Sunday March 10, 2019
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Rev. Geoff Simpson
II Samuel 6:1-5, 1
I Thessalonians 5:12-24
Prayer as Rhythm
When I sat in those choir stalls at the mere 59th anniversary of the founding of the choir school, I never thought that I would be a preacher and I never thought that I would be standing in this spot right there.
Thank you, Father Turner, for the invitation. It is an honor to be here. I would like to say that it is a pleasure to be here, but the preparation for this sermon has caused me so much anxiety that, though it is a pleasure now to be here, but it has not been for the days and weeks preceding this moment.
Maybe it’s because of the reputable preachers that I heard standing in this spot - including the then Rector [John Andrew], and a former Archbishop of Canterbury [Michael Ramsay]. So, I revere this spot, and those who have been here to speak.
Maybe my anxiety arises from the text chosen for the service, as well. Second Samuel is the story of David, after he had been recognized as the King of the united Israel, and he moved the capital city to a more centrally located, more suitable place – from Hebron to Jerusalem. After these things happened, he decided to bring The Ark of the Covenant, The Ark of God that was known by the Name of the Lord, the symbol of God’s presence with his people, into the city of Jerusalem - The Ark, upon which God was believed to have been seated or standing, sometimes called the throne of the Lord or the footstool of God; King David decided to bring The Ark into the presence of those living within the capital city, to be with him, that the people might know and be assured that God was indeed with them, that they had been blessed by God, that they had the king that God desired for them, and that they now were in a place of stability.
So, David planned a wonderful ceremony and celebration, with a procession that included musicians and instruments and songs - a grand occasion, marching The Ark from where it had been, outside of city, into this new location in the capital city of Jerusalem.
For me, standing here feels like an occasion for great celebration that deserves praise and thanksgiving to God.
But for David, disaster followed, the very next step.
The Ark had been placed on a new cart (state of the art technology), the oxen were guided by the two sons of the man whose house the Ark had been in for years. And as the cart moved slowly toward Jerusalem, one of the oxen stumbled, and one of the men there to guide the cart, reached to stabilize The Ark, and touched The Ark and died instantly. David interpreted this to be a sign of God’s wrath - against him, against his people, against the man who touched the Ark. And David was angry – angry, not only that the occasion had been ruined by a lack of protocol, but angry, probably, at the man who touched the Ark, and angry at those who (maybe himself) had chosen that a cart be used, rather than that the Ark be carried on the shoulders of the priests by poles, as had been instructed in the law.
Maybe he was angry at God - God, or himself, or those around.
Then David went from being angry to being afraid (we’re told in the text) - afraid of the Lord.
This David - the man after God’s own heart, the man of faith, composer of the Psalms (prayers for every occasion), who inquired of God at just about every step of his life, who when pursued by his predecessor, Saul, cried out and prayed to God for help against his enemies, who knew that God was with him, and who trusted God. This man, David, now was afraid of the Lord to the point that he said “how can The Ark now come to me?’’.
Maybe my anxiety comes also from the contrast and tension between the two lessons read this evening. One the one hand we see David, angry and afraid. On the other hand, we hear Saint Paul encouraging and exhorting the Christians in Thessalonica to pray always, to be joyful in all circumstances, to give thanks always, because God is at work in your midst. God is present with you now. God is working through you and in you at this moment.
“Pray without ceasing, be joyful always, give thanks in all circumstances”. We do not see that in David’s experience when he is cowering or afraid of God because of some things that he can’t understand which happened on his festive occasion. [So, if I were to take that passage to heart, I might think that some disaster might befall me as I am speaking with you now. … So far we’re safe…]
But God is present.
God was present with David; God is present now because God speaks to us though the Word.
Through the Word of God spoken, God is present;
Through the Word of God read, God is present;
Through the Word of God sung, by heart from hearing it year after year, God is present;
Through the Word of God prayed in song and word, God is present.
The only words I actually remember hearing from this pulpit, 41 graduations later, were from a guest preacher on Good Friday. He stood here, and he was to preach seven sermons – one on each on the seven last words or Christ from the cross. And he had gotten a little bit ahead of himself. So, when he stood to deliver his last sermon, he said, “Well, I’ve said all that I came to say.” And rather than sit down at that point, he preached another sermon - an extemporaneous sermon about the cross – the cross of Christ: The Cross which demonstrated God’s love for his people, The Cross which demonstrates God’s love for us, The Cross which points to God’s unfailing love.
“This is how we know what love is: Christ Jesus laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
“Neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39): the one crucified and risen; God with us; The love of God demonstrated and expressed.
And so, the title of this sermon given, “Prayer as Rhythm” –
The rhythm which underlies prayer;
the rhythm which supports prayer;
the rhythm which contains all prayer;
the rhythm which sustains prayer;
the rhythm which carries prayer, no matter what is going on in our lives or in our world;
The constant, the foundation when it comes to prayer;
The rhythm of prayer,
whether they be prayers of praise, prayers of celebration for a festive occasion;
whether they be prayers of fear, of anxiety, of distress;
whether they be prayers of lament and confession;
whether they be prayers of petition and supplication;
whether they be prayers of joy or sorrow or thanksgiving;
no matter the mood;
no matter the melody;
no matter the occasion;
no matter the song;
The rhythm that supports and underlies all prayer:
the rhythms is the Love of God for us;
the Love of God for this world that he came to save;
the Love of God, the incarnate Word,
who died in the cross and who rose again.
The rhythm, the foundations,
that which holds up all prayer,
is found not in ourselves,
not in our discipline,
not in the regularity of our prayer;
The rhythm is God’s; the rhythm is Love;
Love is eternal; Love supports all life;
God is The Rhythm.
May we know the Love of God in all prayer.
May God’s Love for us inform our prayer, lead us and guide us, and hold us in its rhythm.