Saturday, July 11, 2009
Shall We Dance? A sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost
“...When those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.
--2 Samuel 6:13-17 (NRSV)
What is up with David, dancing like that? Has the leader of the Israelites cracked up completely? Maybe it was too much of a strain, going from shepherd boy to soldier to court musician to ruler and priest. Look at the guy, would you? He has an army to lead, a rag-tag nation to manage, and he's out there building a tent for the ark, inviting thousands and thousands of people, calling up noisy musicians, and leaping around half-naked like some holy idiot, like some freakish pop star with only one glove...
I have to confess, when I first read this story, I fell right in next to David's wife, Michal. She's the one up in the ivory tower, far from the madding crowd, watching the party and feeling utterly appalled. Michal was raised to be proper. She was raised to do what people expect. She respected her elders and followed their commands, even when it didn't match her wishes. Even when it made her life really hard. Even when it kept her from making her own choices at all. So when she thought about her parents, her teachers, and her proper role, and then looked out at her beautiful, unpredictable husband, whirling and leaping half-naked in the midst of the crowd... I can understand her distress. I can feel some of her frustration. I can see why she let her own decorum slip as her bitterness rose. This woman, this pretty little pawn of kings and princes—her reputation and her husband were the only things she could claim as her own. And there he was, whirling wildly in ecstatic prayer, sharing too much of himself with all those common servant girls, playing the fool in the name of God?!?
Growing up, I was never much of a dancer, and, outwardly at least, I was never really wild. Knock-kneed and pigeon-toed, I was afraid of mistakes, afraid of being out of step. I was intensely aware of what others might be thinking of me. I was so focused on their imagined “shoulds” and “oughts” that I couldn't feeli the stirrings of my fledgling spirit, flapping blindly towards God. I was unsure of the rhythm in my heart, mostly deaf to the music surging in my soul...
I was the one at the window, all prim and proper, saying, “Come inside. Stop all your wildness. What will people think?”
But God's Wild Spirit kept dancing around me. First it was the music on the radio: three days of live broadcasts from a folk festival, that touched my fearful heart, opening me to the creative joy that transcends cultures. Then there was a folkdance class that welcomed beginners. They taught me how to join hands and move with the shared energy of others. Later came community theatre shows that taught me to care about lives far different from my own.
As I wrestled with my vocation, I watched space shuttles zoom above and bumblebees bumble along, blissfully ignorant that their flight defied the laws of physics. I heard of Nelson Mandela's liberation. I stood at the edge and heard the roar of the ocean unchained. I discovered little weeds cracking the pavement and the Berlin Wall coming down.
In other words, The Ark of God kept rolling in front of my nose, moving me, dazzling me, urging me up and out. I tried to stay indoors, but people kept up such a noise outside, harping on themes of freedom. I tried to keep my nose in a book, but people kept handing me shovels. I tried to stay on the sidelines, but God took my hand and led me into the dance! I put my right foot in...took my right foot out...did the Hokey-Pokey and shook myself about... Lo and behold: turning around— turning around my thinking and my fear, turning to the work of justice and peace-making...really WAS what it was all about!
The years have unfolded. I've learned right foot, left foot, right hand, left hand...I've gotten to the point where I'm even ready to put my whole self in, knock-knees, pigeon toes, and all! I still need to shake myself about a lot--that's part of the reason I have a farm. All that hard work, all that playing in the dirt, shakes off the inertia and keeps me moving. It keeps me feeling whole and connected enough to reach out to the rest of the world.
Recently, our farm had two visitors -- two young women from different parts of the country who wrote, independently, to ask for a week or two on the farm. It seems they'd been having their own crises of confidence, like Michal's bad day at the big Israelite Jamboree. They were both struggling in that very hard space between the demands and expectations of others, their own surging feelings, and the aching hunger of their spirits for a more meaningful way of life.
Jokingly at first, we christened our time together, “The School for Wild Girls.” We made it our business to talk about everything under the sun as we played in the dirt and learned to use power tools. Together, we raged about the inequities of the world and the embarrassments of daily life. We teased each other. We encouraged each other. We drank Moxie. We sang hymns and old folk songs. They went out to the pasture, amidst our long-horned, shaggy beasts, armed only with curry combs. They literally took the bull by the horns.
On Midsummer's Night, we had a bonfire with our Wild Girls. We invited over some musicians—no tambourines or cymbals, but we did have a harp, bagpipes and fiddles—enough for some joyful noise. As the flames crept, then leapt and swept over the tree-prunings, old pallets and busted chairs, we thought about fire: the fire hidden in our Spirits, the embers seldom exposed to God's wild, igniting wind. We thought of all the fears that held us back from our own callings. We wrote them on slips of paper and threw them into the flames.
The piper struck up the pipes. One of our musician friends impulsively grabbed my hand, told everyone else to join in, and led us, dancing and laughing, around the fire. We stumbled, we wobbled...our steps weren't always in time, but the music lifted us out of all our griefs and anxieties. We grinned like the fools that we were. We shouted with unfettered joy, there in the circle, there in the wildness and warmth. We danced in defiance of all our fears. We danced in defense of all we loved. We danced in devotion and prayer. And we danced with all our might!
When they stepped away, at the end of their visits, they had to return to their own people and places. But they went with new confidence and strength—yes, with Moxie. They had taken the bull by the horns. Like the Ephesians, they had gotten a glimpse into the promise of a Renewed Creation. They had been not just welcomed, but adopted, into a new family. They had left Michal's shadows, stepped across the threshold, and joined The Wild Girls.
Now our church is having its own Michal Moment. Here, in this time-worn structure, built by our forebears and maintained by our own hands, we gather, framed by shadows. We've heard the reports of wise advisors, and everything is shifting. We know our status is tenuous, and our efforts to hold our place have exhausted us to the point that we can hardly think beyond bake sales and beans. How can we manage? How shall we survive?
Listen again to the Good News in Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
"[God] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as [we were chosen] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love. [We were destined] for adoption as [God's] children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of [God's] will, to the praise of the glorious grace that [God] freely bestowed on us in the Beloved... In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance...so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory...This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people..." --Ephesians 1:3-14, excerpts (NRSV)
This letter speaks of Adoption...Praise...Hope...Redemption...Glory! This is what we're called to be about! We are called to open our arms, to roll up our sleeves, to wave our banners of welcome and do the hokey-pokey!!! We are called to focus NOT on our woes, but on our wondrous mission: to be the hands and feet of God, dancing the Good News into the world! Too tired? Lean on the Holy Spirit. Let it move you. Not a good dancer? Leave your fears behind. God has enough grace for all of us.
It is hard --it is hard-- not to stare like Michal, clench your teeth or your fists, roll your eyes at a dance or a parade. And it's hard to figure out if there's a place for us out there in that great celebration.
It can seem daunting to step outside of what we're used to—exhausting, even.
But it also takes energy to hold yourself back. Have you ever noticed this?
It costs a certain amount of effort to get your dander up and dig in your heels.
Anxiety, fear, resistance...they're not fuel-efficient. They can nickle and dime you, wear you down, push you to the limit, consume all you have to give, and deplete your spirit, without ever moving you ahead.
On Independence Day, many of us stood on the church lawn and watched the parade. But we didn't lurk in the shadows. We were right out front, up close to the action, waving back to the folks in the parade. You see? We already understand how to do this! Instead of a dark, sleeping sanctuary, a church on its deathbed, onlookers saw a witness, a dedicated crowd serving up a feast!
Our challenge, now, is to carry that shining ark of God's promise out from the shadows, to keep it visible, in broad daylight. We may just be shepherds, or soldiers, princesses or servants, maybe all of the above. We may have come to this place out of duty or obligation or just the need for a share of the food, the rumour of some kind of feast. But here we are and...did you hear that music? Do you feel like joining in? We will have to fill out our dance cards together, think about who we can invite, where we might look for potential partners. We will likely need to learn some new dances with some unfamiliar steps. We will need to think about the wheels on that cart, and plan for where we want the ark to go.
It may feel like a wilderness, a desert, but hold on: God is here with us! We were there, in God's creative wildness, at the dawn of time, as adopted and beloved children. God's Spirit even now moves among us. Somewhere in between Michal and David we stand, on the threshold of the future. We can wring our hands, or we can open them. We can stay in the shadows, or we can step out, get the wheels turning, put up a tent, praise the Lord, and dance with all our might!