the Bible, we have two examples of work that most definitely involved God – but is also hard to contemplate through our modern eyes.
First, we have King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant – the box that held the clay tables carved with the Ten Commandments – into Jerusalem. David has solidified his power and control over Israel and Judah, and now it is the day and time for Jerusalem to be consecrated as the capital city of the Jewish Holy Land, the place where God would reside with his people on earth, and a day that had been anticipated for generations.
David led the parade, and what a sight it must have been! The king himself in front, dancing and leaping for joy before God as the procession headed to Jerusalem. When it arrives, ritual sacrifices are done, generous gifts of food are given to all the people, and the Ark is in place at last. The only blemish on the whole day was the passage that noted Saul’s daughter, Michal, saw David making a royal fool of himself and despised him in her heart.
But otherwise, it was a great day…except we missed something.
Notice that the Old Testament reading goes from verses 1-5 and then skips to the second part of verse 12 and continues to verse 19. In those missing 7 verses, we have something terrible happening. One of the attendants, Uzzah, was guiding the cart with the Ark of the Covenant on it into Jerusalem. The oxen that were pulling the cart jostled it, and Uzzah reached out to steady it – God forbid the Ark of the Covenant hits the ground on this wonderful day! – and Uzzah is immediately struck dead…just for for touching the Ark! He wasn’t attempting to break in…we have nothing in Scripture that says Uzzah was a bad person who never should have been anywhere near the Ark. The oxen jostled the cart, the Ark may have swayed a little, and Uzzah reached out without thinking to steady it…and died for doing that. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now David was so scared of the Ark that he didn’t want to move it at all. So it was taken to the home of Obed-edom, which was probably the nearest home, and left there for a while.
Later, David brought the Ark into Jerusalem and put it in the proper place as it should be – but only after being told by God that it was okay to do so.
But to just look at this story, it is perhaps tempting to think, “God…sometimes your work doesn’t look good.”
In the New Testament reading, we get another innocent who is dead. Jesus receives word that his cousin, the one who announced his coming, John the Baptist, has been beheaded by King Herod. John was imprisoned for daring to tell Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife. That woman, Herodias, hated John for telling her husband that, and she held a grudge. When Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod and he was foolish enough to promise her anything she wished for, Herodias saw her chance. She told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod was stuck; he couldn’t take back his promise, not without losing face in front of his own court. So the Baptist was beheaded, his head put on a platter, which was then brought to Herodias. End of story.
But once again, it is hard – if not impossible – not to say to yourself, “But God…sometimes your work doesn’t look good.”
Even today, in our modern world, when we hear of wicked people going into churches and shooting up the place, murdering innocent people in cold blood, it is hard to even see God’s work, much less wonder if there is any good at all in those scenes. It tears our hearts out, it hurts us, it frightens us, as we try to come to grips with those events. It is even harder if we have to explain it to a child.
In those times, it is really REALLY tough for us to see God in any of those events.
But I wonder…what is the REAL question that we should be asking?
Think back to other stories in the Bible, besides Uzzah being struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant or John the Baptist’s beheading for telling King Herod the truth about his new wife. There are plenty of other events in which God’s work included the slaughter of innocents.
Remember the first Passover, when Moses warned Pharaoh that the last plague on Egypt would be on his head? Then the Angel of Death took the first-born of every house in Egypt that didn’t have the blood of a lamb spread over the threshold. Lots of innocent Egyptian children died that night.
Remember when the original Herod, King Herod the Great, discovered that the wise men had deceived him? They didn’t return to tell Herod the Great where the newborn king of the Jews was, so Herod ordered the slaughter of all Jewish male children under the age of two, just to make sure Jesus was eliminated. More innocent children slaughtered.
And let’s not forget the ultimate slaughter of an innocent: the torturous death of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who was crucified on our behalf and yet had no sin of his own.
We know this…but we sure don’t like it.
It raises very hard questions…including the real question that is always there, but which we never want to face:
Can we maintain faith even when God’s work doesn’t look good in OUR eyes?
We don’t know everything. Sometimes we find out later on, but often we NEVER find out all the details –
- or the implications
- or the clear will of God…
as God works out how our lives will be, how God’s will is to be done on this earth.
We don’t get to know everything. Often that is why faith is so hard to hold onto. Faith involves trust…and sometimes it’s hard to trust when everything our eyes can behold is bad!
Yet hold on we must. Even if we let go for a while, others should hold on to faith for us until we are ready again.
It’s hard to have faith, especially when God’s work is poorly understood by us…when God’s work doesn’t look good to us.
That’s really hard.