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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  • Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

    There is a beautiful piece of seasonal writing attributed to the theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman that you may have encountered in Christmases past. It’s entitled, “Now the Work of Christmas Begins.” Take in these words from the author:

    When the song of the angels is stilled,

    when the star in the sky is gone,

    when the kings and princes are home,

    when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

    the work of Christmas begins:

    to find the lost,

    to heal the broken,

    to feed the hungry,

    to release the prisoner,

    to rebuild the nations,

    to bring peace among the people,

    to make music in the heart.

    Indeed, this is the real work of Christmas. This is the work we discover in faith when we follow the light of Christ, which the darkness has not and will not overcome. In last Sunday’s Scripture passage, Luke records that Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was said about Jesus when they encountered Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem. On account of the angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary knew in the beginning that the child she would bear would be holy, but I wonder if she knew that this would be the character of His holy work? What a proud mother she must have been. What a nervous mother she must have been, watching her Son challenge the status quo as He lived in obedient faith to God, gently shepherding God’s people! Yes, this holy child will lead us – the Church – in finding, healing, feeding, releasing, rebuilding, and bringing peace. His story is ours to discover anew in the pages of the Gospel, the pages we will turn together in worship in the months to come. 

    Although the real work of Christmas is ours to offer another, let us also take to heart that it is also ours to receive as blessing and gift. At times we are lost, feeling broken, or living and praying for peace of mind or spirit. At times we sense that our lives are in need of rebuilding. As the great Henri Nouwen has observed, our own wounds may serve as a source of strength and healing in our own work of serving.

    My heart is full this holiday season. As may be true for you, I am holding joy and sorrow in the same chamber. I rejoice in what I hold dear, in the embrace of my loved ones in the home, and in the privilege of worshiping with you through a variety of experiences this December. I grieve with families who lost loved ones to Covid or other causes in 2020, and most recently, Pastor Derek’s family. I find joy in new traditions and customs that this holiday season has inspired. I long for loved ones who are no longer with us and who I remember especially at Christmas. My faith is wide enough to embrace these differing realities, to hold joy and sorrow in tandem. I pray yours is, too. 

    In faith, we will find, heal, feed, and rebuild, because Christ has first found us and embraced us with His healing presence. He feeds us with His Word and at table, in our hunger for bread that nourishes and lasts. In the grateful words of Martin Luther, “to you Christ is born. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born anew. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his. See to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.”

    Dear friends, Christ is born in us, and His love will guide and equip our ministry together in 2021. Pastor Derek and I look forward with anticipation to a new year of ministry with you. Let us follow the light of Christ together!  With joy, Pastor Meg

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