Proper 15; Pentecost 6
MP: St. Mary the Virgin, St. Paul the Apostle EP: Holy Trinity
July 16, 2006
Focus text: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Mark 6:14-29
I believe it was our former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who said, “Why is it that when people jump up and down and dance at a football match, it is called joy and excitement, and when we dance and clap in church, we are accused of emotionalism?” We Anglicans are usually the first to make fun of ourselves, “the frozen chosen”—or is that Presbyterian? There is an old story of a woman who attended a Church of England service and was most pleased with the sermon. She would declare, Amen! in response to the preacher. She would raise her hands in song. The usher approached her and quietly asked her to refrain from such antics. “But don’t you have the Holy Spirit?” she asked. “Not in the Church of England we don’t,” the usher replied.
The truth is our tradition is made up of some interesting characters. Although the English Church is only four hundred years younger than Christianity itself, our identity was formed initially by a king who decapitated two of his wives, his son who died at a very young age, one daughter who had us all burned at the stake, including Thomas Cranmer, and another who amazed everyone by bringing high church and low church together.
In our readings today, we encounter two more of these wild and wooly characters. The first is King David, the lineage of our Saviour, who was capable of enormous miraculous victories and such shameful mistakes. So often, history leaves out the embarrassing and human bits. Not the Hebrew testaments. Here we have David, dancing in his underwear, essentially, slaughtering an ox and a “fatted” ox at every sixth step. He is dancing in ecstasy, before the Ark of the Covenant (the very presence of God) much to the chagrin of his wife, Michal. Later on, a few verses down, David replies to Michal: I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes…” For David, his dancing is an act of “pious self-humiliation” before the Lord. It reminds me of a scene from the film “A Knight’s Tale”. Will, posing as a knight, declares to the woman he loves, “I will win this tournament for you”. Her maid goes to Will in private. “My lady has many men who will win for her. If you truly love her, you will lose this tournament.” What follows in the film is a few excruciating minutes of Will being thrown from his horse and beaten by lances. Eventually, it becomes too much to bear, and the maid returns to Will, “If you love her, you will stop this! Please. Fight.” Will’s love requested an extra ordinary act to declare his love. Every analogy can only go so far. Our God is not nearly as fickle as this young woman. But David was compelled to go beyond himself to declare his devotion to God.
We also hear the tragic end of the life of John the Baptist, that man clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey, baptizing people in the River Jordan, declaring, “Repent, prepare the way of the Lord”. Another one of those characters who seems to resist being slotted in the pew. John died for speaking a truth in a court where it was outlawed. Herod had taken for a wife the wife of his brother, Philip-a sin in the holy laws-most holy laws in our world, no matter what religion. Herod placed himself above not only the Jewish law, but any known law or custom of the time. And Herodias disgraced her husband, by leaving him to be with Herod in his court. All of the courtiers kept their opinions to whispers at the palace walls, but not John the Baptist. John was born to declare the truth, even if it was to lose his life. And in such a dishonourable way, to have his life bargained for the cost of a dance.
This is what faith in God meant to such as these. That our appearance is nothing to sharing the truth, glory, compassion and love of God. It goes against today’s motto: If it feels right, do it. David and John the Baptist challenge us that, if it makes us squirm, don’t be too quick to dismiss it.
It is not easy to be a Christian in North America today. And we are becoming painfully aware that is not easy being a North American in the Anglican Communion today. It is enough, sometimes, to make one just let whatever happen happen, just let it be over. But the faith of our fathers and mothers is not one that sits back.
There have been several reflections written over the past two weeks on the state of our Communion. I hope to share more of these texts in a sermon in the coming weeks. But for now, I want to conclude with some words by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane.
What does it mean to be Anglican? (he writes) What is it about Anglicanism that has led so many to conclude that it provides the most productive spiritual soil for living out the Christian faith? What is it that we have, which we dare not lose?
(To understand this), we must better engage with Anglican Tradition. We need a fresh understanding of tradition not as dry forensic
history, but as holy remembering of God’s abiding with his people, through the centuries. We must own our history – the living and life-giving history of God at work among us – in order to find our place of participation within the unfolding narrative of God’s redeeming acts in and through his church.
To know the joy of David, the conviction of John, and the love of God, we must begin to answer these questions. Why are we here? Why is it so critical that we stay together? Why does the world need Anglicanism? We are followers of a God who gave up everything, walked on human feet, spoke more truthfully, loved more fully…and knew more shame, than many of us ever will…and delights in us at every moment.
Let us move forward into our world with delight,
knowing that we are part of the great divine dance of life.
May the blessing of God, the dancer and the dance,
Move with us and within us this day and always. Amen