Sermon – 16 July 2006

Two dancers. Different stories.

We are invited to consider this morning David dancing the ark of the covenant from one place to another. And Salome shimmying around Herod’s party and catching his eye with such disastrous consequences for John the Baptizer.

Two dancers. Two very different stories.

David’s dance seems to have been pure joy. David and the people danced before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

Salome’s dance seems to have been pure sleaze, telling us something of Herod’s corrupt and corrupting rule. And her dance goes on today in the libel courts and in the small minded newspapers. (You know, the kind that you buy on your way home from church, not on your way to church).

In David’s story, the king comes down onto the streets with the people and dances with joy. In the other, the king is holed up in his castle with his Yes men and Yes women. Trying to appease the local leaders with a party, yet a party to celebrate his own birthday.

From now until the Feast of Christ the King at the end of the liturgical year, we will be invited time and again to reflect on the image of the king as an image for God. But what kind of king? What kind of kingdom?

The images of God that we have going around in our consciousness are formed by both the biblical writers and by our own experience.

What kind of king are we talking about coming to know when we speak of meeting the King of Kings?

The kind of king who dances with the people in the streets. Or the kind of king who rules a puppet kingdom and surrounds himself with courtiers who will not speak the truth about his corrupt rule.

Now, one could carry this too far. David was not a plaster saint – he knew his share of corruption and sleaze too. However the image of him dancing with all his might with all the people is a rather delightful one and worth turning over in your mind, especially if you find the idea of God as king difficult to stomach. I rather like the idea of a God who dances amongst us, urging us on to greater praise, celebrating all that is glorious. If we could tell people about that kind of God, perhaps they would find it easier to be convinced that such a God would be worth dancing along with.

Turning to the gospels, we find just such a God. A God who comes down into the streets and gets involved. We find that God, in Jesus, did get involved and walked through the same life that we walk. A God who invites us to dance along beside him.

But what is this. We have a story this morning in which Jesus does not feature at all. What is the point of this gospel story, by far the longest story in the gospels in which Jesus does appear?

It is worth pausing for a moment over the story of John the Baptist’s rather gruesome end. It is probably important not to be distracted too much by Salome’s belly dancing and to think about why Mark is telling us this story at all.

Herod Antipas, for that is whom we are dealing with here, had plenty of brute force at his disposal. He was a puppet king, ruling Judea for the Romans. For that alone, he would always be a man who would be disliked. He had power. He had courtiers. He had wealth. He had influence. And he was thoroughly rotten to the core.

John stood up to Herod by telling the truth and holding fast to what he knew. And that made him dangerous. Too hot to handle.

The point is this – Mark is telling us this story in flashback, having already told us that people were saying through the hills and through the mountains that Jesus was the new Baptist. Jesus was the new prophet. Jesus was the new hope of the people. When he had had the Baptist killed, Herod had killed the messenger but not silenced the message.

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King is this: “The trajectory of history is justice”. [At least, I think it was Martin Luther King but I was unable to pin it down when writing the sermon – anyone who knows better can tell me later].

Anyway, the trajectory of history is justice. That notion helps me to see that the struggle for the kind of world which I want to live in, where all God’s people can be free, is not a struggle which depends on any individual alone. The trajectory of history is justice. Tyranny and terror contain within themselves such internal contradictions that inevitably, one day they will fail and tyrants and terrorists fall.

John the Baptizer told the truth, and found himself telling it as a consequence of his witness to God.

He told the truth, a truth which corrupt Herod could barely stand and which caused him to be locked up in Herod’s gaol. He told the truth about Herod’s personal life too, and that was too much for Herodias, Herod’s latest wife to cope with.

John’s call was to truth and integrity in public and in private. He was a hard man, but a consistent one. His word would not be silenced.

The things that God promises for people are things that we read of in the bible from week to week. Integrity and truth, ecstasy and liberation, hope and gladness, love and wisdom and insight.

Such things are such that no tyrant can silence them and no terrorist or military might can blow them up. And at such times as these, that notion is worth remembering and mulling over and praying with.

God’s vision of people of justice living in a world at peace is a vision that will always be worth living for. But more than that, it is a vision worth dancing for too. Amen

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