In my devotional Bible reading today, part of my text was the story of Uzzah. In case that name doesn‚Äôt ring a bell, allow me to refresh your memory:
When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Sam 6:6-7)
This story will always make me smile because of something that wasn‚Äôt the least bit funny at the time.
I had just finished preaching a sermon about Uzzah. The basic thrust of it was that we sometimes take God‚Äôs holiness for granted. Yes, God longs to share intimate communion with us. Yes, Jesus calls us ‚Äúfriends,‚Äù and no longer ‚Äúslaves‚Äù (I guess Paul didn‚Äôt get that memo!). Even so, in the presence of a holy God, one must be mindful of where one is (Isaiah most definitely did get that memo!).
Uzzah somehow missed that. Perhaps he had become so accustomed to being around the ark that he forgot what it was. Or maybe he took it upon himself to protect the ark (which didn‚Äôt need his protection!) because he assumed he was qualified to do so. Maybe, if he‚Äôs like me on my worse days, he was doing both at the same time.
At any rate, after the sermon, we began to celebrate Communion. We had all received the bread and the deacons had just begun to distribute the cup.
And that is when Jack had a heart attack in the second row, piano side.
There are numerous things I‚Äôve counted as blessings during my years in the pastorate. At that moment, a membership that includes nurses and EMTs was high on my list. Those who knew what they were doing sprang into action. I did the only thing I could: I dismissed the congregation to their Sunday school classes. Before long, the paramedics had arrived, and by that evening, Jack was recovering in his hospital room.
Jack was a very tender-hearted guy, a serious reader of the Bible, and one of the mainstays of the church. He was, in fact, on the search committee that called me there. More than once over the next couple of days, he joked that my sermon must have been aimed right at him! In fact, long after they sent him home from the hospital, God striking down Uzzah was a kind of in-joke Jack liked to tell in my presence.
By the next time 2 Samuel 6 rolled around in the lectionary, I had gone to a different church and I had written a different sermon (honest, I had ) But as I began, I couldn‚Äôt resist telling them about Jack, and remarking that Ken‚Äîthe biggest jokester in the congregation‚Äîwas sitting in approximately the same seat in this church that Jack was in three years before in the other one. Nothing happened to Ken, but of course he joked that I must have been gunning for him.
Ken was a delight to be around. He served as a deacon and taught a children‚Äôs Sunday school class. He and his wife were two of the pillars of that church, and I don‚Äôt think anyone in the church was more deeply respected.
Second Samuel 6 is about how we behave before God. The immediate context is worship‚Äîa festal procession as David leads the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem‚Äîbut the implications reach into every facet of life. Have we grown so accustomed to the outward trappings of our religion that they no longer hold any mystery for us? For Jack and for Ken, the mystery remained. You could hear it in their voices when they read the Scripture. You could see it in their faces when they talked about their faith.
Jack and Ken each took God seriously in ways that others noticed. Both of them had their playful sides‚Äîbut that is part of grasping the holiness of God, too, isn‚Äôt it? God does unexpected, creative, unconventional, and even playful things, and God takes pleasure when we follow suit. After all, David danced before the ark not because he had forgotten that God was watching, but because he remembered.
I doubt either Jack or Ken would have felt comfortable dancing in church, but I know they loved it when the church was full of happy children learning about Jesus, and I know they loved it when the people of God met in the fellowship hall and let their common faith spill over into the laughter and loving of a church dinner.
Christians walk a fine line between taking the things of God for granted and taking them so seriously that it robs us of all creativity and humor. Each in their own way, Jack and Ken walked that line, with smiles on their faces and holiness in their hearts.
They were nothing like Uzzah.