A Reading from the Second Book of 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 and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 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. 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; David was girded with a linen ephod. 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 burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is this King of glory?” *
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is he, this King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.”
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (1:3-14)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (6:14-29)
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
David faced a monumental challenge: he needed to find a way to unite a diverse and divided people into a single, unified nation.
For the first two hundred years that had passed since the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, they had lived, not as a single people, but as a loose confederation of twelve separate tribes. At times, they cooperated with and supported one another. At other times, they were at war with one another. But all along, they clearly saw themselves primarily as members of their own individuals tribes, and only secondarily as members of any sort of unified people.
During the twenty years that Saul had held the title of “king,” he had provided some sort of focal point for their identity, but it was tenuous at best. Now that David had succeeded him, he had to find some way to bring them all together, to forge a common identity that the entire people could adopt for the long term. He had to form them into a single nation.
His first step was to establish a capital for this new realm, divided in many ways, but divided especially between the northern tribes and southern ones, each of which wanted the capital to be in their part of the country. Instead of choosing either, David used his private army to capture a neutral city, one that lay between the north and the south: Jerusalem. And he chose this city, belonging to neither the north nor the south, to serve as a place where both sides could meet together, a place from which the entire nation could be ruled and led. (Over 2700 years later, by the way, another new nation — this one divided, not into 12 tribes but into 13 colonies now become states, a nation that likewise experienced tensions between north and south — followed David’s example in establishing a capital for itself.)
Despite the importance of this brilliant move, David still had to find a way for the people of all the tribes to sense and feel deeply their unity with one another: something that reached into the depths of their consciousness and their subconsciousness. “What,” he asked, “do all of us have in common? What binds us together? What gives us the conviction that we are in fact a single nation, united in our core beliefs, united in our common purpose?” And it was in response to those questions that David, according to today’s first reading, reached into their common heritage and brought to Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark, you may recall, was the ancient symbol of God’s presence and God’s unshakable care for all of Israel. It was a chest, constructed at Mt. Sinai under orders from Moses and ultimately from God. It contained at least the tablets of the Ten Commandments given to Moses; and, according to some traditions, it held also the staff of Aaron and a jar of manna. The Ark was seen as God’s dwelling place among God’s people.
The Ark provided a common symbol: a venerated, shared reminder of God’s uniting presence that joined together, not only the diverse people of the 12 tribes in David’s day, but also the people of God across the generations. It evoked a sense of what, or rather who, lay at the very heart of the nation, of the God who had called them into covenant with God and with one another long ago, the God who was with them still, now calling them into a new phase in their life together. The presence of the Ark, now in the new capital of Jerusalem, bound together this diverse people.
What is our “Ark” today, both for us as a nation and for us as a church? What great symbol or core belief lies at the heart of who we are and binds us together? That, I suggest, is a critically important question, posed to us by today’s scriptures.
On the national level, we live at a time of deep divisions: a time in which some have become so wrapped up in a particular ideology that they find no room for other points of view. They target for political destruction, not only those on the opposite side of current issues, but even members of their own party who dare to compromise for the sake of the common good. They seem to ignore the need that we have to identify and commit ourselves to finding our common ground: an “Ark” that will enable us to work together for the good of the entire nation.
The church, too, finds itself in a time of division. But at least it is a time in which most members of the church are coming to a realization of our interdependence with one another. No local church or parish is a stand-alone entity. Instead, we are coming to realize that our future, and the future of the mission with which we have been entrusted by God, is one in which we are necessarily joined together with other churches of our own denomination and with churches of other denominations as well. Our future is, of necessity, a shared future.
But in order to reach for that future, in order to do the work that God has for us to do in the years and decades to come, we, too, have to recognize and focus our attention on what binds us together, instead of what separates us from one another. We need to identify and focus on our “Ark,” if you will.
What is that “Ark”? As people who call ourselves “Christians,” is it not the one God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ? Is it not the God who loves all people and calls us to love them and to serve their needs in God’s name? Is it not the God who, in the words of today’s second reading, has anointed us with the Holy Spirit to carry on God’s work in the world? If that God is in fact our “Ark,” the core reality that binds us together, must not that realization take precedence over all those things that we sometimes allow to divide us?
We are currently about halfway through our summer break: at the midpoint between the last program year and the one that is quickly approaching. As we make our way through these coming weeks and turn our attention toward the year and the work that lies ahead, I suggest that we begin by reflecting first of all on what binds us together: the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” who makes us one people of God. And I suggest that we think about how we can better live that unity during this coming year, joined in mission both with the members of other area Episcopal churches and with our fellow Christians of other traditions, so that together we may worthily and effectively serve the world in God’s name.