Sermon: The Charismatic Path

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Preached on 16th March 2008
by Mrs Maureen Baker

Introduction

  1. This is the sixth and final service in the series ‘Pathways of Prayer. We have had the path of Holiness, the path of social justice, the devotional path, the sacramental path, the contemplative path and now finally the charismatic path.
  2. According to the leaflet - Charismatic spirituality focuses on the immediacy of the internal experience of God and the consequent response of worship. This pathway invites us to engage with our bodies and our emotions as well as our intellect. - in other words, letting go, allowing the spirit to take hold of you.
  3. I must admit ten minutes after having agreed to do this service I had a panic moment and thought ‘what have you just volunteered for?!' This really is not my thing. This is like getting a fat person to come and talk about dieting.
  4. But perhaps a fat person is exactly the right person to talk about dieting. A thin person might just be naturally thin and never had to find out anything about dieting. A fat person may have tried them all and know all about it.
  5. So to talk about the pathway of letting yourself go and the Spirit take hold of you, you've got 100% restrained British me. Somebody once said that there is nothing so unedifying as persons of Anglo-saxon ethnicity trying to clap in time to music. They had a point. It's just not in our DNA. We queue. We stand in neat lines in church. We discuss things civilly. It takes an awful lot to make us throw caution to the winds and show our emotions in public.
  6. I usually imagine worship in the Temple in Old Testament times as being rather restrained - a lot of emphasis on Holiness, priests in their robes performing sacrifices, the Holy of Holies behind the curtain where only the High Priest was allowed to go. You imagine the ordinary people perhaps keeping quiet in awe and wonder. However some of the psalms paint a different picture. People singing and dancing to praise God as they went up to the Temple.
  7. Psalm 150 mentions trumpets, cymbals, drums and dancing etc.

Address

  1. Imagine the scene if the England football team won the World Cup and the cricket team won back the ashes, and the rugby team won the Rugby World cup and all the teams brought their trophies back to London (imagine royal family dancing??)- even that would not get to the level of celebration when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. 
  2. The ark of the Covenant was the wooden box that contained the tablets on which the 10 commandments were written. It is hard for us to imagine just how much the Ark meant to the people of Israel in David's day. It was their most sacred object. In a strange way they believed that God was somehow present in that box because inside were the rules He had given them. These were the rules of their nation, the thing that set them apart - the Ark was the symbol of their nation, their identity, their culture, everything. 
  3. They were only a small nation struggling to survive at all because they were surrounded by other more powerful and more technically advanced (they had better chariots) tribes - the Philistines. It was their worst moment as a nation when the Philistines captured the Ark. In a way they must have felt that they had lost God.
  4. However the young King David was able to beat the Philistines in battle and the time eventually came when the covenant box could be restored to Jerusalem. This must have been an occasion of extreme celebration. But David does not lead the procession riding on a big horse wearing all his finery. Instead he strips down to his underwear and dances in front of the cart carrying the Ark.
  5. 5. By doing this he emphasises that the victory belongs to God. He does not take credit. He is not the hero general riding in to be saluted by the people. He is one of the people praising God for what has happened. He puts himself on the same level as the rest of the crowd. He celebrates with the people. He allows himself to be swept up in the emotion of the occasion. He allows God's spirit to take hold of him and he let's rip!
  6. Let's just have a side-track to the ‘Uzzah Incident' because the first of the questions in the leaflet asks about Uzzah's death. I must admit I was tempted to shorten the reading a bit by missing this bit out - but as the question raises it I could not do that. The ark is put on a new cart and they set off with Uzzah and his brother Ahio guiding the new cart. When they get to the threshing floor of Nacon the oxen pulling the cart stumble and Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark and he is struck dead. You can understand why this was thought unlucky so David delayed the return of the Ark to Jerusalem for a further three months. Why did Uzzah die? To a superstitious Israeli of 3000 years ago the answer was that God had killed him for touching the Ark. Use your imagination. The ark was a very heavy wooden box full of very heavy stones. That is why oxen were needed to pull it and a new cart needed to be built. The oxen stumble and the ark might fall. Uzzah reaches out and takes hold of it - he exerts himself to steady this enormous weight. Perhaps he thought this enormous weight was going to topple onto him. Is it so surprising that this should cause a fatal heart attack or such-like?
  7. Anyway to get back to the main plot - David dancing to honour God. When he gets home to his wife Michal (oddly named) she is not at all happy and gives him a right telling off for disgracing himself in public. Michal was Saul's daughter - a princess from birth and now the wife of the King. Perhaps she had her own ideas about how a King should behave. A king should be dignified. A King should wear rich robes and a crown, a King should ride the best horse or be carried along in a litter. No way should a King take his clothes off in public!
  8. Perhaps Michal had her own ambitions to be the consort of a great King and she thought David was letting her down.
  9. David replies that he will ‘Go on dancing to Honour God'. The important thing is not so much what David does but why he does it - he does it to honour God. He uses his body, his emotions, his whole being to dance in honour of God. - not to honour himself.
  10. Over 1000 years later Jerusalem was once more the scene of wild celebration. This time it was Jesus who was entering the city riding on a donkey. It was Palm Sunday.
  11. Jesus rides on a humble donkey - the sign of peace. Unlike Judas Maccabaeus who about 200 yrs before had led a revolt and ridden into Jerusalem on a big horse.
  12. The people are unrestrained in their welcome. They take off their cloaks and spread them on the road for the donkey to walk over. They pull down palm branches, wave then in the air and lay them on the road. They should ‘Hosannah!' They are not an orderly restrained crowd.
  13. That is the trouble as far as the Pharisees are concerned. To the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders this is not to be allowed. They could not allow anything that might look like a popular movement, anything that would anger the Romans and cause them to come down hard on the Jewish religion - as they had done to other races in other territories. The reaction of the Pharisees is a bit like the reaction of Michal to David's dancing. But the reaction of the Pharisees leads within a few days to Good Friday.
  14. So what about our worship today? We don't generally dance. We don't even take our coats off sometimes never mind throw them to the ground, we don't wave palm branches.
  15. The important thing is that whatever we do in worship should be done to honour God and not ourselves. If it is done to honour God it is fitting.
  16. So beware of being like Michal or the Pharisees. Some aspects of what would be called Charismatic worship might make us feel a bit uncomfortable perhaps - speaking in tongues for example, people spontaneously calling things out in the service - but just because it's not your thing does not mean that it is not right for others.
  17. But what if you are a restrained Brit? Perhaps, like me, you feel that dancing down the aisles is not your thing. Perhaps you think that the charismatic path is not for you. Well, perhaps by not treading a little way down the charismatic path we are missing out. God has given us bodies and emotions - perhaps if we only allow the spirit to work in us then we will find it easier to use our whole beings to praise God.
  18. Then, of course, if we aren't keen on being emotional in public worship then what about in private? Does anybody sing hymns in the shower? Does the beauty of nature sometimes make you want to just roll down a grassy bank for fun? Loosen up a bit and let the Spirit take hold of you.

 

 

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