Rev. Seth Patterson
July 11, 2021
Scripture: 2 Samuel 6:1–5, 12b–19
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out to bring up from there the ark of God. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. So David went and brought up the ark of God to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
David danced before the Lord with all his might. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished this he blessed the people in the name of God and distributed food among all the people. Then all the people went back to their homes.
A few years ago, we were visiting my wife’s family. We were staying with my mother-in-law, and every weeknight at 8 she would stop her visiting and turn on the television. She warned us this would happen; she needed to watch the next episode of El Rey David! This Brazilian telenovela about King David, overdubbed into Spanish, had captured the imagination of my mother-in-law and millions of others. It was very popular and very dramatic with elaborate costumes and attractive actors, long, smoldering looks punctuated by dramatic music and then commercials for a new Toyota. I found it amusing at the time that this biblical story could be so easily soap opera–tized, but after these last few weeks of hearing the stories about David from 1 and 2 Samuel, I am reminded that the writers of El Rey David did not have to embellish much to make a juicy story!
This passage today is a great example of the inherent drama of this story. It also describes one of the most significant moments in the history of Ancient Israel. This is where David, the youngest son of a poor shepherd, becomes king of the Israelites and the Israelite’s story becomes rooted in David. Here David is now officially the king, and he is bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, known forevermore as the City of David. The Ark, as a reminder, was the most important religious and political relic for this small kingdom as it contained Yahweh’s commandments on how to live together and with God. Wherever the Ark resides the power of their God is as well. And it is here entering Jerusalem and cementing David’s religious and political authority.
Here David marches in front of the ark with thirty-thousand soldiers, and the music is percussive and celebratory and big! Eight paces into the city David sacrifices some animals. Everyone is dancing with all their might! David, the new king, the political and religious future of this kingdom, is dancing with all his might! There is shouting and trumpets, and when the Ark finds its new home, David sacrifices some more offerings to God and then sends everyone home with food and nourishment. And the parade is done. The symbol of God and the symbol of kingdom are both home and installed in their new capital city.
And to add to the smoldering drama of the moment, we have this one line to show that not everyone was dancing with all their might: “Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.” We’ll get back to this despising in a moment.
First, I want to focus on this dancing . . . not only dancing, but dancing that involved leaping . . . and not only ecstatic dancing, but dancing being done by the new king! Can you imagine one of our current political leaders entering a governing city this way?
The first time I ever laid eyes on the woman whom I would one day marry, she was dancing in a public space: graceful, exquisite, beautiful. She was rehearsing a dance with a friend, and I was ensnared in the simple, smooth complexity of her movements. I was in awe of this mystery woman, yet also too aware of my own inability to join her in this dance. Not that she had invited me at that moment, but I knew that if she ever would invite me, I would not be able to complement her grace and ability. I couldn’t imagine how to allow my body to move like that, how to let go and use my entire self as expression. Not only was I in awe of this beautiful person and her abilities, but this awe created some amount of disappointment in myself and my own inabilities. The freedom of her expression had multiple effects on me, one of which was surprisingly negative.
This may not be an uncommon response in our society. How often do we witness someone expressing themselves fully and passionately in the public square? It is not a common sight, is it? We have special spaces for that kind of full-bodied expression: theaters, dance studios, arenas, performance spaces. But outside of these dedicated spaces, we don’t often see someone dance with all of their might. That is the part of this story that grabs my imagination so fully. What would it look like to witness someone dancing with all of their might, a group of people dancing with all of their might, for God?
And when we are witness to this kind of public expression and openness—whether it be physical or vocal or emotional—what is our typical response? Yes, we may respond immediately with some sort of awe and wonder. It can be beautiful and powerful to witness someone publicly expressing themselves with all of their might! Yet, this is often followed by a counterbalance of critique and dismissal. Can you believe that David did that? What was he thinking? That’s not how kings are supposed to act. I would never do that, would I? I would be so embarrassed to be seen dancing with all my might. We could even begin to dislike the person. We could despise them like Michal did.
Michal is a fascinating character in this oh-so-juicy story who pops in and out. She was the daughter of Saul, who was king before David. She is described previously as having been in love with David. In the manner of the times, Saul gave his youngest daughter to David in marriage in hopes that it would solidify Saul’s kingly lineage. This connection did not last as they each became partnered with someone else. But once David was fully king, he demanded Michal to return and become his wife for real. And this is where we find her in this story. And all we hear is that she now despises David.
And for what does she despise him? It does not seem to be for the unrequited love or for the other marriages or for demanding that she return to him. Rather, it is because he was dancing with all of his might. In a section that was not read this morning, and the last we hear from Michal in the Biblical text, she says to David: “How could the king of Israel have distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the children of the servants as any vulgar person would!” This display of dancing, this display of full-bodied expression, was neither kingly nor husbandly in her eyes.
Yet, this dance was pleasing to God. David and others danced with all of their might for God. They used every part of their bodies—bodies that were made in God’s image—in loving and devoted expression to God. It is a beautiful idea, this fullness and wholeness of expression, our entire being undiluted for the love of God, each of us using all that we are, all that we have been given, all of our loving, intense energy for God. A life of dancing with all of our might can be rewarding and life-giving and hopeful and challenging and world-changing. What could be possible if we gave our all to the work of the world in bringing about the justice, peace, and love that God commands?
And yet Michal despises him for this expression. And I find myself kind of uncomfortable by the thought of this scene. How about you? This counterbalance of critique and questioning and even despisal exists. What do we do with this? There will always be Michals around who have valid and strong reactions to the times when we dance with all of our might. We ourselves will be like Michal and find ourselves despising these unadulterated moments of public expression. How do we hold this tension between the dancing that is pleasing to God and the fact that we have to exist in communities and societies that may despise us for it? How do we give ourselves to God as fully whole people while also authentically living in our communities with other sets of expectations and limitations? How do we serve both God and each other when the same act can be both pleasing and despising?
This is a foundational question in the lives of people of faith. And because it is foundational, the way to wrestle with the question may feel cliché. And I find myself a bit caught in the paradox here as a public interpreter of this piece of ancient storytelling, because to suggest that we land firmly on either side of this question will likely frustrate you. To say that we must all be like David and dance with all of our might for God will sound cluelessly optimistic and be too easily dismissed. To suggest that we despise such displays like Michal also feels facile and icky. So, I suggest that we sit in what has become a cliché: love. At a Climate and Environmental Justice retreat here yesterday, Emily Jarrett Hughes asked us in an opening prayer circle to name our loves, not our worries. She reminded us that we will do the hard work of God in the world if it is motivated by love. Worry will not propel us into fullness and action.
As you wrestle with the tension of this question this week—the tension between what God wishes and what our communities desire—try to root yourself in love. Pay attention to those times that you feel called to do something with all your might, and then do so with the motivation of love and not fear. If you find yourself dismissing someone for their full and whole expression, ask yourself if you are dismissing them out of love or out of concern. Do you despise those dancing with all of their might because of your own feelings of inability or because you are trying to keep them in the parameters of our culture?
What is it that you love? Name those things and then dance for them with all your might. Let the drums play and the trumpets blast as you embody fully and wholly the loves that can give back! Let yourself be driven by your deepest loves. And when you feel that you are uncomfortable by another’s undiluted expression, which is an inevitable part of being in human community, try to find the love for that person and not merely the concern. May we continue to figure this out together.