And what is the natural response to this overwhelming generosity? How should we live in light of what God has done for us?
Ephesians tells us that too. We are to “live for the praise of [God’s] glory.”
It seems like the most natural thing in the world. If we could really wrap our minds around God’s grace to us, God’s ongoing, overwhelming generosity to us, we would spend most of our time praising God, thanking God, celebrating God. If we could hold in our head just how good and loving God is and was and will always be, we would act a lot more like David in our Old Testament reading.
David has just consolidated his rule over the whole of Israel. David has conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. Now David wants to honor God. So David brings the ark of the covenant into his capital city with much pomp and circumstance.
This is the kind of thing we are good at. Our service begins and ends with a procession. An acolyte starts us off, carrying a cross. The worship leaders of the day follow along. As we march, in or out, we sing songs of praise.
On big days we really do it up. Extra people carry candles, and the gospel book, and poles with streamers symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and our banner. On Palm Sunday, we all process.
The details were different, but the idea was the same in David’s day. Like us, they processed to give glory to God. Priests carried the ark in formal procession. The king led the way. Musicians provided lively music. Every six paces, they stopped and offered sacrifice.
But their procession was fun. As they processed, “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” David and the rest rejoiced in the knowledge that God loved them and God blessed them. What else could they do but dance?
Then, as now, such exuberance could be embarrassing. David’s wife Michal “saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam 6:16).
My children would be sympathetic with Michal’s embarrassment at David’s behavior. Occasionally I bust a move in public. The boys complain. They pretend they do not know me. Sometimes they physically restrain me.
What would it be like for us to bring that embarrassing exuberance to Church? What would it be like for us to dance in the sheer joy of worshipping God? It would seem a little crazy, but that might not be such a bad thing.
Three years ago, at the last General Convention, Michael Curry, our newly elected Presiding Bishop, gave a sermon called “We Need Some Crazy Christians.” This is part of what he said.
“We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God—like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJMKeyCWoQ)
Are we crazy like that? Are we crazy like Jesus, who loved us so much even in our sin that he submitted to crucifixion? Or like Paul, who knew God’s love and grace so well that he travelled the world to share it despite often brutal hostility? Or like David, who did not stand on the dignity of his position but danced with all his might before the Lord?
Are we crazy like that? Or are we sane and respectable, like Herod?
Herod arrested John the Baptizer. But Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, so Herod protected him. Herod even liked to listen to him.
In other times and places, Herod does not come off so well. But in our reading for this morning, Herod does not seem like that bad a person.
But Herod makes a stupid promise. Herod swears he will give to Herodias whatever she asks, up to half his kingdom. She asks for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter.
What is poor Herod to do?
Herod could refuse. Herod could say that Herodias asks too much. John is a righteous and holy man. John is doing the work of God. John is worth more than half of Herod’s kingdom. Herod could take this moment as an invitation to humble himself, to learn more about Jesus.
But that would be crazy. Kings do not protect people who publicly criticize them. Kings do not listen to holy men who wear strange clothes and eat strange food and say strange things about a mighty savior. It just is not done. Or at least Herod could not do it.
So, “out of regard for his oaths and for the guests,” Herod chooses a different course. Herod gives Herodias what she asked. Herod has John killed. Under the circumstances, it was the only reasonable thing to do. Or at least, that is how it looked to Herod.
Herod needed to be more like David, a little crazy for God, a little more willing to celebrate God even if that meant being a fool in the eyes of the world, a little more willing to do the right thing even when doing right seems crazy.
Herod needed to be more like David. And so do we.
God is around us all the time, pouring out grace and love and calling us to worship and to serve Him. And the world looks on all the time. We live at the crossroad. Will we follow David in his crazy dance? Or will we follow Herod in doing what the world expects?
Last Thursday morning, I stood at that crossroad. I was in the Atlanta airport. I wanted to say Morning Prayer. But I was not comfortable standing and bowing and kneeling with all the people there. I am sorry to say, I felt more like Herod than like David.
I decided to compromise. I would not dance with all my might, but I would not let the people around me compel me to act against my own better judgment either. I decided to say Morning Prayer quietly. I mouthed the words and did the hand gestures. But I did not speak out loud, and I did not stand or kneel.
I felt VERY self-conscious as I began.
But then I did not. Praying in the Atlanta airport seemed almost natural. I still did not stand or kneel. But I think maybe I could have done.
And the lesson for me was that we can step a little outside our comfort zones. I was not a crazy Christian in that moment. But I may have become just a tiny bit crazier. If so, I thank God for it.
This week, I invite you to a bit of craziness. Step outside your comfort zone in the service of God. Listen to John. Dance before the ark. Do something to express your gratitude to God who lavishes the riches of divine grace on you. For just a moment, live entirely for the praise of God’s glory. And thank God for giving you the grace to grow.
In the name of Christ, Lord of the Dance. Amen.
2 Samuel 6:12-19