A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that for generations had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why, a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some German fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it.”
Holy Scripture. If you want to get into an argument, pull out a verse or two and start discussing them in a group. If you can find more than one who agrees with how you understand that particular passage, then you might be on to something. You may even want to consider seminary!
As a priest, I have stated as part of my vows what I believe of Holy Scripture, as have all priest. During the opening section of the ordination of a Priest, the candidate says, “I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.”
The Catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (if you didn’t know we had one – or even if you did – you might want to consider taking the Confirmation class this fall!) states, we call the Holy Scriptures “the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.”
Now, I remind you of all this so that I can ask you a question. Take a look at your insert for this morning, the one with the readings printed in really small font that no one can really see. Look at the first lesson from the Old Testament. What is it? 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19. All things necessary for our salvation are included in Holy Scripture which God continues to speak to us through. So my question is: what happened in verses 6 through 12a? Did those who put the lectionary together not think that bit was important for our salvation? Was it just a long list of begats and a bit too boring to read?
I confess, when they leave out sections like this, I immediately go look up what they have omitted, and here’s what I discovered this time: We read that David and 30,000 of his men are returning the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David. They’re dancing, singing, and making sacrifices as they go. There is a seemingly minor detail mentioned, “Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God.” Ahio was going before the Ark. It is here that the lectionary folks hit the fast forward button. What did we miss: “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.”
Perhaps this is why they’ll never ask me to be on the Lectionary Committee, but in my opinion, that’s good stuff! I can preach that and I think I’m going to!
They’re going along, celebrating the return of the Ark. The Ark is on a cart that Uzzah is driving when suddenly they hit a pot hole – must have been in Enid – Uzzah is afraid that the Ark is going to fall off the cart, so he reaches out and steadies it. A natural reaction, but for this action, God smites Uzzah. Why?
For the answer, we must go back early in the history of the Ark, when the Israelites were still wandering in the wilderness. We know that when they were camped, the Ark was kept in the Tent of Meeting, but as they moved from one place to another, the Lord gave them specific instructions on how to “break camp”. When it came to the Ark and the other holy items, the Lord said, “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” The holy things cannot be touched. The unholy coming into contact with they holy ends in death.
We also know that not only touching the holy brings death, but even looking upon the holiness of God will end in death. Moses, while on the mountain, asked to see the face of God, but God says, “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” The prophet Isaiah has a vision of the Lord, and even there he is afraid saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He’s afraid he’s going to die.
The unholy, the unclean coming in contact or within sight of the holy leads to death. You touch God, you die. You see God, you die.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is God. Jesus is the holiness of God. Yet, how many saw him as he went about the work of the Father and yet lived? How many touched him, but didn’t end up dead like Uzzah? How many did he touch, that instead of dying were healed or brought back to life? With Jesus, we know that things are different. We know that God is with us and that he came so that we “may have life.” We know that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.”
We can see him and we can touch him. Something has changed in our relationship with God. What is that? Through the Blood of Christ, we have been made clean, we have been made holy. Paul declares, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Like Adam and Eve before the fall, we are allowed into the presence of God. We are even invited into the presence of God, but… but… make no mistake about it, you are still coming into the presence of the holy. And even though you have been invited, it is not a safe place. Things happen in the presence of the holy. Lives are transformed. The unclean is burned away. The light shines in the darkest corners and exposes everything that is hidden there. This is the holy, this is Your God and let me tell you, He is not safe.
In a scene from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that great classic by CS Lewis, two children, Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan, who is the Christ figure in the story. They ask if Aslan is a man. Mr. Beaver replies, ”Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion– the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” But he also spoke true a bit further on in that same letter, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
We may come with confidence before the throne of God, but we must also remember that like Moses before the burning bush, we are on holy ground and it is not safe. Great and awesome things happen in the presence of our God. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Bright Morning Star. And as he tells Moses, He is “I Am.” Therefore, when you come before Him, whether in prayer, in His Holy Scriptures, at the Eucharist, or wherever you may encounter Him, always remember who you are and always remember who He is.
Let us pray: Breathe in us, O Holy Spirit, that our thoughts may all be holy. Act in us, O Holy Spirit, that our works, too, may be holy. Draw our hearts, O Holy Spirit, that we love only what is holy. Strengthen us, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard us so, O Holy Spirit, that we may always be holy. Amen.