A Tale of two Dances

July 15, 2018 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 10)

Service for the Lord’s Day

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Psalm 24

Mark 6:14-29

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16 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. 17 They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched or it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes. (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, NRSV)

 

6:14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of hosts, before whom David danced and sang, Mother of mercy and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all things were created; whenever we are confronted by lust, hate, or fear, give us the faith of John the baptizer that we may trust in the redemption of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Some dance to remember, some dance to forget the infamous words of the Eagles in Hotel California.  This line of the song occurs to me as we read these two scripture passages from Second Samuel and the Gospel of Mark.  George said last week in his sermon that would could take a week off from the Old Testament reading, well not this week as we hear of David dancing around the ark.  The lectionary leaves out some very important details; animals are sacrificed every six paces, one of the priests, Uzzah, reaches out to steady the ark, because it was falling over, and he dies.  Really.  He dies, just for touching the ark.  This scares David.  So, he stops the procession and rests for three months, before he is convinced that it is safe to bring the ark all the way into Jerusalem.  David watched and waited to see what would happen to the ark as it sat outside the house of Obed-Edom (literally “servant of Edom,” a clearly non-Israelite place) to see how God would react.  The house of Obed-Edom was richly blessed with good fortune for those whole three months.  David wanted that same good fortune and blessing for the whole people of Israel.  So, David overcame his fear and brought the ark into Jerusalem and with it the power of God.

 

Next David employs his second clever political move, arranging a vast parade of his followers, accompanied by loud music and joy, winding its way up the trail leading to Jerusalem, the recently captured former city of the Jebusites. And David himself leads the procession, “leaping and dancing” before the Ark of God, dressed scantily in an ephod, perhaps something like an ancient G-string.  It is David’s coronation party as the would-be king of a united Israel.  David dances to remember! What David remembered is that the presence of God is a blessing and is to be celebrated, even amid all its power.

 

We have another story with a dance, this time form the Gospel of Mark.  It is an interesting story for many reasons.  First it doesn’t contain Jesus and the second, perhaps more important, there is no good news in this story, it simply presents the way the world operates.  Mark is presenting in a clear and concise way the way of the world.

 

“King Herod” is a familiar name in the Gospels because there was more than one ruler with the name.   Herod the Great was king when Jesus was born.  He was the one who met the magi and had all the babies in Bethlehem killed.  Herod the Great had three sons named Herod: Herod Archelaus, Herod Philip, and Herod Antipas.  Also, there’s a woman in this story named Herodias.  Confused yet?  Just wait.  Herodias who was married to Herod Philip, she had an affair with Herod Antipas, divorced Herod Philip, and then she married Herod Antipas.

 

There’s more.  Herodias had a daughter.  The Jewish historian Josephus tells us she was named Salome.  She’s the one dancing in the story, and she was 1) Herod Antipas’s niece, 2) Herod Antipas’ brother Herod Philip’s daughter and 3) eventually she became Herod Antipas’ sister-in-law by marrying one of his half-brothers — Herod Philip II.  Wow — that feels like an episode of The Jerry Springer Show doesn’t it?

 

Into the midst of all this mess, John the Baptist came preaching.  He called Herod and Herodias by name.  He criticized them on issues of morality and leadership.  He pointed out where Herod had failed to be a good king — politically and in his personal life.  Herod’s wife, Herodias, reacted with fury; she wants John executed.  Herod reacts cautiously.  On the one hand, he has John arrested and put in jail, but on the other hand, he protects John from his wife’s revenge, it seems that he is more afraid of John then he is of his wife, Herodias.

I believe it was Hunter S. Thompson who said this, but I can’t be sure, “There are only two engines that drive Washington: One is greed, and the other is fear.” That’s is also true for Herod’s birthday party.

 

Herod throws himself a birthday party and he invites all his friends and fellow power brokers.  Herod and these men had a lot to drink when he calls for his stepdaughter to entertain the partygoers.  Now, this daughter was probably actually Herod’s niece, the daughter of his illegal wife and his brother, and she ended up marrying another of Herod’s brothers, her uncle — it all really does sound like a bad soap opera.  Later tradition and legend name her Salome and tells us she wore seven veils.  She dances, and we are led to believe that it was not girlish or innocent.  As you might imagine, she danced for this group of leering men and she did such an outstanding job that Herod offered her whatever she wished for.  She did not know what to ask for, so she runs off to find her mother too see what she wants.

 

Herodias responded by wielding power in the only way that she could, indirectly.  She had her chance to get vengeance on John the Baptist and to control her husband, so she said, “The head of John the baptizer.”  And his fate was cast.

 

Salome, dances to forget…

 

These are two very divergent stories, one with a seemingly happy ending the other anything but.  These two stories reveal two truths about human life: with God and without God. In Mark’s Gospel there is no appearance of Jesus; it is no accident; because Mark wants to reinforce that apart from God’s promises, all we can expect is good intentions gone bad, the outcome of speaking the truth to power is rewarded with imprisonment, the same old story of the triumph of the powerful over the powerless, and those who stand up to power pay a heavy price, often with their lives.  But as honest as Mark wants to be about the story of the world, he wants even more to testify to the story of God’s great love for the world.

 

It is as we all know the truth of the human predicament:  we see it, we know it, we live it, we enjoy it and we also despair over it.  But the second truth, the truth of God’s loving response to us and our predicament and God’s tenacious, endless effort to redeem us by sending Jesus to show us that even in the best dances to forget the love of God never ends.

 

I wonder what Herod, Herodias, Salome and David would think if they could see us here today, while we may not be dancing this morning, we are gathered to worship God because it would take more than a decapitation to stop the truth of God, more than a crucifixion to stop the Son of God, more than persecution to stop the mission of God. May it be so now and forever.

 

Let us pray: