“Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings”
July 15, 2018*
By John Partridge
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6:14-29
Sometime between 1990 and 1991, just as the U.S. and coalition forces were building up to what would eventually be called Desert Shield, I found myself with a day off in Paris during a business trip. Wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I bought a map at the first bookstore I found and walked from one end of the city to the other. I saw the Eiffel Tower and the outside of the Louvre, the palace, and many other places. But just as I was nearing the cathedral of Notre Dame, I encountered a street full of protesters carrying signs and banners speaking out against American aggression. I wondered, if I were approached, if I should pretend to be Canadian. In any case, I took the next right and made my away toward my destination on another street. Although I was never in any danger, that protest was a reminder that I was far from home. Later that afternoon, as I walked back to my hotel (in the pouring rain) I went past the US Embassy. In that place, far from home, even without going in, I felt a renewed sense of safety. This was a piece of home. This was a place, where I belonged.
About eighteen months ago, while we were visiting Liberia, I had a similar feeling as we passed embassy row. I never felt as if we were in any danger whatsoever in Liberia, but there, where we could see the stars and stripes flying over the embassy compound, I knew that even though I had never set foot inside, this was a place where I belonged.
We all have places where we belong. We belong to families and to groups of friends, in homes, in schools, in businesses, and hopefully here in this church. But there is another, far more important, place of belonging that we should know and should never forget.
We begin this morning with a story from the life of King David. The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines and had been kept by them for many years, but wherever they kept it, it brought plague and pestilence. Eventually the Philistines determined to get rid of it, and although the story is a long one, eventually David determines to bring the ark to the tabernacle in Jerusalem. This is where we join the story in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.
6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
12 So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
David’s wife, Michal, watched David entering the city and she did not like what she saw. David was dancing before God with everything that he had. I suspect that this was not a gentle ballet, but far more energetic like hip-hop, or boogie-woogie, or maybe slam dancing. There was dancing, and music, and shouting and David gave gifts to everyone in the entire crowd. And Michal was unhappy with her husband, the king, because his behavior was too passionate and too improper. David had left his ego behind. He was so full of joy before God that he poured out his love in ways that she thought made him look foolish and did not conform with how she thought royalty should look or act. But David knew that the ark of the Lord was a symbol of God’s presence among his people. For David, they were literally welcoming God into their city and inviting him to live among his people and share life with them. There could be no better reason to throw an ecstatic, knock-down, drag-out, celebration, and David gave it everything that he had.
But in comparison, let’s look at what I’d like to call, the Nightmare on Herod Street. This happens immediately after the passage that we read last week in Mark 6:14-29, in which Jesus had been teaching, and performing miracles, and then sent his disciples out, and they also were teaching, and healing, and casting out demons.
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
For precisely the opposite reasons that David angered his wife, Herod gets in a real mess and it costs John his life. While David’s joy and passion for God allowed him to leave his ego behind, Herod is so focused on physical pleasure, desire, and lust, that he drools over his niece and offers her, in front of a roomful of people he wanted to impress, “anything she wanted.” Even though her answer was unexpected, and even though it was something that Herod didn’t want to do, Herod had painted himself into a corner. He allowed his passions for flesh and power to control him, and now his ego and his embarrassment compel him to follow through so that he can save face.
The difference between these two kings, the difference between these two men, can be seen fundamentally as the difference between the two kingdoms to which they belong. While David belongs to the kingdom of God, Herod’s loyalties are exclusively and unrepentantly dedicated to the kingdom of the flesh. While David loves God, Herod loves only himself. While David is passionate about pleasing God, Herod’s passions are all about money, and sex, and power. While David’s worship of God allows him to leave his ego behind as he expresses his joy at the arrival of God in Jerusalem, while David is willing to look foolish before men so that he can bring honor to God, Herod is willing to take an innocent life, the life of a man that he knew to be righteous and holy, because his ego demanded it.
So, what does this have to do with us?
Three thousand years after David and two thousand years after Herod, we are still divided by our loyalties to these same two kingdoms. We are constantly pulled back and forth between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of flesh and we struggle to know where we belong. But in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminds us that we need not be confused. (Ephesians 1:3-14)
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
There are several repeated ideas in this passage. You are blessed by God. You are not an accident. God knew you before the creation of time. God chose you. God predestined you, which we understand to mean that God knew, before the creation of time, that you would accept his invitation. God has not only invited you to be a part of his kingdom, he has adopted you, and not just adopted, but “adopted to sonship.” That means that we are adopted and given full and complete legal rights as if we were genetically, and biologically, born into his family. Even though we were born two thousand years after Jesus, Paul tells us that we were included in the kingdom of Jesus Christ as soon as we heard the message of truth and the gospel of salvation. When you believed, God marked you, indelibly and permanently, as his own. The Spirit of God is a down payment, a deposit, earnest money, guaranteeing our inheritance until we finally arrive in the kingdom to which we belong.
You see, although we have never set foot inside the walls of the fortress of God, it is, absolutely the place where we belong. It is our home. It is the place where we will meet our extended family and everyone else who has been adopted as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ. This is the place that God has prepared for us.
But we are constantly pulled between these two kingdoms. Just like Herod, we feel the pull of the kingdom of flesh, calling us to a life of ego, self, lust, violence and death. But, like David, we also hear the invitation of God.
The way of Herod leads to death.
But the way of David leads to life eternal.
To which kingdom will you belong?
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.