Year B — Proper 10 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for July 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
The reading, as assigned, feels a little disorienting, in that there is a three-month break in the action between verse 5 and verse 12. The quizzical and tragic incident involving Uzzah — who was probably just doing what he thought was best — is omitted, as is the aforementioned 90-day hiatus of the ark in the house of Obed-edom, as David was “afraid of the Lord.”

But, once it became clear that the ark was a source of blessing and not of curse (as long as you kept your hands off of it,) David proceeds with the processional. And, I mean, proceed he does! 

The former shepherd boy does the Holy City Hoedown, as it were, and his wife — Michal, Saul’s daughter — is ashamed of him. (Maybe she was still ticked off that David had won her in the Goliath contest…who knows?)

Whatever the source of her bitterness, it didn’t serve her well; she remains barren for the rest of her life, a symbol in Israel of the withdrawal of God’s blessing. (But you don’t get that part of the story in today’s reading, either — look to v. 23)

Worth noting: the blessing by David of God’s people took a very tangible form. He distributed food to every household. Might be a good reminder for us of just how the blessing of God is intended for every one of God’s people, everywhere.

Psalm 24
A fitting psalm for the processional. Lift the gates, open the doors; the celebration is for the LORD, who is strong and mighty. As we learned from David’s earlier encounter with Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s.” 

Amos 7:7-15
To whom are we ultimately accountable for our lives? Against whom are we measured? Ever and always, it is God’s measurement (judgment) that counts. God’s will is the rule of life.

Psalm 85:8-13
When we are quiet long enough to hear God speak, what we will often hear is God’s message of peace. Love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace — these are “the good” that God desires to give.

Ephesians 1:3-14
We are, indeed, blessed with a number of “spiritual blessings” in Christ:

  • we are chosen before the foundation of the world (God works way ahead of the curve!)
  • we were destined to be adopted into God’s family
  • grace is freely bestowed on us, as are redemption and forgiveness
  • we have an inheritance (who wouldn’t like to get one of those?)
  • we have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and we live for Christ’s glory
  • we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit — a “down payment” of sorts on the life we will live forever with God

Mark 6:14-29
Some days, it just doesn’t pay to be a preacher!

John has famously and steadfastly proclaimed the message from God: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” For Herod, that repentance involved not marrying his brother’s wife — but, he just couldn’t help himself!

While Herod is uncomfortable with John, he also respects him and is intrigued by him. But, with his blood all riled up after watching his niece/daughter dancing after dinner, Herod pretty much traps himself into killing a man he really wanted to protect. 

Rather than let his pride suffer (not to mention the hell he would have to pay for refusing his wife,) Herod lops off John’s head and serves it up on a platter.

Oh, be careful little mouth what you say!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Figuring out what led up to the events in today’s gospel lesson is like trying to follow the story line of a soap opera. It can get a little confusing.

King Herod here is not the same King Herod who was around when Jesus was born. That was his Daddy, Herod the Great. This is Herod Antipas. 

He was, by all accounts, not much of a man or a ruler. And this royal family’s bedding and marrying habits were unconventional and messy to say the least. It really was a soap opera.

Herod Antipas had married his brother’s wife. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that his brother was still living and Herod forced him to divorce Herodias so he could marry her.

And the daughter who does the dancing? Jewish historian Josephus tells us her name was Salome. She was the Herod’s niece and his wife’s daughter and she ended up marrying his brother, her uncle. Sounds like a bad redneck joke, doesn’t it? 

Into the midst of this came John the Baptist. He surveyed the whole mess and called Herod out on issues of morality and leadership. He pointed out to Herod where he had failed to be a good leader to the people, both politically and in his personal life. 

Herod’s reaction is interesting. On the one hand, he has John arrested and put in jail; but on the other he protects John from his wife’s revenge. She is really angry and wants John dead, but, for now, Herod is a more afraid of John then he is his wife.

As the text says,” . . . 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.” (verse 20)

What if he is Elijah? What if Herod does need to repent? What if God is displeased with the way Herod is leading his life?

Herod is a perplexed seeker, a dabbler in the mysteries of God. He believes just enough to keep him awake at night but not enough to change his way of living.

All too often, we too are like Herod. We keep holy things hidden away in the basement of our lives. We’re not willing to throw them out, but we’re not really sure what to do with them. We live our lives without paying much attention to the holy, to the call of God on our lives, because we are perplexed as to how taking that stuff seriously might challenge us to be different.

And truth be told, most of us are happy with the way we are and don’t want to change; if we really wanted to, we would.

Look at Amos and King Jeroboam in our first lesson. Amos spoke the truth and nobody wanted to hear it. So the priest told Amos to go way, and then, in verse 13 said this, “never again prophecy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom.”

We all have to be careful on this point; it is God’s house, it is God’s sanctuary, it is God’s temple, it is God’s church. It’s not our church, it’s not the pastor’s church, it’s not the bishop’s church, it’s not the ELCA’s church; it is God’s Church.

When pastors are ordained and then later when they are installed in various ministries, they are asked to promise to preach and teach according to the scriptures and the theological tradition of the church. And the congregation is asked to hold them to that promise and to question them when it’s not clear they’re doing that.

But we are also to remember it is not the preacher’s calling to “tickle our ears” with pleasant things we want to hear; it is her calling to rightly divide the word of truth and challenge us to grow in our faith and godly actions.

Ellenita Zimmerman was a missionary in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; and then the long time organist, choir director, and church worker at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Nashville, Tennessee. Her son Ted is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong. Ellenita and I worked together for several years and she told me often that her definition of the Gospel was this: “God loves you just the way you are. And God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

Both the Bible and the preacher have been sent to us from God to constantly remind us of those two basic truths. And like Herod and Jeroboam, we often doubt God’s love and resist being changed.

And the Good News is God will not give up on us. God will continue to send messengers of love into our midst to perplex us and challenge us and ultimately transform us into the image of Christ.

Amen and amen.

4 thoughts on “Year B — Proper 10 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

  1. I frequent Lectionary Lab to get inspired, or hear a possible train of thought for sermon preparation. Several of one of the "Bubba's" sermons have done just that – maybe reminded me of a story of my own that would work in my context. Today, however, I'm having to restrain myself from "ripping and reading!" I don't know that this text could be preached any better.

  2. It was a line in the 2005 movie "Junebug" (set in small town North Carolina, if you haven't seen it, you should) and Anne Lamott was quoted saying it a 2003 Christianity Today article. My experience with Ellenita predates both of those. I presume it to be one of those anonymous lines whose source we will be unlikely to decisively nail down.

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