Shall We Dance / Dirty Dancing
When I was a little girl I loved to dance. I would dance with music or without, I loved to skip and twirl in circles especially when I had the right type of dress on – you know what I mean,
[…]a twirling dress. But I remember a lot of ‘settle down, Heather’ coming my way when I was a kid, as well as ‘calm down’, ‘be careful’ and ‘take it easy’. I am not sure when I started to feel self-conscious awkward about dancing, but it was probably before I became a teenager. And I don’t know about for you, but when I was a teen awkward and self-conscious was a day to day experience for me. However, in high school, each Friday night there was a teen dance at the Sundridge Arena. My sisters and I would go as often as Mom and Dad would let us. It took us hours to get ready, picking up clothes, putting on makeup, doing our hair – this is the early eighties so hair was a big deal. And we would all troop into the dance, not too early but not too late either, and go and sit at a table and wait – wait for the boys to get up the nerve to come and ask us to dance…sometimes the wait was short and sometimes it was long – sometimes you would wait all night and never dance once. Friends of mine used to get up and dance in girl packs but I never had the courage for that. Most of the time I was shy and retiring and waiting for the right boy to ask – most of the time – but every once in a while the perfect song would come on – and I would seek out a specific boy and I would ask him to dance. John Barfoot was not a particularly attractive boy, he was also on the short side, but what John Barfoot had in spades that the other boys did not was that he could dance the jive. And dancing the jive with John Barfoot was the funnest thing ever….he had this way of leading and swinging and moving that was a blast. The joy that I got from dancing when I was a little girl and twirling in the twirly skirt returned whenever I danced with John. Something about the music, the enthusiastic partner and letting the beat of the music fill up in my body and spring out of my feet – I lost myself in that moment – which helps me to understand just a little bit about what was happening in this morning’s readings of dancers.
Two dances: one soaked in depravity yet praised; the other an honest act of prayer, yet scorned. One is entangled in secret desires and schemes, in bitterness and revenge; the other is free and simple. One dancer reveals too much joy, too much of himself; the other reveals too much fear, too much of the palace’s corruption. One dance is caught up in calculations for getting what one wants; the other is a pure gift. One is designed to please others; the other is offered without regard to what others think. What we heard this morning was a tale of two dances – contrasting dances – David’s dance of joy and celebration, hope and life and Herodias dance of manipulation, cunning, deception and death.
David’s dance calls us back to remembering that we are an embodied soul – that our body has expressive and prayerful power to praise God and honour God and speak of God. David dances before the ARC. The ARC for the people of David’s time represented God – this holy box – this holy box that according to ancient scripture was created with God’s specifications – this holy box that contains the tablets of the 10 commandments – the actual stone tablets that God had inscribed with the sacred laws
• Thou Shalt have no other God before me
• Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
• Honour your father and mother
This box called ARC had power.
Did you notice that when Steve was reading this morning that a chunk of the story was removed – we began with David dancing and the procession beginning by placing the ARC on a cart and starting the journey, and then we hear the second stage of the journey of the ARC being brought into Jerusalem– but something happened along the way which I think is an important part of the story – The cart holding the ARC was pulled by two oxen and when one of them stumbled Uzziah, in an attempt to stop the ARC from slipping off the cart, reached out and grabbed the ARC – and in a moment of holy mystery Uzziah died – struck dead on the spot – there is great power in the ARC – and it does not do to disrespect that power. The people of David’s time believed that the ARC was a manifestation of God on earth – and so to even touch something so closely associated with God was a sacrilege, and death was just punishment.
David is so freaked out by the death of Uzziah that he stops the journey, leaves the ARC in the home of Obed-edom the Gittite, and when after three months, nothing horrible had happened in Obed-edom, and in fact things were going really well in his household – it was only after that did David find the courage he needed to continue to dance the ARC to Jerusalem. And grand procession ensued as trumpets blared and people shouted with joy – the ARC is coming – God is coming to Jerusalem. David dances with all his might – leaping and dancing before the Lord – before all who gather along the way to witness this procession. David dances and dances with a ferocity that quite frankly makes some uncomfortable – for instance Micheal – his wife – the queen – not so happy to see her husband so scantily dressed and dancing for all he is worth in the street. She finds shame in David’s actions. But David continues – oblivious to his wife’s concern and dances that ARC right up into the tent that he had prepared for it in the middle of the city. After many generations since Moses first went up the mountain the second time and brought back the tablet, the ARC, the box of God now has a place in the midst of the people again. And there is so much joy in Jerusalem and it is written all over David’s dancing feet.
Herodias dance on the other hand is a dance disembodiment that reminds us of how we can manipulate other with our bodies. That our bodies can be used to entice, seduce, and control. The body itself has become an object of worship.
Herodias is a young woman, probably just coming into her own as she grows up, more than likely a teenager who still has enough of the little girl inside of her that she is seeking her mother’s approval. She is the niece of the Tetrarch, Herod Antipas (which is a fancy name for the four rulers of the territory). Her mother has divorced her father and has married his brother (it’s a crazy complicated blood line story, with way too many people with the name Herod) John the Baptist has publically denounced the marriage which is why Herodias the mother is out to get John. It is Herodias the daughter who is dancing today, in front of Herod and visiting dignitaries. They have come to celebrate Herod’s birthday, and Herod wishes to entertain his guests by having his niece preform a dance, some commentators say it was the dance of the 7 veils – whatever dance it was it was very provocative and excellently preformed and Herod and his guest are impressed. Herod Antipas is so impressed he offers his niece Herodias anything she wants, as much as half the kingdom- now this is interesting – Herod Antipas is a Tetrarch, one of four rulers of that part of the Roman Empire, he rules only Galilee and Perea. He does not have a kingdom to sever let alone give away – it all belongs to Rome and the Roman Empire – he is just a figurehead ruler – but he makes this lofty promise anyway, a public promise in front of all of his dignified guests. Herodias runs to her mother to ask what she is to ask for, and Herodias the mother wishing to silent the public critic in her life, who is challenging her power as Queen consort – gets her daughter to ask for John the Baptist head on a platter. And Herod complies…..here is the sentence that matters, Herod complies….at first glance it is easy to slot the abhorrent consequences of action on the daughter and the mother for after all did they not ask for such a thing? – yet Herod is the only one with the power to carry out such an atrocity. Herod is the one that ultimately is responsible for John’s death.
David Lose compares the power struggles in ‘Game of Thrones’ to the palace murder of John we witnessed this morning. He says: “Herod’s Kingdom – the kingdom of the world and, for that matter, Game of Thrones and all the other dramas we watch because they mirror and amplify the values of our world – is dominated by the will to power, the will to gain influence over others. This is the world where competition, fear and envy are the coins of the realm, the world of not just late night dramas and reality television but also the evening news, where we have paraded before us the triumphs and tragedies of the day as if they are simply givens, as if there is no other way of being in the world and relating to each other.
Which is why Mark places the story here. Just previous to this scene Jesus sends his disciples out in utter vulnerability, dependent on the hospitality and grace of others, to bring healing and mercy with no expectation of reward or return. And just after this scene comes a different kind of feast altogether. ….(what follows is the feeding of the 5000) Rather, what follows is instead a banquet of mercy, so markedly in contrast to the birthday bash Herod throws himself that its almost stunning. Rather than the rich and shameless, it’s the poor and outcast that flock to Jesus’ feeding of the thousands. Rather than political intrigue and power plays dominating the day, it’s blessing and surprising abundance that characterize this meal.”
And the dance is now over, Herodias goes back to her rooms in the palace to live out the life that has been dictated to her by the all the men in her life who have power over her – her uncle, her father and eventually her husband which will be chosen for her, and that’s it, we hear nothing more of this dancing princess
…and the dance is now over the ARC now lives in a tent in the middle of the city, and David is King over the lands of Hebron and Israel. And David although considered a good king, he too often falls to the lure of power and prestige, his arrogance causes more than one stumbling block for him along he way…and David this mighty king is human too.
We too, in our lifetimes are given many opportunities to choose which kingdom do we want to live in? Recognizing that we have no choice but to live in the kingdom of the world to some extent, but, to which kingdom will we give our ultimate allegiance?
David Lose again: “Sounds easy when I put it that way. Jesus’ kingdom, we’ve been trained to answer. Ah, but not so fast. This is the world where vulnerability and sharing and mercy and justice and grace lead to abundant life, to be sure, but also where those very same qualities can get you killed, or least make you feel like you are vulnerable to being taken advantage of. And truth be told you might be. But the other truth to be told is that you can give yourself wholly and completely to the world of power and still never, ever quite feel secure. Why? Because once you’ve accepted that power – whether defined as wealth or possessions or influence or whatever – is the most important thing in life, than you are always vulnerable to those with more power. You are, mostly simply, at the center of a never-ending contest where there are no ultimate winners, only those who prevail for a time and until they are unseated by someone else…..
Which is where Jesus’ kingdom, the kingdom of God, comes in. Because in this kingdom there are no winners or losers, just the children of God, all beloved, all welcome, all deserving of love and respect based not on their merit or accomplishments but simply because God values each and every one of us.”
The music begins and I extend to you a invitation, will you dance with me, dance into the kingdom of God, a kingdom where all are welcome, all are included, all are cherished, all are valued…all are loved. Let’s dance…Amen.