A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sermon (July 15) "The Life of David: Dance, David, Dance!"


     I have really been enjoying our focus this summer on the life of David.  David, who is this larger than life Old Testament figure has so much to teach us.  After just five weeks of our summer study of his life, we have already learned a lot about this great man of faith.
     The life of David has helped us to explore what it means to pray boldly, to not allow outward appearances get in the way of serving God, to know that there is no giant in our lives that is too big for God and us to handle, that when we experience a loss we can grieve with hope, and to do whatever we can to seek unity among God’s people.
     So what does David have to teach us today?  Are you ready for this?  David teaches us that it’s OK to dance.  So consider me your dance instructor this morning!
     But first, let me quickly set the scene of this time in David’s life and then we’ll see how important it is to learn how to dance in our faith.
     Last Sunday, we learned how David had become king over all of Israel which included the northern tribes as well as the southern tribes.  And to help these two geographical areas of Israel begin to feel a sense of unity and common purpose as the people of God, David strategically made the city of Jerusalem the new capitol.  It was a neutral place that allowed both the southern and the northern tribes to claim as their capitol city together.  And because of David’s heroic efforts to take over the city, Jerusalem became known as the city of David.
     In our scripture passage today from II Samuel, David decides to do something else to help all of Israel know that they are one people and that they are God’s people.  He brings the ark of God, which is a symbol of God’s presence, to now stay in this new capitol city of Jerusalem.
     The ark of God is what the Israelites carried with them during their wilderness journey to the Promised Land.  In the Book of Exodus, this ark of God is described for us.  It was four feet long, two and a half feet high, and the box that surrounded it was made out of acacia wood.
     This ark meant everything to the people of Israel.  It was a symbol of who they were.  Whenever they went to battle, they took this ark with them to defeat their enemy.  And since Israel was always on the move and battling the people around them, the ark was on the move as well. Up to this point, the ark had no true home.
     And so, to help symbolize the new unity of God’s people, David has decided to retrieve the ark from where it was last located and bring it with great fanfare into the new capitol city of Jerusalem.  This was a bold move on David’s part because something like this had never been done before. 
     To add to the drama, as the ark was being carried to Jerusalem, it began to shake, and one of the men did a no-no.  By instinct, he tried to steady the ark by touching it and because of this, he died, right there on the spot.  This just goes to show how holy and set apart the ark was for the people of God.  You didn’t treat it casually.  It was a matter of life and death.  So the fact that David had decided to move the ark to a new and permanent location was a very bold thing for him to do, but one that he believed would help the people to serve God as one people.
     You might think that all of this was done in a very solemn and subdued way, but it was really the opposite.  And this is what is so surprising to me about this story of the ark making its way to Jerusalem.  What we have is loud and joyous music with lots of lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.  This was a celebration.
     And to top it off, we have David leading the way and they’re all dancing!  David and the people were dancing!
     Several years ago, I remember taking the dogs for a walk in our neighborhood.  It was a neighborhood that had a lot of families with children.  During the walk, I began to hear someone singing and it was getting louder and louder.
    As I turned to head down a different street, there, standing in front of this house was a shy seven year old girl holding a toy microphone and singing out as if she was performing at an outdoor concert.  She was wearing a pretty dress and was showing off some well choreographed dance moves.
     Now, I had often waved to this little girl and to her parents during walks in that neighborhood, and this little girl would always look away because she was so shy.  She was singing and dancing to her heart’s content.  That is until she spotted me coming around the corner.
     She didn’t expect to see anybody on that quiet day in the neighborhood.  I caught her by surprise.  In a matter of just a few seconds, she went from singing in front of hundreds of adoring fans at a make believe outdoor concert, to being that shy seven year old who I would often see outside playing with her mom and dad.
     As soon as she saw me, she ducked behind one of the bushes that was in front of her house.  In an instant, this rock star phenom had become a hidden statue, frozen in time.  I could tell she was embarrassed.  As I passed by, I told her, “You have a great voice!”  Surprised that I had spotted her, she smiled back.  I often wonder if she resumed her concert.  I hope she is still singing and dancing today.
     I feel so bad for Penny that she ended up marrying a non-dancer.  But that’s the way it goes.  If I could have two wishes come true in my life it would be to be able to dunk a basketball and to be a really, really good dancer.
     You’ve all seen that guy on the dance floor at a wedding reception, right?  That guy who has all those awesome dance moves and looks really cool.  I want to be that guy!
     A little over a year ago, I officiated at a wedding that was held in Cincinnati for the daughter of my best friend.  The reception was held at a beautiful park and I knew I was in trouble when I saw a huge empty space that was obviously reserved for dancing. 
     People from the wedding party pushed me on to the dance floor.  They were playing the song, YMCA where you have to form those letters.  I totally couldn’t do it.  The twenty year olds who were up there with me did great but I was always behind a couple of letters.
     But here is what I learned from that experience.  I actually didn’t care how bad my dancing looked.  We were all having fun.  My best friend and his wife were happy.  His newly-wed daughter and son in law were having a great time.  It was a wonderful day of celebration.  And it was OK to look a little silly.
     What keeps us from being like David where we feel free enough to dance and sing?  The great writer, H.L. Mencken once said that “a Puritan was someone who feared that somewhere, someone was having a good time.” 
     The reason that David let loose as the ark of God was being brought into Jerusalem was because he was celebrating the new thing that God was about to do in the midst of the people.  God was coming to dwell in this new capitol city.  God was coming to unite a divided people.  God was coming to be the true king of all of Israel.  David was celebrating the new way that God was present in their midst.
     Several years ago, I attended a community ministerial meeting.  The host pastor led the morning devotions.  And I’ll never forget what he said.  He invited us to remember that time in our lives when we first knew just how much God loves us.  And then he shared his experience.
     He said, “I’ll never forget it.  I experienced a peace in my life like I never felt before.  I knew that my sins were forgiven and that I wasn’t alone.”  And then he looked at me and all the pastors around the table and he encouraged us to never forget.  “Don’t ever forget,” he said.        
     Always remember that time when you first realized just how much God loves you.  Don’t let the demands of ministry ever get in the way of remembering what God has done for you and continues to do in your life.   Jesus loves you.  Never forget.  Rejoice in God’s love for you.
     I don’t exactly recall what specific thing I was going through when he shared that thought with me that day, but I needed to hear that message that morning.  I left that meeting rejoicing because this pastor had helped me to remember who I was in Jesus Christ.  I didn’t dance like David, but I had a spring in my step the rest of that day.
     Friends, I’m going to do the same for you today.  I want you to remember when you first realized just how much God loves you.  Do you remember?  Never forget!  Don’t ever let the demands and challenges of life get in the way of remembering when you first experienced God’s unconditional love.  And when you remember, it’s OK if you want to celebrate your relationship with God in a fun way.  Rejoice in how much you are loved by God.
     Several years ago, Christian speaker and author, Tony Campolo was invited to preach at a Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, near my home area.  A few days before, he had been the speaker at a nearby inspirational music festival, and some of the young people who were at the festival decided to travel to Lancaster to hear Dr. Campolo preach there as well.  And so, because of all the people who had traveled from the festival, the sanctuary was packed with a lot of young people.
     When the Lutheran pastor began the service, he called the people to worship by saying, “Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Let us come into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise!”
     Imagine that Lutheran pastor’s surprise when someone in the balcony actually jumped up and yelled, “All right!  All right!” and started clapping.  Before long there were several hundred young people on their feet shouting praise and applauding wildly. 
     “I don’t know what the pastor was expecting when he told the people in the pews to make a joyful noise to the Lord,” said Dr. Campolo later, “But I do know that the last thing he expected was that anybody actually would!”
     But it’s not just about Lutherans because back in the day, we were known as the “Shouting Methodists.”  That’s hard to believe, especially when we often have debates over whether we should clap in church or not. 
     Back in 1807, here’s what one new Methodist convert said about the shouting Methodists.  “At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.  I thought they were distracted, such fools I’d never seen.  They’d stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.”
     We are fools, aren’t we?  To dance, to shout, and to express our joy in such inappropriate ways, like David who danced all the way into the city of Jerusalem.
     Thank you David, for reminding us that God is present with us in a new way this day.  Thank you, David for teaching us to dance.

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