by Ellen Sims
text: 2 Samuel 6: 1-5; 12b-19
Even if you’ve never before read this story about David’s exuberant dancing before the Lord—-all but naked I might add—-you may know of it from the movie Footloose. Ren, played by a very young Kevin Bacon, alludes to this story when appealing to the conservative town council to allow a dance at the high school. I can imagine Kevin Bacon—-the YOUNG Kevin Bacon—-playing the role of King David dancing proudly into Jerusalem as the Ark of the Covenant beneath its arching golden cherubim is carried through streets to the cheering of the crowd and the music of trumpets and tambourines and cymbals and castanets and stringed instruments. We need joyful stories like this to fuel our flagging spirits. This seemingly they-lived-happily-ever-after story ends as a benevolent leader distributes food to all the people and blesses them. Let’s hold onto that vision for a moment. Let us dance into that story with David, and let his infectious dance before God enliven our spirits.
But then we have to dance outward to those on the margins of that story. Because there are at least two characters here that won’t let us turn this Bible story into a fairytale. If we allow ourselves to hear the fuller text, we may be led away from the comforts of the king’s palace and back into the conflicts and heartaches of the world.
Between verses 5 and 12, excised by the lectionary, is the sudden death of Uzzah, one of the men accompanying the holy Ark of the Covenant as it was carried by an oxen-drawn cart. When the oxen jostled the cart, Uzzah reached out his hand to prevent the Ark from crashing onto the ground. And God struck Uzzah dead. Because no one was to desecrate the Ark by touching it directly. Go home and read those six verses, which might make you think God is harsh and inflexible. Or you might read that story and conclude that the people who first told this story imagined a harsh and mercurial God to explain tragedies. And you might also recognize that they lived under kings who were understood to be appointed by God and who themselves behaved harshly, imperiously.
A lesser known story is that of Michal, who’s mentioned fleetingly in today’s lection. Her fate is best understood not as how that culture viewed God, but how that culture viewed women. Michal’s story is told in bits and pieces in several sections of the David story from 1st and 2nd Samuel. She is the daughter of King Saul, David’s predecessor, and she is the wife, a wife, actually, of King David. She loved him. But he married her to better position himself as Saul’s successor. When Saul grew angry with David, Michal developed a clever plan for David’s escape. While hiding from Saul, however, he picked up two more wives and may have had a love relationship with Jonathan, son of King Saul. Meanwhile, Saul gave Michal to be the wife of another man. After Saul’s death and David became king, David took back Michal. She, as a woman, had little control over who would be her husband.
As today’s story picks up, David is hoping to strengthen his Kingdom by bringing the Ark into Jerusalem, which he does with unseemly abandon. From an upper window, Michal looks down (literally and figuratively) upon David, who’s dancing with exuberance and without much clothing. Why does the narrator abruptly cut away from the exuberant David to the still figure seething at the window, the very woman who had loved David even when he did not love her, who had saved him from almost-certain death at her father’s hands? Why does the narrator, who conveys David’s emotions simply by describing his actions suddenly get inside Michal’s head and heart to reveal she “despised him in her heart” (v. 16)? Why does the narrator later quote Michal, her voice dripping with sarcasm: “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself” (6:20)? Traditionally she has been painted as a kill-joy at best. But maybe she is tired of being a political pawn. Maybe she feels degraded by David’s embarrassing display. You might imagine other reasons.*
The final and cryptic comment the narrator makes about Michal just a few verses beyond the lectionary’s scope (6:23) is that she remained childless. The original hearers would have believed that was God’s hard judgment against her.
A traditional reading of David’s story barely notices Michal, and when it does, paints her harshly at the end. But for those who work for justice, we will seek justice in the Bible, and when we don’t find it, we’ll at least recognize the injustice and name it. We must acknowledge the injustice even when the Biblical narrator doesn’t. Then as we leave this place, we will dance out into this world a dance of justice, not of pride, a dance that would honor Michal and the God we experience in Jesus, a God who surely loved Michal, too.
* For fuller treatment of Michal, see Bells, Alice Ogden. Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994) 145-147.
PRAYER STATIONS (On third Sundays we offer opportunities for praying in varied ways. After a brief reflection on one of the lections, we move to one or more of the Prayer Stations set up around the perimeter of the chapel.)
1. WRITING WELCOMING WORDS TO MICHAL
Michal may represent others who are not dancing: the teen without a date to the prom, the families separated after crossing our border, a community without clean water, African Americans charged with the crime of being black, Puerto Ricans still needing infrastructure repaired, and many more. Write a message to Michal, who stands in for those who are not invited to the dance and see no reason to celebrate. What would you say to those she represents? What is our invitation as a church to those who may not feel invited into the dance of the Church? If you wish to leave your Message to Michal in the basket, the pastor will read it aloud at the end of the service. You do not need to sign your name.
2. DANCING A PRAYER
Go to the prayer station to the right of the altar table until a partner or partners join you there to create a very simple dance that illustrates a theme from today—of joy, of community, of peace. At the close of the service, your group may want to demonstrate a dance of joy, or a dance of community, or a dance of peace. Your dance may be a simple gesture you do together or something a little more elaborate. You and your partners may share your dance with the congregation later, if you wish.
3. RECEIVING COMMUNION AS PRAYER
Holy Communion is like a dance. It evokes and expresses emotions. It follows a certain rhythm and pattern of movements. Often it is accompanied by music. Enter into the communion dance at the Lord’s Table, giving thanks for this pattern. Recall the life, death, and ongoing life of the Christ. Examine your hearts and be assured of God’s great compassion. Then let these words guide you in the dance-like sacrament as you pray silently:
Bless us, O God, as we receive these consecrated gifts of bread and wine at your table. May we be united with Christ and one another, and may we continue in faithfulness with all things. In the strength Christ gives us, we offer ourselves to you, eternal God, and give thanks that you have called us to serve your kin*dom.
Then take bread, dip it in the cup, and eat with thanksgiving.
4. OFFERING OUR GIFTS WITH CELEBRATION
As you place in the offering plate your gifts for God’s kin*dom, also know that your life, body and soul, is a precious offering to God. Be assured that you are a beautiful gift of faith, hope, and love, so needed in this world.
5. RECEIVING PRAYER FROM OUR PASTOR
Kneel beside the pastor to receive prayer for a specific concern in your life you wish to share privately with her.