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.2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, 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.Mark 6:14-29
I recently came across an old movie, Signs. In the movie, the main character is a priest who loses his wife in a bizarre accident.
Her last words to him seem to be gibberish as she breathes her last breath.
In one of the scenes following her death, the priest is at the dinner table with his brother, son, and daughter. When the brother requests a prayer before dinner. The father, in his brokenness, has lost his faith and says no. He will not pray. The son, who must be around 9 or 10, is afraid of the impending threat of aliens arriving and, in his distress, yells, “I hate you” to his dad.
The aliens do arrive and wreak havoc on the town and the world.
In a later scene the father, brother, and the two children are hiding in the basement when the son has an asthma attack threatening his life. The father, in his distressed fear, yells to God, “I hate you.”
Both of these characters felt abandoned, uncared for, and afraid.
In today’s Old Testament scripture, we witness a grand celebration filled with joy. But we are also given a glimpse into the suffering of Michal, who is Davids’s wife. While David is dancing and celebrating during the relocation of the ark, we hear that Michal is watching David dance and despising him in her heart.
We only get a small piece of the story in the reading today, so I would like to fill you in on a few details. Saul, Michal’s father, marries Michal to David to protect himself from a possible rebellion. He then sends David into battle, hoping he is killed. David marries Michal to get ahead in life. She was then taken from David and married to another man, who actually loved her, only to be stolen back by David, found to be barren, and basically dismissed.
David, in this scripture, as he carries the ark of God to its new location, is dancing with pure joy and reckless abandon at the presence of the Lord He shows no regard for his wife’s unhappiness. I imagine Michal was not only embarrassed by David’s display of bizarre dancing but also must have had a great deal of anger at being tossed around like a possession, and taken from the only person who made her feel cherished. Michal’s unhappiness is entirely understandable. But, I wonder, should she resent David’s happiness in the presence of the Lord or his joy at being the chosen king.
In the reading from Mark, we witness another unhappiness amid dancing and celebration. Herod is consumed with a deadly combination of political fear, family pressure, and public saving face. All this leads him to imprison and kill John the Baptist. He kills the man who is likely the one person in his life who could help him find true happiness.
When I read these readings, I can honestly place myself in both Michal and Herod’s positions. Bitterness and fearfulness have on occasion been the motivational factor in my actions.
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” Mary Wollstonecraft
Deep down, we all desire happiness. And happiness is good. But this is not something to be achieved. Happiness is not something we can pursue or manipulate.
There is a powerful belief that controlling our environment or ourselves will bring happiness. But often, it is simply the acceptance of what is that makes us happy. Not to say we should never take action or pursue a thing, but that we should not place our happiness at the mercy of our environment.
My friend Allyson, who some of you know, is a retreat leader in Louisiana.
She said something to me years ago that I have never forgotten.
“Never let anyone steal your joy.” Not meaning to protect your happiness at all costs, but I heard in these words that I should never let anyone’s actions steer my heart away from God.
Someone can steal my parking space, the spotlight, my time, or my money. But no one can steal my joy.
There is a Buddhist philosophy that, It is the patterns of aversions, cravings, and fear that steal our joy.
By acting in aversion to something, we don’t understand or like, about life circumstances, we imagine we can avoid suffering. But it is the aversion itself that causes the suffering.
We also think we can avoid suffering by acquiring what we want or protecting that which we have. But, it is not the lack of a thing that makes us unhappy. On the contrary, it is the craving for it and the fear of losing it that causes suffering.
To reduce our suffering, we need to resist trying to acquire and control things while focusing on the goodness and blessings of God. All that appears threatening in life fades into the backdrop when we recognize the presence of God.
In Paul’s letter to the saints in Ephesus, we hear a blessing that, as faithful believers in Christ, should send us out dancing like David. In the Greek text, verses 3-14 are a single sentence. It is the longest and most complex sentence in the bible. I was tempted to add an abbreviated version of it to this teaching. However, I read in a biblical commentary that the complexity of this passage tells us a great deal about the value of our redemption. And I want you to hear it again.
“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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”Ephesians 1:3-14 NRSV
We are chosen by God not to carry the dwelling place of God, like David. Instead, we are chosen to be the dwelling place of God. We will never be abandoned. We are cherished. We can shout our hatred out to God until we have reached the end of ourselves. And then, I pray, in our exhaustion, we can return to the knowledge of the love of God and dance for joy as we live in his presence.
They shall receive a blessing from the Lord and a just reward from the God of their salvation. Psalm 24:4-5