“Incidents in the Life of King David: Dancing King”
By The Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, July 11, 2021
Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-5 & 12b-19
Over the next three weeks, starting today, I’m going to be taking a look at some of the stories about King David from the book of 2 Samuel. These are some of the great stories from after David was anointed as King; so we won’t be looking at the familiar “David and Goliath” story, or the stories from when he was on the run from King Saul (who wanted to kill him), or the ones about his beautiful friendship with Jonathan. I encourage you all to read 1 & 2 Samuel over the next few weeks and get the whole story about one of the central figures of the Christian faith. Understanding David and his place in the history of Israel is key to understanding Jesus and his cultural context.
Now, you probably already know a few things about David: many know that he is the great musician who wrote many of beautiful Psalms that we love so much; he was a spiritual great who was called “a man after God’s own heart;” and he was chosen by God to be King of Israel because of his deep faithfulness to God, while the previous king, Saul, and his family had turned away from God, corrupted by wealth and power. But David was also a deeply flawed man - and we’ll see some of that in the coming weeks – but I find that this is what makes him relatable, and a good example, for the average person like you and me.
What we’ve heard in this morning’s scripture passage takes place shortly after David was established as King of Israel following the death of King Saul. True to form, having become King, David is in constant communication with God about what he should do: whether to go to war with the Philistines, whether to take back the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. If God says ‘go,’ he gathers his soldiers and he goes; if God says, ‘don’t go,’ he stays put. He knows that he will have no success in any of his endeavours unless he acts according to the will of God. And we read that, in the early days of his reign, he does have great successes, and he takes back Jerusalem; and he earns the respect and trust of the people, because he achieves success for the nation by his willingness to listen to and obey God in everything.
The scene from the passage that we heard this morning is an act of worship offered by the people of the tribe of Judah, led by King David himself, after one of those successes: they are bringing the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been sitting in obscurity among the northern tribes of Israel into the city of Jerusalem, thereby establishing Jerusalem as the national centre of Israel. From then on, Jerusalem was called the “city of David,” but David and all the people are very clear that God is the one who has given them success. At no point does David himself take credit for any of it.
God gave David and his people a great victory – bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem was momentous – and their response was to celebrate. And their celebrations were not polite and genteel! No, the scripture says they celebrated “with all their might.” This is a glorious act of worship, with all the familiar elements of celebration: singing and a wide variety of musical instruments: lyres, tambourines and even the crashing of cymbals! Oh, and there was dancing! David himself wore a linen ephod, which is a small apron that was used in the Jewish tradition for ceremonial occasions, and if I had asked Chris to keep reading, we’d have heard that David maybe wore little more. Goodness knows, who wants to dance fully clothed in all that desert heat?
Then there was the sure indication that this was worship and not just a festival, and that is the ritual sacrifice. It says that after taking six steps - which is enough for God to make it clear whether or not it’s His will for them to move forward – they stopped and sacrificed an ox and a fatling. They stopped to give back to God an offering of thanksgiving.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, he again makes burnt offerings and offerings of well-being to God, thereby beginning and ending the mission with sacrificial acts of worship and thanksgiving to God for what He has done for them. And, of course, no celebration is complete without feasting, and David gives plenty of food to all the people; it’s truly a scene of the community rejoicing together in gratitude to God. It almost sounds like the Whoville town Christmas… complete with their own Grinch.
It has been so long since we’ve been able to worship together, and in a couple of months hopefully we’ll be able to worship as a community in this place. And, as it has been so heart-wrenching to not be able to gather for such a long time, and in preparation to worship together once again, it seems the time may be opportune for us to reflect on “what is the meaning of community worship” in the light of what we see in the Scriptures.
When we think about the significance of Christian worship, there are a number of features that are important to remember. Worship, of course, can be done as a group or as a personal act of devotion – and ideally both are part of the life of a Christian – but Christians in the early days did not think of themselves as individuals coming to worship, and people’s relationship with God was not a private matter. This is very reflective of the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith. Like the Jews, Christian groups thought of themselves collectively, as a people who were called and united by God; and in gathering together to worship the early Christians believed they were joining with an even greater collective, participating in the heavenly worship of angels and those fellow believers who had already died.
Worship for the early Christians had a strong sense of hope, as their gathering was a foretaste of what was to come when they truly did join the worship of the hosts of heaven. In that sense, every gathering of the community for worship was – and still is today – a celebration of Easter, a celebration of the resurrection, a celebration of the victory of Jesus, and the hope of eternal life that we have in Him. As with David and his people in this scripture passage, Christian worship is a joyful celebration!
I love a quote I read by Christian writer Annie Dillard that says this about worship: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” That’s the energy of David’s worship, as they danced “with all their might.”
There’s a story that has been attributed to the late comedian Erma Bombeck, although it’s a scene that I’m sure many who have grown up in the church will find familiar, more so than the experience of wearing crash helmets to church. There was a time, so the story goes, when she saw a small boy in church who couldn’t sit still and kept turning around and smiling at the people behind him. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, or throwing hymn books. He was just smiling. Suddenly his mother jerked him around, and in a stage whisper that everyone could hear, said, “Stop grinning. You’re in church!”
This mother reminds me of Michal, who makes just a brief, but remarkable, appearance in this morning’s passage. Michal was the first love and wife of David, but, interestingly, she is re-introduced here as “Michal, the daughter of Saul,” not as “Michal, the wife of David,” which directs us to recall her royal lineage. Michal was alone, looking out the window of the house where she lived with the newly anointed King, separated from the joyous celebrations of the people; and in a few words we’re shown the anger that seethes in her heart upon seeing her husband engaged in the festivities below. V. 16 says, “As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.”
The words almost hit you like a punch in the face, they’re so incongruent with the scene of festive joy that she’s looking out on. How can you “despise someone in your heart” for expressing joy and gratitude to God? But Michal, as it has been made clear, is “the daughter of Saul” much more so than she is “the wife of David.” She is the daughter of King Saul, who (as I mentioned) had been rejected as King of Israel by God because of his unfaithfulness and replaced with David, the one who had been in close relationship with God since his youth.
Michal, then, grew up as a princess, and there is a strong element of royal propriety about her, about the way things “should be done.” As the daughter of Saul, she inherited her father’s preoccupation with jealous regard for position and prerogative, and that is of more concern to her than any celebration of what God has done for the nation.
Why did David’s actions upset her so much? Well, if we keep reading a few verses past where we left off, we find out. The passage we read ends with the words, “then all the people went back to their homes.” Any of you who has ever been a teenager knows how ominous that sounds. There was this awesome party…and then we went home! Oh, you know there’s a reckoning coming when the passage ends that way!
Verse 20, then, says this: “David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul – it’s mentioned again, just to make it clear where she comes from – Michal, the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself.” It’s important to note that there is no indication that any of the people found his dress (or potential state of undress) shameful; as I mentioned before, the linen ephod was ceremonial clothing used in this case by the King, which would later be used by the temple priests, after the temple was built. Michal’s pride and her concern for appearances was in stark contrast to David’s deep wisdom and dedicated heart, his love for God and his connection with his people. He was still the shepherd boy whose humility and devotion caused God Almighty to choose him as King, and ultimately, he won the admiration of the servants about whom Michal was so concerned because of his humility.
This is possibly the first recorded incident of disdain for other people’s style of worship. It still happens today. I challenge you to find a church that doesn’t have its own Michals, people who prefer a style of worship that is reserved reverence are disdainful of those who are more outwardly expressive of their joy; or charismatic worshipers who are disdainful of more inwardly expressive worshipers, calling them lifeless or stodgy. When it comes to worship styles, we all have our preferences, but what’s more important than our worship style is the inclination of our hearts toward love of God and love of each other as we worship.
The clergy here at TEMC are an example. The three of us have different worship styles! Andrew likes big and glorious worship, and I’m much more contemplative. Chris is happy with all of it, and he’s always smiling and likes to vocalize his assent, which is very encouraging for the rest of us! Andrew is more likely to dance and move or nod his head in assent; I’m the one with my eyes closed and my hands quietly raised. The thing is, none of that really matters, because we all love God and our community of faith so much!
Preferences in worship style are not a problem, because God created us all as individuals, and God welcomes all of our heartfelt worship; but there is a problem if we expect others to conform to our preferences. And that’s what Michal was doing.
Shane Claiborne is an American theologian and social activist, and in one of his books he talks about a Christian saying about offering “a sacrifice of praise,” which refers to a verse from the book of Hebrews (13:15): “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” It’s hard in our context to see worship as a sacrifice: it doesn’t cost us anything, really. If anything, these last few months have shown us what a blessing it really is to be able to worship God openly and in the midst of the gathered community.
When we worship with people of various cultural and ecclesial backgrounds, as we do here at TEMC, there are times when we might sing a song or say a prayer, or someone might express their worship in a way that really isn’t our style. About that, Shane Claiborne says: “That’s what it means to be a member of a community as diverse as the church is. And perhaps that also helps us shed some light on why it might require some sacrifice for us to give up ourselves.
“When a song isn’t working for you,” he says, “consider praising God, because that probably means it’s working for somebody else who is very different from you. Offer your worship as a sacrifice rather than requiring others to sacrifice for your pleasure or [comfort]. There is something to the notion of becoming one as God is one; it doesn’t mean that we’re all the same; it just means that we are united by one Spirit. Worship,” he says, “puts the brakes on narcissism.”
We must remember that we are not worshiping ourselves, but God, and God welcomes all expressions of praise and worship that come from a loving and grateful heart - and none that comes from a judgmental heart.
So, how did David respond to Michal’s disdain? He says: “I did this for God, who knows me and chose me to be King. Furthermore,” he says, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this.” He is not ashamed to worship God from his heart and to thank God along with the people for all that God has done for them. Michal is proud, and cares about appearances, but David cares only about worshiping God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.
I wonder what would have happened if Michal had decided that instead of harbouring contempt and anger about what she was seeing, she had gone down and joined them. Maybe she wouldn’t be dancing or playing an instrument, if that’s not her style. Maybe she would be quietly thanking God in her heart. But maybe she’d allow the joy of others to make her smile. And maybe she’d feel less alone, more a part of the community, and closer to God too.
Many of us, especially if we grew up in the United Church or other mainline Protestant churches, are more familiar with religious traditions that some would call sombre and restrained, but that we might call respectful, reverent and sacred.
Others are from traditions that are more expressive, both physically through dancing and raising the arms in the air, as well as verbally, through vocal interjections or even speaking in tongues. There is no one “right” way to worship God – the way to worship God is with a heart inclined to love and gratitude, and in an attitude of unity with the community that has been gathered together by the love of the Holy Spirit.
People express love, joy, gratitude and worship in many different ways: like Shane Claiborne said, what would happen if we chose to find joy in other people’s expressions of joy? If Michal had done that, I think she would have been in a much better place. Amen.