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Welcoming God -- 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 (Seventh Sunday After Pentecost)

This morning’s Scripture is the story of David welcoming God – welcoming the Ark of the Covenant into its new home in Jerusalem. It’s quite an event. God has chosen David to be king. And after years of battle, David has conquered his foes. He has defeated the Philistines. King Saul has been hunting David down – but now, Saul has died in battle. David now is King. He is establishing his reign as king and his new capital in Jerusalem.

So he goes to get the Ark of the Covenant and bring it home. This is no small thing. The Ark of the Covenant is the most sacred symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people.[1] It has been the sign of God’s presence when the people wandered through the wilderness. It has been the sign of God’s presence leading them to victory in battle. But during the reign of King Saul, it’s been left neglected. And David is bringing it home. As he brings it home – it is meant to signify again God’s presence among the people – with their new King – a his new reign.

It’s quite a celebration. David gathers no less than 30,000 men to accompany the Ark – and if there are 30,000 men there must be even more people – women and children – all the people. They bring out the Ark, and they place it on a brand new cart. And as they start their procession, David and all the people begin to dance – dance with all their might before God – with songs, and lyres, and harps, and tambourines, and castanets, and cymbals. They head to the city. They take a break in the verses that the lectionary reading this morning leaves out. But when they resume, they can’t wait to begin their welcome – they take 6 paces – just 6 steps – and David stops them to worship – to offer sacrifices. And the dancing begins again. This time David leads them out – dancing and leaping – wearing nothing but an ephod – think tank-top that comes to about here (indicate hip) – David dances before God with all his might – accompanied by shouts and trumpets.

There’s so much to see, and so much to hear in this scene. They dance and sing into Jerusalem, and they make their way to the tent that David has pitched for the Ark – that David has pitched for God. And then the offerings begin – the air fills with the scent of burnt offerings. Like a barbecue. And they feast – everyone gets something to eat – bread, and meat, and raisin cakes – enough for everyone. What a celebration. What a welcome.

We’ve been talking this summer about welcome – how God welcomes us – and how we welcome each other in love and in the practice of hospitality. This Scripture gives us a glimpse of how we might return the welcome to God – how we might acknowledge and welcome God’s presence in praise and worship. And, it reminds us that every bit of our welcome to God is always responsive. Our welcome to God is always responding to God’s welcome to us. We’re always giving back what God has given us. God loves us first. God welcomes everyone. God creates us – hard-wires us to love – and then blesses us with the mutual welcome of hospitality – all of us, always welcome, empowered to welcome each other. And to that good news, we respond in praise – with music and singing, trumpet and harp and castanet – maybe with dancing. We might say it like this: God welcomes us with the gift of abundant grace – and we give our welcome back to God, worshipping God with gratitude and praise.

There’s so much going on here – so much to see and hear and smell and taste – the dancing, the music, the burnt offerings, the raisin cakes – that it almost overwhelms our senses – it’s extravagant and lush – it’s hard to notice anything else.

Except. This woman in the window. Did you notice her when Mary read the Scripture? Michal. This woman in the window frame. Watching. Taking it all in. The Scripture says, Michal watches from the window frame, and she sees David leaping and dancing before God, and she despises him in her heart. Who is she? And why is she giving David the stink-eye?

Michal is David’s wife.[2] One of his wives. His first wife. Not actually his first choice, though. You see, way back in 1 Samuel 18, when David is first coming into his own – King Saul offers David one of his daughters in marriage. Scripture says that Saul does that as a snare to David – to put one of his daughters close to the enemy. At first, Saul offers the eldest, but then it makes more sense to marry her off to someone else, so he offers Michal.

Now remember, in the Hebrew Scriptures when we are talking about marriage there’s almost always an element of a property transaction – in their patriarchal world, the wife is treated as property, and in this case, there’s something called “a bride price.” The groom pays the father a bride price. Saul tells David he doesn’t want much for Michal – just go kill some Philistines for me, and bring me 100 of their foreskins as proof. David says, I’ll bring you 200. And David does. He pays that bride price for Michal.

And we know, King Saul turns on David, tries to kill him. But Michal saves David’s life. She lowers him down out of her window to safety when they come to kill him. Scripture says that, in those first days, Michal loved David. There’s no indication what David feels for her, except that... well, he doesn’t come back for her.

David goes off into battle – against the Philistines, against King Saul – and seven chapters later, David takes another wife Abigail – and then another Ahinoam. And meanwhile, King Saul decides to give Michal to some other man – she’s given/transacted to Paltiel – she’s now his wife.

But nine chapters after that, David remembers her. He’s finally defeated her father Saul. When Saul’s generals come to make peace. David says, “Sure, but you’re going to have to prove yourselves. Remember that daughter that King Saul gave me as wife – the one “I betrothed for the price of 100 Philistine foreskins” – well, I hear she’s someone else’s wife now. Go get her, and return her to me. Bring me what is mine.” And so they do. They take her from her husband Paltiel – put her on a cart to take her to David – and this is kind of heartbreaking – it says that as they take here away on the cart, Paltiel follows – weeping for Michal – walks weeping as far as he can – until David’s generals send him home.

We don’t see Michal again until this morning’s Scripture – as she watches David dance before God – the God of Israel – the God of justice – David dancing... as if... and Scripture says she despises him.

The lectionary cuts the Scripture reading off in verse 19, with everyone eating cakes. But there’s more. David finishes his dancing. And Michal comes down out of the window – meets him in the courtyard and says, “Look at you. King. Dancing before God – with a harem of women – half-dressed – showing them what only your wife – your wives – should see.” David replies, “I’m God’s choice. I’m King now. I’ll do this and even more.” And the story of Michal ends saying, “And Michal had no children until she died.” To paraphrase Hamilton, David writes himself into the narrative, and the biblical writer writes Michal out.

One biblical scholar says that Scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us why Michal is so angry.[3] Michal has been the object of three marriage transactions – (1) she’s been married off for a price; abandoned; (2) transacted to another husband – sold and sold again; and (3) then taken again, by force, and brought back as a spoil of war. Michal’s been used as a pawn in the power struggle between her father and David -- by her father as a snare to trap David, by David as a way of solidifying his claim to the throne. Meanwhile, David has taken a couple other wives, and now dances into Jerusalem, and Michal watches from the window frame, while everyone enjoys the feast.

Sadly, it’s not surprising that Michal has had to endure all this, a woman living life in intensely patriarchal structures. What is surprising is that we hear her voice at all. The lectionary may edit the story down – but her story survives – she’s there in the window – glaring out of the experience of her life. Michal loves, and saves life – sold and bartered again and again – she survives – and rages – and comes down from the window of her captivity – walks out and speaks up – against the King – she calls David to account. Michal’s presence, her story, her voice indict the systems of oppression that have helped bring David to this moment – and her story survives all the way to today.

This Scripture – and Michal – remind us that the welcome that we give to God can never be disconnected from the justice work that is ours to do in the world. Our worship can never be disconnected from our work. Our welcome and our worship and our work can’t ignore the power-over that is at work in the world and the people who are harmed and left at the margins of that power. It can’t ignore our complicity. If our welcome is to be truly responsive to God’s welcome, the welcome that we give back has to include those voices, has to hold and confess the harm, has to embrace the work of justice.

In all this hubbub – the singing, the dancing, the trumpet, the castanets – there’s one more thing to notice. Did you notice that the Scripture reading skipped over about 7 verses?

The lectionary is a suggested set of readings for each Sunday that we share across churches and denominations. Years ago, some folks got together – looked at the whole of Scripture – and said these would be good texts to put at the center of worship. The nature of the task meant that they’d select some things, and leave other things out. But sometimes we get a Scripture reading where they’ve actually cut out some of the verses. Always look at those verses. This morning, the lectionary stops the text just before Michal speaks. That’s not a mistake. She does complicate things.

And they cut out verses 6 through 12.5 – the story of Uzzah. It’s a strange little story. So, rewind back to the start of the story. Uzzah is one of the guys who starts off carrying the Ark. At some point – the Ark wobbles – it’s about to fall off – Uzzah reaches out to steady it – touches the ark – and he’s struck dead. David is angry at God for that, and terrified. So they leave the Ark. They park it in the house of a foreigner – let him face the danger. But the foreigner flourishes as keeper of the ark, so David, seeing that, comes back and says, “I’ll take that off your hands.” And that’s where the dancing resumes in this morning’s Scripture reading, in verse 12.5.

Now, in fairness to the lectionary people, I could probably never explain the story of Uzzah to you – I guess there’s something about the Ark’s holiness that just can’t be touched – but Yvette Schock points out – what the lectionary effectively does is hide the bodies in this text.[4] This is a great story about King David and the celebration that begins his reign. Let’s not complicate it by talking about those we lost along the way. Yvette Shock writes: “The omission of Uzzah’s death.. might make the story more comfortable for worship use. But it effectively creates an official version of the story. There haven’t been any dead here, the official version declares.” Nothing to see here. And if we think of how they stop the story before Michal speaks – nothing to hear here.

Justice movements almost always honor those who have been lost along the way – those who have shouted and prophesied in the midst of protest – those who have spoken with their lives – those who have lost their lives to the violence that the justice movement seeks to end and repair. There’s a reason we say their names: Sandra Bland. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Freddie Gray. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown.

This Scripture reminds us that the welcome we give back to God can’t ever leave anyone behind.

The welcome that we see in this morning’s Scripture – as the people welcome the ark – it comes in the context of real life – Michal and Uzzah and the more than 30,000 folks living life. God extends God’s welcome to all people. We experience that welcome in our lives in a world that is hard. To ignore that, cheapens the welcome and praise and gratitude that we return to the God who insists on better. Our welcome must acknowledge all that – our welcome must stand in the midst of all that – and stretch out its arms as broadly as God’s – or it is really no welcome at all.

I’ve been thinking of the choir’s music during our music worship service just a few weeks ago – and its depth. As they were creating it, Daniel shared with me how it evolved – they wanted to celebrate – to sing songs of hope – expecting that the songs would all be upbeat, or most of them. And as they began to work and create – what emerged in hope – also held so much of the hard experience of this past year – it was hope not disconnected, but grounded in real life and struggle. And so they could sing and reflect on hope in O Happy Day – alongside a haunting Sanctus and Agnus Dei – and a Gershwin piece in which the saxophone pretty much sang the blues.

I was thinking this past week, as we gathered for Lois Bolt’s memorial service and began by singing Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. It’s one thing to sing Joyful Joyful on a sun-shiny Sunday morning. “Mortals join the happy chorus which the morning stars began.” And it’s another thing to sing Joyful, Joyful as we gather in the experience of death – as we gather to grieve the loss of loved ones and to claim the promise of Resurrection. “Love divine is reigning o’er us, joining all in heaven’s plan. Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life.”

I’ve thought of those protest videos we watched on Palm Sunday –

· of folks in a Pride Parade dancing to “I Will Survive.”

· of neighbors standing outside a school board meeting where it’s about to get real, singing “This Little Light of Mine

I’ve thought

· of the song Michal might have sung from the window-frame

· and of the song Huzzah might have sung if his life had not been cut short.

In the exuberant welcome that David and the people give back to God, Michal and Huzzah remind us that God’s welcome has substance and grit. God’s welcome embraces everyone, everywhere – no matter who they are – in the midst of their lives, our lives – in all that we are experiencing – and insists that everyone, everyone be valued, remembered, and set free. The work of welcome is to return to God a welcome as loving and liberating as the welcome we have received – a welcome that names and dismantles every system that holds anyone anywhere down, a welcome that leaves no one behind, a welcome that sets the whole world free.

© 2021 Scott Clark

[1] For general background on this text, see Bruce C. Birch, “ The First and Second Books of Samuel,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. ii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), pp.1244-52. [2] See Birch, pp. 1248-52; see Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, revd ed 2011), pp. 144-157 (for an extended discussion of characterization with regard to Michal and David); see also Julia Michelle Hogan, "David's Women: A Critical Comparison of Michal, Bathsheba, and Tamar in 1 and 2 Samuel," [3] Alter correctly states that the text is not explicit in stating the specific reasons, and then offers a list of inferences that legitimately can be made from the text. [4] Yvette Shock, Commentary in Christian Century, June 30, 2021, p. 18.

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