Dangerous Dancing

Dance

2 Samuel 6:1-5; 12b-19 NRSV

Mark 6:14-29 NRSV

The first test that I took in seminary is called the Myers-Briggs test. It is a test that identifies your personality-type. After taking the test, I met with my professor who saidL “I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that you are an extrovert. You love people. And if you are ever going to be a pastor, then loving people certainly has some advantages. However, the bad news is that it also has some disadvantages. You love people, which means your probably want people to love you. And this is where extroverted preachers like yourself tend to get into trouble. You need to be careful as a preacher that you are preaching to please God and not just to please your congregation.”

That may be the primary reason that I have chosen to use a tool we call the Revised Common Lectionary. It is designed to help the preacher preach the entire Bible, and not just the parts of the Bible that might endear him or her to a congregation.

But I must admit, first thing, every Monday morning, I read the lectionary texts, hoping and praying that it might lead me to preach what we preachers like to call a “sugar-stick sermon,” something that will bring comfort rather than challenge, consolation rather than confrontation, something that will cause people to come up to me afterwards in the Narthex and say: “Thank you for that delightful sermon, pastor. We just love you!”

So, you can imagine my consternation this past Monday morning when I read the gospel lesson about the fate of our old friend John the Baptist, that eccentric character from the Advent season that gets us ready for Christmas every year, that one who prepared the way of the Lord by faithfully preaching the truth in the wilderness, that one who also preached truth to power by calling out the immorality of the King.

And what does he get for faithfully standing for the truth of the Word of God? He gets his head served up on a silver platter.

So, on Monday morning, I said to myself. “Ah man! Nobody wants to hear that!” I think I’ll preach from the Old Testament this week. Let’s see, it is from 2 Samuel, chapter 6.

After King David led a great army to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from the Philistines, David and his army were so overcome with emotion that they engaged in festive dancing.

The scripture tells us that David danced before God “with all his might.” He danced before God with all that he had and with all that he was, as he was utterly and completely overcome by the joy of God.

Now, this is more like it! Here’s something that will preach! My sermon can be entitled: “Let’s Dance!” And the people will love it!

David danced, affirming the rule of God. David danced, consumed by the Word of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God.

Oh, who is not going to love this! David’s dance is certainly better than the dance of Herodias in our gospel lesson this morning!

But then, just when I felt a happy sugar-stick sermon coming on, I read this: “And Michal despised David for it.”

Michal, David’s wife, looked out the window at David’s exuberant dancing in the street and despised him for it.

I like the congregational response that is printed in our order of service after the scripture lesson is read on Sunday mornings: “This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.” However, sometimes, I think we should add: “Whether we like it or not, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.”

The truth is, whether we like it or not, the dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. The dance of the gospel is a dance that is despised by many. The active affirmation of the rule of God does not set well with the Michals and the Herods of the world. In fact, people are likely to lose their heads if they claim too much for the gospel.

The dance of prosperity preachers are much easier steps to follow. The message of false prophets who distort the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we would just straighten up and pray right and live right, good health and great wealth will come our way. If we just accept Jesus as our Lord and our Savior, everything is going to be alright.

However, the dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel contains steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint, if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God, if we love others as Christ loves others, if we allow the Word of God to challenge us, confront us, consume us, to control us, then suffering is inevitable.

For the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a very radical drum beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of love and of grace.  And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look pretty foolish.

We may look like a fool…

…when we offer friendship to someone who can not offer us anything in return.

…when we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, visiting someone in prison or working in a homeless shelter.

…when we love our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers.

…when we give sacrificially and consistently to a church that is always encouraging us to give even more.

…when we speak truth to those in power.

And we might look foolish anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without reservations.

I believe this is the dance of the gospel. It is a dance of immense joy, but also a dance of enormous suffering. For the Herods and Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.

We have all heard their voices, echoes that discourage such dancing:  “Don’t get too close to him. Don’t give your heart to her. As human beings they will only let you down.”

“Don’t bother with church. The giving never ceases. The work never ends. The disappointments never stop.”

“Don’t love that man.  He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.  And he will probably never be able to reciprocate. Don’t love that woman. She is poor and destitute. She is too needy. She will demand too much.”

The voices Michal and Herod say: “Don’t give yourself away to another. Loving like that is too risky. It leads to too much pain, heartache and grief.”

However, there is another voice.  A voice which was heard by David and by John the Baptist. It is a voice that says: “Dance!  Hold nothing back.  Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to beat of the heart of the gospel.  Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously.  Lose yourself.  Empty yourself.  Pour yourself out.”

Will this love cause pain? It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it. So, dance.

Garth Brooks once sang a song entitled “the dance.” There’s a line in that song that goes, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”

Loving others will inevitably bring pain.  However, never loving to avoid that pain is never really living.  There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life.

The Revised Common Lectionary has a gospel and a Hebrew lesson. It also has a Psalm.

The Psalm for this week is the 24thPsalm. As we avoid the dance of false prophets with steps that are easier to follow and join the dance of the gospel, even if it brings us pain, may we remember these hopeful words:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?

Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false… They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.

So, let’s dance!  Let us go out and dance in the streets of our world consumed and controlled by the Word of God, the radical beat of the gospel of Christ! Be warned, we might look like fools, people will despise us, and we will suffer for it. However, the blessings we receive from the Lord, our vindication from the God of our salvation, is well worth it.

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Let’s Dance

old-guy-dancing

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Samuel 6

Modern Trinitarian thought uses a word spoken by Gregory of Nazi-anzus and Maximus the Confessor to describe how three can be one. These ancient thinkers referred to the inner life and the outer working of the Trinity as peri-co-reses. It means literally in the Greek, “to dance,” suggesting a dynamic, intimate relationship shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ has no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, [God] was not love…

 

And that, writes Lewis,

is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity, God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, a kind of dance…

Lewis continues:

And now, what does it all matter?  It matters more than anything else in the world.  The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this Three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: (or putting it the other way around) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his [or her] place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

I want to assert that the the problem with most churches today is that there is just not enough dancing. For some reason, maybe it is from our Puritan roots, church people are too reserved and rigid. Most of us prefer to keep our faith personal, private, than let it all hang out for others to see.

There’s a great dancer in our Bible that I believe the church could learn a thing or two from. We read about him in 2 Samuel 6.

After David led a great army to get possession of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to Jerusalem, David and his army were so overcome with what was going on that they engaged in festive rejoicing and dancing. They were seized by what James Newsome, New Testament professor of Columbia Seminary calls “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy.”

The scriptures say that David sang and danced before God “with all his might.” He sang and danced before God with all that he had and with all that he was.

You might say that David was God-intoxicated. And when you become God-intoxicated, so filled with the Holy Spirit of God, there’s just know way you can keep it private.

When David and his wife Michal arrived home from the party and began preparing to turn in for the night, David, if he was anything like me, was probably hoping to hear some words of affirmation from his wife. Something like, “Honey, you were so wonderful today. As I listened to you sing and watched you dance in the streets, you just don’t know how proud I was of you! You danced your heart out! And why shouldn’t you have, you brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem where it belongs!”

However, the words David hears are something like: “David, you looked like a drunken fool.”

Perhaps David did act like an intoxicated fool. Uninhibited and unrestrained, he lost all self-control. Seized by “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy,” David held absolutely nothing back. David surrendered to the Spirit which had filled him.

David danced, charged by the rule of God. David danced, electrified by the justice of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God. And there was absolutely nothing personal or private about this dance. This dance caused a scene. This dance created a fuss. This dance got people’s attention. This dance challenged the status quo. This dance disturbed the peace.

And Michal despised David for it.

This is what happens when one drinks what Paul calls in Ephesians “huge draughts of the Spirit of God.” This is what happens when one becomes God-intoxicated. There is no way to control it, temper it. There is no way to conceal it. There is no way to regulate it to two hours on a Sunday morning. When one becomes drunk with the rule of God, the love of God, one’s feet will inevitably move to the dance of the gospel, and one will be despised for it.

The truth is: the dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. Because the active affirmation the rule of God does not set well with the Michals of the world.

The dance of personal, private piety are easier steps to follow, aren’t they? The message of false prophets watering down the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we are good moral people, if we don’t drink, dance, smoke or chew or go with girls who do, then God will bless us and one day send us to heaven.

The dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel are steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord; if we pray right and live right; if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint; if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God; if we love others as Christ loves us, unconditionally, unreservedly; if we question the status quo, if we disturb the peace; if we dance to the beat of this drum, then we will invariably upset some folks.

That’s a good question for all of us who are attempting to follow Jesus, is it not? In your walk with Jesus, are you getting any push back?”

The answer should always be “yes,” for the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a radical beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of a scandalous love and an offensive grace. And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look like fools.

And as Luke warned us in Acts chapter 2 last week, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we may even be accused of public drunkenness, even if it before 9am in the morning.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer our friendship and our food to a group of people on a late Sunday afternoon who can offer us nothing in return.

We will be called drunken fools we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, visiting a nursing home, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, or spending a week of your hard earned vacation as a counselor at church camp.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer love and forgiveness to our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers in need.

We will be called drunken fools anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without any strings attached.

We will be called drunken fools when we continue to challenge the status quo, question immoral systems of injustice, and disturb the peace.

For the Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.

We have all heard their voices: loud echoes which discourage such dancing. “Don’t get too close to him. Do not give your heart to her. You will be sorry. They will only let you down.”

“Don’t love that man. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it and will never reciprocate.”

“Don’t love that woman. She is too needy. She never does anything to help herself. She will demand too much.”

The voices of Michal say: “The system is not that broken. The poor get what they deserve. Most minorities have it pretty good in our country, and they are the real racists. Public education is not worth fighting for. Healthcare is not a right.”

The voices of Michal say: “Keep your faith private, personal. Keep it between you and God. Don’t stir up trouble. Just sit on a pew and look forward to going to heaven. Sing behind stained glass. Forget about being missional. Don’t worry about your neighbor. Don’t waste your time giving yourself away to strangers. Loving like that is crazy. It is too risky. It leads to too much pain.”

However, there is another voice, a Divine voice that was heard by David: “These are serious times, so let’s drink large draughts of the Holy Spirit, until we are all God-intoxicated! Let’s sing and dance in the streets with all we have.” It is a voice which says: “Let’s Dance!  Hold nothing back. Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to the beat of the heart of the gospel. Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously. Lose yourself. Empty yourself. Pour yourself out. Question the systems of injustice. Defend the powerless. Stand up for the marginalized. Challenge the status quo. Disturb the peace.”

Will this love cause pain?  It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it.

You’ve heard me quote the great Oklahoman theologian, Garth Brooks’: “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”

Dancing the dance of the gospel will inevitably bring pain. However, never truly following in the steps of Jesus to avoid that pain is never really living. There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life or being a Sunday morning pew-napper.

So, let’s get our backs up off the wall! Let’s drink huge draughts of the spirit of God, and let us dance!  Let’s go out and dance in the streets of Enid and have seizures of prophetic ecstasy!

Now, be warned! We will look like drunken fools, and we will suffer for it. But the immense joy of God, the joy of abundant life, now and forevermore, is well worth it.

The First Mile

mile 2

Matthew 5:38-48 NRSV

These passages that are part of the Sermon on the Mount are some of the most difficult passages to preach in the entire Bible. They are so counter-cultural, so offensive to the common-sense of our American family-value system, that we would just rather ignore them.

But these are the words of Jesus, and they are some of his very first words. So, if we want to call ourselves Christian, we can’t ignore them.

So, to avoid offending too many people, we preachers use a little trickery, a little flimflam, a little smoke and mirrors. We pull this off by talking less about what the passages are saying, and more about what they are not saying. It’s a technique that we preachers often employ to basically ignore what they are actually saying.

For example:

“But if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other also.”

Now, this is not saying that should be pushovers.

“Someone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you!”

This is not saying that we should help those who are perfectly capable of helping themselves.

“Love your enemies.”

Now this is not saying we have to like them!

See how that is done? Preachers get by with this all the time, and their congregations let them, because they are only preaching what we all wished the Sermon on the Mount actually said.

And then, to put the finishing touch on this chicanery, we quickly skip to the end of the passage and point out the last verse: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It is then we say: “You see. None of us can be perfect. Therefore, Jesus really does not expect us to do any of these things. He is just laying out some high ideals—ideals that we can never live up to.”

That’s when we preachers leave the Sermon on the Mount and go off on a tangent about grace and the need to accept Christ as our personal savior because none of us are perfect, and we all fall short of the glory of God.

Now, I believe in grace. I need grace. I am by no means close to being perfect, so grace is my friend. Grace is my hope. Grace is amazing. But here’s the problem with using grace as an excuse to not act on the offensive counter-cultural commands of the Sermon on the Mount, and it is a huge problem— At the end of the sermon, Jesus (as if he knows we will try to use grace as some get-out-of-doing-what-I-say card) says:

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!

So, what are we to do with these passages? “Do not resist the evil doer?” Really? Someone slaps us in the face, Jesus really wants us to turn and give them the other cheek to slap? And are we really supposed to give people the very shirts off our backs? Give to everyone who begs of us? Go the second mile? Really?

No, this just can’t be. For it’s directly opposed to almost every value we possess.

We read these words of Jesus, and we have a problem. Let’s face it. We have a big problem.

Now, are you ready for some good news?

Well, you are going to have to wait, because the bad news is still coming.

The truth is: these very difficult and problematic words of Jesus expose an even bigger problem for some of us. I know it does for me. Think about it…

When was the last time that you have taken a stand against an evil, an injustice, and because of that stand, because you stood up and spoke out, the supporters of that evil not only sent you a nasty email, defriended you on facebook, personally confronted you, but physically attacked you by slapping you in the face?

What I am asking is: when was the last time that you even had an opportunity to turn the other cheek?

When was the last time someone who was very cold approached you and knew you well enough to ask you to give them the very coat that you were wearing? —Ask you to to sacrifice warmth so they could be warm? When was the last time that you even had the opportunity to offer someone in need the shirt off your back?

When was the last time that someone with limited mobility or perhaps a disability, whether that disability be physical, mental or spiritual, asked you to walk just one mile on their behalf? When was the last time that you even had the opportunity to go an extra mile? For mile two is impossible without mile one.

When was the last time that someone in great need came to you and begged for you to help them? I am not talking about the person you see holding a sign at an intersection, “Help. Homeless Vet.”  I am talking about someone whose name you knew, someone who knew your name, who felt like they could trust you, coming to you personally, swallowing their pride, and asking you for help?

When was the last time that you even made an enemy? After all, isn’t confrontation something we all like to avoid? Isn’t it better, especially in this day and time to mind our own business, keep our thoughts to ourselves?

Our problem is not that we are unwilling to turn the other cheek. Our problem is that we are so private, so unconcerned about anyone other than ourselves, that we never cause any confrontations.

Our problem is not that we are unwilling to give someone the shirt off our back. Our problem is that we are never around anyone who needs our coat.

Our problem is not that we are unwilling to go the second mile. Our problem is that we lack the empathy to put ourselves in the shoes of another and go one mile.

Our problem is not that we are unwilling to give to needy who personally approach us and beg of us. Our problem is that we do not personally know anyone in need.

Our problem is not that we are unwilling to love our enemies. Our problem is that most of us have never created any. We are so self-absorbed, so afraid of any controversy that might cause us a little pain, we simply never put ourselves out there to make any enemies.

When others are slandering another in our presence, we seldom, if ever, come to the other’s defense. If someone is voicing a position which is obviously against our faith in the Christ who taught us to love all people as we love ourselves, we prefer to keep our mouths shut to avoid any drama.

And if we ever become bold enough to speak out, to take up for another or some gospel principle, if we know we have offended another, we usually go out of our way to always avoid that other.

And because we stay away from them, because we keep our enemies at such a safe distance, we are simply nowhere close enough to them to even think about loving them.

You’ve heard the wisdom of keeping you friends close and you enemies closer.

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite preachers, tells us why:

You see the lines in their faces and the way they walk when they’re tired. You see who their husbands and wives are, maybe. You see where they’re vulnerable. You see where they’re scared. Seeing what is hateful about them, you may catch a glimpse also of where the hatefulness comes from. Seeing the hurt they cause you, you may see also the hurt they cause themselves. You’re still light-years away from loving them, to be sure, but at least you see how they are human even as you are human, and that is at least a step in the right direction. It’s possible that you may even get to where you can pray for them a little, if only that God forgive them because you yourself can’t, but any prayer for them at all is a major breakthrough.

Through the Sermon on the Mount I believe Jesus is urging us to come close enough to others that we will truly be able to see them as children of God, as brothers and sisters. There is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.” The sun shines, and the rains fall the same on all of us.

Now, here is the good news:

The good news is: You are here! You have put yourself out there. You are not so self-absorbed and selfish that you stayed home this morning. Your self-concern has not crowded out your moral concern.

The good news is that before you go the second mile, you have to go the first mile, and because you are here, in this place, in this community, listening to the difficult words of Jesus, you are well on your way to going that first mile!

The good news is: You are here, and together, as a church, we are going to go places where we will encounter people who are in such need that they may ask for our coats. And we will have opportunities to sacrificially offer them our shirts.

We will get to know people who are so desperate that they may beg of us. And we will have opportunities to selflessly give.

Together, we will speak up, speak out, and stand firm for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for prophetic justice, for the unconditional love of all people. And sadly, because of this, we will make some enemies. We are apt to stir up so much anger in some people that they will not only defriend us on Facebook, send us ugly emails, but they may want to slap us in the face!  But together, because it is impossible to do it alone, together, as part of the household of God, we will not ignore them. We will pray for them. We will learn to love them.

And no we are not perfect, far from it. But we are at least on our way to becoming like the wise who built a house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.