Dancing before the Lord

July 12, 2009
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10B (RCL)
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

These are tough readings to preach. We have dancing, partying, beheading, and if we read the verses left out of the OT lesson, God breaking out against poor Uzzah for steadying the ark. And then the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, which in Greek is a single sentence. Hmmm.

The 2 Samuel reading seems to me to be about David co-opting the Ark, which belonged to the Northern tribes (all the shrines to date had been in the north), and bringing it to his own city. David was a southerner (of the tribe of Benjamin), and so the tribes of the north wouldn’t necessarily have felt any kinship with him. It’s a marriage of convenience — Saul left no progeny. So David throws an amazing party. The purpose of sacrifice is to establish kinship: who gets meat structures the kinship unit, from family to nation. The stunning thing in this story is that David distributes meat, along with cake and raisins, directly to all the women of Israel. Women only got meat in sacrifice through their men: their fathers if they were not married, their husbands if they were. David, who is dancing so vigorously as to expose himself to the crowd, is essentially marrying all the women of Israel (exposing one’s nakedness to is a euphemism for having sex with). No wonder Michal despised him. And of course, he couldn’t have sex with Michal and run the risk of fathering a grandson of Saul, a stronger claimant to the throne of Israel than himself. And he is essentially adopting all the men, by providing meat to them. An ox and a fatling every six steps is going to be a lot of meat. And of course, God shares in it, since some of the oxen are made into whole smoke offerings. The two kingdoms are united in the person of David by the strategem of his adopting/marrying Israel through sacrifice. Now I begin to see where Paul gets the image of God adopting us a children through Christ’s sacrifice.

Psalm 24 could well have been written for just such an occasion as returning the Ark to Jerusalem after triumph in war.

Ephesians gives us the introduction to a speech, that in weeks to come will talk about uniting Jew and Gentile in one family. Too bad this weeks reading isn’t a little clearer.

And then what to do with Herod’s party? Only courtesans (prostitutes) danced at parties, so one wonders if the point of the story is just to show the utter depravity of Herod’s household. The story gets sandwiched in between Jesus’ sending of the 12 with power over unclean spirits, and their return and report of all they have done. Mark uses the sandwich (called intercalation) to interpret the two stories. So is this kind of depravity the unclean spiritual power over which the disciples have power? The twelve are establishing a kingdom based on healing and a shared meal, rather than a kingdom based on brutality and depravity. How do we do that today? Not any easier now than then.

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