Easter 3c, April 10, 2016

April 11, 2016

Dancing With God

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 isn’t something I like to make a big deal about, but I’m gifted in an unusual way. It’s not one of the gifts of the spirit that Paul lists, and it’s not something that comes over me very often, but I am a remarkable dancer. I’m not a particularly good dancer, but people often make remarks about my style of dancing. What I lack in grace I make up with enthusiasm, and it makes people feel good to see me dance. At least that’s how I choose to interpret the pointing and laughter.


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.  But that was only the beginning of my rebirth as a dancer. When our daughter Liza, graduated from college they had a dance one evening as part of the festivities, and that was the night I fully embraced the dancing man that I was born to be. 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.


OK – it’s more of a capacity to be ridiculous than an ability to dance, but the truth is that it feels like a gift when I’m in a situation where I feel 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 I don’t always feel like dancing. Neither did the author of this prayer that comes to us from so long ago.


I love the way the ups and downs of life are expressed in this morning’s Psalm. The person who wrote this prayer was in touch with the same world that we 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 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 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 or accurate 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’s 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’ve 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’m in touch with 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, and of handing the trouble to God.


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.


Sharla and I actually took some dance lessons last year. We were trying to learn the basic steps of swing dancing, but it wasn’t easy for a natural born dancer like myself to learn an actual form of dancing. I made an effort to do as I was taught, and what I really found challenging was the need for me to lead the dance. The key to graceful dancing is for one person to provide the right signals for movement and for the other person need to know how to respond. It’s not a memorized pattern as much as it’s a series of movements that you put together in different ways.


I like to think this is how it works in this dance we are in with God. God knows what’s going on with us. God nudges us in certain ways, and if we are sensitive to those nudges we have an idea of what steps we are to take. Living in such a relationship with God is a form of a dance, but it’s not all fun and games.


You wouldn’t think that it would be dangerous to pray the Psalms, but this was not the case for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’m guessing many of you are familiar with the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer published a meditation on the Book of Psalms in 1940, and because of what he said in that book 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 following that authority eventually cost Bonhoeffer his life.


That idea didn’t fit with Nazi ideology, and it can be a challenging concept for all of us. 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.


This morning’s Psalm invites us to live in relationship with God regardless of what’s going on in our lives, and it’s an acknowledgement that there are times in our lives that we are in need of being corrected by God. It’s terrible 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 during such times there’s a form of insensitivity that we can develop toward God. Our lack of attention to God often feels like a lack of attention from God. The Psalmist speaks of God’s face being hidden, and this is what it feels like when we attain a bit too much comfort in life and when we become insensitive to the trials of others.


But it’s rare for any of us to live in sweet oblivion for long. Trouble comes, and while trouble is never welcome it’s probably when we are having the hardest times that we become the most creative in our efforts to reach God. We can see how this Psalmist engaged in a form of bargaining with God. He boldly asks: What profit is there in my death? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? I don’t know if God was persuaded by the argument, but he came through the crisis, and this moaning man was turned in to a dancing man.


To engage with God is to enter in to a relationship that’s very much like a dance. Occasionally it may look and feel like a polite waltz. Sometimes we interact with God in a manner that’s as quick and orderly as a square dance, and sometimes we strike out on our own and gyrate in ways that probably leaves God wondering what has gotten in to us, but hopefully there are times when we are moving with God in a way that feels like a passionate salsa dance.


I believe we are all natural born dance partners of God, but we’ve also got a great dance instructor. Jesus Christ is the one who truly understood how to dance with God. There were these people who didn’t like the way Jesus danced, and they tried to shut the dance down, but the dance began again on that first Easter morning, and the dancing hasn’t stopped!


Our relationship with God isn’t perfectly described as a dance, but when we live in relationship with God I don’t believe it’s possible for our souls to sit still. It’s not always pretty when we try to get our bodies to show what’s going on with our souls, but I believe God always appreciates the feeble and fumbling ways we try to express the joy that is in our hearts when we feel the saving grace that comes to us from heaven.


Thanks be to God!



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