READ: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
In the 1996 blockbuster movie, Jerry Maguire — the story about a successful sports agent who seems to have it all — the main character, played by Tom Cruise, almost overnight loses everything — his job, his clients, his respect, his fiancee and eventually, his wife (played by Renée Zellweger). And it’s only when he loses everything that can he see what he’s really lacking. The one thing that he’s pushed from being central in his life is true love. Of course, it takes someone special to remind him of what’s really important. And only then does he see that he needs to put love first, to make love central in his life. And in one of the most famous reconciliation scenes in modern Hollywood — that is, the scene where the conflict ends and the resolution begins — — Jerry Maguire, in an attempt to win back his wife, tells her: “You complete me.” It’s only when Maguire understands that he needs to make love central in his life that he will be complete. Without it, he is incomplete. Empty chest In our reading in 2 Samuel today, we see this lack of completeness — albeit, on a much larger scale — is what is driving the brand-new king, David, to bring the chest — what we call the Ark of the Covenant — back to Jerusalem. David wants to make God central in Israel’s life again, so that they are complete. So today, we are going to talk about how to make God central in our lives so that we, too, can be complete. First some history: What is the chest, this Ark of the Covenant? Well, it’s a wooden box, that measured 45 inches long and 27 inches wide by 27 inches high. We know this by reading Exodus 25:10-22, in which God commands Moses to build the box covered in gold. Inside of the box were the two tablets of the Law — the 10 commandments, along with manna from heaven and Aaron’s rod. Most importantly, the chest was where God told the people God would meet them wherever the chest is. And so for years, the Israelites would tote the chest around, even bringing it into battle, so that God was with them. And for years, they did just that. But that was before God’s chosen people went ahead and decided rather that having God as their king, they would anoint a human king. That first king was Saul, who was later replaced by David at God’s order. One of the problems, though, was that even a century before King Saul ruled, the chest was brought into battle in Philistia. Philistia — home of the Philistines — bordered Israel to the west — it was the strip of land between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. And the chest was taken to Philistia without God’s permission, and because the Israelites didn’t have God’s blessing, they not only lost the battle, they lost the Ark of the Covenant. For about 100 years, it remained in Philistia, and it was out of sight, out of mind. This chest where God met God’s people was gone. The place where God’s people prayed, worshipped, sought advice, came together to experience God… It was no longer central. Saul eventually brought the ark back to Israel, but he never made it central. For 20 more years, it ended up in the house and care of Abinidab. And Abinidab wasn’t the proper person to care for the ark. Only Levites — the ordained priests — were allowed to take care of the ark, according to God’s Law. See, already before the ark was lost in the battle with the Philistines, God’s people were breaking their covenant with God. Choosing a king over God continued this. And then the feeble attempt to lock away the chest in a random house that wasn’t central to the people was just another acknowledgment of how far the people drifted away from God. How un-central God had become in their lives. And the people suffered without God’s centrality. It was only when David became king that he understood that all of Israel’s problems came from a long line of bad decisions that did not put God central in the people’s lives that he brought back the chest to make it a place of centrality. He brought the chest back to Jerusalem, the capital, where the people were. Making God central Now, it doesn’t matter whether we think God literally dwelled in the box, as some believed, or whether it was merely symbolic… the point is that God was not central in the people’s lives, God was not visible, and that was an enormous problem. Not to trivialize it with our movie analogy of Jerry Maguire, but this is what happened to him, too. Maguire’s life begins falling to pieces all around him when he doesn’t make love central in his life. And things like being successful and having nice things and accumulating wealth and power are nothing without love. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians they are empty. Just a clanging gong… Jerry Maguire is not complete. And neither are the Israelites… There’s no unity. The kingdom of Israel is divided against itself. The tribes are fighting among themselves. The king only has power over some of the land. The economy is slipping. Outsiders are chipping away at Israel… The leadership is a mess. People are falling into sin and falling away from God. Why? They didn’t put God first in their lives — they didn’t make God central. And when that happens, well, everything falls apart. God in our times Can we see a parallel in our lives and our world today? That we need to make God central in our lives today as well? And always? We should be asking, “Where is God in my life?” “Have I forgotten God in places in my life?” “Have there been times when I have not gone first to God and instead tried to do things my own way, ignoring what God wants for my life?” “Where are the places I have not made God central in my life?” At The Gathering on Wednesday, we talked about how when we don’t follow what God wants for our lives, we’re actually creating distance between us and God… We’re actually creating separation between us and God… We’re actually turning away from God… And that, my friends, is the very definition of sin. Turning away. Being separated from God Oh, we might all just believe that sin is only those big things — you know: adultery, murder, stealing… …but do not be fooled. Our everyday lives are chock-full of opportunities to either to turn toward God and live the way God calls us to, or turn away from God, and create separation. That is sin, make no mistake, and sin is separation. That means the things we do that separate us cannot be blessed. Cannot be sanctified. God can’t condone sin. ### So what does that look like in our lives, if it’s not just adultery and murder and stealing, etc? How do we notice the separation when it’s not right there in front of our faces? You know, in our community, we don’t have a whole lot of homeless people out on the streets… We don’t have an orphanage just down the block… We don’t have drug pushers or gangs wandering the streets… See, we’re always looking for those big, obvious things. Yet, think about it: We know there are people without food or adequate shelter in our own communities… We know there are kids who have been left behind or abused or are being bullied… And we’d be foolish to think we didn’t have a drug problem here, or that there isn’t an undercurrent of violence — including domestic violence — here in our community. We know for a fact that there are people who suffer from discrimination because we choose to not acknowledge them… And when we go on and live our lives insulated from and apathetic toward them, we are not following God’s will. We are helping to foster the sin. We are separating ourselves from God. It happens with the purchases we make, it happens in the words we use, it happens in our complacency in our lives, and it happens when we fail to put all people — all of God’s children — first. We really have to ask ourselves: “Where is God in how I’m living?” If we cannot do that as Christians, how will we ever bring peace and love into this world? Or will it just continue to spiral farther and farther away from God? What will that world look like for our children and grandchildren? Desire for centrality David saw that. David looked at the past, when that chest — the ark — led God’s children out of slavery and into the Promised Land, because God was central. But David saw the present, where God’s children were becoming separated from God. And David surely saw into the future, when Israel would collapse upon itself if God wasn’t central. What was it that motivated David? As king, he wanted the people to be united. Saul couldn’t do that. Because Saul did not make God central. Faith in humans, not in God… David knew that in order to have the kingdom united and strong, then God must be central. Only then would Israel — God’s people — be complete. But listen, it wasn’t because David simply wanted power and control over a bigger populous… …or that to rule them would be easier if all 12 tribes were happy in their unification… David knew he was missing something, and as the representative for Israel, he knew God’s children were incomplete as well. What is that? It’s desire. Desire for true and lasting peace. The poet Max Ehrmann in 1952 writes in his poem Desiderata: “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” It might sound trivial, but isn’t that what Jerry Maguire was looking for, too? The peace in his life, where things are in order, where emotions are real and authentic, where love lives and rules. David was seeking that among chaos. But God gave him the Spirit — the desire — to pursue peace and love. Shouldn’t we? If we’re not pursuing peace and love, and if we are separating ourselves from God — maybe without even knowing it — then maybe we should be asking “What are my desires?” Because if they are power, protection of all that we have accumulated, money, things, stuff… then our hearts are not aligned with God’s. We’re heading into foreign places without God’s blessing, without discernment, against God’s will — we don’t even consider it! Thus, separating ourselves from the One who not only created us, but who unconditionally and eternally loves us — to the moon and back. Ask: “What are my desires?” If God is not central in that desire, how can we expect the kind of peace and love that only God can give? The world can’t give it — I promise you that: Just take a look at the condition of the world and its people. Only God. We can only realize our desire for God’s peace when God is central in our lives. We can only be complete in connection with God, not apart from God. When David was able to bring the chest back to Jerusalem in the spot where it would remain central, he realized what an amazing blessing this would be for the kingdom and for all of God’s children. Desire realized! What does that feel like? Well, the scripture today tells us: There was music, and singing, and dancing — unfettered, unabashed celebrating! They gave thanks to God! They feasted! Everyone — every one — received the blessing! They were in communion, together, united. With each other. And with God. They were complete. Conclusion My brothers and sisters, let’s always work on being complete — in community, and in Christ. Let’s always work on making God central in our lives. Today, at some point in the day, sit quietly and look over your life. Be courageous to ask the question: “Where am I hiding God away?” And then be bold in prayer: “God, how can I make you central in my life?” Why? God doesn’t ask for your money, your sweat and blood, your livelihood… God simply asks for the glory. What does that mean? What does that look like? There is nothing good in our lives that we didn’t first receive as a gift from God. God created us, and God created and creates and will create all the good things in our lives. Thank God for those things. Make God central in understanding the source of those good things. Maybe we don’t have to dance like David — but, I don’t know — maybe we should. Because we can feel that complete in our hearts — God is ready, willing and able to do just that! The question is, are we? Let’s make God central in our lives again. Let’s work toward fulfilling God’s desire for peace. Let’s let God complete us.