Primary preaching text: 2 Samuel 6:1-2, 5, 12b-23
Secondary text: Mark 6: 14-29
Dancing sounds kind of innocuous to me. Dancing -- it's the little boy who dreams of being a ballerina, the middle school girl trying to get up the nerve to ask her crush on a date.
David, on the other hand, I don't like very much.
I know I've hidden that distaste real well over the past month -- what with the sermons about racism and genocide and the abuse of power and the evils of violence, especially violence inflicted in God's name. So it may surprise you to learn that I don't like David. But... I don't.
Dancing, though -- dancing I love.
David danced before the Lord with all his might.
I've been waiting to preach about that for more like three years than three weeks -- it was three years ago, the last time we were at this point in the Revised Common Lectionary cycle, that my best friend and I talked about how this pair of texts would be perfect if one wanted to have a liturgical dance Sunday.
And then I got here, this week -- actually here, this morning, at seven am -- actually writing this sermon. And here's the thing about dancing with all your might.
It means dancing with all of yourself.
That's what Michel found so distasteful about David's dancing, right? all of him on display for everyone to see.
So there's debate about whether David was actually dancing... mostly naked. He's not totally naked, obviously -- he's wearing a linen ephod. But just what an ephod covers is unclear -- whether it's more like a robe, or more like an apron. And it's unclear whether David was also wearing a robe underneath the more bib-like ephod.
Certainly Michel was scandalized, and whether she was scandalized by her husband actually sharing his... private parts... with all Israel, or whether it was just that she felt it was unseemly that his private devotional life was on display for the whole kingdom, Michel found this dance unseemly, unbefitting of royalty.
The actual nature of the scandal is less important than that Michel found it scandalous and apparently God didn't.
Emma Goldman was many things, including an anarchist and a labor organizer. In the early days of her organizing, she attended a series of events for women in the cloakmaking trade, whom she wanted to recruit into a union.
I became alive once more. At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening [...] a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. [...] I did not believe that a Cause which stood for, a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. [...]
A young labor activist at a union social, untiring both in her organizing and her dancing.
A little boy in a tutu pirouetting in the cereal aisle of Sunfresh.
A teenager asking her girlfriend to prom.
A king in the presence of his God, dancing with all his might.
Many stories of dancing include the voice of authority saying DON'T.
Boys DON'T do ballet. It's unmanly.
Girls DON'T dance with girls. It's immoral.
Agitators DON'T dance with abandon. It's undignified.
Kings DON'T dance half-naked in front of the servants. It's lewd.
The voice of authority -- the voice of parents, of teachers, of culture, of well-meaning friends and cranky spouses -- puts a lot of DON'Ts on our bodies.
Bodies are dangerous, so we create a lot of rules around them.
And bodies are dangerous.
When I was a kid, I got scolded for turning cartwheels in church.
We can probably think of lots of reasons not to turn cartwheels in church.
I might do damage to myself. I might do damage to furniture or liturgical vessels. I might do damage to nearby people.
Bodies are dangerous, because bodies are powerful.
David dancing before the Lord with all his might holds nothing back.
That includes all the parts of him that Michel thinks should be private.
And it includes too the things that offend my sensibilities.
to name God with my body
not your body, Michal,
Not Saul's who tried to destroy it
or Jonathan's who loved it
the same hands that gathered five smooth stones from the wadi, meant to slay a giant
are lifted now in praise
the same legs that climbed the hilltop whence the littlest lamb had strayed
the same arms that hefted slingshot
these harpist's hands that once soothed Saul
these hands, these legs, this mass of muscle, journey-hardened and
not innocent in any way
This is all I have God, all I have.
And you --
you spilled over my hair in the in the oils of kingship
I felt your touch in Jonathan's hand --
and Abigail's and Ahinoam's too
-- and Michal's too, at first
It was you, Lord, who protected me in battle,
my breastplate and my shield
So now I remove the vestments of battle and don this priestly garment
your Law is hard, Lord
God, your Law is hard
but here, in the presence of tens of thousands of your people,
here, in the city you gave me
here, I feel your presence
in the throbbing pulse of the city's heartbeat, thousands of voices lifted in thanksgiving, thousands of feet pounding the ground in ecstatic victory
thousands of arms raised upward to you
thousands of hearts
David's dancing body is also a shepherding body and a harpist's body and a soldier's body and a lover's body and a king's body. David's body is exceedingly powerful -- physically and politically -- and he throws all that power into the ecstatic praise of God.
You are invited to bring your whole self here, but since Eve and Adam discovered their nakedness and felt shame, we have been trying to hide parts of ourselves from God.
So we put clothes on our bodies and made rules about who could wear what, and then we put bodies in boxes and made more rules.
A king is not a priest. An agitator is not a socialite.
And so the terrible, dangerous, frightening power of bodies is contained.
Emma Goldman attended her first dance as a teenager, and loved it so much that she wanted to dance forever --
“I will dance!” I declared; “I will dance myself to death!” My flesh felt hot, my heart beat violently as my cavalier swung me round the ball-room, holding me tightly. To dance to death — what more glorious end!
-- and Emma Goldman, passionate and impetuous and fifteen, grew up to be an activist, not in spite of her love of fine clothes and fine men and the joy of movement, but because she loved those things so much that she wanted, with every fiber of her being, for everyone to have access to that same kind of joy.
What would happen if you gave all of yourself to God? You are invited to bring your whole self here, to this place where all are welcome, but I know that there are pieces of me that I don't want you to know, beloved. It's exceedingly hard to be totally vulnerable among other human beings, all of whom are imperfect and fallible.
But we can aim to be vulnerable before God.
And we can give our bodies to God.
I know that's a sentiment that's frequently used to place more limits and rules on bodies -- If my body is God's temple, then I shouldn't defile it by drinking caffeine -- or having sex with women -- or eating cheesecake or getting a tattoo....
That's not what I mean.
I mean something like this:
We do bring our bodies to church. We can't do otherwise, because we are bodies just as much as we are spirits. And if we invite God into our lives, we invite God into every part, not just the ones we're proud of.
That's what God asks of us. That we love God with heart and soul and mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. That we love God with everything we have, everything we are, everything we feel and think and dream, and all the things we do with our bodies.
David, dancing before the Lord with all his might. There are things that I don't like about David, and things Michel doesn't like about David, and things David doesn't like about David -- but in the moment of worship, that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if David's body is lovely or ugly, if his deeds are noble or atrocious, only that, in that moment, he has come before God and given God worship with everything he has and everything he is.
The things that you bring this morning that you don't love -- the things that you are that you're not proud of -- the things you don't understand -- they are God's.
I don't know what they are (for you -- I know mine all too well) and I don't know what they mean:
-the knot of anxiety in your stomach
-your hunger -- for cheesecake, or for human connection, or maybe for both, or maybe for something else
-- all your hungers, all your fears, all your pain, all your faults, all your shallowness and frivolity and your love of cheesy Netflix sitcoms and your inability to keep the bathroom clean --
All of those things that are you, even though you wish they weren't. Your love of dancing, when the world wants you to be a Srs Bsns Social Justice Agitator. Your distaste for dancing, when the preacher went on for fifteen minutes about how great it is. Your inability to dance.
All of you.
God loves you, and that includes all of you, every piece. And when you dance before the Lord with all your might, then all of you, every piece, hungry or wounded or bitter or violent, sad or worried or bored --when you dance before the Lord with all your might, you give glory to God
and you are God's presence in the world.
[Hymn of the Day: Lord of the Dance]
[Emma Goldman quotes from her autobiography, Living My Life.]