Lord of the Dance

Passage: 2 Samuel 7:1-11; Luke 1:26-38
Date: July 12, 2009
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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                            Lord of the Dance
                            2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19; Mark 6:14-29
                            Rev. David Hutchinson
                            July 12, 2009
The most concise summary of the two scripture readings for this morning that I can think of contains only 4 words:  “Two kings;   two dancers.”   
    That’s our Gospel reading - - and our Old Testament reading in a nutshell.
    Two kings and two dancers.
    In the Old Testament reading a king dances.
    And in the Gospel reading an all together different king
watches an altogether different sort of dance. 
    And while the concise nature of my summary might make the readings seem simple on the surface, there is so much more to each story, that they are far from simple.
    Each reading is a study - in complex ‘back story’.
    Each dance - is so symbolically set within an unfolding drama.
    Each king - is so wrapped up in the struggles of power.    
    So in the next few minutes, I’ll unpack these stories just a bit, so that we might consider how they speak to us and to our lives…because before these stories can speak to our lives and times, we have to hear them in a little of their original complexity and context.  
    First the two kings:  David and Herod.
        Similar and yet so different… 
    The difference lies in that they represent a contrast between being seen as: OUR king - or being seen as THEIR king.  One is our king.  The other is their king. 
    They are similar in that - - 
            - - both kings - abused their power over the course of time - -
            - - both struggled with decisions they made - -
        - - but for better or worse - only DAVID was OUR king.
    And that is an important part of appreciating David’s dance in front of the ark. 
King David had saved the ark from the Philistines as is recorded in 1st Samuel, also chapter 6, but of the first of the two books.  The Philistines were only one in a long series of kingdoms that had or would threaten a small and vulnerable Israel over the centuries.  David was the young innocent shepherd boy who had saved Israel from the dreaded Philistine oppression.  He might have become a king by now, at the time of this writing, but nevertheless he was Israel’s king.  And so for the purposes of hearing this text as it would have originally been heard, he was “OUR” king. 
    And at this point in the story, when we hear of his dance, we had not yet fallen from grace.  He had not yet spied Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop.  He had not yet had his affair.  He had not yet fled from Jerusalem nor grieved Absalom.  Rather, he had just reclaimed Jerusalem, and was bringing the ark home.   
    Herod, on the other hand, was THEIR king.  There were in fact a series of Herods.  They all descended from Herod the Great their father.  The Herod mentioned here in Mark 6 was the king who had killed John the Baptist, and his father Herod the Great had killed all the male children under two years of age trying to root out the baby Jesus.  This was a king whose very name was a symbol of oppression to Jesus’ early followers.  In the perspective of the people of Israel and Judah, the whole lot of them - all the Herods - were not our kings, but were against us.  At least that was the perspective of those who wrote Mark’s gospel.       
    So we have two kings: ours and theirs.    
        Now let’s move on to consider the dancers.
        As it turns out, our king is also a dancer. 
    The OTHER king - Herod - just WATCHED a dance - and in not such a good way.
    David - - our king - - danced with all his might.
        King David - lived life fully.  He was - born a shepherd.  As a strong young man - he slew Goliath - the Philistine.  Best friends with Jonathan - loyal and true.
        Later on – of course - King David had problems - events involving -
            - Bathsheba - - and Absalom - problems with power.  But not yet. 
    David - - had waited and waited to be king after Saul.
        And this morning’s reading - has the ARK - brought HOME to Jerusalem.
            And the waiting has come to an end. 
    But even this seemingly joyous event which seems to be a cause for celebration has a back story.  You see, at first, David thought - the ark was DANGEROUS - and brought a curse – and he was afraid of it’s power, after it killed Uzzah when Uzzah touched it - and so David shoved the ark off on poor old Obedodem.  BUT - - Obedodem was BLESSED by the ark !
David was WRONG.  The ark was NOT a curse - - it was HOLY.  The CURSE - came from MIS-handling something so HOLY.  But when David came to understand that God seems to ask that we acknowledge the HOLY, and respect its mystery, he came to see his mistake. 
David was wrong - - at first - about God.  The lectionary leaves that bit out, seeming to want to un-complicate the story.  The lectionary moves right into the dance.  I think that knowing this back story makes the dance so much more powerful and beautiful.  Almost like a dance of repentance.   
    So - - - king David DANCED - - a HOLY dance !
    I know that his wife Michal is said to have despised it.  And maybe she did so because she was still loyal to her father Saul who David had replaced as king.  And maybe David was not only glad to bring the ark home for the sake of his people, but also had some pride.  Maybe David had mixed motives.  Maybe he had political motives.  But at least at this moment there is celebration.  This is a moment of celebration for Israel.  It is a kind of homecoming.       
    Herod on the other hand – did not dance.  Instead he - watched a dance.    /
        Herod - didn’t dance.  But he would watch a young girl - dance at his party.  And at this party - - he watched - - in a not so Holy way.  Oh yes, Herod would watch this young girl - dance.   //
    Remember what his father Herod the Great did to - young boys - - according to the other Gospels?  Two year old - Hebrew - boys were killed - - while Jesus escaped - - and Herod the Great tried to trick some wise men from the East.
    Herod liked collecting taxes.  Herod liked building things - and wielding power.  Herod - - liked - - Herodias - - his niece.  I mean he wanted her - - even though she was married to his half brother.
    And when John the Baptist said - - “That’s disgusting - - wake up !” - and told Herod to repent - - it was - - Herod’s NOW wife - - - Herodias - - who got angry.   
        She wanted to KILL John.
    And it is - HER - daughter - - - who DANCED - - at Herod’s party.
    A dance - - which led to John the Baptist’s execution.
        A dance of death - - as it turned out.
        Death - - for one of God’s - prophets.
            The death - - of a Holy man.
    The death of John - the one who prepared the way -
        - for Jesus - - who we call “Lord” - - or KING. 
Who also - died on a cross….
    And all of this is told in Mark’s gospel reading for today, in flashback.  It is told as back story to the event of Jesus sending out disciples.  If you prepare to follow me, Jesus, seems to say, you will find yourself in a struggle between good and evil.  A dance of mixed motives, and human imperfection.  
    Two kings - - and two dancers.
    And the TENSION - -
        - - between respecting the MYSTERY of HOLY THINGS - -
        - - and living with the DANGER - of a call to live a HOLY LIFE.
    Or the tension between RESPECTING MYSTERY - -
        - - and MISUSING POWER.
    To use power - - with respect - - seems almost out of our reach sometimes.
    To be able to examine our motives, and live with integrity, seems like a challenge. 
        How can we do it?
    To live like Herod  - seems much more common.
    Presidents - politicians - pastors and priests - wealthy owners of the economic power - of the United States - every day people trying to figure out how to deal with economic uncertainty and chaotic lives.
    How can we live lives in which we dance with joy?
    How can we deal with the story - behind the story - behind the story?
    There is a poem by W.H Auden that asks a similar question, which is titled: “At Last the Secret is Out”
          At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
        The delicious story is ripe to tell to the intimate friend.
        Over the tea cups, and in the square, the tongue has its desire;
        Still waters run deep, my dear, there’s never smoke without fire.

        Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
        Behind the lady who dances - - - and the man who madly drinks,
        Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
        There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.

        For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
        The scent of the elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall,
        The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
        There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.
    There is always another story…
    There is always more…than meets the eye…
    And so, the question emerges - - - how can we dance - - in the midst of it all?
    How can we dance with integrity?
    How can we dance in purity of praise?
    In my reading and research on the Trinity, I came across a word.  The word is: PERICHORESIS.  It means, basically: “circle dance”.  It is the word used by theologians to describe the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity.  The so called, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or the Godhead, engaged in an eternal dance. 
    The word emerged out of a mystery and a kind of crisis of logic. 
    How can one describe the relationship of the three ways God is known to us?  God or Father who is the creator or progenitor of all, is related to Jesus who ate with sinners and died on a cross, and is now ever present with us as the Holy Spirit.  How can God be all of these at the same time?  Is one greater and the other two just kind of metaphors for the greater one? 
    The idea of perichoresis emerged as a way to explain God’s nature.
    Imagine God not as an entity or even as a single person.
    Rather imagine God as a community of three, engaged in an eternal dance.
    That dance, IS God!
    Well, if it is true that there is a DANCE at the heart of the very nature of God, then reflect back on our scripture readings again for a minute. 
    If God is a dance, then to corrupt or misuse the dance is…
    It seems to me like a kind of blasphemy.
    But the flip side is, that the resources to heal the corrupted, stumbling, hurtful way we humans sometimes dance, is at the very heart of God.
    What does this all mean as we think about our nation?  Is the beginning of the Obama administration fraught with any of the same risks and perils of David leading that ark?  Is there any danger of turning a dance of celebration into a politically motivated act of pride?
    What does this mean as we remember Michael Jackson, the dancer?  Is there a difference between the way our culture dances and the way God dances?  And if there is, what are we called to do as Christians?  Are we called to dance with the culture in which we find ourselves?  And if so how?
    What does this all mean as we consider our future as a congregation?  In what way can our history and our back story help us find our way into the future?  Or are there ways that our history and context can hold us back and keep us living in the past?
    What does this all mean as we consider ourselves and our lives?  How do we deal with our own mixed motives?  How do we find the space in our lives to dance with integrity, the way God intended?  How can we heal - from the ways our dance may have been corrupted? 
    You probably have all sorts of answers, as well as unanswered questions regarding all these things.  I know I do. 
But the point – I truly believe - is NOT getting all the answers immediately.
    The point is dancing with these questions.
        And even more, the point is, that God IS in the midst of them.
            May it be so - for us in some way as we go from here.