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Pentecost 7 Proper 10B RCL July 12, 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Our first reading describes a memorable and joyful moment in the history of God’s people. King David has defeated the Philistines, which sets the people free for a new beginning. The ark of God, which is the center of God’s presence, the ark which led them through the wilderness into the promised land, is being carried into Jerusalem, which is going to be the religious and political center of the new united kingdom of Judah and Israel under David.

We do not know exactly what the ark looked like, but, clearly, it was large enough to have to be carried on a cart, a new cart to signify the new beginning. This cart was pulled by oxen. The entire journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem, becomes a joyful procession. David and all the people of Israel dance together and sing praises to the glory of God. This celebration is for everyone, not just for the king’s court.

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod, and makes sacrificial offerings to God. When the ark has been reverently placed inside the tent constructed for it, David blesses the people and gives food from the ceremony to all the people to take home.

This event, at the beginning of David’s reign, makes it clear that David is the good shepherd who places his faith in God and takes care of all the people. The king is a spiritual leader as well as a political figure. This whole ceremony reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the five thousand. David is a good shepherd of the people, and this ceremony foreshadows the coming of our own Good Shepherd Jesus.

Everyone present at this celebration will remember it for the rest of his or her life. What a beautiful and joyful beginning to a new reign!

In our reading from the letter to the Ephesians, we read of all the gifts and blessings God has given us. God has adopted us as God’s own children, God has chosen us to be members of the Body of Christ. Most of all, God has come among us and lived among us. Our Lord Jesus has freed us from the mire of our sins and given us the grace to live life in a new way. All these many gifts are not just for a few people, but for everyone. Just as the celebration of David’s kingship was open to all, so the gift of new life in Christ is for everyone.

Our gospel for today is extremely difficult. Let’s place it in context. Last Sunday, Jesus went to his own home town and the people did not accept him. But at the end of that gospel reading, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to preach the good news and to teach and heal people. So at the beginning of this gospel, the disciples are out in the world carrying on Jesus’ ministry.

Herod Antipas was a very different kind of king from David. He had divorced his wife to marry the wife of his brother Philip. John the Baptist has told him that was wrong. Herod used to go and talk with John the Baptist because he knew John was right, that John had courage and morality, and that he, Herod needed both those things. But at the same time, he rankled that John had named his immoral acts.

When Herod hears about Jesus’ ministry and how word is spreading about this wonderful teacher, he thinks that John the Baptist has come back to life.

Herod’s wife had never forgiven John for pointing out the immorality of her marriage to Herod Antipas. We all know the gruesome story of the murder of John the Baptist. Depending on which gospel we are reading, the details differ slightly. Contrary to what we see in the world of film, the gospels do not mention anyone named Salome in this story. There is someone of that name mentioned in connection with the resurrection.

So Mark is doing one of his sandwich things here. He starts out one story and then inserts another one. Jesus sends the disciples out to do ministry, Herod hears about it and then we have this awful flashback to the killing of John the Baptist. John’s disciples come to get his body and give it a decent burial.

Why is this story here? One reason is to draw a parallel between Jesus and John. They both speak truth to power, threaten power, and are killed. Ultimately, Jesus is going to be crucified.

But let’s look again at the context. What happens after this section of Mark? What happens is that the disciples come back to report to Jesus on their work. And they are full of joy. They have brought healing and good news to people, and the response has been wonderful, They have had success.

What are these readings telling us? What is God telling us this morning? David was not perfect by any means. Later, he would make many mistakes. But he began by rooting and grounding his kingship in faith in God and care for his people. And he felt deep joy in his relationship with God. He danced and sang with joy in God’s many blessings.

Our epistle echoes that theme. How many blessings God has showered upon us, and how much joy we can have in knowing how much God loves us and how much we love God.

And what about this most difficult gospel? Jesus sends the disciples out. Travel light. Trust in God. Stay where you are welcomed. If people do not want to hear you, shake the dust off your feet and go on to the next town.

Yes, Herod killed John the Baptist. People in power use that power to protect themselves. Many of John’s disciples joined Jesus’ followers. And they went out and spread his love and forgiveness. And here we are, inheritors of all those gifts.Yes, there are obstacles and challenges, and persecution. These things are happening right now in our world. But above and beyond all those things is the joy in following Christ, and the gratitude for all his gifts.  Amen.

 

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