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Jesus and Dancing
by Kerra from PA
based on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Today’s liturgy comes from a worship service designed by Ann Weems called “Jesus and Dancing.” In it the messenger steps out into a single spotlight and announces to the congregation, “In the book Footnotes and Headlines, Corita Kent quotes Jerome Murphy as saying: ‘If we left it to the Spirit there would be nothing in the church but Jesus and dancing.’ That’s right. If we left it to the Spirit, there would only be the Way and celebrating, The Love and the alleluias. The Living and the joy. The Gift and the thank you. The Song and the singing. The Good News and the shouting. But do we believe it? We’re given abundance and we complain. Every day is a birthday and we walk around lifeless. God gives us Light and we close our eyes. God hands us Christmas and we yawn. The miracle is that God is always there, not dwelling on our chaos and our deadness, but offering us change: Life – Joy – Song – Dance. What would it take to snap you awake? What would it take to make you alive and free to react, to respond, to live to God’s music?

Once there was a time when you danced. Remember? You weren’t afraid to dance then. Once you would cry and laugh and dance and sing. Once you could be angry and direct your anger appropriately. Once you could love fiercely. “Unless you turn and become like children…” When I think about Jesus and the children, I think about openness, about open arms – his and theirs. I think about holding and cherishing. I think about flowers and games in the sun. I think about squealing and giggling and unrestrained laughter. I think about the spirit with which he received them, accepting, loving, seeing the aliveness that adults often forfeit for security and prestige. I think of their spirit, trusting, free, ready, eager. “For such is the kingdom.” Should we sh-h-h-h the Kingdom of God?”

Ann Weems is one of today’s champions of the gospel. In words both simple and eloquent, she tells the truth of Holy Scripture – a truth that we long for, and a truth that scares us to pieces. What does it mean to become a church that is all Jesus and dancing? What does it mean to become alive in the gospel? What does it mean to cease from shushing the Kingdom of God? All very important questions that have no easy answers.

My impression of Sunday School’s past is very similar to that of Ann Weems that it was a place where children were taught manners, politeness, appropriate dress, memorization of scripture verses, and singing – but were taught very little about the truth of the gospel. In my younger days, Sunday School was already beginning to wane in attendance, but I did get the impression that it was about minding my p’s and q’s (whatever p’s and q’s stand for.) The more my questions dove into the heart of the gospel, the more reluctant the Sunday School teacher was to answer them, and the more she would blush at my insistance, the more times I was sent to the pastor or back home to try to get some real answers.

Doesn’t it seem funny to you that Jesus says that it’s children who really understand the gospel best, and yet we do our best to hide its complexities from them. Children are much more tuned in than we give them credit for. Cade has known the tones, both good and bad, of our voices for a long time, and yet he still can only speak a few words. His first learned word that initiated a response in him was “shimmy,” his form of dancing. It’s ironic that his first efforts at communication were ones of praise.

Portions of the story of David’s rise to power and exertion of that power are often found in children’s Bibles, but the story as it’s told, has all the complexities of intensely adult levels of emotional anxiety. For instance, this story about David’s dancing before the ark tells of David’s yearning to enjoy God, his struggle to please God, and his fear of displeasing God – all feelings we too tend to bottle up inside.

David’s first thought given to this honor of parading with the ark of the covenant is to rejoice, to offer praise, to dance joyfully, wonderfully, and prayerfully at the head of the celebration. David was selected for royal intentions as a boy, so some of that boyish eagerness was still very much a part of him. He led the whole house of Israel in celebrating in a festival atmosphere.

However, the carnival spirit was snuffed out when Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, and as the text reads, he was struck down dead by God’s hand. For centuries later, we’ve been trying to figure out what this means. My best guess is that Uzzah didn’t want the party to get out of hand. He stepped in to control it, to censor the dancing, to disallow any to and fro swaying of this holiest of the sacred relics. Why this would kill him, or so kindle God’s anger against him is still a mystery. However, I think that the message to us is something like – Don’t mess with God’s party. It may carry some negative consequences.

The interpretation of this act as an act of God’s wrath killed the party spirit in David too. He became so afraid of what he might do wrong that he sent the ark to someone else’s house instead of bringing it back into his care in his home city. He only brought it back when he heard about the great blessings it brought to Obed-edom and his family. When we let God in, it invites blessings, and the blessings sometimes scare us more than the predictable regularity of our all too normal days.

There are other tangents to the story about Saul’s daughter railing on David for his dancing display, and the barrenness it brought to her. There’s David’s own back and forth with God as to his emotions of joy and fear. But like in so many other stories of scripture, the message is DANCE, enjoy, this is your life. It’s a gift. Don’t waste it by being a sour-faced censor. Don’t bash people who are having fun. Don’t poop on God’s party. It won’t be good for your health. If you’re not quite sure yet that you can trust in such a lively gospel – one that sounds suspiciously contemporary and perhaps not very Presbyterian, try to recall the first question of the Westminster Catechism. It asks the learners of formal Christian doctrine, “What is the chief end of man?” (Today we might say of humankind.) The surprising answer is that the chief end for us all is to glorify God, and enjoy God forever. That doesn’t sound like an answer many Christians would formulate today. In fact, Christians, modern American Christians, are often stereotyped as hard-nosed, judgmental, fuddy-duddies.

What are we going to do to change our image? What are we going to do to allow the Spirit to fill our churches with Jesus and dancing? What are we going to do to welcome the children (not to make the church grow) but to learn what it means to live into the kingdom of God?

It is a criticism of our current ways to be sure. The Presbyterian Church continues to be known more by conflict than joy, more by decline than by laughter, more by its head than its heart. It makes me sad. My church, the church I love, struggles to be faithful to the heart of the gospel – and sometimes it seems as though we’re losing that struggle. But I take hope from David’s story that we haven’t quit dancing, we haven’t quit yearning for God’s blessing, we’ve just gotten scared that we might get something wrong so we keep God at arms length at the house of our Gittite neighbors.

In many other nations, especially in Korea and the African countries, the church is thriving on Jesus and dancing. In other denominations, there’s a real zeal for the joy of the gospel – even when the theology can be somewhat shallow. In non-church goers, there is a revival of spirit and good news that is taking place far apart from organized religion. It’s a jolt to be sure.

Another way I’ve heard the question raised is that on that final day, when we meet God one on one, the divine judgment won’t be about what we did or didn’t do, or what we got right and what we got wrong, God will simply ask us, “So, did you have a good time?”

Why else would God give us so much? It isn’t for us to be the keepers of the straight and narrow, that’s for sure. The folks with whom Jesus ministered were about as diverse as we can think of, and yet he offered the same gifts to all of them, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I could recount a bizillion stories, some scriptural, some inspirational, some fictional, some that happened to people I know that tell and retell this truth about God’s desire for us to be dancers, at least spiritual dancers even if we’re awkward on our feet. Our souls ought to dance with the good news that God loves us and offers us the world. I’ll close again with the messenger’s final words:

"Is there an alleluia deep inside you growing rusty? Awake and stand in the light. Praise God’s name with singing and dancing! Unbutton yourselves and stand open to catch the wind. May they say of us: They are drunk on new wine…. The new wine of the Spirit. Amen."

Weems, Ann. Reaching for Rainbows: Resources for Creative Worship. The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1980. pp. 91-99. “Jesus and Dancing.