Time to Dance

John 1:14-16; Jeremiah 31:7-14

Carrie and I were invited to the Logan Dance Club last night. When we got the invitation, I confess, I was a little nervous. It had been a long time since I had tripped the light fantastic, and I was afraid of what I might look like. On top of that, when we were in California after Christmas, and I was trying not to think about what I might look like on the floor, our text talks about dancing. I could not escape it. Dancing was the theme of the day.

You might think that this nervousness is a little over exaggerated. But you don’t know that underneath my anxiety about dancing is a traumatic experience that I suffered as a child. It was a dance tragedy. It happened when I was a wee lad, about five years old, circa 1970. I traveled for the first time to the Netherlands to meet my Dutch family: my aunts and uncles, all of my cousins and 2 of my grandparents. As you know, my family is Dutch Indonesian and, until Lydia and Eric, I was the only American born member of the Heins and van Seventer clans. On that first trip, we stayed pretty much all summer, and I had many wonderful experiences, most of which have faded from my memory. But there is one memory in particular that sticks with me to today. It was a party, and it was one of those times when I did something at a party that I afterward wished I hadn’t. (Now, now, I was 5, so it wasn’t what you may be thinking.)

We gathered, the van Seventer clan, at Tante Gerrie & Om Henk’s house. It was one of those very narrow, three story row houses that are so common in Holland and elsewhere. There were quite a few of us there, a big family celebrating the return of family that had been gone for a long time. It was a very joyous occasion.

At such festive times, we did what party goers often do: we danced. Now, being such a youngin’ I had never gone to a dance before (that I could remember), so if I wanted to be out there, I had to come up with something fast. I quickly had to come up with some fine moves to impress my Dutch cousins (Think Napoleon Dynamite). The result has scarred me to this day.

What I came up with as I stepped out onto the floor with Fred Astaire grace, was simply sublime. I would love to show you my moves, but this is a sacred space, and I have this robe on, and I’m afraid that I would lose any vestiges of pastoral authority and dignity that I still have if I danced for you right now. Let’s just say that it involved my hands and legs moving in somewhat unnatural ways (think Elaine in Seinfeld). Now it wasn’t that bad, but it was funny. My cousins, the ones I had so wanted to impress, laughed. My brothers? Laughed. My aunts and uncles? Laughed. Everyone who was in another room and couldn’t see was brought in to watch the young American do his funky dance.

I remember everybody laughing, but hey, I was five. I figured that this is precisely what you are supposed to do at parties–laugh and dance. I thought I was a hit! But soon I began to feel like everyone was not laughing with me.

Afterwards, my brothers rode me unmercifully for my new dance, and the episode has found its way into the Heins family lore (complete with the moves that shall remain private). Those who saw me dance at the Logan dance club last night are thinking that I haven’t improved much as a dancer in 38 years. Well that may be true, but (thank God!) this morning’s sermon does not rest on my dancing. it is all about God’s dancing, and God’s particular dance in Jesus Christ.

I don’t know if Jesus cut the rug with the waltz, the cha cha, the Macarena, or the chicken dance at the weddings and parties he attended (probably not), but from the very beginning of his ministry he had one dance down cold, it was the funky dance of grace.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Whatever can be said about Jesus, he was not a wall-flower. He was always on the dance floor, performing his funky moves. He danced the peace dance. He danced the healing dance. He danced the wisdom dance. Because Jesus danced specifically for us, on our behalf, it lavished–and lavishes–upon us grace upon grace. Jesus’ dances the funky dance of grace upon grace.

It is a dance that gathers us together–that calls all God’s children from all the corners of exile back home to the party. It is the dance that renews us. It is the dance that itches to be shared.

It is 2009. Happy New Year! With all of today’s news, 2009 may not seem like a party. Troops and tanks are rolling into Gaza. Bombs are exploding in Baghdad. People are being laid off. Our resources, global and personal, are shrinking. For many of us things are not going as we had planned and hoped. There are many places of hurt and struggle in our lives. 2009 doesn’t seem like it is starting off very joyously.

It is very much like the circumstances of the exiles to whom Jeremiah’s word is addressed. They were still in the clutches of Babylon. They were still far from home. They were still grieving and wondering when they received this word from Jeremiah “you’re going to dance. You’re all going to dance.” Why? Because I, the Lord, am already dancing, dancing the funky dance of grace upon grace.

This morning, at the beginning of a new year, we come to this place. We gather around this table, and watch the dance of Jesus life, death, and resurrection–the funky dance of grace upon grace–once more.

The beginning of 2009 may not seem like a party, and yet we come to this place to witness God’s dance. And, my friends, God is dancing.

Thomas Merton wrote that “no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.”[i]

At this table the dance continues. It gives us the choice on how to live from this point on. We can either bow under the burden of darkness, and walk as if there is a funeral dirge playing in our ears, or we can dance. This table is an invitation, and something real is happening. Grace is being poured into us and all over us. Music is playing. Can you hear the beat? It is the beat that heralds that funky dance of grace upon grace.

Life has many challenges. Evil and brokenness are real. We do not live in denial. But the wondrous thing about the good news of our faith is that in the face of all things, we come to worship, and worship is a party. It is a party that declares that evil, our own and the world’s, does not have final say over us. This party is a celebration of joy, renewal, and refreshment. What do you do at parties? You laugh and dance.

Receive this sacrament with joy my friends. It is time to dance.

Last night, the day of reckoning arrived, and Carrie and I were trying our best to be inconspicuous along the wall while everyone was dancing, but there was Rich, pointing right at us. You two, come on out and dance. We could not escape it.

A little later, when the pastor had to go home to get his preaching sleep, and was on his way out the door, Carole grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the floor. “You’re not getting away just yet!” I could not escape it.

The opening of 2009 may not seem like a party. You may feel very un-party like. You may be weighed down with burdens only you can understand. You way want to hide along the wall, or head out the door, but you are here now…and this is a party. It is a party that God has planned to refresh you, renew you, strengthen you, lift you up.

If you imagine–if you allow God’s grace to open the eyes of your spirit once more–you will see Jesus at the center of the dance floor, pointing at you, saying, “Come on, come on, come on out and dance. Laugh and dance with me.”

After all, that’s what you do at parties: laugh and dance.

Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you live.

[i] Thomas Merton “Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation, Sounds True, Incorporated, p.42

(To listen to the entire sermon, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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