by Brad Hall
based on Mark 6:14-28, Eph 1:3-14
There are two different gatherings mentioned in our readings this morning.
One of them takes place in the court of King David, and the other takes place in
the court of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Judæa. They are similar in that they
tell about two powerful leaders putting on elaborate feasts of celebration for
their people, but the end results of these celebrations could hardly be more
The celebration we find in Second Samuel surrounds the moving of the Ark of
the Covenant from the house of Abinidab into the City of David. Moving the ark
is no small feat. It is made of acacia wood, and assuming a cubit is eighteen
inches, it is three feet, 9 inches long by 2 feet, three inches wide and tall.
That's not so bad, except that it is also covered with lots of gold and cherubim
and things, so it is an effort to move.
Still, they all seem to have a good time moving it. They build a new cart for
it and set it on there, and the sons of Abinidab set out to bring the ark to the
City of David.
Meanwhile, the city of David is getting ready to receive the ark. They are
"celebrating before the Lord" with tambourines, cymbals, castanets,
lyres and harps.
When the ark shows up, David sacrifices an ox and a fatling, and "dances
before the Lord with all his might," wearing a linen ephod. This ephod
thing needs some explaining. An ephod may have been sort of like a vest or an
apron, and it was worn by the high priests of Israel, and inside the ephod they
carried sacred lots. These may have been coins, or rods, or dice, or any number
of other objects, but what matters is that they were used to help determine the
will of God.
So the point here is that David is NOT wearing his royal robes, as a secular
leader, but he is wearing an EPHOD, the garment of a high priest. He was acting
as a RELIGIOUS leader, not a SECULAR leader. David wore an ephod to show the
people that, no matter what happened, no matter what Israel faced as a nation,
and no matter what David face as a king, God was going to be their true leader,
and they were going to think and act as God led them.
So now, I want to place a very specific image in your mind’s eye before we
move on. Imagine Dwight David Eisenhower, Billy Graham, Colin Powell and The
Pope, all rolled into one. NOW imagine that great leader DANCING WITH ALL HIS
MIGHT -- A Scottish reel, the Lindy, the Charleston, the watusi, jitterbug,
pogo, square dance, it doesn’t matter. But keep that picture in your mind.
Now let's take a look at another gathering, another festival, the one that
the tetrarch Herod gave for himself on his birthday. There may have been lots of
exotic food and entertainment, but Herod and his guests had seen it all and done
it all before, and they were all really pretty bored. It is only when Herod's
wife's daughter (by a previous marriage), dances for the party that things began
to pick up a little.
This dancer, of course, is Salomé. To put some flesh on the bones of Mark's
telling of this story, I read Oscar Wilde's one-act tragedy called Salomé. If
you read it, I think you will be struck by how world-weary everybody seems in
it, and how everybody seems real lethargic and anemic, and everybody just sort
of floats through the play like a bunch of ghosts, like nothing really matters.
But Herod does take ONE thing seriously, and he puts some real energy into
it. In the play, Salomé is reluctant to dance, but Herod talks her into it by
promising her anything she wants, up to half his kingdom. It is only when he
swears a solemn oath to do as he says he will do that she does indeed dance. The
oath is important, because Salomé and her mother know that Herod is keeping
John the Baptist in something like protective custody.
We are told, in fact, that Herod actually enjoys listening to the prophet,
even if he doesn't really understand what he is talking about. The problem is,
Herod's wife HATES John the Baptizer because he has been saying that it was not
lawful for Herod to marry her, because she had been his BROTHER'S wife.
But now that the time has come for Herod to pay up, he is stuck. Herod's wife
sees her opportunity to get rid of a troublesome prophet, and tells her daughter
to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a plate, and there is nothing Herod
can do about it. A prophet of God dies because Herod has sworn an oath in front
of his friends for no reason other than to get a cute girl to dance at his
Let's stop and compare all this to the images that we have in our Old
Testament reading. Here David wears an ephod, representing his determination to
be a Godly leader of his people, and, as the ark of his people's covenant with
God comes into his city, he leaps and dances before it and his God "with
all his might." David burns offerings, blesses his people in the name of
God, and then, after all that, he sends everybody home with a loaf each of
raisin and nut bread.
Karl Marx said -- and a lot of people still agree with him -- that religion
is the opiate of the people -- like morphine, he said, it kept them quiet and
complacent. But for David and those around him, faith in God seems to be a
vitamin, encouraging them and spurring them on. In fact, David seems so full of
energy that he is practically out of control with joy before the Lord.
If anybody seems under the influence a sleep aid, it is the bunch assembled
for Herod's little soiree. They lie around waiting for something to happen, and
when it finally does, it is a horror. Yet their host does not have the strength
of character to admit that the oath he swore was a bad one with horrible
consequences for an innocent man, so he just sort of lets it slide. He's sorry,
"exceedingly sorry," the reading says, but, well, that's the way it
We need to be reminded every now and then how quickly things can go terribly
wrong when people forget to put God first in their lives. Or, as I have quoted
before, "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do
But think how joyous life was for David and his people as they dedicated
themselves to God's service. And how joyous OUR lives can be when we realize
that what really matters in life is indeed serving God in Christ, and living in
the joy that service brings.
"In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our
trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In
all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to
His kind intention which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the the fulness of
time, to unite all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the