2 Samuel 6:1-11

Mark 6:14-29

I need to talk to you today about a very important subject: the dangers of getting too close to God. Janet told us about Uzzah, the son of Abinadab, being struck dead – zapped – because he reached out and touched God’s covenant box. Now, you could say it was Uzzah’s own fault for touching the Ark, or King David’s fault for putting the Ark on a cart, but isn’t that just looking to place the blame? The real issue is that too many people all throughout history have been zapped for just this reason. Just like Uzzah, too many people have gotten themselves into the presence of the Most Holy God, and they’ve been zapped.

This is a warning we all need to hear, because we face this danger every day in our homes, at work, even right here at church. Uzzah is not the only one to have been zapped. Just this morning, we also read about the zapping of John the Baptist. This week at Vacation Bible School, we’ll be visiting with the apostle Paul during the time just before he too was zapped. I could go on: Stephen, Peter, Perpetua, Joan of Arc, Oscar Romero. Most people survive the experience, like Teresa of Avila, John Calvin, or Dorothy Day, but even they bear the marks of being zapped forever. What happened to Uzzah has happened to many others, because they obviously didn’t understand the risk.

As your pastor, I feel it’s essential that I make clear what kind of dangers we all face. Uzzah got too close to God – he reached out and actually touched the Ark – and that was that. Zap. God is not to be touched. It’s tragic, but that’s what happens when we come into contact with Divinity itself. If only Uzzah had read the warning label, he would have known that the Ark wasn’t just another box. It was the focus of God’s presence, a vessel of the Sacred, of the Completely Other. It stood in for the very person of God, and so it carried some of that intense, untamed, holy power. And as we see, even a little bit of God’s power is more than mere humans can handle. The lesson is simple: when God is around, it’s best to keep your hands to yourself.

Of course, we can’t always do that. Sometimes, God shows up and just has to be handled. One day, heaven forbid, you may even be called on to interact with God yourself. So, to prepare you for this possibility, I’ve compiled a list of important safety precautions you should observe when God is around. Take these to heart, because they may save you from being zapped some day.

Rule # 1: Always keep one hand in your back pocket. I learned this in a science class where we worked with dangerous electrical voltages, but I think you can see how it also relates to dealing with God. Having one hand in your back pocket keeps you from reaching out and taking hold with both hands when you shouldn’t. With electricity, that means you avoid making a circuit that would send the charge through your heart. When dealing with God – well, it means the same thing. If you don’t put both hands into life, you might avoid the unpleasant zaps that come with getting too much God into your heart.

Rule # 2: If possible, find a way for any unpleasant surprises to become someone else’s problem. Even when we’re careful to avoid any God-related incidents, they can happen. This kind of unexpected development can be especially dangerous, because God can often zap before we see it coming. Clearly, David made the right decision to dump the Ark on Obed-Edom the Gittite when all God broke loose on the road. Sure, David missed out on the blessings Obed-Edom received, but that’s a small price to pay for avoiding any unpleasant holiness. David knew that taking responsibility for one’s actions and seeking God’s direction through the surprises of life tends to increase zaps.

Rule # 3: By all means, back down when God leads you into conflict with the world’s authorities. We learn this from John the Baptist, who had already been zapped once before this morning’s story. That was when God drove him into the wilderness and made him start preaching like a crazy person. That incident must have permanently damaged his rational capacity to recognize danger and avoid further zaps. King Herod tried putting him in prison, to discourage this kind of reckless behavior, but John just kept going. Big mistake. When the truth of God comes into such close contact with the powers of the world, the resulting zap can catch anyone. John got the big zap, and Herod got a pretty big jolt himself.

Rule # 4: When in doubt, have a professional de-zap the situation for you. If you should come across God in your daily life, report the danger immediately to your church. The church is a safe location for God, because here we can leave plenty of room between you and the Holy Presence. We employ a fully licensed, professional God-handler (that’s me). I have extensive training in keeping the presence of God at safe levels, so we can all feel secure even though we know that such a dynamic Force called the universe into being and animates all of life. This is dangerous stuff, even with my highly developed gifts for obscuring the reality of God behind layers of religious tradition and protocol. You wouldn’t want to come into accidental contact with the breathtaking majesty of the Lord of Hosts. Leave that to me.

And finally, Rule # 5: Whatever you do, do not go ordering your life around regular interaction with this dangerous power. You may already know not to pray, or study Scripture, or attend church too often, but there are other, more subtle dangers. Be very careful around the laughter and insight of children. Avoid deep silence and the beauty of nature. You might be safe around intellectual debate or profound artwork, but make sure to keep the topic at arm’s length to avoid really engaging yourself. Under no circumstances should you undertake disciplines that open your senses and your soul to the Transcendent Spirit that surrounds and inhabits us in every moment of every day. Experience has shown that those sorts of practices only make a person more susceptible to dangerous and even transformative zaps.

If you do get zapped, try to remain calm. You’re likely to be fundamentally changed by the experience, but not everyone is transported directly into the Highest Heaven. People typically experience a number of relatively minor zaps over the course of years. In fact, most people eventually realize that the creative power of God has made itself known in their lives long before their first memory of any unusual experience. Throughout the years, religious practitioners have learned that the Divine is so profoundly enmeshed with the world around us that there may be no realistic way to avoid being zapped by God’s overflowing grace.

So until we find some better way not to get zapped, I would suggest that we all just ignore God’s presence and hope that maybe it’ll go away on its own. Stay safe out there.