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.