St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 7

Sermon 7 Pentecost Year B

Who is Jesus?

Mark 6:14-29

Ephesians 1:3-14

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Psalm 24


My aunt Danny was the only tap and jazz dance teacher in my hometown of Albany, Oregon. Just like Katie’s little granddaughter, Aunt Danny loved to dance. Every year at her Annual Spring Recital, Aunt Danny danced a solo. All of us danced in the recital, and we were fine; but Aunt Danny stole the show. She was amazing. I can remember how she glided, spun and leaped utilizing the entire stage in a sequined pink and purple costume with a shimmering sliver cape. When Aunt Danny danced for an audience, she came alive in a way she never really expressed in ordinary life. She knew she could dance better than anyone else in town. She was more than a smalltown dance teacher at that moment. Some people live to dance. Is that bad?

Sometimes I dance alone to ABBA, Neil Diamond and almost any dance music from the 60s, 70s or 80s. I am not a good dancer, but it feels joyful, worshipful and free.

And then there is my cousin Sherry, Aunt Danny’s daughter. After a humiliating childhood of silly sequined costumes, doing little to mask her chubby tummy: years of dance performances at county fairs and many summer festivals all over the Willamette Valley; and worse of all, the indignity of watching her mom leaping like a gazelle across stages at every opportunity, Cousin Sherry swore she would never make her own children dance. This was a fine and well-meaning plan until her little daughter, Jessica, begged her mom for an opportunity to dance. Jessica danced. Yes, Jessica danced all the way to the Portland Ballet. Jessica danced in the Portland company for 8 years. Aunt Danny was so proud of her granddaughter’s dancing talent and how she had passed down her genes. On the other hand, Cousin Sherry, Jessica’s mom, could only smile at the irony that somehow her mom had won an unspoken power struggle.

The lectionary today tells of Herod’s stepdaughter dancing for Herod and of David dancing in front of thousands for the glory of the Lord. The innocence and genuine purpose of both dance events is at best ambiguous, definitely debatable and at worse, sad, discomforting and messed up. It is as if the lectionary is saying, “People, what a motley crew is humanity.”

The 2 Samuel account tells of Michal, David’s unimpressed wife, looking on from an upstairs window in critical judgement of her unfaithful husband, David. She watches David dancing in the street in gleeful celebration because of the much anticipated and successful arrival of the Ark of God to Jerusalem.

And Mark presents a ‘Game of Thrones-like’ scene, recounting when John the Baptist was tragically murdered because of a drunken and lusty promise to Herod’s stepdaughter/niece after she danced for him and his guests.  

At first glance, there is a darkness and ‘anti-Good Newsy’ feeling running through these two passages of scripture.

Let’s start with Michal, David’s angry and disgruntled wife. What voice can we give to Michal other than that of “nagging wife getting in the way of the man having fun”? Maybe it is more complicated than that? Maybe her story has redeemable elements? Remember that Michal once saved David’s life, by taking his side in the battle against her own father.

Although she once “loved David,” that love was never returned. Theirs was a political marriage. Different accounts conflict: some passages tell that David and Michal had no children, implying a loveless and unconsummated marriage. Yet this doesn’t square with 2 Samuel that speaks of Michal’s children. Some manuscripts say that David had five sons with Saul’s daughter Michal, others say all David and Michal’s offspring were killed by David to officially end Saul’s line.

And it is worth noting that by calling her “Saul’s daughter,” instead of “David’s wife,” the writer reveals the extent to which Michal was little more than a pawn in David’s political games.

By the time we witness her sitting at a window watching her jerk of a husband dance like a fool, her love was gone.

Despite being an important player in the David saga, she is basically reduced to “the angry girl looking on as others celebrate and dance.”

As for David’s intention, we fall back to ambiguity. It is hard to know where to land, especially after seeing his antics through Michal’s eyes. David’s dance appears to express a genuine act of religious vitality, of genuine worship, making himself available to Yahweh’s power, purpose, and presence. On the other hand, the extravagance of David, even personal, bodily extravagance, may be nothing more than a political performance. And even with this, Walter Brueggermann, Interpretation: 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 250-1 points out that the foundation of the new regime and the founding of the new shrine around the ark point out that the day is both one of wonder and joy and of being despised. It is this ambiguity that marks the whole of David’s career. It is an ambiguity which often makes people uncomfortable. It is an ambiguity that needs to be revealed and explored.

Michal as well, offers us something to explore in ourselves. She offers us an opportunity to examine our own refusals of love for the sake of power, our own personal and cultural disregard of women’s interests as irrelevant to the public interest, our own efforts to honor the Lord while not fully honoring the priorities to which the Lord has called us”.   (Bruce Birch, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. II, p. 1252)

This brings us back to the seedy saga of Herod’s creepy dinner party.  In all fairness, maybe the girl preformed a sweet dance like Grace Kelly or Shirley Temple. Or more likely, as Hollywood has portrayed many times over, a lurid and titillating lap dance performed for the pleasure of powerful men. Either way she is an innocent pawn surviving in a world of manipulative, overly privileged and power-hungry adults.

Herod’s stepdaughter’s story speaks to the dangers inherent in being young and female; finding one’s self caught in the snare of gaining security, validation and favor through objectified attention by those with power. Marilyn Monroe, Billy Holliday and Judy Garland come easily to mind. But also, the millions of girls and women today and throughout history who have found themselves dancing in clubs, sex-working and otherwise subsisting by voluntary or involuntary exploitation of their bodies and sexuality.

Recent peer-reviewed research has replicated the following conclusions.  Sexually objectifying young women results in internalized shame, anxiety, low self-esteem, even self-disgust. Untreated symptoms generate reduced cognitive function, reduced ability to concentrate on tasks, attachment disorders, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation and even lack of compassion and empathy for self and others. The moral is simple and obvious, when we dehumanize a person, they lose some of their humanity.

So where is the Good News in these sordid accounts?

For me it is in next week’s lectionary when Jesus seeks rest and retreat. With his tired disciples, Jesus walks on water and feeds thousands who come to see Him and touch His cloak.

Today we have rumors, conspiracies and fake news; misguided and exploited women and girls; cruel and heartbreaking murder committed to fulfill a drunken promise. And a less than impressive image of two ego-driven kings.

It is rare that I would say this, but today Paul comes to the rescue.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians that in Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. Jesus found us, before the foundation of the earth, to be holy and blameless. He adopted us as his children, so that the grace of God is freely bestowed upon us because we are loved.

We are flawed, and we are loved.

In Him, by grace, we have redemption and forgiveness of our trespasses. Even before we know we messed up, we are forgiven. And we are blessed in the ability to recognize our own faults.

Our relationship in Christ means that we are able to discern the mystery of God’s will and wisdom for the benefit of ourselves and for the healing of the world. We know that much of what the world, and the people of the world, have to offer is outside the realm of God. We are subject to many horrors of this world, and yet we live as Christ in the world among those who don’t.

In Christ, we are the truly privileged, we are the heirs to the purpose of God.

This inheritance is full of responsibility. We are called to see the world for how it presents itself to us. We hear the lies, and yet preach the truth. We see how those who speak truth to power are punished, and yet we speak truth to power.

We swallow our pride when we recognize we are being prideful, so that we can work to empower and lift up others.

And we love and show compassion to those who make selfish, desperate or misguided choices that hurt themselves or others.

God calls us to understand the profound depth of God’s love, grace and truth which is the sum of our inheritance.

The Good News is embedded in the Dance.

We are being called to the definitive dance party to boogie with the one who declared “I am the Lord of the Dance.”

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Dance!