Pastor Becca Ehrlich
During one of the Alpha Course videoed talks, Nicky Gumbel tells a story of a woman who attended a church one Sunday. It was a church in Central London that was a very formal church and was very formal in how they worshipped. And there was a woman who had just became a Christian, and she was just really excited about how she was experiencing God’s presence. And in the middle of the service she shouted out, `Hallelujah!’ And the head usher was standing at the back, and he came and he tapped her on the shoulder and he said, `Madam, you mustn’t say that here!’ And she said, `But I’m so excited!’ she said, `I’ve got religion!’ He said, `Well, you didn’t get it here, madam.’
Worshipping joyfully. We know what worship means—honoring and reverencing God. We know what joy means—deep delight and gladness. But what does it look like when we put the two together? What does it mean to worship joyfully?
For the Quakers, worshipping joyfully is sitting in silence and waiting for the Holy Spirit to move some of those people present to speak the words that God wants said. I went to a Quaker meeting one time, and it was very clear to me that the meeting room—the only way I can think to describe it was that it was quietly humming--- with God’s presence and the joy the people received from worshipping.
For the church I was a field education student at, an inner-city African-American Lutheran congregation, worshipping joyfully looked very much like that woman in Nicky Gumbel’s story. I first learned to lead worship and preach in this community, where the worshippers felt free to shout out words and phrases during songs, prayers, and the sermon, where people stood when they felt moved, swayed to the music, clapped when they felt they needed to. There was no judgment—people were accepting of many different ways to worship God.
For King David, worshipping joyfully at that moment was singing and dancing with all his might as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the city of Jerusalem. The Ark was considered God’s presence among the people, and in God’s presence David worshipped and let loose with God’s people around him, doing the same. There was singing. There were a whole host of instruments being played. There were sacrifices to God. There was tasty food for everyone to eat. And there was dancing! Twice, it says that David wasn’t just dancing, but “dancing with all his might.” It also says that he was jumping too. With only a loin cloth on.
But David didn’t care that he was almost naked. He was so into his worship of God that he didn’t care what he looked like—he just worshipped the way he felt he needed to. In that respect, he took worship to a whole new level. I think we can agree that most of the time, even in worship, we have that subconscious worry of what we look like, how others view us. We worry that we will look out of place, ridiculous, different.
But what’s so interesting about David is that he didn’t care. He was going to worship God with his whole being, no matter what!
Now I want you to think about a time something really amazing and great happened to you. It could be anything. Something that made you feel like you were on top of the world. Remember that feeling? What did it feel like…?
Now imagine right after that wonderful time someone comes up to you and tells you that you actually stunk up the place, that everyone is actually laughing at you and has no respect for you. NOW how do you feel….?
That’s exactly what happened to David. He comes home, after having this amazing worship experience with the people in Jerusalem, he’s on a spiritual high. And his second wife, Michal, rips into him. It says that while David was dancing, oblivious to everything around him, Michal was watching him from the window, and she “was disgusted with him.” And boy, did she want to voice her disgust when he got home!
She mocks him, tells him that he made a spectacle of himself, that he was basically naked, looking like a fool in front of everyone, and that the maids of the big muck-a-mucks were gaping at him. “You looked ridiculous! What were you thinking???”
It’s important to note that the Bible never actually tells us why Michal despised David when she saw him dancing. We can infer from her outburst, though, that one of the reasons is probably that she was worried about how other people viewed David, and by extension herself. She totally missed the point of David letting loose and worshipping before God with everything he had, and leading others in that joyful worship. She was more worried about what it made them look like to others.
In fact, it sounds like the whole city was out there celebrating, singing and dancing with David. Michal, on the other hand, was holed up in the house, looking out the window and glaring at David. She would rather be miserable and judge others for their joyful worship than actually participate herself.
But David gives it right back to Michal. He reminds her that he was chosen to be king of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, over her father Saul. And he tells her that he doesn’t care what she says—he’s going to continue dancing to honor the Lord, even if it disgraces him more (the word used in other Bible translations is “undignified.” I love that, because it means David isn’t a king that worries about looking dignified and proper in front of the people and the officials—he’s gonna worship the way he’s moved to do so! Imagine if a member of the British royalty took that stance! Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth dancing with all her might??).
And this argument clearly had a big impact on both of them, because Michal never had children—a HUGE issue in that time, because the main role women were supposed to fill was mother. Is it because God was not happy with her outburst and kept her from procreating? Or is it because one or even both of them withheld marital relations? We don’t know, the Bible doesn’t say. Either way, this argument about worshipping joyfully was not just some flash in a pan. It had important consequences.
Contrary to a quick read of this story, this is not some random Bible passage that has nothing to do with us today. Arguments about what it means to worship joyfully, worries of how we look to others, and tensions in relationships are timeless. They are part of our human existence.
But, it doesn’t stop there. We can learn quite a bit from this story of David and the people of Jerusalem and Michal.
One thing is that when we argue about what worshipping joyfully looks like, there are probably other things going on in the background as well. What I mean is, if you have tension in a congregation about worship, or anything else, it’s usually aggravated by other tensions in peoples’ lives—problems at work, family problems, or other unrelated problems in the congregation.
Take Michal, for example. She and David had a checkered past. Michal, one of Saul’s daughters, fell in love with David. Saul saw it as an opportunity to try to get David killed. He told David that he’d have to kill 100 Philistines in order to marry Michal—and Saul assumed David would die in the process. David was successful, however, and he and Michal were married. She loved him so much that she later helped David escape from her own father’s troops. But later in the story, Saul decides to give her as a wife to another man, so she had to leave David and go be married to another guy.
Well, after David finally wins and Saul is dead, in both a political and a personal move, he demands that he get Michal back as his wife. Michal’s second husband follows her almost all the way, crying the whole time, until David’s commander tells him to get lost. It never says in the Bible how Michal felt about all this, but I can imagine she wasn’t thrilled to be taken away from a husband that loved her so much he followed her all the way crying. And then we don’t hear anything else about Michal, until this story.
So, with all of that going on, is it any wonder that Michal was feeling some tension between herself and David? And that pent-up emotion seems to have exploded out when she was chastising him for his joyful worship. We do that, too. When we have conflict or tension in one aspect of our lives, it can play out in another area. And one arena it can sometimes play out in is over worship.
But another thing we learn from this passage is that there will always be someone wanting to complain about a joyful worship experience. There will always be a Michal. It didn’t matter that David had felt incredibly close to God and helped the people in Jerusalem also feel close to God, it didn’t matter that they were worshipping joyfully all throughout the city—she didn’t like what was going on and cared more about what people thought rather than the joyful experience of God’s presence. Because that type of worship experience didn’t work for her, she didn’t want anyone else to experience it.
And that’s incredibly important to remember today— there are many different ways of worshipping God. All types of worship services aren’t for everyone, obviously. That’s why here at Zion we actually have three different types of worship services during the year, and two during the summer! Everyone connects with God in different ways, and certain types of worship will speak to some people while other types speak to other people.
But what’s most important is that we worship joyfully, and that we offer as many different opportunities to do so as we can, so that as many people as possible are able to experience God in a way that feels right to them. And within those opportunities, we are open to the fact that people can worship however they are moved to do so. If you’re moved to clap during a song, do it! If you are moved to lift your hands in prayer or in praise, do it! If you are moved to sit in the pew and pray silently on your own, do it! The point of worship is to spend time with God, in community. So we should be able to do it how the Spirit moves us to!
So, with God’s help, we try not to be a Michal and judge people here at Zion and in other congregations based on how they worship. As long as they (and we) are worshipping joyfully and experiencing God—it’s all good! They or we could be letting loose and dancing up a storm like David, or shouting and clapping like the people at my field education congregation, or sitting quietly and listening for God like the Quakers. Let’s leave room here at Zion for those who want to worship joyfully, however the Holy Spirit may be moving them to do so. YOU are free to worship here, however the Spirit moves you!
When we worship joyfully, we celebrate that God is present with us! We celebrate that God gave us the gift of every breath we take! We celebrate all of the blessings God gives to us in our lives! We celebrate that God loves us and is with us every step of the way! We celebrate those people God places in our lives to help us on our journey! We celebrate the gathering of people here, in this place, worshipping our God! We celebrate the ability God has given us to sing, to clap, to play instruments, and even dance!
Let’s worship joyfully and celebrate all of that, and more!!!Amen!