St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29
Well, let’s face it. This set of scriptures is rather challenging. The gospel, the good news is there, but it does not immediately stand out! I suppose the reading from 2 Samuel might tell us a bit about worship and sacrifice, but if we danced and sacrificed every six paces as David did, we would be arrested for indecent exposure and locked away for a psychiatric evaluation.
In Mark 6 we have the “charming” story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Not much good news for us there! Both passages involve dancing. I was raised in an environment in which dancing was considered a sin – were they reading these passages? Both passages involve some fascinating family dynamics – let’s investigate these more fully.
In 2 Samuel 6.16 we read: “As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart” (NRSV). Michal was king David’s wife, but their relationship contained a lot of baggage. In the story of David and Goliath, as you may recall, David was told, “The king will surely enrich the man who kills Goliath, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel” (I Samuel 17.25b; NRSV). Shortly after David had dispatched Goliath, King Saul made David the commander of his army. Upon returning from a successful campaign, the women sang “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten-thousands” (1 Samuel 18. 7; NRSV). This angered Saul; the next day an evil Spirit (the spirit of envy) came upon Saul, and, as David was playing the lyre, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear. Saul removed David from his presence and demoted him to commander of a thousand. David continued to be successful, so Saul offered him a bargain – he could have Merab, his older daughter, as his wife if he would continue to be valiant for Saul and fight the Lord’s battles. Yet, when the time came, Saul gave Merab to Adriel. The story then notes that “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David” (1 Samuel 18.20a; NRSV). Saul decided to use this to his advantage; Michal would be a snare with which he could entrap David.
King Saul told David that he could marry Michal. David, communicating through Saul’s servants, said he was but a poor man and had no marriage present. King Saul then told David no marriage present was necessary except for 100 Philistine foreskins such that he might be avenged on his enemies. Something tells me the Philistines did not willingly hand those over. Saul was undoubtedly thinking this might result in David’s demise. David and his men secured the bride price and David married Michal. When Saul later sought to kill David, Michal let him down from the window such that he could escape. Saul then gave Michal to Paltiel. The intrigue continued. Though David had taken other wives, he reclaimed Michal. The story does not recount her reaction, but she must not have been too pleased, for when she saw him dancing before the Lord, “she despised him in her heart.” Family intrigue, envy, an unhappy, and childless marriage!
Things don’t get any better in the story of king Herod and Herodias. Herodias had been married to King Herod’s brother, Philip, but apparently had left Philip for King Herod. We already have family intrigue, but it gets worse. John the Baptist spoke truth to power, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6.18; NRSV). Consequently, Herodias despised John and wanted to kill him but could not for King Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him” (Mark 6.20; NRSV). On King Herod’s birthday, he threw a party for himself. Herodias’ daughter danced. Having pleased King Herod, he told her she could have anything she asked for up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing what to ask for, she asked her mother for advice, and without hesitation, she told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Though Herod was grieved, he elected to keep his oath: it was deemed better that John lose his head than for Herod to lose face. Again, family intrigue, envy, hatred.
Here we have the stories of two tragic kings, King Saul and King Herod. Both placed their egos above all else – always a recipe for tragedy. Fortunately, the other lectionary readings portray something better!
Psalm 24 speaks of a different type of king – the King of Kings and of the glory of the Temple. The psalmist asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord (the Temple mount)? And who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place?” (Vs. 3; NRSV) Only one who is instructed in, and who lives out, the Torah can stand in the Lord’s holy place. Verse 4 tells us the attributes of such a one: “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false (that is, who do not worship vain idols) and who do not swear deceitfully” (NRSV). Such as these shall receive the Lord’s blessing and vindication; they stand in the company of those who seek God (Vss. 5-6; NRSV). With this the psalmist joyfully sings, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the king of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty . . . The Lord of hosts he is the king of Glory” (Vss. 7-10; NRSV). Open the gates of the temple that the Lord may come in. We have a king unlike any earthly king, a king who is the Lord of glory, a king who would welcome us into the royal family, yet we are so reluctant to fully open the gates, to lift up the doors! We continue to place our hopes and our dreams in earthy rulers and riches. We are loathe to surrender our idols!
St. Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians, tells us of the riches we receive if we but open the doors of our hearts such that Christ may enter in. We are blessed: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1.3; NRSV). We have been chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love;” we have been destined for “adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”(Ephesians 1.5-6; NRSV). As children of the King of Kings, our trespasses are forgiven, and we receive the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1.7; NRSV). We who have accepted the King of Kings are granted wisdom and insight into the mystery of his will; we know that in the fullness of time all things on heaven and earth will be gathered unto God. The King of Kings assures us of an eternal inheritance in that we have been “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1.13; NRSV).
Even though we are adopted into God’s family, we may still see some dysfunctionality, or even experience our share of it. God’s church is composed of people that are “in process;” we are not yet what we will ultimately be. And that, my friends, is why today’s collect is so appropriate for this set of readings: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.