This Sunday I finish a sermon series on the Ark of the Covenant titled “Relic or Relevant: The Ark Adventures.” I have had a blast preaching it, especially since one of my friends built a replica and put it in the worship center! I am posting a section of an earlier sermon, from two weeks ago, when I talked about the abuses of the ark. This is “Story One” form the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. The whole sermon should be on our church’s website (www.fbcpo.org) as an audio podcast soon.
The first story is perhaps the easiest. The time period is the days in Ancient Israel just before the birth of the monarchy. There are no kings in Israel yet, only judges and priests. The problem was in this time period that the priest, a man named Eli was getting old and not tending to his duties. He had let things slip and was not vigilant in the things that mattered to God. Eli let his two sons run things. Their names were Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart. No, not really, but they did have lot in common with those frauds. Actually, their names were Phineas and Hophni. Sorry, not Phineas and Ferb.
Phineas and Hophni were horrible, abusive, lazy, gluttonous immoral evil people and Eli did nothing about it. He cared about keeping his family happy more than loving God. God was in the process of sending a prophet named Samuel to bring reform, but not before Eli and his evil sons make a horrible decision.
Israel was at war with the Philistines and, to summarize, things were not going well. So, the brain trust of Israel decides they should bring the Ark out and wave it before the Philistines and that would solve the problem. So they march the Ark out and summarily loose the battle and the Ark is captured by their enemies.
That is story one—how the Ark was lost.
The plan of these Israelites might have worked had two things been present. No, I don’t mean a good cavalry and generals. I mean if God had told them to do this, then maybe it would have worked. It also might have worked had the people who tried it were actually living their lives according to the pattern God wanted. Tucked away inside the Ark is the Ten Commandments. It had been a long time since people had lived by those rules.
They were guilty of trying to drag God out when they needed him and ignoring him in the rest of their life.
This reminds me of two things. One, it reminds me of prayer. Do we not do this kind of garbage all the time? How many times have you and people you care about lived lives completely away from God’s plan yet when someone gets sick or they get sick they want to start praying to God to make it better, to get the job back, or to make the lost puppy come home.
I, personally, see it all the time. People make messes of their lives and then call me and tell me to fix it and ask me to pray about it. Now, these people never repent of their sin or change their ways. They just want God to perform and then they can get back to what they were doing.
So, don’t go getting indignant with the Israelites. We do the same thing.
The second thing story 1 reminds me is 9-11. I hope it is not too soon to talk about this, but I still think its true and probably should be noted in our discussion this morning. It has only been 9 years, but, its been 9 years. Following 9-11 America went to church in droves. Almost every church in the nation reported an increase in attendance and participation. People sang, people prayed, people were baptized and we all talked about how in her time of need America had turned to God in a great revival.
That lasted until we invaded Afghanistan and then it faded altogether after we toppled Iraq. When we flexed our muscles and got a little justice we no longer worried about the Lord. We got what we wanted—God answered our prayers and now church attendance in most of the nation has dwindled again. I’m happy to report FBC doesn’t have this problem, our growth curve has been rather steady, but nationally we are more pagan today than we were on 9-10-2001.
If that stings, its probably because its true.
What we did after 9-11 and what we do with our prayers all the time—is mimic these old Israelites by turning something holy into something profane. Prayer is holy. In fact, prayer might be the most holy thing we do. However, we turn it into something profane by ignoring the God to whom we’re talking. We treat him like we do the person at the drive thru window at McDonald’s. We say our prayers and we expect God to deliver the goods. We manipulate the holy and expect God to perform.
This is a practically pagan approach to spirituality and, it is unacceptable.