Reflection for July 11, 2021
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
2Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6: 14-29
This is my eleventh reflection since the pandemic began. And I want to thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking to you in this way. I have learned a lot. I tried to answer questions and I found questions I never knew existed. So, it has been a wonderful job for me.
Reflections are pretty complicated. I want to get a Gospel message across or to reaffirm a Gospel message. At the same time, I want you to be interested. Then, I also have to find what interests me and motivates me to keep going. Finally, looking at the whole of the world as Gospel – and I believe the message of the Gospel can be found anywhere — I try to bring the world in.
So, let’s talk about the Vikings. I have always been fond of the Vikings ever since I had a wooden sword as a kid and my brother and I battered each other, up and down our grandmother’s driveway, until the wooden bushel covers that we used as shields fell to pieces. As I grew, I learned that Vikings had a complex culture as well as swords and fantastic boats that went beyond Greenland to the shores of our continent.
Recently, I read a highly excellent history of the Vikings, called “Children of Ash and Elm” by Neil Price. Prof. Price consolidated a lot of my feelings about Vikings that I had accumulated over the years. Yes, they were innovative, brave, family-oriented, agricultural, world travelers. Yes, they were vicious to the people they raided, practiced human sacrifice, owned slaves in quantities.
And, when I read today’s passage from 2 Samuel, the Vikings sprang to mind almost immediately.
David is always presented to us as a hero – handsome, brave, an artist, loving the Lord, obedient to him. But, like a Viking, David had a dark side — goal driven, lustful, bloody-handed, and sometimes a hypocrite.
I have a question about the passage from 2 Samuel that I think highlights David’s nature. This question is: why did David’s wife Michal despise him in her heart when she saw him dancing before the Lord’s Ark? Some say it was because David was behaving in an unseemly way and was maybe half naked; that he had thrown all kingly dignity. I think, though, that the story goes much farther back, much deeper.
Michal was the second daughter of Saul who was the first king of Israel. David eventually became Saul’s rival. But, at the time when David was a high-ranking warrior in Saul’s retinue, Michal fell in love with him. He won her with a bride price of blood that I really don’t want to go into. You can read 1 Samuel 18. There is nothing in the Bible about David loving Michal. Perhaps Michal was second choice for David. Saul would not allow his first daughter, Mehrab, to marry David. She later married another man and had five sons who met a tragic fate together.
When Saul in a crazed state wanted to kill David, Michal saved David’s life by a deceit. David began his years of wandering. He married Abigail and many other women. In the meantime, Saul married Michal to another man named Paltiel.
When Saul and his son Jonathan were killed as well as numbers of other people of Saul’s family and followers, David demanded that Michal be returned to him. She traveled to David with Paltiel following after and weeping the whole way. I think he loved her. But he was told to turn around and go home.
David became king of all of Israel. He had many children by many wives and concubines. But Michal never had children by him even before David danced before the Ark. She never had any children. Why? I think it was because David wanted no children who shared King Saul’s blood. The practice then was to wipe out your predecessor’s line. Mehrab’s five sons were later handed over to be hanged. Another story. (2 Samuel 21) As far as I can tell, only one person of Saul’s line lived into the reign of David. And he was kept under close watch.
So, this is part of the shadow side of David. I could say the story as a whole accords with the culture of the time. Nonetheless, it shows how in the Bible itself, David is not presented as an ideal figure. He is both a Viking in the style of a hero and a Viking in the style of a killer.
So, what are the lessons to draw from this passage. One is that I should not romanticize the stories of the Bible. I should turn over stones and find what’s under them no matter how squeamish I may be. The other lesson is that, if I’m realistic about these stories, I can find in them the truth of my own Viking self and therefore the immense generosity of God’s plans.
If the Lord loved and was loyal to a man like David who was not exactly lovable, then it makes the Gospel message of God’s love much more real, more tangible. Why? I can’t say that, in my life, I have behaved like the shining romantic portrait of the wonderful David. I’ve had my moments, like David, where I’ve behaved badly. But David’s story makes me realize that I’m a human who is walking in company with other humans to the final Sabbath. The combination of the people of the Bible and my own life adds depth to the statement in John’s letter that God is Love. In sum, if God loved David, and he surely did, he has to be loving me.
Let’s turn to someone who did not look at the world romantically at all and see what he has to say. Paul, who was pretty worldly-wise and a terrific observer and analyst of the human condition, had to know that David was not all hero. And he knew that he himself was not all hero. Before he became Paul the Apostle, Paul was likely responsible for people’s deaths. At the least, he was a persecutor. And, even as a saved man and evangelist, he continues to say, I can’t do what I want to do, and I do what I don’t want to do; I am a slave to sin. Who will save me from this body of death? (Romans 7) He is really crying out just as David cried out after he took Bathsheba and shamefully arranged the death of her husband Uriah the Hittite. (2 Samuel 11-12)
Paul is asking in Romans: how can we live with ourselves? And against this, Paul has the cheerfulness to write the certainties of today’s magnificent, glorious passage from Ephesians. The passage summarizes EVERYTHING about our journey in the world: forgiveness, God’s love, Jesus’ self-giving for us, God’s plan for the world.
The passage is really beautiful as literature. But it is even more beautiful because of its realism. In Paul’s hands, the Gospel acknowledges that we have our “David natures” and our “Viking natures.” But it gives us the confidence to remain notwithstanding on the Way of Jesus.
What is that way? It is the journey we’ve begun to the ultimate Sabbath, to the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee. That journey has a road map. It is: Imperfect as we are, we feed the hungry, we give drink to the thirsty, we clothe the naked, we welcome a stranger, we care for the sick, and we visit the prisoner,
This journey is made with one of the great virtues. This is the virtue of hope. For me, hope is the steadiest and the most comforting of all the virtues. It lets us expect good things. It helps us minimize our feelings about the bad things without discounting that they are bad. It clears the air so that we can find our better selves and we can love more. It helps us endure and keep putting one foot in front of the other cheerfully. Hope is associated, I think, with the Holy Spirit. As the passage from Ephesians ends is a pep talk for hope: Having heard about Jesus and believed in him, we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit which is the PLEDGE of our inheritance toward REDEMPTION as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. The seal of the Holy Spirit is a promise for us David’s and for us Vikings. Amen