2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19: David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 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. 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 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 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.
So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 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. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 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, 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.
Mark 6:14-29: 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." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
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. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 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. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 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." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." 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." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
For ten days during this hot July I had the pleasure of sitting at home after work and watching my 2 ½ year old granddaughter sway and clap to the rhythm of music. For ten days our house was almost constantly filled with music streaming from the Amazon Echo device on our fireplace mantle and each time it stopped a little voice rose up demanding time after time, “ALEXA…ELMO…”, asking to hear Elmo sing about his favorite word, “ ab-ca-def-gi-jeckle-mi-nop-kwer-stoov-wix-iz”, (which really is just the entire alphabet read out as if it is one word) or to hear him sing about other things important to little red monsters on Sesame Street. Every now and then, in the middle of a song, Jade would begin to clap her hands or step to the rhythm with her little feet or shake her tiny hips and arms while giggling out loud and lookingto see if we were watching. Yes, my little tiny dancer, we see you…
Although I love to sing, I have never been good at it and I am not the most rhythmic dancer either; instead, I admire those who can look at a sheet of paper and know the melody of a song, I am at awe of musicians able to bless all of us by allowing their hands to glide across keyboards or guitar strings or other instruments, and I love watching when people become one with the music they hear through the dances they express. Dancing is a beautiful way to express emotions.
Two of our readings today focus on dancing. In our Hebrew Scripture, King David dances enthusiastically and joyfully before the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence in the midst of Israel, as it was brought to the City of David. Scripture makes a point of telling us that David was wearing a linen ephod, something sort of like a loin-cloth, a small piece of fabric barely covering him as he danced up and down the streets without shame of showing too much of himself. As it is, he must have flashed some onlookers and his wife Michal doesn’t seem so happy about it and, to be honest, I am not sure how we would react if our spouses or children where dancing half-naked up and down the streets. On the other hand, the picture of David dancing on the streets wearing a linen ephod gives me visions of feather boa clad dancers on the streets of Rio de Janeiro or Haiti during carnival or rainbow flag waving men and women at pride parades; events where excitement and joy can’t help but make people dance. Just like my little tiny dancer Jade can’t help but dance around in nothing but her diaper on a sweltering July day when her heart rejoices at songs from Sesame Street. How could anybody be mad at that, right? And that’s exactly how excited David and his people were when they “brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet”[i]. In an “elaborately choreographed procession – they simply allowed themselves to be swept up in the moment”, as one author wrote.[ii] And although Michal is embarrassed by David’s behavior, David felt he was simply “dancing before the Lord”[iii] out of gratitude for all that God had done. David’s dance was an honest expression of his joy over the return of the ark and Joy about God’s presence with Israel.
Have you ever been so happy that your feet seemed to move on their own? Have you ever felt yourself moving to the music in worship or had the impulse to fall on your knees or raise up your hands in worship of God? Have you ever praised God with your entire body? With all your heart and mind and body? With all you have? What if we worshipped God ‘like no one is watching’, so to speak? Maybe some of us would be dancing, too. Maybe some would kneel in awe. Maybe some of us would sing aloud while others sit in silent meditation. There really is no one right way to worship God.
Our Gospel reading today also speaks about a dance, but it has less to do with worship and more to do with fear and with manipulation. The author of the Gospel of Mark suddenly interrupts the flow of the story in the middle of Jesus teaching the disciples, and we are told that King Herod Antipas had heard of “it”. IT probably being the fact that Jesus sent out the disciples two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits, and the twelve subsequently going out proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and anointing and healing many who were sick.[iv] As news and rumors spread, King Herod inadvertently heard about them. The rumors he heard were that some were saying that Jesus is “John the Baptist…raised from the dead” while others compared him to “Elijah” and yet others said Jesus was a “prophet like one of the prophets of old”.[v] Herod himself, maybe still riddled with guilt about ordering the death of John the Baptist, aligns himself with the rumor that Jesus is John the Baptist who has been raised.
See, what happened, we are told in somewhat of a flashback inserted into the narrative, is that Herod had arrested John at the urging of his wife Herodias. We know about the arrest already in the first chapter of Mark[vi], but it is only now that we learn what transpired. Herodias had been Herod’s brother’s wife but Herod wanted her and so he caused their divorce so that he could marry Herodias. Their marriage violated Levitical laws because Philip was still alive and thus no one else should have married Herodias.[vii] [viii] John the Baptist was outspoken about how wrong Herod had been and Herodias, annoyed by John’s accusations, wanted John dead. Opportunity arises for her at Herod’s birthday party. Their daughter dances in a very intriguing way and Herod is so enthralled with her (and that really is a story for another sermon) that he promises her that she can have anything she wants. It seems she can’t think of anything fast enough but instead runs to her mother who, rather than giving her daughter good advice, now uses her daughter to get what she herself wants. She sends her daughter back to Herod asking him to kill John the Baptist. And he does. Hesitantly so, because he is intrigued by John’s preaching, but still has him killed; in parts to keep his promise but also to save face in front of all others who were present when he made the promise to his daughter. And to think it all began with a dance.
As Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes, one dance is caught up in selfish desires while the other one is a gift. One dance is offered to please others, the other is offered to God no matter what others think[ix]. One is a dance of joyful emotions set free and the other dance is trapped by political ambitions[x]. One dance full of vitality and life the other death. One is filled with all the good there is, the other brings out the bad and the ugly. The bad and ugly are fear and anger and revenge - and the good is pure love.
Pure love is tough. “Pure love never fits in. It exposes us, makes us look foolish. It comes from a place where who we are, our naked self, is lovely, and offered without reservation. It breaks rules, and it often evokes resistance.”[xi] Pure love is Daniel dancing on the streets before God, even to the point that he doesn’t really think about what he is wearing. Pure love is David worshiping God. And it may not seem like it, but pure love is also what we find even in our gospel lesson.
Sandwiched right in between the sending of the disciples by Jesus and their coming back to Jesus to report what they did, the story of the dance and of the death of John, as tragic and horrific as it is, is one of hope and of pure love – God’s pure love. Because one thing is clear: No matter what happens – God will prevail! No arrest can stop the Good News from spreading even if people can be stopped by others from living and proclaiming it. Just as David could not be stopped from dancing because of his love for God, so God cannot be stopped by Herod or by any other mighty powers that try to stand in God’s way. Love prevails, and it never fails to amaze me and to touch my heart that we are part of this love; that this love – God’s love - lives within us and is aching to be let loose into the world. Let loose like a passionate dance of glory, gratitude, and praise before God – no matter who we are or what we wear or what we have done.
So, don’t hold back. Instead, be filled with wonder and awe and pure love. Allow yourself to be swept away by the love that won’t leave us, that is with us, and that hold us tight. Be living witnesses to this love and testify to it, extravagantly welcome others into this love, and allow this love to change your life and that of others. Let your “hallelujahs” be joyful and passionate knowing that God is with us and will always be with us. As the Psalmist shouts out: Let everything that breathes praise God! And if you can’t hold back – well…you may just find yourself dancing!
[i] 2 Samuel 6:15
[ii] Hugh S. Pyper, Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha p. 386
[iii] 2 Samuel 6:21
[iv] Mark 6:7 and Mark 6:12-13
[v] Mark 6:14-15
[vi] Mark 1:14
[vii] Leviticus 18:16 (NIV: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.”) and 20:21 (NIV: ‘If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.”)
[viii] The fact that Herodias and Philip divorced and Philip is still alive is important. Deuteronomic Code would have allowed a Levirate Marriage to assure that Philip’s bloodline does not die with him. In Deuteronomy 25:5 it states, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.”
[ix] Paraphrased and adapted from https://www.unfoldinglight.net/reflections/1342
[x] Joseph Bessler, Feasting on the Gospels, “Mark”, p. 176
[xi] Quote from https://www.unfoldinglight.net/reflections/1342