The Power of Being Gathered Up into God – Proper 10 (B) – 2015

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24 (or Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13); Ephesians 1:3-14Mark 6:14-29

Unlike Herod and others like him, we wouldn’t have to fight and connive and fawn over others so that power would be ours to abuse; we have the power of a loving God supporting us. We have the inheritance of the saints in light. We have the example and teachings of Jesus to show us the way.

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Click here to download the sermon for Proper 10(B).

This week’s sermon is written by The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

The power of being gathered up into God, 7 Pentecost, Proper 10 (B) – 2012

July 15, 2012

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24 (or Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13); Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

“John, whom I’ve beheaded, has been raised!”

Herod must have been terrified. A man like Herod, who relied on treachery, questionable political moves, the power gained through wealth, is confronted with his worst nightmare. He knew John was dead. He saw his head – yes, through a haze of drunkenness – but he saw the head. But this Jesus, obviously a man of power himself, is becoming known throughout Herod’s kingdom. Who is he? Could it really be John, raised from the dead? John, the man Herod killed because of a grudge, a grudge he held against him for telling the truth?

How very sad. How very tragic. And yet, because of what we’ve seen in our own lifetimes of the consequence of misused power, political greed and society’s belief that “it’s all about me,” we have to realize Herod has something to teach us.

Herod is an interesting character. What Benedict Arnold is to the word “traitor,” the name Herod has become to the word “evil,” but a sad kind of evil. In Herod we see a man desperate to be king. He killed his own relatives to gain the throne and then surrounded himself with sycophants, men who would use Herod’s favor to garner their own power.

The parties given by the king were as sick and sad as the participants were – days of feasting and uncontrolled drinking, entertainment that was sometimes less than respectable. Into this sad state of the political life of Israel, John the Baptizer dropped the embarrassing and dangerous truth. For this John lost his life because Herod was a fool and Herod’s character was terribly weak.

So today’s gospel tells us that this same Herod, who thought he had gotten rid of his adversary John, is now faced with a new adversary, Jesus. Herod had to be frightened. Who is this man he was hearing so much about? Could John have come back from the dead to haunt him, or was this someone new who would challenge his authority?

We know the answer and Herod would soon find out. Jesus was soon known by most as a man who taught with authority, who spoke the truth without fear, and who preached a return to faith by all Jews if they were to be truly children of God. And he broke the roles made up by weak men who were afraid of losing power.

While today’s gospel passage is mostly a bit of history, the letter from Paul to the Ephesians fills out what the people were saying about Jesus in Herod’s time. Paul helps us understand how we are connected to God. Paul reminds us of the amazing gifts we are given because God loves us. Instead of being afraid that Jesus is John raised from the dead, Paul says, “Blessed be God … who has blessed us in Christ with ever spiritual blessing in the heavens!” No fear here, just deep and joyful gratitude that we are empowered by God’s blessings. Paul goes on to tell us what some of those blessings are: adoption as God’s children, redemption through the blood of Jesus, forgiveness for our sins and grace lavished on us. Isn’t that a wonderful image? God’s grace being lavished on us! None of these things is a worldly gift. They are all of a heavenly nature, that we can, however, use here in our earthly lives. These gifts give us a spiritual authority and power that we must use to do good and to spread the Good News among our brothers and sisters.

There’s no comparison between this kind of power and authority and that of people such as Herod and Pilate or those before them: Ahasuerus in Esther’s time, Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s. Those people built their power on fear and treachery. Our power comes from the deep and abiding love of God. Paul tells us that with all wisdom and insight, God has made known to us the mystery of his will.

That sounds, well, mysterious. Can we understand that? Yes, indeed, we can, because that will is simply that God wants to gather up all things in heaven and on earth into Himself. It is our inheritance. The question is, do we want this? Is being gathered up into God’s love enough for us?

We have to ask that question seriously and truthfully. What does it mean to be gathered up into God here on earth? It’s all fine and good to think about that being what happens in heaven, where all is supposed to be perfect love and union with God. But don’t we often find that people still think that in heaven it will be “me and Jesus”? We seem to be fixated, here on earth, with deciding who gets there and who doesn’t. Let’s be honest about that. We want to be able to judge who gets there and who doesn’t. We too often forget that Jesus constantly talked about the kingdom of God being right here, right now, too. Wait a minute – that means we ought to be living in this abiding love right now, with everyone.

But we are surrounded still with people like Herod and Pilate. People are fighting for power, literally – killing innocent people just to keep control over land and the gifts of the land. We can’t get away from it. The TV and newspapers inundate us with images and blaring headlines that would kill any thought of living in love and peace we might have. And then, if we’re honest, we, too, want some control. We want to have some kind of power; it’s what society tells us is important.

Maybe this gospel about Herod is getting a little too close to home. It’s no longer just a history lesson, it’s a moral lesson, and we may find ourselves coming up short. We’re not yet thrilled with Paul’s words of the blessings of God’s grace. But it’s something we must learn to want more and more. We must want to be delighted in the thought that God lavishes his grace on us – pours it out joyfully – if only we’d be aware that it’s happening and learn to bathe ourselves in that abundance. We might ask what the consequence would be if we could do this. It would change our lives. We might see the beauty in all God’s people and be willing to take their hands when solidarity for good is needed. We might see our churches begin to fill again because others would see our witness and want to share what we have. We’d learn to speak about our faith in convincing and inviting ways.

Unlike Herod and others like him, we wouldn’t have to fight and connive and fawn over others so that power would be ours to abuse; we have the power of a loving God supporting us. We have the inheritance of the saints in light. We have the example and teachings of Jesus to show us the way. It’s a much better power. It’s a much more loving and peace-giving authority. We too can lavish our care on God’s world and on God’s people if we set our minds and hearts to it. Remember, Paul tells us we are marked with seal of the Holy Spirit. We are destined to be God’s people here on earth. We can make no other choice.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Let us dance together, Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10 (B) – July 12, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

What does our culture, our society, tell us about dancing? Does it celebrate it? Does it embrace and expand upon it, helping it to infuse our movements through the world? Does it teach us to inhabit the expressive potential of our bodies, coordinated and rhythmic?

Or does it narrow it, relegate it to the back room, the bar room, the stage, and the empty house, unobserved and detached?

The Killers, a popular contemporary band, pose a question in their song “Human.” They wrote the song after hearing a disparaging comment that America was “raising a generation of dancers.” The chorus of the song goes:

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold,
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer.
Are we human or are we dancer?

Is it antithetical to our human nature to dance? Surely not. As with many art forms, we convince ourselves that if our potential is not immediately apparent, we hold no stake. “Oh, I’m not a musician.” “No, I’m not an artist.” “I can’t dance.”

But as children, we all dance, we all embody the sounds of the world in a very physical way. Some of us rock spastically in our high chairs while others sway gracefully. Some of us shake our little fists energetically, or beat the ground like a drum, while others jump on any accessible piece of furniture. We are indeed made dancer.

But our hands go cold. We live in a culture where to be human is not necessarily to be dancer, where we are taught to judge the type of dancer we become. Does that mean the music ceases to pulse around us, within us, and through us? No, but it is no longer released to the world through movement and gesture. The music ends abruptly and alone, inside our ears and our heads.

In today’s readings we hear two stories of dancing. The tales are of two dancers in two very different times, dancing two very different dances.

In our reading from the Second Book of Samuel, David has brought to his city the Ark of the Covenant, the experience of God’s relationship to humanity made manifest in metal, textile, and stone. And as he enters the city, as the party of Israel takes up God and welcomes God into their midst, David and all the house of Israel dance “before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.”

They dance! And not a little side-to-side rock, sway, and clap, but “with all their might” they dance! And David, clad in a linen ephod, a ceremonial garment of prayer and worship, presents the gift of his joy, made manifest in his dancing to the Lord.

In this moment, David’s body, the chosen, imperfect, and fully human body of the King of Israel, becomes a gift to the Lord, an expression of the joyful relationship and covenant between God and God’s people. But it doesn’t stop there.

The incarnate celebration continues through a shared meal, as David blesses the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributes food among all the people. That’s right, he feeds them – “the whole multitude,” both men and women – with bread and meat and a cake of raisins! The dance becomes a banquet, a royal meal, of joy, of life, of abundance and community.

In our gospel reading today there is another dance. This second dance takes on a different character. Salome dances to entertain. It is the ruler’s birthday celebration. And all the leaders of Galilee gather to be amused, while John the Baptist sits locked in a cell because he called Herod to emerge from his sinfulness. Salome is apparently a talented dancer. We can imagine her graceful and perhaps provocative movements enrapturing and exciting a room full of powerful men. Her self-expression drives them to distraction and foolishness – a dance worth half a kingdom. This dance too ends in a banquet of sorts: a head served on a silver platter, a banquet of enslavement to desire, hubris, pride, arrogance, and revenge.

The contrast is striking: David’s dance of life, the banquet of heaven, and Salome’s dance and banquet of death.

We gather today to dance. Foolishly, unapologetically, and beautifully we dance. We dance up the aisle in our flow-y white gowns. We sing to each other ballads of our common history, punctuated by gestures of stillness, of standing, kneeling, and sitting, of clasping the hands of another. Our bodies, our voices, and our movements become vehicles for expressing our relationship with the divine. And coming forward to the table, we present those gifts, gifts of ourselves, to God and to one another – a feast, a banquet set open to all who would come.

Today, in Anaheim, California, a tremendous dance is also taking place, a dance involving thousands of Episcopalians, as leaders of our church converge on Disneyland for the triennial gathering known as General Convention.

The dance they do together is one of the most awe-inspiring things we do as a church. It has the potential to be a moment of incredible beauty and synergy, the dance of many ministries, many ways of living Christ’s calling. It has the potential to be the dance of many varied ways of being human as Jesus taught us, moving to the music of the spirit’s common call, offered on a common table for our mutual edification and sustenance. And from that dance there is the potential for the transformation of the world. Ten thousand Episcopalians, standing together, in community can feed the world with their hope, their courage, and their love for one another. The dance can become a holy banquet.

But the beauty and the challenge of these readings, paired as they are, is that they point to the fact that the dance, and the banquet that flows out of it, can be an instrument both of life and death, with potential both to sanctify and desecrate.

How are we as individuals transformed by our dance, transformed by our liturgy? By our gathering? By our faith? How are we, like David, expressing what we know of God, what we have seen of God, and God’s relationship to us, in this moment of dancing – both here today, and at the convention in Anaheim?

What we do often looks like a ridiculous dance in the eyes of the world, amidst so much modern complexity. And it is. But by the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ardent pursuit of the example of Jesus Christ, it is a dance that can transform the world.

But it can only feed the world when it is for us truly a dance of life, a dance of offering. Like David, our dance must be done with all our might. It must be a dance that acknowledges the unique, limited, often uncoordinated way in which each of us tries to embody and express anew the music and breath of the spirit moving in us. It must acknowledge that the dance we do is an expression of our humanity, and it must be a dance that “with all its might” seeks to draw together instead of dividing, to empower instead of belittling, to interpret rather than dictate. It must be a dance that is shared by all in the human family.

Jesus calls us together at the table, speaking to us in the ways in which our own bodies are offered up one to another at this table, the ways in which our dances merely point to God, gesture toward God. He speaks to us in this dance of life; not performance, but community; not selfish, but sacrificial; not shortsighted, but eternal. It is this dance we celebrate today, this dance of life.

Let us dance as ourselves, as humans, as dancers, as community. Let us dance together!

Thanks be to God.

 

— Jason Sierra is the Associate for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Seattle Regional Office of the Episcopal Church Center. He holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford and is a visual and graphic artist.

Being close to the power of God, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10 (B) – July 16, 2006

(RCL) 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 or Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 24 or 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29 

William Sloane Coffin, Jr., who recently died at the age of 81, was an honored scholar, civil rights leader, antiwar activist, and a prophet. He summed up his faith by saying, “I believe Christianity is a worldview that undergirds all progressive thought and action.” He also said, “The Christian church is called to respond to Biblical mandates like truth-telling, confronting injustice, and pursuing peace.”

His actions and words are evidence that he was able to navigate the tension created by those who would separate power into the categories of church and state, or more accurately, of God and man.

His words are good to reflect upon, particularly given the world we live in, where power and authority are often thought of in terms of personal privilege and gain. Are the choices we make to live our lives progressively seen as authentic demonstrations of Biblical mandates or do these choices simply challenge authority and invite criticism? And what if we are criticized? Should we let that deter our actions and cause us to forsake the Gospel mandate?

Especially evident in our reading today is the complex and often volatile relationship between the rule of God and the rule of humanity. Those who recognize the power of God as ultimate, speak the truth, and those who speak genuinely prophetic words are often judged as dangerous and threaten the established political and religious institutions. We can name many prophets of our time who have demonstrated a true understanding of God’s power and have spoken out, telling the truth about injustices and pointing us toward understanding the Gospel in spite of the cost: Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, and Desmond Tutu. Their stories inspire our lives and challenge us to ask how privilege and power blind us to prophetic words and their demand for justice. Does our desire for privilege and power – even for benevolent purposes – lead us to feel exempt from living according to the Gospel?

David, the anointed king of all tribes, recognized God’s power and captured Jerusalem, putting an end to the Philistine threat. This accomplishment is significant because without it, Israel never could have developed as an independent state. This established Jerusalem as a political center. When David retrieved the ark from the Philistines and brought it to Jerusalem, it established a center for worship. God’s power in the ark – and in David’s reign as a king – are brought together in a place still identified as holy today.

God’s power is awesome, and in the ark God’s power seemed so dangerous that the Philistines let it go. God is king, and His authority is over all of creation. God’s power is so awesome that being too close to it, coming toward it unintentionally, may be dangerous.

Psalm 24 describes in liturgical form how the power of God must be seen. Our path toward God must be ethically sound, which involves three things: first, purity of outward deeds or having clean hands; second, purity of thought and inward truthfulness, having a pure heart; and finally purity of religious practice or unadulterated faith, not pledging to falsehood or swearing by what is fraud. As it says in Ephesians 3, God’s power “working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine,” and that is at the root of our worship and is the reason we live as Christians.

Being close to the power of God, being prophetic, and being truth-telling advocates for the Gospel message can be a euphoric experience. As Christians we ritualize the experience of approaching God through prayer and song. In Native American traditions, dance is a significant part of that expression. The procession that brought the ark into Jerusalem was ecstatic with singing, playing instruments, and dancing. David lost himself in the feeling of approaching God and sensing the power of God. Others may despise us for expressing our encounters with the holy, with our whole selves, bodies, minds, and souls, but that cannot discourage our joy.

In our Christian tradition, the liturgy brings us close to God and feeds us to go out into the world to live as God intended. David shared the blessings with offerings and then distributed meat, cake, and food to the people just as we gather to share the blessings in the Eucharist. The way in which we live our lives and the way we celebrate our joy and connection to God is what unites us as people of faith. We are also united as living members of the Body of Christ, people who live in accordance with the gospel message.

The prophets of the Old and New Testaments and the prophets of modern day demand justice and a life lived according to the Gospel. Their witness exposes those who misuse power and privilege for their own glory. Their witness exposes the use of power to control and oppress others. Their witness assures us that it is possible to recognize God’s power as the only authority. We must strive to live lives that are evidence of the power of God as we become truth-telling advocates for justice and peace. And, when this brings us close to God, let us be moved to celebrate ecstatically with our whole selves.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals, Pascua Yaqui from Tucson, Arizona, leads the Four Winds Congregation in Sacramento, CA, and is Missioner for Native Ministry in the Diocese of Northern California. She is actively involved in all aspects of Native Ministry in the Episcopal Church. She has been appointed to the Episcopal Council for Indigenous Ministry by the Presiding Bishop and has been selected as Convener for the Indigenous Ministry Network of Province VIII.