whirl and dance
A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on October 20, 2019
•2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5•
There are certain baseball players who transcend their team and simply become players that you love. Ryne Sandberg is one such player. This is no easy thing for a St. Louis Cardinal fan to say, for it was against my beloved Cardinals, that the third-year second baseman had the game of his life.
It was 35 years ago, in June of 1984, in heat of a Chicago summer that the fateful game took place. The Cubs had rallied from 7-1 and 9-3 deficits and came into the bottom of the ninth inning down 9-8. The Cardinals, ace reliever and future Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter was on the mound, so there were no worries on the Red Bird’s side. Yet, Sandberg led off the ninth inning by taking a fastball over the left-field fence to tie the game. However, my Cardinals answered and scored twice in the top of the 10th to take a seemingly unsurpassing 11-9 lead. Sutter returned for his third inning of work and with two outs gave up a walk. Into the box walked Sandberg, who against all odds, hit another homer to tie the game again. The Cubs went on to win in the 11th, and the event became known as “The Sandberg Game.”[i]
It was an extraordinary moment in an amazing career. But what makes Sandberg stand out to me is not his on the field heroics, though they were grand, but the way he played the game. And he talked about it in his Hall of Fame speech. Listen to a small sample:
“The reason I am here, they tell me, is that I played the game a certain way, that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I don’t know about that, but I do know this: I had too much respect for the game to play it any other way… I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. Make a great play — act like you’ve done it before. Get a big hit — look for the third base coach… and get ready to run the bases. Hit a home run — put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases, because the name on the front is… a lot more important than the name on the back… A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do — play it right and with respect. If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game… did what they were supposed to do and I did what I was supposed to do.”[ii]
If I was to read his whole address you would hear the word “respect” 19 times. He talked about respect for people the who formed him, for the game, for his teammates, for something larger than himself. Sandberg places himself in relationship with those of his past, his connection to those who will come after and how that links to the world around him.
This sense of respect and awareness feels rare today. More often it feels as though people move through life with their focus solely on themselves and the changes they are going through, and in doing so they lose sight of their past and become blind to where they are headed. It seems like that is what happened to the people of Israel as they went from the time of judges to the time of kings. And we catch a glimpse of this in our reading today as we hear about the Ark of the Covenant. Of course to get a fuller picture we will have to venture a bit before and a little further into the story than our reading did.
The Ark of the Covenant was a big wooden box, overlaid with gold that you didn’t want to mess with. Inside it sat the two stone tablets inscribed with the ten commandments. The ark ventured with the people as they traveled. It represented God’s presence among them and the people felt invincible with it around.
However, in the fourth chapter of 1 Samuel, the people were defeated and the ark was taken. The Philistines chariots were no match for the Israelites and they took the ark back with them. Unfortunately for the Philistines the ark sat something like a bad sushi meal. Everyone started getting sick and so they returned it. But having been defeated by the Philistines with the ark by their side, the people didn’t feel so tied to it anymore and rather than the protection of the ark, they demand a king who will protect them and the ark is set off to the side for a bit.
But when David gets anointed as king of both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdoms of Israel. David needed something to draw the two kingdoms together and he thought what better than the ark. So David set off to retrieve the old relic in order to unite the people around him and legitimize his kingship. But here is the thing, David had lost respect for the tradition. He had forgotten how the ark was supposed to be cared for and how one carried themselves around it. And because of this a young man ends up dead.
The story starts with the second half of our reading today. David heads off with 30 thousand chosen men. He orders a new cart to be made so he can carry the ark in style, but this was his first mistake. The ark wasn’t meant to ride on a cart — it was supposed to be carried by priests, on poles so they could feel the weight of God’s presence with them. The only people who put the ark on a cart were the Philistines and we heard how that worked out for them.
The second thing David forgets is to make a sacrifice. It is as though David wanted all the benefits of the ark, but didn’t want to invest the time, work or energy the ark demanded. David just wanted the glory. David was all about the self-aggrandizing piece.
Two young men were assigned to drive the cart bearing the ark. When the dancing troupe came through Nacon, the oxen pulling the cart lost their footing and the ark began to fall. One of the young men, not knowing what he was doing, reached out to steady the ark and we are told “the anger of the Lord was kindled against (him); and God struck him there.”[iii] The young man died on the spot.
As the parade comes to a crashing halt, David reacts like a child being told no and becomes angry. But soon that anger turns into fear as David realizes you cannot be so cavalier with God’s presence. It is a good learning for us all — God is God — and regardless of the fact that he wears a crown and is called king — David is not.
Like David, we can be forgetful. Like David, we can act in a cavalier, even disrespectful. Watch professional sports today and you get a lot more of Jerry Maguire’s Rod Tidwell screaming “show me the money!” then the quiet leadership and respect of a Ryne Sandberg. What you see are a parade of egos, dancing as though they were the most important person at the party.
And it is not that professional sports are unique — we see this is true in nearly every facet of our lives. In the business world, we have seen leaders of major corporations cut corners, betray trust, dissolve jobs and even retirements all while padding their own savings accounts. There are plenty of people still reeling from the banks cavalier handling of mortgage loans.
And the public sector is no better. It was not that long ago that I read a story of a non-profit that received thousands of dollars and none of it went to the specific places for which it was raised. The church isn’t immune. We have no idea the lasting impact of the clergy sex abuse scandal and institutional cover-up that followed — we only know the sheer number of lives destroyed has not yet hit its peak.
And intuitions — this is deeply personal. Think about what is behind the college admissions scandal at USC with parents paying for their child’s acceptance into college. It is a symptom of the fact that we are a people who have forgotten that the common good is more important than the personal good. We are a people teetering on the edge of forgetting that everything we have didn’t just appear out of thin air. People came before us sacrificing to create all we have come to take for granted — our institutions of higher learning, our infrastructure, our economy, our livelihood. It was built not for us to consume for our own good. Not for us to simply use and discard — but rather to shepherd and steward so we might pass it on to the next generation and they to the next and so on and so on. Each of us are a link. None of us are the chain itself.
And while David has forgotten how he is supposed to care for the ark, and we have forgotten who we have been called to be, all is not lost. For through God’s love of us there is always hope that we can be remade, reshaped and even redeemed. And David is our proof. For after he went into his room and worked through his anger and fear, he went back to the ark once again, but this time he came in a different spirit.
First, he found the priestly garb to show he had respect for the treasure. Next, he gave up the cart and went back to carrying the ark on long poles. And after they took their first six paces a sacrifice was offered. A double sacrifice as it was. Incidentally, the sacrifice was the very thing that had been a part of the mistakes made — the sacrifice was an ox and a fatling. And after David showed the respect, then he whirled around with all his might.
Brothers and sisters, we live in a time when respect for the whole — the past, present and future — is a rare gift indeed. But that is not to say that it is not present or possible. For just as David was transformed, so might we be as well.
For it is to this work that God has created us. It is what we hunger and long for. It is the most often answer people give when asked about their greatest desire — it is a hope to be about something bigger than themselves. What is that something for you? What are you living for that is bigger and greater than yourself?
If you have forgotten, today is the day to remember. If you aren’t sure, then this is the day to commit to listening. For the power and presence of God is in our midst and after showing respect, let it inspire us to whirl and dance around with all our might and being, giving glory to God for all God has done… for all God is doing… and all God will continue to do in the future. Amen.
[i] Found at https://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/48842/thirty-years-ago-the-sandberg-game on October 17, 2019.
[ii] Found at https://americanrhetoric.com/speeches/rynesandbergbaseballhalloffame.htm on October 17, 2019
[iii] 2 Samuel 6:7 (nrsv)