Sermon preached July 12, 2009
Text: II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Warning – the following story is rated PG-13. Now that I have your attention… You heard about the fundamental Christian preacher who spoke often against the evils of premarital sex - - - he was concerned it might lead to dancing.
The church deals with serious matters. What we do here is serious business. A couple of weeks ago I quoted psychotherapist Michael Eigen to describe the ministry of the church: “in this business we deal with broken lives and heartbreak, and we do so with our own broken hearts” (The Electrified Tightrope, 277). That is serious stuff.
In a couple of weeks I will be in Chicago teaching a ten-day class in Christian ethics for persons licensed for pastoral ministry in The United Methodist Church. Unlike ordained pastors, those licensed are not required to complete seminary, but have to do summer course work along the lines of a seminary curriculum, and I was asked to teach the class in Christian ethics. One of the texts for the course is The Pastor as Moral Guide. I recently finished reading it and heard powerful stories within it about the kind of serious issues the church confronts in its ministry: a family with two hard-working parents seeking help with their fourteen year-old who has violated the towns curfew and is probably smoking marijuana; a couple married nineteen years with two adolescent daughters on the verge of a divorce because the woman is seeing someone else who she says makes her free and happy and loved; another marriage where the wife is being physically abused by her husband; a church staff situation where the senior pastor is made aware that the associate pastor, who is married with young children, is having an affair with a parishioner who is also married with young children. It is easier to use stories from the book, but from my own experience I can tell you that they are not out of the ordinary for the ministry of the church. There is heartbreak in the world and the church is about the serious business of bringing healing. We need to be a place where we see the heartbreak in our own lives, where we see the heartbreak in the world, and where we offer each other and the world the healing power of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
But if we are not also teaching you how to dance, if we are not teaching each other how to dance with all our might, we are not being the church. We are not doing our job. The church deals with serious issues, but we should never be dour. Those churches that through history condemned anything that looked joyous, raucous, that smacked of laughter and pleasure, somehow must have missed this part of the Bible. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. Truth be told, most of us probably grew up in churches that while they did not condemn dancing, also didn’t think it was very “proper” for church – which was always to be quiet and pious and somber. We deal with serious issues in the church, and silence has its place in worship, but the church should also be a “Hoorah!” place, a place of laughter and not just tears, a place that is serious without being somber and dour, a place that is realistic and hopeful at the same time, a place of joy and dancing even as we take seriously the sorrow, pain, tragedy, hurt, and injustices of the world. David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
Frederick Buechner, minister and author has written some of the wisest words about vocation I have ever read, vocation meaning “the work a person is called to by God” (Wishful Thinking, 118-119). Buechner argues that we all hear all kinds of voices in our lives, and so distinguishing the voice of God takes careful listening. How do we figure out what God might be calling us to do in our lives? By and large, a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you most need to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you’ve probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you’ve not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Deep gladness, joy, dancing. If we are not learning how to dance together with all our might, if we are not schooling each other in joy, we are not being the church.
I need to add a small caveat to Buechner’s words. The job to which God calls us will not always be delightful in every moment or in every respect. The Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is asking all of its congregations and pastors to think more broadly, more deeply, more intentionally and more systematically about their ministry - - - and a part of doing that will be to document these conversations in goal statements and ministry plans. The thought of all the additional paperwork being asked does not bring me deep gladness, even though I think what is being asked can be used to help us in our ministry as a church. Not every moment is a high point, no matter the job to which we are called, but being in ministry with you here often gladdens my heart.
We as the church of Jesus Christ are invited to be a place of great joy, a place of dancing and music, a hallelujah place. I don’t think we are fully where we want to be yet, but I see times when we are just such a place. The past Thursday the Duluth-area United Methodist Men held their annual golf tournament and thanks go to Irv St. John, Jim Terry, Kent Giese for planning this event. It is a nice way to get United Methodist men from the area together, and those who work together to plan the event seem to enjoy that. We also had our fourth annual Coppertop Drive-In. Because of the golf tournament I arrived late, but when I got here, I could not help but feel the sense of joy among those who were here to be a part of the drive-in. It is a lot of work, but coming together to accomplish a shared task brings joy and for me to contribute to the day a little by cleaning up some trash, by helping a little boy who had spilled his milk shake and was crying, by picking up a mop, really felt good. Thanks to Lisa Blade for being the lead coordinator of this event and for each and every one of you who were part of the day.
I think we need to build on these kind of experiences here – not to do big Coppertop Drive-In events more often, but to find ways we can come together in groups to share tasks – serving a meal together at the Damiano Center or Union Gospel Mission or CHUM, getting a few families together for a picnic and conversation to discuss family life in our hectic world, bringing people together to discuss a book, painting a room here at the church. Some of this happens. More can, and our joy will be enhanced.
Two final, and quick remarks about the dancing joy of the Christian life. Our dancing joy should always seek to enlarge the circle of dancers. I am struck in the passage we read just how often we hear the word “all”: David and all the people, David and all the house of Israel, with all their might, David and all the house of Israel (again), all the people, all the people (yes, twice). The community of dancing joy that God creates in our life together is meant to be an inclusive community. David’s wife, Michal, who is herself the daughter of a king, despises David for his dancing, and at least a part of the reason for this is that she thought his behavior unbecoming, vulgar, too common. He, the king, danced with all the people. He was inclusive when some thought the role of the king was to be more exclusive. In the dancing joy of God, there is always room for more dancers, singers, musicians.
The dancing joy of God should always seek to enlarge the circle of dancers. The dancing joy of God also gives us energy to reach out to the world in love and care. The joy we know here is not meant to be hoarded, but move us to care for the world. At the end of the story, food is distributed among all the people – bread and meat and raisin cakes. One function of the joyous celebrations in the life of Israel was to distribute food, to make sure no one went hungry. Joy and care for the world. At his best, the recently deceased Michael Jackson combined those well. When he was teaching the world to dance to Billie Jean he was also organizing world hunger relief through We Are the World. Whatever the other more tragic dimensions of his life, and there were many and we need not consider his whole life exemplary, still in some small way he taught us how to dance and care.
The dancing joy of God in Christian community always moves us out of our doors to invite others to the dance and to meet the needs of the world. Our deep gladness, the deep needs of the world - - - Dance, Dance Dance! Amen.