Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
I think many of you know that before coming to Epworth, I led a national peace and justice organization. It was founded on the eve of World War I by Quakers, Mennonites and other pacifists and peace advocates, including many Methodists. When I arrived on the scene almost 100 years after its founding, the membership and leadership of the local chapters was still populated by persons connected to those groups. But there was another very strong constituency that I hadn’t expected. Can you guess what it is?... If you guessed Veterans, you are correct.
What I learned from these veterans is that they were not only experts in the realities of going to war and fighting a war, but in the costs to soldiers, families and communities once the war is over or once the deployed person has come home. One veteran who served on our national board told me, “I spent three years in Vietnam, but the hardest fight I had was when I returned home.” He then devoted the rest of his life to restorative justice in the public schools in upstate New York and leadership in his own chapter of Veterans for Peace.
We are all emerging from a collective crisis. Though it has not been a war on the magnitude of World War I or the Vietnam war, it has been consuming, traumatic and disruptive on a global and very personal level. I should also add that this period has not been free of US military conflicts, too, and members of our own congregation have been deployed during this time.
What we know about war, disasters, and other consuming traumatic crises is that somehow while the crisis is going on, people find the wherewithal to keep going. To hold it together. To just keep taking the next right step. But as the crisis comes to an end, all that could not be dealt with in order to survive,--grief, fear, loss, confusion--raises its hand and says, “don’t forget about me!” Unprocessed emotions seek space to surface and demand attention. The crisis itself is, of course, a time of great concern. But the emergence from a crisis is also a time of great concern, and of great vulnerability.
Last week we talked about how important it is to be careful about our expectations as we emerge. To recognize that we have changed, and that we can navigate the newness we find by staying focused on what supports God’s purpose. Today, I want to talk about this vulnerable moment of processing emotions, of feeling exposed, and the importance of attending to our own truth in this moment.
In our scripture for today from 2 Samuel, King David is returning the ark of the covenant to the people of Israel. This ark, not to be confused with Noah’s ark, is that mobile box, which contained the tablets of the 10 commandments given to the people by God through Moses during the time of the Exodus. It was also said to contain Moses’ brother Aaron’s rod. This was the same rod that when struck on the ground brought forth the plagues that put Pharaoh on notice that the people of God would not stand for enslavement. Additionally, a golden pot of manna was said to be in the ark. These were the symbols of God’s power and presence, and the will of God for people’s freedom, and the care of God in attending to people’s needs.
The ark represents God’s covenant with God’s people, and the commitment of the people to follow God’s purpose above all else. With their focus on God’s commandments, the Israelites moved forward as a people. Even though they encountered war and other disasters, when they maintained clarity about who and whose they were, there sense of meaning, purpose and identity was intact. The ark represented God’s presence with them. They cherished it, protected it and kept it with them always.
With their sense of meaning, purpose and identity intact, the Israelites had survived and grown as a people. It was during this time that the faith and life supported by the ark became to be confused with the ark itself. When the Israelites prevailed, it was seen as God’s favor rather than a result of their way of being. Other nations didn’t understand that the ark was about a sense of connection, and a set of ethics and commitments that allowed the Israelites to survive, and it seems that the Israelites began to get confused about that, too. The ark had come to be seen in the Ancient World as a kind of talisman that ensured military victory to those who possessed it.
In an attempt to ensure a military victory, the Israelites carried the ark into battle. But they lost. The high priest Eli’s sons were killed and the ark was captured by the Philistines. At the moment of hearing that her sons had died, Eli’s wife died while giving birth. The child born at that moment was named Ichabod, which means “Where is the glory?”
Where is the glory. One reason why the emergence from war or disaster or crisis is so tenuous is that we might imagine it will be a time of glory. Glory in returning to “normal”, glory at having conquered or made it through. But many report that glory is never a word that describes this time of emergence. Our young people tell us that one of the worst things we can say to them is, “These are the best years of your life!” Have I just lost a year and a half of the best years of my whole life, they wonder? Our young people, particularly now, are processing deep change and deep grief. They are grappling with unchartered social territory in a world that seems like it’s spinning out of control. As Eli’s wife utters, “Where is the Glory?” we see that “Glory” is a word connected to the lens of nostalgia, and nostalgia, as we know, is always distorted.
The capturing of the ark engendered a major social, political, and religious crisis among the people of Israel. If the ark was not among them, was God still among them? But they persevered through this great loss. They maintained themselves as a people. They acknowledged Samuel as the prophet who followed Eli, which was followed by the period of the kings. The first king, Saul, accomplished the amazing feat of unifying the various tribes of Israel. The Israelites pulled themselves together and soldiered on.
In our scripture for today, the ark, after decades away from the Israelite people is being returned. King David has followed King Saul and has made it a priority to end the long period of the ark’s exile. Through battle, the ark is recaptured. The decades long crisis, the fear of the absence of God, is over! The ark is returning! David and his men form a procession to bring the ark back among the people, marking the end of a long and difficult period.
And the scripture tells us, “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.” When we see photos of some of the celebrations happening around our region, state and country as things open up, what’s described in the scripture has a familiar ring. For some of us, dancing with abandon IS a way to let go of grief, and to process loss. Anyone who lived in San Francisco in the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s can attest that it was not uncommon for losses and grief to be processed on the dance floor.
But there is something else in the scripture, something we need to take care not to overlook. Not everyone is responding to the return of the ark, the end of this period where it felt like God was absent, in the way that David is. Not everyone is wanting to dance. The scripture says, “As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul, watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”
There are multiple interpretations and theories for why Michal despised David in her heart at that moment. What I submit to you today is that Michal was not sure how to welcome the end of this period of trauma. She had ambivalence about jumping into a new chapter, and she definitely didn’t feel like dancing. David’s exuberant dancing made her fearful, heightened her anxiety, and “she despised him in her heart.”
The scripture tells us that David was wearing a linen ephod, which was a scant, priestly garment. Some interpreters say that Michal was angry with David because he was naked. They say her objection was that he was exposed. But I don’t think it was a literal exposure that was the problem. In fact most scholarship says that this garment wouldn’t have left David indecently dressed. Maybe the reason Michal reacted so strongly against David’s dancing and the return of the ark was because she was afraid of feeling exposed. I submit to you this morning that it was Michal’s feeling of exposure that was the problem, and that caused her to hate David in that moment. Would she be expected to go out of her home and dance with abandon, too?
Who are you in the story? Are you ready to process your feelings on the dance floor, or does the idea of going out fill you with dread at being exposed? What we need to remember about these two ends of the spectrum is that emotions can be processed by spending time alone, or with a caring friend or spiritual accompanier like one of our Stephen Ministers, just as they can be processed physically. People are different and need different methods to get from the pain of loss to the peace and acceptance in a new chapter. Most of us need a variety of methods.
And we also need to remember it is also possible to continue to stuff unpleasant feelings and not deal with them either on the dance floor or while remaining at home. So while we’re tending to our own grief, let’s tend to each other, too. Let’s be gentle with our different ways of coming out of this. And let’s be attentive to the ways our own privilege and power can make us miss what others are going through. I wonder if King David even realized that he was being watched by someone in a window, someone who was very much in pain. Oh, and did I mention Michal was David’s wife? Sometimes the biggest misses are of the needs of those closest to us.
And yet, God calls us forward. The meaning of the return of the ark is that we, as the people of God, should make no mistake: God is in our midst. God is present with us. God will accompany us in the dance or in the midst of our messy, despising, fearful feelings. But God always calls us to God’s self into wholeness and healing. God loves us and God guides us. Periods of trauma and crisis and war do come to an end. As God’s people, may we reflect that presence of the one who knew us first and calls us home. And may we offer this presence to ourselves, to each other and to the world. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - Sunday, July 11, 2021
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim, Caroline Lee
Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Judy Kriege
Opening Music: "This Little Light of Mine"
Judy Kriege & Travis Pratt
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Passing the Peace
Leader: The peace of the risen Christ is with you!
People: And also with you!
You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Message: "Emerge: Feeling Exposed"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
*Hymn of Response: "Hymn of Promise"
UM Hymnal #707
Prayers of the People:
Leader: Companion God,
People: Hear our prayers
If you have a prayer request or are interested in longer-term spiritual accompaniment from a Stephen Minister, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer)
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Reception of New Members
Melanie Green, Wendy Swiggett, Katherine Whitney
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
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Offertory: "The Wolves" by Mandolin Orange
Judy Kriege, Travis Pratt, Alice Templeton
Praise be to God, who breathes the breath of life. Praise to the Christ who sets us free. Praise the Spirit whose wind and fire give power to move and light to see. As it was before the world began, is here and now and evermore. Alleluia! Praise the three-in-one whom we worship and adore.
Prayer of Dedication
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
*Closing Hymn: "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms"
UM Hymnal #133
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks To
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Audio Engineer: Paul Nasman Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey
Prayers © 2021 enfleshed.
Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.