Rev. Lyle McKenzie – Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19 / Psalm 24 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6:14-29
“Kingdom Rocks! Standing Strong for God” was the name and theme of the children’s day camp this past week at St. Luke, with St. George’s Anglican and ourselves. Over 40 children and close to the same number of volunteers joined for a week of mornings to sing and dance and shout and listen and work at crafts and hear stories and play and learn and eat and have fun together.
It was fun! It is great to see the children ages 4 and up, and the youth, leaders and leaders in training, and the adults too, all together! Thank you again to all involved and for the community’s support and prayers.
Part of the theme of Kingdom Rocks was a throne room where the participants had a chance to meet kings and queens and others from the Bible, and hear their stories and learn from them. I was a herald of the room, welcoming and introducing the children to the special guest and teaching them manners before royalty and to make trumpet fanfares. All fun. They met King David on Monday and Queen Esther on Tuesday. Nehemiah, not a king but one who influenced the King, on Wednesday, and Mary the mother of Jesus on Thursday, and King Josiah on Friday. The children, in six small groups each day, learned each person’s story, asked questions, sat on the throne (what would we do without those chancel chairs from the old worship space), had their picture taken with the royal guest, and went away hopefully knowing a little about each person, not so much as a powerful queen or king, but as faithful servants of God whose power was intended for God’s good purpose, not their own. Together we learned and danced and sang about that, that God is sovereign, that it is God who helps us stand strong for God and this world in love and hope and justice and peace and joy in Christ Jesus.
And it is kings and queens we hear about this morning, dancing and feasts, and God and offerings, and sovereignty and faithfulness, and despising in some hearts; and politics and power and religion, and ego and fear and stark truth, all together in a violent and deadly mix for one righteous and holy man, when the sovereignty of God is sacrificed in favour of weak and violent self serving power. Kingdom Rocks! Stand strong for God.
King David dances in celebration of his bringing the Ark of God to the city of Jerusalem, the city of David, now the political and spiritual centre of his kingdom. Whether jealousy or David’s dance is suggestive of the cultic dances of other gods, we learn in a kind of dark aside, David’s wife, Michal, daughter of Saul, despises him for it in her heart. David offers offerings to God and blesses the people in God’s name and feeds them a feast of bread and meat and cake. The final words of the reading are, “All the people go back to their homes.” We can speculate they go back to their homes grateful for the food of celebration; that they will eat well tonight. But the celebration of the King, the Ark of God in the city, the consolidation of political and religious power – that will matter less to the people. And even the food is transitory, as are the wishes and whims and will of a king.
We could just hear this story as David’s joyful celebration around the seat of God being at home among the people. But despite David’s faithfulness in re-establishing God’s covenant relationship with Israel, his failings and their consequences for ordinary people will show themselves soon enough in our readings. From this perspective, David’s dance is a little uncomfortable for us too. Even if we don’t despise him in our hearts, we are wise to be a little wary of the politics and power.
It feels a little like banquets and photo ops around state visits or summits that we continue to see in our time. There’s not so much actual dancing (thankfully) as hand shaking and holding and hugging. But there are too many other things, things political and about power and personalities and the motives and fears of the powerful to think that it’s all pictures and smiles. And the motives and fears can and often do result in decisions and actions that affect people in significant, even deadly ways.
The other story this morning is of a king and queen in John and Jesus’ time, a birthday feast and dance to the power of lust and objectifying want to possess another person. In this case of Herod for his stepdaughter/niece by an immoral marriage that John the Baptizer felt compelled to condemn. This made Herod both fearful and attracted to John and John’s being hated by Herod’s brother’s, now his wife, Herodias. It is a strange and unusually elaborate story we’ve come to know well, interjected into Mark’s usually sparse narrative between the commissioning of the disciples and their return to Jesus to report what has happened in their carrying out his ministry.
It begins with rumours of who Jesus is, concluding with Herod’s fear that Jesus is John the Baptist, whom Herod beheaded, raised. It seems the gospel offers us a foreshadowing. John’s story is of a weak and frightened leader with the power to imprison John and put him to death caught in circumstances by other’s dark and violent intentions to choose if he will follow his lusts and desire to save face, or say no to evil. King Herod falls prey to the dance of evil before him and other’s intentions to a brutal and tragic death for John and ultimately for himself and others. And the disciples place John’s body in a tomb.
Jesus will walk this same journey and confront another leader – weak with life-and-death power, caught in the same dance between his own sense and the evil desires of others and his fear of losing power – with the same choice. And Pilate will choose to follow evil’s dance as Herod did, to equally brutal and tragic consequences for Jesus. And followers of Jesus will place Jesus’ body in tomb.
Self declared kings and queens and actual royalty, politics and power, failings and weaknesses and fears of the powerful, are on stark and daily display for the world to see in our time. People are poisoned, families are separated, denied entry and die fleeing, wars are financed and fueled by a military complex, while leaders meet and greet and feast together smiling and shaking hands, too often to shore up their own power and foster most of all greater trade and economic security, while knowing their actions will and do have consequences for many ordinary and especially vulnerable people in our world, whose families and friends are left to bury them wherever they can.
The stories of kings and queens and power and politics and violence and the vulnerable go on in every time it seems. But despite prominence and more often self importance, other stories, of even greater significance are unfolding.
In the gospel, the followers of Jesus having been sent out to continue Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching and gathering in community, go on before and after this story of Herod and his evil and violent ways. David will fall and fail to his own desires and ego, but God will remain faithful and through Nathan and others will call David and his serving the people back to God’s covenant way. And, for the sake of John and every needless sufferer’s sake, even for Herod’s and Pilate’s and all humanity’s sake, Jesus – anointed and sovereign of God, put to death and placed in a tomb, will not die forever, but is raised by God to reign in forgiveness and mercy, justice and righteousness, peace and joy, in a dance of salvation and life for all creation, now and forever. This is the great affirmation we hear in the opening doxology from Ephesians. This hope, in the face of every fallen king and queen of this world, is sufficient to empower us to speak the truth of God’s sovereignty and human failings, to stand with those most affected by evil or misdirected power and politics, and to seek and offer compassion and hope in the love of God opened and offered to all through our sovereign Christ Jesus. Like for the children and youth this past week, this dominion of God rocks! And like them dancing and singing, in this grace and life we can stand strong and even dance for God and this world.