OT 15 — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 14, 2024

Lectionary Texts

2 Samuel 6.1-19 — David brings the ark into Jerusalem and dances with joy and abandon.

Psalm 24 — Who comes close to God? Those who seek truth and live truthfully. Who is the power that rules our lives? It is Yahweh.

Ephesians 1.3-14 — God has chosen us, adopted us as children, forgiven us, disclosed the mystery of God’s will to gather all in love, and given us an inheritance.

Mark 6. 6-29 —Jesus sends out the disciples two by two, while Herod kills John the Baptist.

Preaching Thoughts

2 Samuel
We don’t know exactly what an ephod is, but it was scanty enough to offend Michal, David’s ex, and daughter of the former king. In these roles she reminds us how we bring family dynamics into church life and into theology.
       And, whether or not her indignation is righteous, among other things this story does touch on the issue that one person’s celebration is another’s disruption. Scripture seems to excuse religious ecstasy, yet would not think well of scantily clad clergy dancing around on Sunday morning. Where do we draw the line? Culture wars aside, there is a theological issue about how our public behavior may or may not convey the gospel, and how our joy may come at others’ expense. It’s not that David was wrong, or Michal was justified… but it does ask us to be aware of our audience.

 [Click here for a paraphrase of the whole book of Ephesians.]
       I say this often: if you’re ever down, read Ephesians. It’s just one blessing after another. You could preach whole sermons on every phrase of it. It uses a lot of language seminary graduates may take for granted but many people in the pews have little good understanding of. Unpack them a bit.
“God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.” We’re not chosen because we’re special, we’re special because we’re chosen—and everybody is chosen. God’s “plan” is for us to be perfectly loving. “Holy” doesn’t mean otherworldly or pious, or even better than anybody. It means set apart for God’s purposes. This doesn’t actually set us apart from others, since God chooses every human being for God’s purposes; but our response, our commitment to be loving, does set us apart from what the world wants of us. And, regardless of how well we do it, God hold us as “holy and blameless” no matter what. That’s been established from the beginning.
“God destined us for adoption.” We don’t just happen to be humans inhabiting God’s Creation. God has chosen us, intentionally committed to us, and claimed us as God’s beloved, God’s children. It’s our destiny.
“We have redemption through the blood of the Beloved, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Contrary to popular medieval belief, Jesus’ physical blood has no magical powers. The blood doesn’t represent Jesus’ suffering, but his forgiveness in the face of our evil. Jesus is not “paying the price” for us; this is no mere transaction. In Jesus God is “lavishing” grace on us. It’s a gift! And it’s done. We don’t need to spend our lives trying to be good enough. We’re already deeply beloved. Just live like it.
“God’s plan for the fullness of time is to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” Stop worrying about going to heaven. Everything will be gathered up in the incarnate love of God. Everything. All our successes and failures, our guilt and our shining, all gathered into God’s love made real.
— “We have been given an inheritance.” God’s love and our deep belonging are not conditional; we don’t have to deserve them or pay for them. We inherit them. They’re ours.
“You also were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is God’s presence in you, God’s love alive and radiating in you, connecting you with everyone else, since there’s only one Spirit in all of us. It’s a sign, God’s “seal,” promising that God is serious about this, that it’s really God at work in you. Your love is God’s “signature” in you. So live like it.

   The story of John’s death is an expose’ of the sordid debauchery of powerful people. It’s great TV material; you can just hear the trailer with the deep male voice-over: “In a world of sex, riches, power, violence and family intrigue, only one man can stand up for the truth…” The story reveals not only the tragedy of evil but also how petty and banal it is, how evil is basically just selfishness. It also paints a significant background to Jesus’ ministry, clarifying the scope and seemingly random nature of danger from political oppression. Truth-tellers like Jesus (or his disciples) could get killed. Mark is both commenting on the corruption of power, and he’s raising the level of suspense: the disciples’ mission is undertaken in the context of serious danger.
       But something else is also going on. Lectionary divisions hide it, but this is another Markan story-within-a-story. In Mark 6.7-13 (last week) Jesus sends out the disciples… in 14-29 (today) John the Baptizer is killed… and in 30 (next week) the disciples return and report their successes. Mark is saying something by sandwiching this story into the story of Jesus sending out the disciples. It’s as if Mark is saying, Yes, evil exists. But it’s surrounded by good, by the incontrovertible power of God, power for life and healing, not death. God gets the first and last word.
       Our preaching can parallel this good news. We can point out both the corruption of those in power, and also the good news that God is at work even amidst evil, violence, selfishness and injustice.

Call to Worship

Leader: God of peace, the world is troubled.
And you come among us with healing and grace.
God, the world is torn by evil.
And you surround us with goodness and mercy.
Your witnesses for righteousness are scorned.
But you uphold your beloved to do your will.
God of grace, we thank you, and we open our hearts to you.
Even in the shadow of injustice we worship you with joy.
Give us hearts of courageous mercy; give us the faith of Jesus.

Leader: Glorious God, as David danced before you, so we come with joy and praise.
      All: We worship you.  We praise you.  We open our hearts to you.
All Creation dances before you.  The stars and planets circle in joy and wonder.
      The seas wave and clap their hands.
The trees sway to the music of your wind.
      And our hearts sing your praise. 
      Alleluia! Glory be you to, now and forever.. Alleluia!

Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
     All:  Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
    You are holy, and we worship you.
You send us out into the world to do the work of healing.
But we have not always been healing.  Sometimes we have been hurtful.
     Holy One, have mercy.
We ourselves need healing.
     Christ, have mercy.
Give us power to face the unwholesome spirits in us and in our world.
     Holy One, have mercy.
     Grant us your Spirit, to work for justice and healing.
     Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, Life-Giver, you create all things, you establish the bounds and set the laws of all Creation, you are infinite and unknowable—yet you come among us in faithful presence.  We worship you. As David danced before the ark, our hearts rejoice in the presence of your Word.  Speak to us; sing to us.  May we hear the music of your grace, and lose ourselves in your beauty.  Amen.

The human heart is a rich mystery, full of good and evil.
We bring our hearts to you, God:
heal us of our fears,
open our eyes to see ourselves as you see us,
renew your Spirit in us,
and re-create us as the image of your love.
We thank you for your love, we ask your blessing,
and we open ourselves to your grace.  Amen.

Holy One, at times it seems we are surrounded by evil, but it is the other way around. There is evil in the world, but it is surrounded by good. Even the worst injustice is contained within your grace. There is more love than hate or fear. Renew your love in us, O God. Give us the eyes to see injustice, and the faith to act with mercy and grace. Give us the courage to love, and the power to heal. Amen.

God of grace and truth, as David danced before the ark, we come before your Word with joy. Speak to us and let your Word move us to dance your love in all our lives, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Holy God, you are present here and now. You speak to us. The words of scripture touch your presence, stirring deep within us. You call us to life, to new life, to life in your Spirit. You call us to serve and to witness. Help us to listen, to hear and to be transformed. We open ourselves to your presence and your truth. Amen.

God of grace, in this torn and troubled world you give us power to heal, to proclaim your good news, to anoint with blessing.  Open us to receive these gifts, that we may pass them on.  You send us in poverty of spirit.  Be our guide and companion, our power and our wealth, our journey and our home.

Listening Prayer  

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to intercessions)

Life-giving God,
you who send out healing amidst evil,
pour your power into us,
that we may be vessels of your good
even in this troubled world.


1.            Psalm 24, a paraphrase

The whole earth, end everything on it,
        belongs to the Holy One.
All Creation and all people are God’s.
        For God made it all—the deep mysteries,
         all flowing life and beauty.
How can we draw near to God?
        How does one witness God’s presence?
By having gentle hands and pure hearts.
         By honoring what is true,
         and not harboring the lies of fear.
In this way the Holy One blesses us;
         our saving God vindicates us.
This is the way of those who seek God,
         the community who seek the God of love.
O gates of life, swing wide with welcome!
         You doors to joy, open your arms:
         let the Glorious One come in and be with us.
Who is the Glorious One?
         The Beloved, gracious and loving,
         whose mercy ends all battles.
O gates of this moment, open to grace!
         You doors of attentiveness, open your arms:
         let the Glorious One come in and be with us.
Who is the Glorious One?
         The Beloved, gracious and loving.
         The Beloved is the glory of life.

2. Ephesians 1.3-14, a paraphrase
               [Click here for a paraphrase of the whole book of Ephesians.]

Blessed be God, who birthed real love among us in Christ,
and in that love has given us the blessings of heaven itself.
Since before Creation, in this love, God intended
that we would be holy, loved, and loving,
God’s own dear children.
In this love, so generously lavished on us,
we are redeemed, and all our wrongs are forgiven.
Stop and wonder at this grace, and give thanks!

May God give you the wisdom and wonder
to appreciate the mystery of God’s pleasure,
God’s design for all Creation,
which is to always be gathering everything,
seen and unseen, into the body of love.
When first heard this wonder, that you are part of the world’s salvation,
when you first opened yourself to this love,
it poured into you. God’s Spirit changed you.
Now you yourself are part of God’s promise.
The Spirit in you is the first bit of God’s redemption of the world.
That is God’s glory. Doesn’t it make you want to praise God?

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / After Communion

Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
Help us to be a force for good in the world, and to join you in the work of healing and justice for the sake of the blessing of all Creation, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives.  Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will.  We go now into the world filled with your joy, graced with your presence and dancing in your Spirit, in the name and the love of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
Send us into the world to witness for justice, to pray for peace, to work for healing, in the name and the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
We go out to face the powers of injustice, sustained by the power of your love. Help us, guide us and empower us even to dance with love and joy in the face of evil, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on title to view on the Music page.)

Bread of Justice         (Tune: HOLY MANNA
…or Love Divine, All Loves Excelling…or Joyful, Joyful
or even What a Friend We Have In Jesus)

God of justice and compassion, you who freed the Hebrew slaves,
you who feed the poor and powerless, you whose great forgiveness saves,
now you feed us, poor in spirit, through the grace of your dear Son;
now you call us, now you send us . May your loving will be done.

Feed us, God, the bread of justice: give us hearts to see and care.
We are one with all who suffer. They are yours; now send us there.
Knowing not if we shall triumph, give us faith to never cease;
give us strength to boldly witness, seeking justice, making peace.

Feed us, God, the wine of courage, faithfully to do your will.
Now we drink of resurrection, facing death but steadfast still.
To this world of heartless plunder, send us in a different vein:
by our fearless, gentle healing, to bear witness to your Reign.

Send Us, Jesus (Tune : All Through the Night)

Send us, Jesus, in your spirit, held in your love,
to this world so torn and troubled, held in your love.
When despair and pain have found us,
still your mercy wraps around us,
giving hope that may astound us,
held in your love.

Send us, Jesus, bearing witness, held in your love,
present with the poor and broken, held in your love.
Evil looms, so cruel, deceiving,
leaving victims shorn and grieving;
still we will not cease believing,
held in your love.

Send us with the power of healing, held in your love.
Give us courage, strength and wisdom, held in your love.
To the selfish powers, oppressing,
may we stand, your love expressing,
facing fear with grace and blessing,
held in your love.

Send us for the sake of living, held in your love.
Give us grace to be forgiving, held in your love.
Facing evil’s vile rejection,
fearless love is resurrection.
May we be your best reflection,
held in your love

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