Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1–5, 12b–19 | Psalm 24 | Ephesians 1:3–14 | Mark 6:14–29
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, / the world and all who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)
As of the end of August, my family and I will have been living here in New Brunswick for 5 years. I’m not sure how long it takes, exactly, before we’re officially considered Maritimers… but I hope it’s not too much longer. Truth be told, we love it here. Coming to New Brunswick from Ontario was certainly an adventure… one that has had a huge impact on us, with it’s full share of big adjustments, joys, and even challenges. In many ways, it was a truly life-changing decision to put down roots here; re-orienting every aspect of our day to day lives, and redirecting the course of our family’s future… where we’ll work, worship, and go to school… what communities we’ll connect with… not to mention a newfound appreciation for really good seafood.
Where we dwell shapes us. And so does who we dwell with. And five years on, I’m certainly glad to be dwelling here with you.
In our Scripture readings today from 2 Samuel and the Gospel of Mark, we are invited to hear what happens when God comes to dwell in the midst of His people; making His holy presence known in new and profound ways.
In our reading from 2 Samuel we heard about one of King David’s triumphant adventures: bringing the Ark of the covenant of God to his new capital city, Jerusalem. The ark was sacred for many reasons. Notably, it held the stone tablets of the commandments… God’s written covenant with Israel. But even more than that, the ark was itself a tangible sign of God’s royal presence among His people. The scholar, Patricia Dutcher-Walls, drives home the ark’s significance: “The ark of God was the most powerful symbol of the Lord’s presence with Israel at that time. The container for the tablets of the commandments had accompanied the people for years on their journey toward the Promised Land and during their time of settlement on the land. The ark was more than a box; it was a visible symbol of God’s awesome presence for and with the people… Now David brings this potent symbol of God’s power and might up to Jerusalem.” Now that he had secured a unified kingdom, centred on Jerusalem, King David sought to publicly honour and glorify the LORD, bringing God’s holy presence into David’s royal city. Again, Dutcher-Walls says it well: “When David brings the ark to Jerusalem, he literally brings God into the center of his kingship.” It’s a moment full of anticipation… a sacred adventure, with “David and all the house of Israel… dancing before the Lord with all their might” (2 Samuel 6:5).
But like most adventures, this one had its share of serious adjustments and challenges too… ones that are easy for us to miss today because of the verses our lectionary happens to skip over this week. In 2 Samuel 6:6-12, the adventure starts getting bumpy… literally. The ark, the sacred symbolic marker of the presence of Almighty God begins to slip off the ox-drawn cart that had been carrying it, and a man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark and stop it from falling. But as he does so, Uzzah is struck dead on the spot… driving home to David that God’s presence is never to be taken lightly, even with good intentions. According to God’s command, no one but the High Priests were supposed to handle the ark… even those especially chosen to carry it could only do so after it had been properly covered. In his rush to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, David had been careless with the LORD… and Uzzah’s shocking death was the tragic result.
Obviously, this all freaks David out. The whole procession grinds to a halt, and for three months King David leaves the ark in the house of somebody else nearby… unsure if it’s truly safe to invite God any closer. But when he hears that the man watching over the ark is being blessed by God, David takes heart, and resumes the sacred procession, to Jerusalem… this time, with much deeper reverence and respect for God’s holiness; even offering sacrifices after every six steps.
But this deeper sense of reverence was matched by overwhelming joy! King David still dances before the ark in genuine celebration, even to the point of seeming undignified to his wife. Later on, she mocks him for what she sees as a ‘vulgar’ and ‘shameless’ display, but David does not seem bothered at all about losing himself in worshipping God. And when the ark finally arrives, King David offers a feast: bread, and meat, and raisin cakes, shared with one and all… rejoicing in God’s symbolic arrival to Jerusalem as Israel’s King. From now on, David’s city would be the centre of Israel’s spiritual life. The whole nation’s relationship with God would have to adjust as the ark found a permanent home, but with that change came a renewed sense of God’s presence dwelling with them, and all the hope and joy that this divine fellowship brings.
Turning now to Mark’s Gospel, we find the story of the fate of John the Baptist, the prophet-herald of God’s coming King. The Gospel of Mark begins by introducing us to John in the wilderness, who was sent, in the words of Isaiah the prophet, to “prepare the way of the Lord”, and “make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3). John is portrayed as a faithful messenger, called to prepare God’s people for the coming of God’s Messiah, the Christ, their Anointed Saviour King… who was on His way to rescue, and right the wrongs of Israel… restoring God’s holy blessed presence, and dwelling with them again. St. Mark tells us that a huge part of John’s mission was to remind his fellow Israelites that they were all called to be God’s holy people, set apart to live in God’s holy ways… calling them to turn their lives around… to seek and receive the LORD’s forgiveness.
And many believed John’s message; getting ready for God’s return by being baptized in the Jordan River,
and turning away from sin… finding new joy and hope in their renewed devotion to the LORD. But John’s preaching got him in hot water with one of Israel’s overlords: Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee under the Romans, along with his wife Herodias, didn’t like having their unlawful relationship called into question by John, which led to his unjust arrest, and murderous execution.
On it’s own, this seems like yet another tragic account of powerful people getting what they want, and good people paying for it all with their lives. But this part of the story belongs to the wider adventure of Mark’s Gospel as a whole: to the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sent to save us… through His own suffering.
N.T. Wright locates the story of John’s terrible and tragic death as an important foretaste of the path Jesus Himself would soon take to fulfill His mission: “Mark’s readers… realize that if the herald has come to a bad end at the hands of wicked people, the monarch may go the same way. If this is what happens to prophets, think what will happen to the king himself. This king, too, has been despised by his own family… and will end up rejected by all.” John was sent to prepare his people, to get them ready for God to dwell with them… to help them get ready for God’s gifts of joy and hope, through forgiveness and New Life. But he also shared in the suffering and rejection of his coming King… killed for staying true to the LORD and His holy ways… and pointing ahead to Christ’s own arrival to Jerusalem, where He reconciled our sin-filled world to God by becoming the Crucified King… then renewing our joy and hope by rising again from the grave.
John’s story speaks loudly of the opposition, the resistance to God drawing near to us, exposing our darkness in the sacred light of His holy love. But instead of giving in to the pressures and pain he faced, John chose to centre his life around the will of the Living God, entrusting his future fate into the hands of his heavenly King. And as John shared in Christ’s sufferings, so too will he share in Christ’s glory, reminding us that even if others reject or hurt us for following Jesus, the Risen Lord is with all those who place their trust in Him… and one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and share with us the unending, joy-filled New Life of God.
Together, these two sacred stories have much to tell us about dwelling with God… about what comes with sharing our lives with the Risen Lord. Both call us to get ready for the coming of God in our lives: to not take His presence with us lightly, but receive it with reverence and joy, welcoming God’s holy love to reorient, and transform us. Both remind us that we too can expect to face our share of resistance… that not everyone will welcome a closer connection to the Risen Christ, and that we will likely experience our own rough roads on this journey. And both remind us to place our hope in the presence and power of the LORD: that all the many ups and downs of this adventure are worth it, because they’re a part of sharing in the blessed kingdom of Jesus Christ… the one true kingdom that will never be overcome… that will never end.
So as we consider our own journeys so far, and what might lie before us, may we all grow deeper in the desire to truly dwell with the LORD: to let His holy love shape and re-arrange all that we are, and all we do. May we find in Christ the hope and joy that God has prepared for His people, sustaining us in our own struggles with the promise of sharing in His New Life. And may we press on, and encourage one another to stay true to our Risen King and His Kingdom, who rules, not just in Jerusalem, but over all the earth… even here, in the Maritimes, and Gondola Point. Amen.
 Patricia Dutcher-Walls, “Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 197.
 Ibid. 196.
 See Numbers chapter 15.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year B (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 87.