2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-20: A Body of Praise


A sermon preached on July 15, 2012 based upon 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-20

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.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 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.

David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’

The human body is front and center in the story we just heard.

There is David, leading the procession, stripped down to nothing more than a loin cloth, his exposed body leaping and dancing before the ark of the covenant,  in full sight of everybody as they arrive in the city of Jerusalem.

And there is Michal, one of David’s many wives, looking out the window at the sight of David, and despising him for the way he is putting his body on display, and in particular, in front of all the slave girls.

Ah, the human body.

David, the hero of the story, seems pretty comfortable with his body; I guess you’d have to be to dance half naked in front of 30,000 people.

Michal, traditionally seen as the villain – I guess you could describe her as a good deal more uptight about the human body.

How about you?  How do you feel about the human body?

And in particular, how do you feel about your body?   When you look in the mirror, or at a picture of yourself, how does it make you feel?

It would be my guess that a majority of us often don’t feel so great about our bodies.

Although this is true to some extent of both men and women, in our society it is especially true of women.

My daughter Kate pointed out to me recently something I had never thought about.  When we see little girls and want to say something nice to them – give them a compliment — what do we most often say to them?

“Don’t you look cute!  Oh, don’t you look pretty!”  Very early on, girls are taught that it is important to be considered pretty, and especially by men.

But then we’re all bombarded with millions of images in advertising and media that have trained us to believe that beauty in a woman’s body is found only in a very narrow spectrum of body types, as well as in a very narrow age range.

The bodies of the vast majority of women don’t fit the profile. You do the best you can with what you’ve got, but hey – sometimes you can’t help but feel a sense of shame about your body.  You just don’t look like those thin though curvy young women with the unblemished skin, and the perfectly proportioned facial features, and the long, thick wavy hair whose images keep popping up wherever you look.

But even women who manage to approach the culture’s ideal of body beauty can feel as though their body is a problem.  In a world so preoccupied with sex appeal, a beautiful body can get in the way of being known for other qualities – for one’s inner life.

And then there is that whole business that women often deal with of feeling as though they are in competition with other women as to who has the most sex appeal.

Throughout most of human history, the fortunes of women have largely been determined by the quality of men they could attract with their beauty.   It was worse in the past.  One of the undeniably positive things that have happened in recent history has been the strides made empowering of women.

As I said before, Michal is traditionally viewed as the “bad guy” in this story for the contempt she expresses towards David and his dancing before the Lord.    But when we take into account that David has several other wives with whom she is in a certain competition for their husband’s favor, perhaps we can feel some sympathy for the displeasure she expresses at the sight of what could appear to her to be nothing more than her husband flaunting his body before so many admiring women.   Later chapters of 2Samuel will reveal what David is capable in this regard as we hear the story of his abusive expression of his power and sexual energy in his conquest of Bathsheba.

And so Michal comes off as the original lifeless prude, expressing an attitude often associated with religion — that bodies are, in essence, dangerous, and she should be kept under cover and tightly monitored.

It’s a point of view that makes some sense when you consider how common it has been throughout human history for sexual desires to get expressed in cruel, dehumanizing ways – how often for the sake of sexual gratification the powerful have abused the weak.

Nonetheless, there’s this additional source of shame when it comes to bodies:  not only that our bodies don’t measure up to the standards of beauty in vogue, but add on top of that the fact that imbedded within us are so much religious teachings that view the body as the realm from which sin arises.  Cover the body up as much as possible, repress its natural impulses, keep a tight bridle and bit — certainly don’t make them shake and move and wiggle in the manner King David was doing that day as he danced before the ark of the covenant.

So my point here is that there’s a lot going on to contribute to our feeling quite disconnected from our bodies.  Add on top of all this the inevitable impact of aging —  the sense over time that our bodies seem to betray us.  They get tired too easily, with countless aches and pains setting in.  So it’s easy to understand how we might want to disassociate from our bodies – to see them as a kind of prison we wish we could escape from.

So in light of all this, it is good to remember how the Bible actually views our bodies.  It’s not necessarily what we think, because we’ve gotten the perspective of the ancient Greeks confused in our minds with the Judeo-Christian point of view.

The ancient Greeks believed in the idea of a soul that is separate from the body, and that this soul is immortal.   The body is merely a temporary abode for the soul to dwell within while the soul spends some time here on earth.

The Bible, in contrast, sees the soul and the body as a unity.  There is no such thing as a soul that exists separate from a body.  In other words, without a body, you and I don’t exist.   When we die, the soul isn’t set loose from a body.  This may come as a surprise, but Christianity doesn’t teach the notion of an immortal soul.   What Christianity teaches is resurrection, which is to say, God raises us up from death as a body.  It’s a new body for sure, with qualities different from the one that we have here on earth.  But souls don’t exist without bodies.  So bodies deserve some respect.

And right there on the first page of the Bible is the assertion that bodies are good, not bad.   And when we say that our bodies are good, then that means that the natural impulses of our body aren’t bad either.   For instance, our sexual desire – or to put it another way, our sexual energy, is a good thing, not a bad thing, though of course, it can get expressed in bad, abusive ways.   But to turn our back on that basic energy of life that is a part of what it means to have a body is to cut ourselves off from the vitality that God intended for us to have.

So the image of King David, caught up in a moment of gratitude and praise, not ashamed to strip down to his underwear and dance for all he’s worth with the body God gave him with the sweat dripping down, dancing in a sense with God, is an image we would do well to ponder.

At the center of Christianity is the notion that the God who created all things good wasn’t ashamed to inhabit a human body, so neither should we.   And this Jesus — he seemed to be pretty comfortable in his body.  We hear repeatedly of him touching, and being touched by countless people who wanted to be loved by him.  He seems comfortable holding children in his lap.

We even hear of him being alone in the company of women, which the religious rules of his day said a Rabbi shouldn’t do, because of those deep-seeded notions that you’ve got to keep a tight lid on that sexual energy.

A line from one of King David’s psalms declares, “the earth is full of the glory of God.”  The thing about bodies is that it is through the five senses of our bodies that we encounter this earthly glory — so much goodness and beauty that God has knit into creation.

But so often what happens is we essentially check out of our bodies, deadening our senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.  And that’s not a good thing.  We end up miserable and barren like Michal, unable to perceive the glory of God that fills the earth.

In the book, The Color Purple, there is this wonderful little conversation that takes place between two women named Shug and Celie, from which the book gets it’s title:

Shug: More than anything God love admiration.
Celie: You saying God is vain?
Shug: No, not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.
Celie: You saying it just wanna be loved like it say in the bible?
Shug: Yeah, Celie. Everything wanna be loved. Us sing and dance, and holla just wanting to be loved. Look at them trees. Notice how the trees do everything people do to get attention… except walk?
[they laugh]
Shug: Oh Miss Celie, I feels like singing!

So how are you feeling about your body?  Does your body need to be woken up to perceive the glory of God that fills the earth?

My mother, as you may know, wrote poems, many of which arose from experiences she had.   In one she called, “Escape Route,” she describes an experience in which she felt a strong sense of stuckness and bleakness one night alone in her apartment.  She starts off by saying,

  Something is the matter with my mind.

  It’s stuffed itself with gloom and vague unease.

She goes on to describe how she can’t find relief from the usual places, good books to read, or television programs to watch, but, she writes, her “mind hunkers down.”

She proceeds to describe what she did that began to open her up:

  Desperate, I pull my creaking self upright,

  pick out a  60’s record for the phonograph,

  kick shoes off stiffened feet. Those feet and I

  stand very still and wait.    Slowly … slowly…

  Time      begins    to       stretch.

  The music warms and throbs.  My arms move up

  to shape the room; hands spread the ceiling air.

  Feet want to shift.  Solar plexus angst

  slowly uncurls.   

She concludes with these words:

  A place inside my brain, that reason doesn’t

  make a dent upon, has caught the beat.

  The still point settles in and at the rim

  the music dances mind and me until we sweat.

Maybe you can’t imagine yourself doing anything like what my mother did, let alone, doing like King David did.  When we talked about this passage at our Wednesday morning session, folks couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything resembling what David did.

But there are other ways to engage the body in our spiritual lives, and soon Lois and Doris were talking about what it feels like when they get to laughing together, acting silly, not caring that others might consider them foolish.  The laughter fills their lungs with oxygen, and their souls with joy.  They get out of themselves, and their troubles get smaller and smaller as the laughter gets big.

God is in the laughter.  That’s why laughter is in our mission statement:   “In a hostile, hurting world, we reach out in kindness and laughter.”

God is in singing that rises up from the solar plexus, lifting us up out of ourselves.

God is in music we listen to that  brings shivers of grace flowing down our backs.

God is in a walk outside in which you let your muscles awaken and the sunshine bless your face, and the breeze blow upon your cheek, and your eyes and nose take in the glory of the God that fills the earth.

God is in the fragrances and tastes awoken in a slowly savored, well prepared shared meal.

When King David’s dance of gratitude was done, generosity flowed forth from him like a river into parched lands.  His desire was to bless everyone around him in the name of the Lord of hosts.   He starts handing out nourishing and savory food to all in attendance, “a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.”

There are a myriad of ways to move from the posture of Michal, cut off from her body, trapped inside her barren self, to the expansiveness experienced by David, dancing for all he’s worth before the Lord, evoking a desire to bless those about us.  I can’t tell you what you’re way is. Each of us has to find our own way.  The glory of God fills the earth, and it awaits your embrace.