By Ethan Magness
The fifth chapter of 2 Samuel records three pivotal events in the life of David and the history of Israel.
First, David is acknowledged as the king of all Israel. Saul and his legacy are rejected, and David is established as the unquestioned ruler. Politically he has arrived.
Second, David conquers Jerusalem and establishes a new capital. Geographically (and strategically) he has arrived.
Third, David defeats the Philistines. From Gibeon to Gezer he strikes down the powerful Philistine army. Militarily he has arrived.
He has one more important task. He must retrieve the ark of the covenant to bring it to God’s city. The Philistines had captured the ark earlier and, although it had long since been retrieved, it had never been returned to a place of honor. While moving the ark to Jerusalem, one of the priests touched it and was struck dead.
David, at the pinnacle of worldly achievement, was now afraid. Would the presence of God be a blessing or a curse to him? He decided to leave the ark at the house of Obed-Edom outside the city. Three months later he changed his mind. He changed his mind because it was clear that God’s presence was in fact a great blessing to the house of Obed-Edom. David wanted that blessing.
I remembered this story as my family and I shuffled through the crowds to the inauguration of Barack Obama. We, along with millions of others, had come out to see something new.
A new president from a new party was enough to attract some. A new generation of leaders was exciting to others. Many were there because this election seemed to make a profound statement about how far toward racial reconciliation our country had come. Some were there because they wanted to see the crowds. At least a few had come to pray for the country and proclaim God’s mercy and justice for the world.
I was there for a few of those reasons. But as I stood there and recalled 2 Samuel 6, I realized I was mainly there because the ark needs to be in Jerusalem.
When Rick Warren led the gathered crowds in the Lord’s Prayer, many thousands prayed with him. I wondered how this new administration would respond to that. Certainly many in the church had supported his election. But even more had not. The most vocal leaders of the church had supported his opponent. This new administration supports policies that are at the very least objectionable on many issues of concern to Christians.
And so I wondered, might this new administration be tempted like David to try to keep God out of the capital. Might the new administration be prone to let the church stay away, doing whatever it does out at Obed-Edom’s place?
I wouldn’t blame the administration if it did, just like I don’t blame David. No administration represents God’s values on all issues.
The values of Christ and his church are troublesome for all world leaders. We value the least of these over the most powerful; we value service over power; we value sacrifice over the assertion of our rights; we value the common good of all people over the limited good for any tribe or nation or person. Most importantly, we value our allegiance to God and our King more than our allegiance to any earthly government.
David was afraid of the ark because its power was beyond his control. Why would a young king at the peak of his power want to risk such trouble?
The answer is, of course, because of the blessing. God’s presence is a blessing. It was not a guilt trip that changed David’s mind. The priests did not revolt. The people did not march in the street. Rather, it was the blessing of God that so impressed David that he decided the ark was worth the risk.
To be honest, he was deciding that God was worth the risk. He knew God would challenge his choices. He knew God would expect righteousness, but he decided that working with God was worth the risk because with God came blessing.
As I stood in the cold and thought of this story, I realized that in every political moment the church is given a precious opportunity. But this moment seems special. It may not be special; it may be just like other pivotal moments that have come before the church. If nothing else, this moment is the one before us. This moment before us is the opportunity to be to the world—and especially to the new American government—a blessing and not a curse.
No one is surprised that there are issues of disagreement between conservative Christians and the new administration. In fact, there is near unanimous expectation for how the church will respond to this new administration. It will divide. Most will resist the new administration by denouncing it over hot-button issues. Some will embrace this administration as a new opportunity. Each will accuse the other of forsaking the legacy of Jesus. The division will be bitter but it will be boring in its predictability.
More importantly, it will demonstrate that David’s first instinct was right; working with God isn’t worth it. It is better for the king to leave God’s interests and God’s people outside the city.
But what if the presence of God’s people was a blessing?
What if the church—God’s people on God’s behalf—decided to be a blessing wherever possible? What if we focused our energy not on condemnation but on communication, not on protest but on support?
No one is surprised when the church angrily denounces policies we do not support. No one is surprised when the church protests and marches. No one is surprised when the church petitions and complains. No one is surprised to see the church dirty itself in partisan divides and political deal making.
But the church could still surprise. And that surprise could draw people to the gospel.
In every administration and by every government, the church is marginalized, but it is not shut out. In that moment we face a choice. We can fight and clamor for more power to pursue our (and hopefully Christ’s) agenda, or we could choose to bless.
Wherever we are invited to participate, in whatever arena we are able to serve, let the church be a blessing. Let us use the energy that has for so long gone to protesting policy and resisting regulation to bless wherever we can. Many doors may be closed; but let us choose to focus on all the doors that are open, to bless our communities and our leaders.
Let the world be confounded by a church that uses its great power to bless wherever we can. Let the world be amazed that the church is willing to humble itself and serve wherever it can.
Perhaps they may ask us, “Why would you so diligently serve and encourage an administration with whom you disagree?” We can tell them that we serve this administration because we are servants of a King who came to serve and calls us to serve and love everyone.
More exciting is the possibility that, like David, the leaders of our counties and states and nations might see that the church as the agent of God is a blessing. They will see that we love the people more than policies, that we will serve even when we do not rule. Perhaps, like David, they will see that when the church is able to serve, it is a blessing; and perhaps, to their own surprise, our political leaders will invite the church in to serve in ways we never expected.
This moment may or may not feel special to you. But it is the moment that lies before the church today. Let the church be a blessing wherever it can. Let us confound our critics as they see us humbly serve. And let us believe that as God uses us to bless others, the nations will notice.
Let the ark be a blessing to Jerusalem.
Ethan Magness is pastor of spiritual formation with Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland. His blog is at http://onthewalk.besquared.org.