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2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
July 15, 2018 – Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
A week ago, Donnie and Ollie and I hiked to Avalanche Lake. There was something that did not need to be said once we broke out of the woods onto the lakeshore.
They got their shoes and shirts off and went into the water. We had reached the apogee of our travels. We would be there for a little while before we went back.
It was a moment to embrace all that had gone before and to set the stage for what was going to happen next. It was a time to enter into what Paul describes for us today as the celebration of God’s lavish gift-giving…a gift we could only open Now…would leave behind…and take with us…for all time.
Many was the time, in my legislative days, so long ago now, that it was clear to me that the most important thing we did was to manage change.” Every bill and resolution before us was a proposal to change this or go back to that.
We needed to acknowledge that fully before we could do it as a community.
We live and learn this day in a time of seismic change. We find ourselves having to let go of what has always been our understanding.
We are receiving new ways of being in relation to our world, with each other, and with God…new ways that present themselves as surprise.
How do we sift our understandings so that they can be true and faithful, both then and now…before and after? How do we move from one understanding to the next? How do we discern with any confidence at all that we should let go that…and hold onto this?
We dance. One way or another…we dance. There is a saying that Ginger Rogers was a better dancer than Fred Astaire. She had to do everything he did…backwards… and in high heels.
The trouble with humans is that they all think they are Fred Astaire …but in truth they are Ginger Rogers. I like the way Eckhart Tolle puts it in our quote this morning, but let me give you a little context for it.
“There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness. One with Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but your life lives you. Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”
Or to put it another way: We are all Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire…backwards and in high heels.
Everything is in motion. The sun is hurtling through the galaxy. The galaxy is moving through the universe. Our planet spins around it like a dance partner hoping to receive its kind attention and hoping not to fall into it or be hurt by it.
Even as we sit here…still as we are ….we are in motion. Our hearts are beating. Our blood is circulating. Our understanding is evolving.
We read today about David moving the political capital of all Israel – both the northern and southern kingdoms – from Hebron to Jerusalem. And he confirms that change with two important rituals.
He is not only moving the capital of Judah, where he has already reigned for seven years, but he is moving the capital of the northern kingdom that has just asked him to be their king.
And he is not just moving the political capitals of those separate nation-states. He is also moving the religious capital.
David moves it all to a neutral location. I note that the location of our own national capital city, the District of Columbia, was determined after much consideration of all the alternatives.
It could not be in the north or the south would feel excluded. It could not be in the south or the north would feel excluded.So they chose a location that was somewhere between the north of Boston or the south of Williamsburg.
Maryland and Virginia agreed to cede a portion of their lands to the nation so that a diamond shaped enclave would be carved from both of those states and both of those regions.
Then Virginia balked and we have a capital that looks like a portion of a diamond…and I note that the jagged edge of that half-diamond is formed by the Potomac River…on which the great unifying figure of the Revolution…George Washington…established his ancestral home.
If you ever travel to Mount Vernon, by the way, it is a little like traveling to Lake McDonald Lodge in this way: The great house faces the water, so if you drive to it, you really approach it from the back door, past the slave quarters, the smokehouse, the blacksmith shop and the stables. If you approach from the water, however, you walk from the shore to the great front porch.
Anyway, David captures Jerusalem from a tribe of the Jebusites…and he does it by sneaking into the fortress through the waterworks and surprising their defenses.
This is the hallmark of David… from his toppling of Goliath forward. He overwhelms his enemies by out-thinking them, not by out-punching them. It is his thinking, not his physical power, that gives him an advantage.
He moves the capital…with great forethought…at a time when two good and profound changes have taken place. The Philistines have been conclusively defeated and routed. And the northern kingdom needs a ruler.
He hears that the chest-of-God, or the Ark of the Covenant, is at the house of Abinadab. He sends troops to bring it to the new capital. And he establishes Jerusalem thus becomes the religious, political and cultural capital of the nation.
Like Rome, both politicians and priests will thereafter make their pilgrimages of power and faith to the same place. And it is in neither Judah nor Samaria but in a Jebusite land between them.
Second, to commemorate this profound change…this total reorientation of the people of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…and Moses…and now David…he stages a huge ceremony to bring the ark into the city.
In olden times, when one great noble bought the lands of another, they would stage a great tournament and at some point in the proceedings, all the games would end and the seller would hand a chunk of sod to the buyer in front of everyone present.
This ceremony was a dance that gave notice throughout the land that the old noble was no longer lord of that castle and the new one now was seated there.
David does a bit of the same thing here, by dancing madly before the Ark. No one will ever forget David dancing with abandon before the Ark of the Covenant….before God. This question is settled.
He dances with great abandon because this commemorates a great change in the political geography of the nation. Not only do they have one king, but that king, David, is both the political and military ruler of nation…and the anointed of God…the one who brought the Ark of the Covenant to this place…the one God has chosen to be the commander of all priests and rabbis. No one has greater authority… political or religious…than David.
A funny thing happens when we dance. Ollie became one with the waves on the shore of Avalanche Lake as he sang a song and splashed through the water. He is in tune with…or attuned to…that place.
He has been there and he has moved in harmony with the place.
When we dance we become attuned to the music. If we dance with a partner, we are also attuned to them and the music…like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. It is a captivating thing to watch, whether it is a scene from the movie Top Hat or a ballet from The Nutcracker.
I saw a show at the Playhouse last year – Momma Mia – and there was one scene where half a dozen guys sang a song and did a little leapfrog in it with swim fins on. Then they turned to the audience in a chorus line and kicked…once again with swim fins on.
It was so outlandish and so hysterical. I will remember it until the day I die… so awkward and so perfect, so unlikely and so appropriate. That is what David does for us this day. He produces a scene no one will ever forget.
He was attuned with the moment and he did something outlandish that attuned the nation to him. Jesus did the same thing with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …on a donkey, as a humble king would enter…on the foal of a colt …as the prophet Zechariah had foretold.
He is so attuned to the moment that those who witness it begin to shout and sing. He is so attuned to the history of his people that everyone recognizes him as the Messiah in that moment.
There is no orchestra, but he is so attuned to all the forces of the universe that when the Pharisees object to the claim they are making for him he replies, “If the people were silent, the rocks themselves would cry out.”
We dance with our feet and with our words, with our hearts and with our deeds…with our lives…whether we want to or not…whether we realize it or not. We are attuned to our neighbors… and our God…or we are not.
And dance arouses in us…when it is well done…a spirit of generosity, even in a tyrant like Herod…that we want to give of ourselves as we do when we are carried away by love itself.
That was why Herod offers to give the daughter of Herodias anything she asked for after he saw her dance. But be careful what you promise if you are king: If you do not fulfill your promise you lose power, and when your power is as fragile as Herod’s was, any sign of weakness will be fatal.
So when she asked for the head of St. John the Baptist, he had to honor her request. He had said “anything,” and John’s head was within his worldly power. If he had denied her request he would have been admitting he did not have all power…and the chink in his armor would have been exposed.
But this passage once again shows how in tune with the world and how attuned to God Jesus was. In the verses before where we pick up our reading this morning, they are trying to figure out who Jesus is…so great are his deeds throughout the countryside. Some say he is Elijah and others say he is one of the prophets from long ago.
Herod shakes his head and says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead.”
They are all dancing on the same stage…Herod and John and Jesus…some with good motives and some only for themselves.
Those with poor motives think that the rhythms of the universe can begin and end with them. They are Fred Astaire. Those with good motives are attuned to the music of the spheres, as the old hymn puts it. They dance backwards in high heels.
Ollie is so young he has less of his own agenda to filter the music of the spheres through. He is able to dance in the beauty of nature because he can hear it with the ears and see it with the eyes of a child and simply do what is right.
That is what ministry…the call of a church into the community can be. We began to make progress on the mortgage of this church only because we wanted to be in ministry in a new and more powerful way.
We did not pray, “Dear Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” We prayed, “Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through me …through us…this day.”
We did not try to attune God to our banker. We tried to attune ourselves to God’s will for us…this day…and something powerful came out of it.
So now, we are dancing with abandon before God. There is great power in it still.
Let us live these days we are sharing together as William Purkey put it in his work Becoming an Invitational Leader:
Let us dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like we will never be hurt,
Sing like nobody is listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.