2 Sam 6:1-19, Amos 7:7-15; Mark 6:14-29; Ephesians 1:3-14
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Intentionally, I have listed the scriptures in order of their recorded writing in history. From our reading last week, King David had just became high king over all the 12 tribes of Israel, not just the few he had been king over already. In today’s text, he wants to celebrate in thanksgiving to God-for indeed it has been God all along working through David, not David himself who has done so many wondrous things. So he finally goes to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the most treasured item of all Israel and the seat of God’s glory, up to his city, the city he rebuilt which became known as the City of David. King David dances in wild abandon before the Lord in celebration. Overseeing the revelry, David’s wife doesn’t understand; and indeed despises him in her heart as she sees him dancing.
What do we make of that one sentence embedded in the bigger picture of David’s celebratory dancing? Was putting the Lord first just not acceptable to her? An understandable human response, I suppose. Perhaps she wants him to pay more attention to her rather than some nebulous disembodied God who, after all, deposed her father in favor of David.
However, that one little line gives us perhaps a glimpse of the danger of being too self-focused and not God-focused. If that perspective persists on a kingdom-wide level, a drastic consequence follows. Fast-forward several hundred years later, after Israel has split into the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos is called by God to go and prophesy to Israel and warn them of impending disaster. What does he specifically prophesy against? In the midst of our text from Amos today, we have a hint at a kingdom-wide problem. Verse 7:13 has Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, which in Hebrew means “House of God,” say to Amos, “never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” He tells Amos to go back to Judah. But Amos, true to God’s call, tells Amaziah exactly what God told him to do.
Did anybody catch the major Israeli problem that flew by in those few sentences I quoted from scripture? Let me read it again: “Never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:13). Amaziah, the priest at Bethel has even fallen into the trap. He refers to Bethel, the house of God, as the king’s sanctuary and a temple of the kingdom, not God’s sanctuary and the house of the Lord! Amos ended up pointing out, subtlety, that even the priest of God in the house of God had fallen away from God. But then Amos hears again from God, and prophesies a very unfortunate end for Amaziah and his family.
I wish I could say that Israel listened to Amos and repented – like the Ninevites did when Jonah prophesied against them; but that did not happen. Israel eventually was overrun and the Israelites exiled. At the very end of the book of Amos, however, he prophesies one last time, but this time it is a message of hope-Israel will return from exile some day and plant and harvest in their own land. The text does not tell us if Amos ended his prophesying and just went home to Judah or if he was deported with those he was sent to warn.
Unfortunately, with John the Baptist, we know what happens to him, and it is not pretty. Today’s story from Mark tells us of his ignoble ending. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way, and as we know, John met his cousin Jesus and baptized him in the Jordan river just a few chapters ago. Here we read of John’s beheading.
So why these strange stories – each with a tinge of doom or sadness all put together for lectionary texts today, and how do we make sense of them? The Feasting on the Word Lectionary aid series suggests we compare: “the exuberant dancing and merrymaking of David to…the deathly revelries of Herod’s court” as well as think about the Christian’s calling as expressed in Paul’s joyful Ephesians passage for today. To help our comparison, let me read you the Ephesians passage:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Frankly, the lectionary passages today seem to me lumped together almost haphazardly, making us stretch to find a connection. But what I think we can glean from these passages set hundreds of years apart in three very different points of history for God’s people Israel is this:
Even in the midst of human failings, God works redemption into the picture. From 2nd Samuel, set during the Golden Age of David’s reign, to Amos, years after Israel split into two smaller kingdoms and the Northern kingdom is about to cease to exist; through to the time of Christ when neither kingdom exists and all that is left is the Jerusalem Temple and an occupied people, God is at work redeeming the world. God is still at work redeeming the world: God is at work in you and in me. And that is good news indeed. I pray that gives us all hope, as adopted heirs to God’s kingdom through Christ. Amen? May it be so.