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
Last weekend, we Americans celebrated the 239th anniversary of the founding of our nation. Declaring independence from our mother country was a bold and daring step to take. It carried with it many dangers and uncertainties. And even in the years that followed the Revolution, this new nation had many, sometimes difficult choices to make.
One decision that it faced was the choice of a city to serve as its capital. The northern states wanted it to be established in their territory; and the southern states, in theirs. Fortunately, our founders tended to be more biblically literate that people are today; and so they realized that the situation that they faced was not new, but one that had been faced and resolved long ago.
Somewhere around 1000 BCE, King David was struggling to join together into a single nation, not 13 states, but 12 tribes. The northern tribes wanted the capital to be located in one of their cities; and the southerners, in one of theirs. David wisely decided on a third option. Instead of siding with either the north or the south, he chose Jerusalem: a city which was situated on the border between the two, but which belonged to neither. Some 2800 years later, our founders wisely decided to follow his example.
But the choice of Jerusalem to serve as Israel’s capital was not David’s only, brilliant, political move. He also recognized the power that would come from linking his authority to that of Israel‘s God. And so, as we heard in today’s first reading, he had the Ark of the Covenant brought into Jerusalem. The Ark was a wooden chest which, for over 200 years, had been revered as the place where God dwelt among God’s people. And its presence in his capital sent the clear message that his decisions and actions had the very approval of God.
David was certainly not the only ruler in history to try to employ the authority of God or of the gods to strengthen and attempt to legitimize all that he did. Those in power often attempt to link God and country, often not in order to discern God’s will for the decisions that they have to make, but in order to claim that God supports whatever choices they have already made, to affirm that, in whatever they do, God or the gods are on their side. Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (chapter 2) observes: “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers, as equally false, and by the magistrates, as equally useful.” Religion, or a distorted form of religion, has often proved to be useful to those who are in power and who are determined to stay in power.
That approach is one that has been used time and time again throughout the history of nations, including our own. A distorted use of religion, and specifically of biblical texts, has been used at various times in American history to justify slavery, the displacement and persecution and even slaughter of Native Americans, a second-class status for women, and discrimination against people who are, or appear to be, different from those in power: whether because of their skin color, sexual orientation, country of origin, or other inborn characteristics. It has been used to claim that capitalism or socialism is the economic system sanctioned by God, when neither is true. It has been used to try to lend religious support to a selfish and self-centered individualism, which is contrary to the Bible’s focus on the responsibility that we have to use God’s gifts for the service of all. (They also, by the way, choose to ignore the fact that the Declaration of Independence itself ends, not with an affirmation of individualism and an absolute right to private property, but with the solemn pledge: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”) To put it another way, we are all in this together.
“Patriotism” may be, as Samuel Johnson affirmed, “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” but religion, or at least a distorted form of religion, can give it a pretty good run for its money. And the misuse of biblical texts and of alleged religious principles has often been used in an attempt to prop up positions that, in reality, are contrary to authentic principles of a biblical faith.
It is important in a democracy like ours to remain cognizant of the ways that some people misuse religion in an attempt to support the legitimacy of their own positions. And it is especially important to keep that fact in mind as we approach the current competition for the presidency. Even though that election is nearly 16 months off, we already have 5 announced candidates from one of the two major political parties and 16 from the other. Without doubt we will be hearing many, either explicit or at least implied, religious references as this crowd of candidates assert and debate their opinions and political positions. And we need to be able to recognize their implied or explicit religious claims and to critique them, challenging their validity and comparing and contrasting them with the authentic principles of true religion as taught in the scriptures as a whole and, in particular, as we find them in the teachings of Jesus.
In Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on today’s first reading, he points out the fact that David, by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, was invoking an ancient, traditional, religious symbol in an attempt to legitimate a completely new form of government: one which was actually a dramatic departure from what was truly the traditional way that Israel was governed. If that was the way that David was using religion – David, who came to be portrayed as one especially beloved of God – we need to be very suspicious of the ways that contemporary politicians, both those in office and those running for office, attempt to use or misuse religion for their own purposes.
Those who are truly interested in obtaining God’s blessings on what they do, whether in government or any other area of life, do not begin by deciding first what they are going to do and then trying to find a way to twist God’s word so that it supposedly supports them. Instead, they begin with the approach taken in today’s Collect, praying that they and all God’s people “may [first] know and understand what things they ought to do, and [then] also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”