A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar. September 1, 2013
1 Chronicles 15:25-28; John 6:25-34
Well, here we are, you and I, the remnant!
Last week’s Centennial reunion celebration is one for the books, not to mention our congregational memory. Admittedly, today’s attendance hardly matches what we experienced a week ago, though I doubt anyone expected that to be the case. But let’s be honest… it is a long holiday weekend. That may have something to do with our low attendance today. Yet, we know there is a natural letdown after an event like the one we have had, not unlike the Sunday following Easter. How do we respond to it?
First of all, why don’t we take a long collective breath.
When my brother Steve and his wife Jean were here recently, as we were preparing for my mother’s funeral, I was walking through the kitchen when Jean started laughing. What was so funny? “Every time you walk by,” she told me, “you let out a deep sigh, just like your brother. You’re all sigh-ers.”
I don’t have to apologize for that, do I?
In situations like what we have been experiencing here of late – and many of you have been a vital part of it – when there are details to work out, things to do and lists to work through, services and dinners and receptions to prepare for, and all manner of issues tugging at you from this direction or the next, and your mind is racing from here to there… you just have to stop on occasion and collect yourself.
It doesn’t do any good to get in a hurry. There were times in the last few weeks when I would get behind the wheel of my car, and have to remind myself to slow down. When there is much to do, fatigue becomes the name of the game regardless, and rushing around isn’t going to help anyway. So, it helps on occasion to stop and let out a deep, long (breath) sigh.
I commend it to you. It releases the old CO2 and gets oxygen to the brain and heart. Maybe that’s what we ought to do today. Let out a big sigh of relief that our reunion is over, but also let it be a sign of our gratitude for the successful way everything was done. So why don’t we all do it together right now (big breath).
Feel better? I thought you would. I know I do.
But once we have done that, what do we do next? In other words, the Centennial party – at least the reunion part of it – is over. What do you do when the dance is done?
David, king of Israel, the man after God’s own heart, provides us a pretty good example of what to do when momentous occasions are upon us… and then behind us. We could use some of his guidance, or perhaps his testimony, as to how it is we ought to respond. Let’s take a look at his story. I think you will find it very interesting. Let’s also hope it will be inspiring, if not at least informative.
David has taken control of Jerusalem and is beginning to build the city as the capital of Judah. After completing his kingly palace, and while starting to take a look at preliminary architectural renderings of the temple he is planning to build, David is working feverishly to reunite the two kingdoms of Israel, the larger southern Judah and the smaller northern Israel. The Philistines are continually raiding here and there, nipping at his heels in the hopes that as long as they can keep David occupied from a military standpoint his mind will be on dealing with them rather than on the political maneuverings required to bring the two kingdoms together.
It was there own version of divide and conquer. What they didn’t seem to understand was that they were up against a formidable foe in King David, youngest son of Jesse the Benjamanite, if for no other reason than the God of Israel was on his side.
Recognizing that this is not something he can accomplish on his own – and at a time in his life when David is operating at his absolute best – he seeks the counsel of God in knowing how to respond to all this. And because he brings God in on his deliberations, he proves to be successful at both: not letting the Philistines get the upper hand, and reuniting his people under one political roof. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does eventually come about… which is one of the major reasons David went down as the greatest king in Israel’s history.
As momentous an occasion as the Centennial reunion weekend was for us, what David is going through presently in our story is probably much more complex than what we accomplished with the events of last week (I do not expect Joni Lee to necessarily agree with that).
So, in the midst of all this, with all the details to be worked out, a bitter wife to consider (I’ll let you read the story on your own, if you like, and then you’ll see what I mean), political concerns here, military issues there… David is a busy, busy fellow. Don’t bother calling his office. He won’t be able to get back to you. David has a lot on his plate just now.
Central to his efforts is his decision to transport the ark of the covenant of the Lord to Jerusalem. It has been in storage for awhile, so to speak, and it is now time to bring it home. It is a momentous occasion, not unlike our celebration of last week. They’ve got a choir and orchestra, and are making plans for the sacrificing of bulls and rams. David dresses in his finest linen as he dances before the ark of the covenant. Then David blesses his people and calls them to worship:
O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek
the LORD rejoice.
As we continue to bask in the afterglow of our successful Centennial reunion celebration, understand that this is David’s finest hour. The king of Judah makes his share of mistakes. We all know that. But not here, and there’s a reason for that. David gives all the glory to God.
When the celebration is over, we are told, “All the people departed to their homes, and David went home to bless his household” (16:43). And take a nap, I would imagine. All good celebrations, when they are completed, require a good, long nap.
Still… what do you do when the dance is done? I mean after you’ve had that good, long sigh. After the Sunday afternoon nap. With the afterglow of such a wonderful occasion still warming your heart, what do you do next? How in the world do you follow up?
You go back to work, that’s what you do. On this Labor Day Sunday, you recognize that you must go back to work.
It won’t take a lot of encouragement to get Lowell Bentley talking about his Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions the past two seasons. After their most recent championship bowl game, reporters asked Nick Saban, Alabama’s coach, what they would do next. He informed them he would allow his players and coaches to celebrate twenty-four hours and then it would be back to work. Why? Because he wants a third championship, that’s why.
David goes back to work, but not before consulting with the Lord as to how he ought to do his work. He reflects on the events of the past few days, and realizes that the ark of the covenant resides in a tent while he lives in a house made of cedar. David wants to begin immediately – immediately being one of his favorite words – to build God a temple in which to house the ark of the covenant.
He even convinces his trusted prophet Nathan that this is a good idea. David has the means by which to pull it off, and he certainly has the energy to see it through. Surely God would be pleased with such a fine, fine structure in which his people come to worship. Who would consider that building a house of God would not be anything but a wonderful plan?
Evidently God. That very night, God comes to Nathan in a dream and tells the prophet to inform David that he will not be constructing a temple; that he, the Lord, will instead build his own house… not made of cedar or stone, but of people who love and follow the God who has led them to this place and time. And God will elevate David to the point that through Nathan God makes David a promise. “I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before him, but I will confirm him in his house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever” (17:13-15).
God isn’t angry with David. Quite the contrary. It’s just that God decides to point David’s efforts in another direction. It is a new day, the Lord is telling David. It is time to give heed to the purposes of God. That’s what you do when the dance is done… as you go back to work, you listen to the counsel of God.
What do you think the counsel of God might be for the Pulaski Heights Baptist Church as we launch our second century? Let’s consider the possibilities…
We worked hard to spruce up our church house for those who would come visit us last weekend, and while we have yet to complete our financial goal, who of us would say that so far it has been anything but a success? Our plans, for a second century campaign – as soon as the dust clears – are to begin working toward the refurbishment of Hicks Hall and our Centennial garden. Trust me, no one wants to see these things fulfilled more than your pastor.
But we, I believe, will be making a big mistake if our focus is solely on that and not on doing what the Lord really and truly wants of us. Look at David’s situation. God told him he didn’t need nor want a fancy temple. Up to this point, the best God had in terms of a dwelling place was a tent, and as far as God is concerned, so far, so good. No, what God wants is not a building made of brick and mortar, but a people who live in devotion to him, whose purpose is to serve God and help bring God’s people into reconciliation with their Creator.
Our Second Century Campaign needs to find us making a covenant with one another and with God that we will be the presence of Christ everywhere we go, that we will share God’s good grace with those we meet and invite them to be a part of a congregational family that accepts others, loves others, and proclaims in word and deed the grace that, in John Claypool’s words, is fully revealed in the face of Jesus. Our focus must not be – cannot be – inward toward ourselves. It must be outward as we wrap our arms continually around our neighborhood and invite others to be a part of who we are.
If the video that was shown last week did not tug at your heart strings, we might need to do some major surgery on you to see if you have a heart. When the respondents were asked to share one word that summed up their feelings about our church, I do believe the word I heard most was home. There are all manner of people around these parts who live in houses. What they don’t have is a home… a place where others accept them unconditionally, where the spoken word is one of grace, where the hand of fellowship is a hand that gives and doesn’t just take, where an embrace is always accompanied by the promise of prayer.
If you want to know what we must do, now that the dance is done, it is to continue to build such a home, not made of bricks but of grace, not of mortar but of prayer, not of walls but of open arms.
Indeed, we are something of a remnant here today. But a remnant is all that God has ever needed to accomplish his work. When his disciples asked Jesus what they needed to do in performing the works of God, he answered that they must believe in him. We believe in him best when we share him with those we meet. And that, my friends, (BIG SIGH) is what we must do now that the dance is done.
Lord, find us faithful in building your church… not for ourselves but for you. May we reflect your grace and share with others the really good news that you are in the business of taking your human creation unto yourself. Use us to that end, as we enter our second century, is our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.