Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Mark 6:14-29

The central characters in both of our Scripture lessons this morning find themselves in difficult and challenging situations, to say the least.

In the Old Testament passage, King David and his army (some 30,000 of them) had just defeated the giant Philistines.  You may remember that as a young boy, he slew the giant Philistine with a mere sling shot and a few smooth stones.

Now the Ark of the Covenant is finally in its rightful place in Jerusalem.  No longer carted around, the ark is a stable symbol of Jewish pride, history, and God’s presence.

And David is absolutely thrilled about it.  Unable to contain himself, he dances and worships, and all of Israel is with him.  It seems clear in David’s mind, he know where his victories and blessings have come from.

David’s character can easily be argued as shady at best.  Like you and me, he has his share of flaws and notable sins.  After all, it was David who placed Uriah in the front of battle to be killed after sleeping with and impregnating Uriah’s wife Bathsheba.  David paid dearly for it (the cost of this first-born child); however, he is still recorded as being a “man after God’s own heart”[1]; one God had chosen, and one for whom God loved and never rescinded his blessing.

Now, in the company and presence of the people and having received the victory and assurance of God’s presence in their midst, David dances.  It was common in those days, and still today in some settings and cultures, for worshippers to emote certain expressions of joy and enthusiasm; affirmation of God’s divine presence, because for them it seems that if God is not with them, there is no possibility of hope or joy in their lives.

When the great hymns are sung and the promises of scripture are declared; when prayers are prayed that reach way down, they cannot help themselves.   Our text tells us that David and the people were dancing with all of their might with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets (percussion instruments) and cymbals.  Can you imagine?

And for some, his behavior was utterly scandalous.  His presence and all of this “carrying on” was a sore spot for his wife, Michal (me-KAWL), daughter of Saul who had preceded David as king.  She looked out of her window and saw him leaping and dancing and we are told from the text, that she despised him in her heart.

Now, this is interesting, isn’t it?  How they were on the opposite sides of the religious spectrum.  Michal, herself, was a political pawn given to marry David so that her father could keep a closer watch.   Her sister had originally been the promised wife; and if we read the preceding chapter, we discover that David had plenty more wives and concubines, as was the custom in that day.

Yet, God had always been with David; chosen him to be the king; the liberator of his people.

Saul had been an un-checked king, and perhaps Michal had trusted her daddy more than her husband as the power dynamic was about to change.  Saul was on his way out and they were not happy about that.  A new order was emerging.  This is often the case for those who have been in “supreme power” positions when someone new comes along, upsetting the status quo.  She despised him in her heart, and it was no secret that Saul also hated the new, young, king who had been anointed by God.  There was hatred, violence, vengeance, and misuse of power at every turn.

Have you ever been the sore spot for someone or some circumstance?  Perhaps you weren’t even aware of it.  Your showing up, your very presence, your way of doing things, your refusal to bow down or follow the status quo just rubbed others the wrong way.  You were a sore spot, a disturbance, an irritant; the source of angst and anxiety.

Anything different or non-conforming can be a sore spot because it can make us uncomfortable and remind us that we are not nearly as far along as we thought we were; not nearly so liberal at the end of the day, or welcoming and embracing.  And we have to look closely and deeply at ourselves and examine the correlations between our faith and our actions; what we truly believe verses how we live that out, especially among those most at risk; how open we are; how willing we are.

In our gospel, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, is also a sore spot.  Here lies another story fraught with political ambition and prophetic faith; power forces of money, seduction, scandal, murder, violence, corruption, lust, vengeance, evil, and exploitation –  sound familiar?

King Herod has taken his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias as his wife and John charges him with committing adultery.  Herodias now holds a grudge against John, and while the text doesn’t tell us explicitly, she obviously despises him in her heart.

The story takes us to Herod’s birthday party; again, a time of celebration and great joy.  And Herodias has a daughter – obviously as fair as they get – who dances so beautifully, so persuasively that Herod almost loses his mind.  As a matter of fact, I would say he does lose his mind for he promises to give to her up to half of his kingdomWhatever she wants.   I mean really?

Herod has to choose between what is right and what is politically correct.  One commentator says that Herod hated John but was afraid to touch him because of political uprising.  He stands at a crossroad; a moment of choice to be accepted or rejected.  Those moments of conflict in which we all exist where decisions are made, that speaks so clearly to who we really are.  John was a sore spot.  If only he had kept his mouth shut; not gone quite so far.  If only he had not upset the apple cart.  Not been so willing to confront the political powers of his day.  Stayed safe; been comfortable.  Minded his own business.

But a promise is a promise; and when Salome asks her mother Herodias what she should require of the king, the response is John’s head on a platter.  They cut off his head and put it on a platter to serve to the king.  The picture is hardly gratifying; better to stay safe with our religion and faith; keep everyone happy and ourselves too.

If history and Scripture teaches us anything it is that those who challenge the status quo often find themselves ostracized, vilified, even hated and killed.  Like Jesus, John dies a violent death; an executioner death, a direct consequence of the way he lived and what he stood for.

Jesus was the ultimate sore spot.  The ultimate source of agitation and irritation.  He was the ultimate interrupter of things that were.  He was against the status quo.  Can’t you see his enemies constantly in a quandary?  Constantly plotting, talking, gossiping, about how to take him on, shut him down?  Jesus announced a kingdom of reversals and paradigm shifts and necessary change.

My brothers and sisters, we must ask ourselves whether we are being a legitimate sore spot?  Are we making others uncomfortable because of our faith?  My guess is that we all are at times – at least I hope so.  I hope that we are a sore spot making others uncomfortable because we just won’t do it the same old way anymore.  The changing times require change all around.

In other passages of Scripture, Jesus tells us to count the cost before setting out on the journey because there is a cost involved.  So much easier to go along to get along, but every now and then, our faith calls us to upset the apple cart; to be a sore spot.

[1] 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22