Dance Like No One is Watching

Perhaps you have heard the story of the church on the corner of Main and Broad streets. It was stately and magnificent in structure and style. Much love and caring were shared
between the members.

One particular Easter Sunday, the seats were filled to capacity. Participants sat in pews wearing their Sunday best, smiling graciously and nodding to acknowledge each other and the guests. Everything seemed perfect.

Worship services were well under way when an unshaven man in a faded shirt came through the front door. His jeans were torn at the knees and ragged at the bottom, his sneakers tattered. His eyes searched for a seat at the rear of the room, but they were all filled. All eyes followed him as he made his way to the front of the church, still looking for a seat.

Reaching the first pew and still not finding anywhere to sit… or anyone who would make room, he folded his legs underneath himself and sat on the floor of the aisle.

Everybody was wondering who this was, but even more than that, they were wondering who was going to do something about it.. The organist began to play the opening hymn, but nobody was really listening.

A hush fell over the congregation as Mr. Sims, a stately old gentleman who had served as an usher for more than half a century, made his way slowly from the back of the church down the aisle.

Everybody knew what he was going to do. Somebody had to do something, afterall. Dressed in his usual three-piece black suit, he steadied himself with his silver-tipped cane. He walked down the aisle and he came up to the young man.

Everyone watched as the old man bent down and said: “I just want to say how good it is to have you here.” And Mr. Sims slowly lowered himself with great difficulty and sat down by the young visitor. He offered him a bulletin, and offered to share his hymnal. And they sat together, and they worshiped.

This morning – as we listen for what it means to worship God fully – to gather together and to praise our Creator – that story of the old man and the young man really speaks to me. You see, both of them took a risk to come together in the presence of God.

The young man was a stranger, coming in off the street, and even though everyone around him was dressed in their Sunday finest, he didn’t care what others thought. He didn’t care if everyone else was watching. He didn’t care if what he did by sitting there before God upset other people. He was coming to the Lord – and nothing was going to stop him.

In a similar manner, the older gentleman had just as much, if not more to lose. He was established and respected. Everyone in that church expected him to tell the young man to move, or to walk him out of the church for acting so “inappropriately.” But Mr. Sims broke with convention, broke with tradition, let go of his ways and let the Spirit guide him to the front of the church to sit down with that young man.

There is a quote, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain that goes:

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth

That is exactly what our older gentleman and the young guy were doing in that warm little story. And in our passage from the book of Samuel this morning – that kind of heartfelt abandon is depicted as King David leads the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem for the very first time.

For years, the ark has been in the hands of the Philistines – but to go and recapture the ark and to bring it to Jerusalem… the place David has set up as his royal city… means that David is showing how his rule with connected to the lordship, power, and presence of God.

At the outset of this journey, David does what is expected of him. He gathers thirty thousand of his best men and they go and bring the ark up out of the place it has been. One would expect a solemn and formal military processional bringing this prized possession back into the hands of the Israelites. But our scripture tells us that King David led the celebration and they praised God with all of their might with songs and instruments and drums.

In fact, the people were so caught up in their celebration, that an accident occurred. As the ark was being carried over the terrain, one of the oxen stumbled and the ark nearly fell to the ground. But a man named Uzzah instinctively reached out to grab onto the ark and lift it to safety.

Whew, we might think to ourselves… disaster averted. But just like Isaiah’s encounter with God in the temple, we are reminded about just how holy – just how other – God really is. This ark was not simply a box holding some important documents – it was a sacred object that could bring both blessing and harm. It was to be touched and handled only by those who had properly prepared, only by the Levites. Just like the King Uzziah who later is cursed for entering the temple and burning incense to God on his own, the military commander Uzzah is punished for his act. He is instantly killed as a result of touching the ark.

Here, by the side of the road, in the middle of their journey, all of the celebrations stop. David is so troubled by these occurrences, so angry at God for what has happened, that he refuses to carry the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem. He is afraid of what will happen when God’s presence comes into his royal city. He knows the wrongs he has done in his own life and doesn’t think he will last long in the power of God. David closes himself off to the promise and power of the ark and puts it in the safekeeping of a family in a village nearby.

David’s heartfelt abandon is closed off because of the fear of being burned, of being rejected, or being found unworthy.

I think that there are many people, probably here in this room this morning, whose hearts have been closed off. People who are afraid to let God in. People who are afraid to make a fool of themselves for God because of what others might think. People who aren’t quite sure they are ready to take the risk to celebrate with all of their might before God. Am I right?

One of my favorite biblical commentators, Kate Huey writes, “Jubilation is a word we rarely use, perhaps because such a feeling has been limited for many, for the most part, to sports and, perhaps, the occasional political victory. But what if we felt deep-down-in-our-hearts jubilation over what God is doing in our lives? Would we dance, too?

Henry Brinton has compared worship… to a modern dance solo by Paul Taylor, the dancer/choreographer who “simply stood motionless on stage for four minutes….The dancing we do in church tends to be quite similar to Paul Taylor’s solo. What we do is nothing – we just stand still, hardly moving a muscle. Our worship of God involves our minds, our hearts, and our tongues, but rarely our whole bodies.”

In the book, The Soul of Tomorrow’s Church, Kent Ira Groff writes that we need to include rhythm into every worship service. He quotes Brian Wren in saying that “rhythm tries to move you bodily.” No wonder that from forever and everywhere the drum has been an instrument of healing, reminiscent of the heartbeat of God – use in primal caves, rock bands, sophisticated symphonies. The pipe organ is a wonderful instrument… but in combining many instruments in one, it decreased the participation of the many…” When we clap our hands, or tap our toes, or play along on other instruments, we are joining the whole of creation in crying out with our whole bodies – the Lord is Good.

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth

Just like we might be afraid to step beyond our comfort zones and truly praise God with our whole bodies… just like we might be afraid to truly welcome into our midst those who don’t look anything like us… just like we might be afraid of what will happen if we open ourselves up to God’s presence… King David was afraid of what it meant to invite God into his city. He was afraid of what might happen to himself and his reign. In many ways, he rightly understood the holy power and otherness of the Lord… but he had let his fear overwhelm his ability to truly trust God.

For three months, things went on like this, until word came to David about the blessings that had come to the family the ark had been left with. A glimmer of possibility and trust began to burn again in David’s heart and he decided to try again.

The ark was taken out of the house and after just six steps, David was so overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving that he sacrificed a bull and a calf. And he took off his royal garments and there in front of all the people he danced before God with all of his might. He shed his fear, he shed all of the expectations people had of him, he shed his denial of God’s holiness, and he worshipped and praised with heartfelt abandon.

As the dancing proceeded back to Jerusalem and as they got close to the city gates, David’s wife Michal saw him out there. She saw him without his royal robes, dancing among the commoners. She saw him making a fool of himself, rather than maintaining his composure.

When Michal confronted David about his actions his words were clear: It was before the LORD, who chose me that I danced—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

He spoke with the same spirit that Paul did when he said that we should be fools for Christ – laying it all out on the line to praise and honor the God who gives us life.

That is a very different attitude towards worship than the one espoused by Michal… or by the Pharisees that Jesus encounters in our gospel reading. They were so caught up on tradition – on doing what they were supposed to, on what was appropriate and required, that they left their heart and mind and soul and body out of worship.

But Jesus words remind us that the outward trappings are not important. They don’t make us righteous or unrighteous, worthy or unworthy. It is our hearts that matter. It is what we give to God that matters. Or as our Psalter puts it…. we should come with clean hands and pure hearts before God… that we should come bringing our full selves with the right intentions.

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth

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