July 11, 2021

2 Samuel 6:1-5

Mark 6:14-29


Among the Christian authors I like to read are the ones who formerly identify as hard-core, capital “E,” Evangelicals, but who now maintain a passion for Christ, and a reverence, and a sense of his unique place in the expression of God’s love, without the trappings of exclusivism and a threat-based faith that says, you better do or believe X, Y, or Z, or you are going to hell.

Names like Rob Bell, Pete Enns, and Brian Zahnd come to mind.  Zahnd, in fact, wrote a book called “Beauty Will Save the World,” which was very influential for me when I was putting together my sabbatical.  His theme is that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not only the greatest story ever told, but also the most beautiful one.  It says, THIS is our God – a God of extravagant grace in creating us for no other reason than for fellowship with God, a God of endless self-giving love, a God willing to die at our hands if that’s the cost of being with us, a God whose love cannot be stopped (not even by death,) a God who returns and returns to give God’s self to us in Spirit, and sacrament, and community, and nature, and prayer, and service, and worship, and in any way possible.  What could be more beautiful, persuasive, and compelling than a God incarnate offered out of unmerited love for the sake, as Paul says, of “gathering all things into him!”

Christianity, says Zahnd, “is the ongoing expression of the Jesus story lived out in the lives of individuals and in the heart of society,” and as such is a beauty that can redeem the world.[1]  He knows it’s an outlandish claim in a way, given the state of much of the church, but he believes that the church’s key to revival is the discovery of this cause: of embodying the beloved community, of manifesting for the world an actualized vision of a people who live by God’s way of self-giving love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and peace, over and against any other way of life.

He really is an inspired voice, which is why I was initially disappointed when a tweet of his came across my screen.  It read, “You can still be saved.  Put your faith in Jesus Christ.  Christ alone is the sinless one.  Christ alone is the foundation.  As Paul said, ‘for no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’”

It sounded to me like the capital “E” Evangelicalism that I find so depressing.  It sounded like that old exclusivism that takes something beautiful and grace-filled and makes it ugly.  But, then I saw that his post was in response to the post of a politician who suggested that an honest criticism of our nation’s founding was dangerous and irresponsible.  It could erode the fabric of our cultural identity.  And, therefore it should not be considered or uttered.

In other words, Zahnd’s post was directed at someone who was making an idol out of his nation.  No nation, regardless of how good, should be thought of as sinless.  Only God is sinless.  No nation, despite its capacity to generate opportunity beyond the capacities of other nations, should be the foundation of our identity.  Only God is the foundation of our identity.  And that’s not because God will condemn you if you don’t believe it.  It’s because – to oversimplify it – God is good, perfectly good, good beyond any goodness we know, and certainly good beyond any of the other idols we’re so tempted to worship.  Take money for example.  It’s not bad in and of itself.  We need enough of it to take care of ourselves and to help others.  But, if we live for it we are lost.  Think about entertainment.  More and more I think entertainment may be one of the most potent idols for communities like ours.  We love being entertained but, when it becomes our driving passion we end up without the resources for other priorities and without the courage and inspiration to live beyond self in a way that is deep and simple and fulfilling.

My mind went to all of these places upon reading our gospel passage today.  From Herod, his wife, his daughter, and all the company at that party we’re given the image of John’s head on a platter as the expression of the selfish spite, careless whims, and privileged games of powerful people whose gods are ultimately themselves.  It all begs the question of what exactly it is that we live for.  And, without diminishing the uniquely consequential actions of this particular Herod I wonder if we might zoom out a bit and think of him as a kind of tragic symbol for human vulnerability to the allure of worshiping that which is other than God.  An allure we can all relate to.

Herod hated John for not fearing his power.  Herod imprisoned him for having the audacity to confront his immorality.  But, Herod was also drawn to him, perplexed by the alternative way of life that John posed.  “Repent!” John said.  “Turn to God, prepare your mind, open your heart.  There’s a different way, a better way, God’s way, on its way and all you have to do it turn to it!… It doesn’t have to be your way anymore.”  We’re told that though Herod hated John he also liked listening to John, and I’m guessing that it’s because he found some freedom and relief in John’s message.  Wouldn’t it be nice not to be what he had become!  Tragically though, Herod remains addicted to his idols.

I want to share these words from author and Anglican priest, Samuel Wells, who gives us an image of the God that a small part of Herod still longs for.  Reflecting on the question, “Where’s my love to go now?” – a question offered by a parishioner who had lost those he’d loved the most, Wells says, “Imagine eternity from God’s point of view.  Imagine God having all that love pent up like you have right now.  But the difference is, God’s got that love all pent up potentially forever.  God’s like you.  God’s thinking, ‘Where’s my love to go?’  So God created the universe.  But God’s got still more love to give.  So God created life, and makes humanity, and calls a special people.  But that’s still not enough.  God’s got yet more love to give.  So God comes among us as a tiny baby.  God’s question, ‘Where is my love to go?’ is perhaps the most important one of all time.  Half the answer is the creation of the universe.  The other half is the incarnation.  On Christmas Day we find out why the universe was created.  It was created for us to be the place where God’s love could go.”[2]

Herod, I’m posing, gives us a picture of humanity missing the message, or even sadder, opting for, or not being able to resist, something less.

Initially when reading through our scripture suggestions for today, I couldn’t see any reason for pairing our gospel passage with what we get from Second Samuel except for the fact that both passages feature dancing.  I thought maybe the authors of the lectionary were having a rough day or just stretching it a bit to make things fit.  But, then I remembered a Boost where someone talked about the power of David’s witness.  There in the streets of Jerusalem David danced with total joy and abandon.  He danced because the ark of the covenant – God’s home and presence – was making its home in the center of God’s people.  David danced for all to see, and if you know the story you know that all could see pretty much everything, because he danced just about naked!  Some thought it was undignified, but David didn’t care.  The sense I get is the exhilaration and freedom of letting go of those things that keep us from being the place where God’s love goes.  David’s dance is the dance of being all in.  It’s the dance of celebrating the absurd truth that we’re nothing less than brush strokes in a greater beauty that is saving the world.  It’s the dance of knowing that our idols can never measure up to all that.

So, in giving us two dances today the lectionary writers also lift up a choice we’re asked to make.  Which dance will be ours?  It’s not a choice we’ll make once and for all.  And, it’s not a choice we make on our own.  We make it together here in worship.  And, we practice making it every week.  And, when we’re really working as a church we get better and better at making it.  And when that happens the world sees a vision of God’s very kingdom right here and now in the way we live our lives in love for God and in care for one another.  What could be more beautiful than that?


[1] Beauty Will Save the World, page 2.

[2] The Christian Century, June 16, 2021, page 37