Easter 3c, April 14,2013

April 15, 2013

Dancing With The Star
Psalm 30

1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I am a remarkable dancer. Those of you who attended this year’s Mardi Gras party already know this, but my capacity to dance in an extraordinary way is not widely known. It’s not often that I become a dancing machine, but it can happen. It’s not pretty when this happens, but what I lack in grace I make up with enthusiasm.

You’ve got to understand that I became a teenager in 1970 which is probably when dancing had become totally disconnected from anything resembling form. It was an exercise in doing whatever seemed vaguely responsive to the rhythm of the music. This is not to say there weren’t some amazing dancers in the day, but I wasn’t one of those people. Darkness was the friend of people like me at the dances I attended throughout my teenage years. So it wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what a remarkable dancer I could be.

I think my kids were teenagers when I first demonstrated my capacity to bust a move, and I found that it made quite an impression on them. It wasn’t until my daughter, Liza, graduated from college that I publicly unleashed the dancing man that had lain dormant for so many years. I think I made quite an impression on many of Liza’s friends. Over the course of that graduation weekend many of them told me they remembered me from the Friday night dance.

I don’t regularly practice my dance moves, so I was actually surprised that I was so fully able to hit my dancing stride on the night of the Mardi Gras party. But when Drew Pritt began singing “Sister Marmalade” I just couldn’t contain myself. It came upon me as a gift.

OK – it’s a ridiculous gift, but the truth is that it’s a wonderful thing for me to occasionally feel so free to be ridiculous. That is not a state of mind that I can create for myself. It truly is a gift to feel such joy that you don’t even mind looking like you are out of your mind. This is not how I feel most of the time. I may often appear to be out of my mind, but I’m generally all wound up about something that doesn’t feel like joy. Life is hard, and it always has been.

I love the way the ups and downs of life are expressed in this morning’s Psalm. The person who wrote the prayer we find in Psalm 30 was in touch with the world where we all abide. This Psalm came from a person who knew of the highs and the lows of life and who turned to God at all times. This Psalmist knew what it was to feel so sick that death seemed closer than life. This Psalmist knew people who would gloat over his or her demise. And this Psalmist knew how it felt to be rescued from the depth of despair.

This was a person who knew the bitterness of trouble, the sweetness of deliverance, and the joy of living in relationship with God. This person knew to cry-out to God in times of trouble and to give thanks when times were good. I love the message of this Psalm. I think it contains sentiments to which we can all relate, and it serves as a good reminder for us to seek to be in connection with God regardless of what’s going on in our lives.

The Psalms aren’t easily accessible to all of us. These ancient prayers come from people who had radically different lifestyles and practices than we have, but the emotions and the questions they ask aren’t foreign to us. And the Psalms are expressions of people who were trying to understand the place of God in their lives. They were trying to be faithful to God in good times and in bad situations. Many of the Psalms are attributed to King David and it’s likely that he had a hand in creating some of our Psalms, but I don’t think it’s helpful to think that they all came from him. The more likely situation is that they were generated by different people over different centuries. The Psalms reflect the prayers of people who had lived through a wide range of situations and experiences. The Psalms are the prayers of our spiritual ancestors, and they can help guide our souls through the circumstances of our time and place.

I dare say that the person who penned Psalm 30 was in a good place at the time he or she wrote this Psalm – there is an overriding tone of gratitude for where they were. This person was wearing the clothing of joy, but the memory of despair was fresh. And it may be that we are most likely to experience the lightness of joy when we have been in touch with the heaviness of despair.

I have found that I am most likely to be diligent in the exercise of prayer when I am most conscious of a troubling situation. I’m not pleased with myself about that, but I think it’s true, and I’m probably not alone in that way. I’ve also found that when I feel a sense of trouble I am most comforted by the exercise of prayer. When things are not going well it’s not a chore to pray – it’s a source of relief. When trouble is near the most comforting thing I know to do is to make an effort to be with God. It’s a way of taking a break from trying to fix whatever it is that has gone wrong.

I don’t think it’s bad to think of prayer as being a type of dance move with God. And I think this Psalm invites us to think of God as being our primary dance partner as we move through life. While praying requires us to make an effort to be quiet and to listen, I don’t think we should think of prayer as being non-active. I think prayer is an exercise. It’s the exercise of making ourselves totally available to God and it needs to be done with willingness to be whirled in whatever direction God wants to send us. Prayer is an exercise in allowing God to take the lead in our lives. And it’s an exercise in trying to be sensitive to the way God would have us move.

Because I am such an untrained dancer I don’t really know how to lead someone in a dance or to be lead, but I know that this interaction of leading and following is the key to graceful dancing. One person needs to provide the right signals for movement and the other person need to know how to respond. I’m guessing that’s how it works with people who are really good dancers, and I know that’s how it works in this dance we are in with God.

You wouldn’t think that it would be dangerous to pray the Psalms, but when Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a meditation on the Book of Psalms in Germany in 1940 he was banned from publishing anything else and he was forbidden to meet with anyone other than his family in Berlin. Bonhoeffer saw the Book of Psalms as the prayerbook of Jesus, and he considered it to be the truest guide for prayer that is available for those who seek to live and to pray as followers of Jesus Christ. The real danger of the Book of Psalms is the way in which it directs the heart of the reader to the source of true authority in life, and that didn’t fit with Nazi ideology.

It doesn’t seem like it would be dangerous to pray the Psalms, but it is. There’s no telling what we may find ourselves called to do if we allow God to be the one true authority in our lives.

To pray this morning’s Psalm is to seek to live in relationship with God regardless of what’s going on in our life. It is an acknowledgement that there are times in our lives that we are in need of being corrected by God, and how terrible it is to feel chastened by God, but as the Psalmist says, “God’s anger only lasts for a moment while God’s favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

This Psalmist recognized that it’s easy to become too comfortable in life and that there is a form of insensitivity that we can develop toward God that results in a lack of attention from God. The Psalmist speaks of God’s face being hidden, and the sense of dismay that can come to us when we have become too well established in life.

But material comfort is as fleeting as everything else. Trouble comes, and when we are having hard times we are probably more creative in our efforts to reach God, and this Psalmist engaged in a form of bargaining with God that God couldn’t resist. The Psalmist boldly asks: “What profit is there in my death? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?”

To dance with God is not to engage in a polite waltz. It’s not as orderly as a square dance. It’s more like a hot salsa dance where the partners swing and gyrate in ways that are hard to follow but un-ignorably passionate.

God invites us all to engage in this holy relationship that can best be described as a dance. We are invited to get so caught up in this relationship that we forget who’s watching. We are invited to pay total attention to the One who can truly lift us up when we’re down and who pulls us back when we’re heading in the wrong direction. Of course Jesus was the one who danced perfectly with God, and on Easter morning they busted the most unforgettable dance move of all time!

The resurrection was the move that changed everything, and that’s the move that has brought us together today. We are invited to keep that dance alive, and if we will be diligent in this exercise of listening and responding to the instruction provided by the Holy Spirit we will all become remarkable dancers in the ballroom of God.

So move it like you don’t want to lose it!
Thanks be to God. Amen.


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