Lord of the Dance: Wanted! Dance Partners

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:16-20.

An often quoted African Proverb says,

If you want to go fast, go alone. 

If you want to go far, go together.

I am the kind of person that wants to go far…but it is sometimes hard for me to ask for someone to go together with me.

It takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to forage a new path or to return to a well known trail with fresh eyes and perspective. It takes courage to share a vision for what you want to accomplish, for what change you want to make, for who you want to be.

Why does it take courage? Because there is risk involved.

  • Risk that you or your idea will be rejected.
  • Risk that you will make a mistake.
  • Risk that you will embarrass yourself.
  • Or possibly the worst – risk that you will fail.

I, for one, prefer to limit the witnesses to my rejection, mistakes, embarrassments, and failures.

While being all alone might temporarily shield me from public awareness of my shortcomings, being all alone also means that I stew longer in my own mess without any one there to offer comfort or encouragement.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be in partnership with one another and others in the growing Kingdom. Jesus knew what they were risking as they served! Jesus knew they would experience hardship and discouragement. Jesus knew they would experience rejection and so he said to them, “‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:10-13).

That they – the disciples – went out together – in Jesus’ name and carrying forward God’s preferred future for the world – ensured that they would and did go far

Are you someone that wants to go fast or far? With whom are you traveling? How have you been encouraged and offered encouragement? What vision is God raising up in you to share with someone? What risk do you face in sharing this vision? What do you risk in not sharing this vision?

Prayer: “I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they would not dance and they would not follow me; I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; they came to me and the dance went on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”* Amen.

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261. 

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Lord of the Dance: The Dance Begins

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 1:1-5.

During the Season of Lent, the Tuskawilla UMC Family will worship through a sermon series based on the hymn, The Lord of the Dance by Sydney Carter. Each week will draw its subject from a verse of the hymn as we study and sing our way to this year’s Easter Cantata – Jesus! The Resurrection of the Messiah – which our Sanctuary Choir will gift to the congregation on Palm Sunday.

To help us prepare for this study, I offer an excerpt from an article published about Carter’s hymn entitled History of Hymns: Lord of the Dance. This article is available courtesy of The General Board of Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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History of Hymns: Lord of the Dance

“Lord of the Dance” (1962) captured the spirit of the 1960s protest movement in the United States. It became a sacred equivalent for songs by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, including “Where have all the flower’s gone” and “To everything turn” (later made even more popular by Peter, Paul, and Mary), as well as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the wind” (1962). While the direct – even, for some, sacrilegious – language accompanied by the folk acoustic guitar bordered on heresy for some; for others, these songs were a breath of fresh air. “Lord of the Dance” brought this sound and spirit into the church, especially in services designed to reach young people.

Called a “carol” by Carter, “Lord of the Dance” was not the first song on this theme. “Tomorrow will be my dancing day,” a seventeenth-century English carol, provided an obvious model for this famous hymn. An earlier medieval carol also explored the allegory of the dance as a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with Christ. Carter adapted a melody from the Shaker dance tune Simple Gifts. The first four stanzas appeared in the Student Christian Congress Hymns (1963), and the five-stanza version in 9 Songs or Ballads (1964). Carter’s Green Print for Song (1974) suggests that he wrote the words first and then adapted the tune of Simple Gifts to the text later. Simple Gifts has been identified as a quintessential American folk tune by composer Aaron Copeland (1900-1990), who quoted the tune as the climax of his famous symphonic work Appalachian Spring (1944).

A favorite of youth groups in the 1960s and 1970s, “Lord of the Dance” spread far beyond the Christian community, partially because the song never mentions Jesus or Christ by name. Its most famous use beyond the church is as a “Celtic” dance for Michael Flatley’s world-famous show, Lord of the Dance. The origins of the tune are not Celtic, however, but thoroughly American.

Always the iconoclast, Carter’s theological perspective may not pass all tests of orthodoxy. The opening lines of this first-person account of Christ’s life have been thought by some to “contain a hint of paganism which, mixed with Christianity, makes it attractive to those of ambiguous religious beliefs or none at all.” While inspired by the life of Jesus, Carter implied that the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja (Shiva’s dancing pose), a statue that sat on his desk, also played a role in the song’s conception. The choice of an adapted Shaker tune for the melody – sometimes called the “shaking Quakers” who were known for their vigorous dancing during their rituals – rounds out the dance theme. Carter acknowledged the theological contradictions, but never attempted to resolve them.

He notes:

“I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.”*

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Lent is a wonderful opportunity for us to grow in our knowledge and love of Christ – to know him first and best. Over the course of this sermon series, my hope is our understanding of Christ as our leader, teacher, defender, offering, and future will flourish. We begin this week studying how “the dance was begun.” I look forward to seeing you in worship and worshipping with you on our way to Easter.

Prayer: “I danced in the morning when the world was begun, and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth. At Bethlehem I had my birth. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.** Amen.

*To read the full article, please visit https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lord-of-the-dance.

**”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261.

 

 

Committed to the Journey

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Kings 2:1-12.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the Church Year; it is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Season of Lent. It is fitting that Transfiguration Sunday closes the Epiphany Season, a season of ah ha’s about Jesus, our Savior. In the Season of Epiphany we learned

  • The Magi – Gentile Kings from the East – presented Jesus with gifts. They were welcomed at his nativity – a sign of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom that began with Jesus’ birth. All would be welcome to worship him – inclusive of age, nation, and race.
  • In the Jordan River, following his baptism, God declared Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. With Jesus, God is well pleased. After the example of Jesus, we, too, are to be baptized; we, too, are to become daughters and sons of God. We are beloved to God. With us God is well pleased.
  • And now on Transfiguration Sunday, we hear God’s voice again. Again, God names Jesus as God’s Son, and God gives the following instruction, “Listen to him.”

On a mountainside before Peter, James, and John, Jesus changes. His clothes become dazzling white. Glory shines upon his face. Moses and Elijah join him at his sides; Moses, representative of the Law and Elijah, representative of the prophets. And we hear God tell us to listen to Jesus – to listen to how he fulfills the Law first given by Moses and to listen how he brings a new understanding of reconciliation, a primary subject of the prophets, as our Savior prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure humanity’s reconciliation to God forever. Peter – Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ student – wants to stay on the mountainside, wants to build houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter’s offer suggests that he wants them all to stay where they are…and yet Jesus’ journey was not meant to culminate on that hillside, but on Calvary.

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, head back down the mountain. In doing so Jesus commits to the journey ahead of him – to the teachings he will offer; to the miracles he will complete; to the betrayal, denial, desertion and death he will endure. As the disciples follow him, Jesus bids all disciples – bids us – to follow him. More ah ha’s – more epiphanies await us as we journey with Jesus from glory into glory.

Jesus is committed to us and this journey. Let us commit to Jesus and journey with him to and beyond his cross.

Prayer: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217.

New Beginnings: Whenever You Are Ready

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:8.

Joshua is proving to be a wonderful teacher. Researchers say that infant brain development is astounding in the first several months as infants mature and grow in their new surroundings.

I think the same can be said for the parents of infants as we mature and grow in our care of this little one that has completely changed our surroundings.

Andrew and I would not change this for the world.

A couple weeks ago Joshua had his first ever diaper rash. And I felt terrible! His skin was so red and irritated. He did not seem to mind much…maybe because we caught it early? We cleaned the area and applied the recommended ointment. After a few diaper changes, we saw some improvement, but not as much as we would like. After a day or so Andrew wondered aloud if we should try out a diaper the next size up…that perhaps the rash was a way of letting us know that Joshua was ready for that change.

So we did.

New diaper size. Continued application of ointment. And in a two more days, the rash was gone.

I admit that it was a little hard for me to try out the next diaper size on Joshua. That means he is growing up. That means that one stage of his life is already complete and will not be repeated. I said early on that I did not want to think of Time as my enemy as Joshua grows. I want to give thanks for where has has been, be present where he is now, and look with hope to where he is going. Part of being present is being attentive to his signals – that he or his body makes – that he is ready to take the new step forward. That he is ready to start his next new beginning.

It is important for us to be attentive to signals as well – how our bodies, hearts and minds respond when we reflect on “How is it with my soul?” The answer to that question in conversation with God can and will make us aware to when it is time for us to make a new beginning. This new beginning could be a change in routine – like committing to eating better or exercising so you have more energy to pursue the passions in your life. This new beginning could be a call to make a change in your career, a shift in a major relationship, and/or a leading to assess and reorder your priorities.

New beginnings are hard work. I’ll say it again – new beginnings are hard work. Why? Because new beginnings signal that what was is coming to an end. What was may or may not be again. With new beginnings – at times – comes some grief and sorrow. The hope is that those feelings do not last forever because our new patterns, our new beginnings, will be truly life-giving.

Have you been feeling a nudge towards making a new beginning? What signals have you noticed in your life that this may be the season for a change? What preparations do you need to make in order to make the change when you are ready? What support do you have or will you need for your change to be successful?

Prayer: “Let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees), let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees). When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me (on me).”* Amen.

“Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees,” The United Methodist Hymnal 618.

 

New Beginnings: Forget It!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-13.

The summer I turned six was a big deal. Why? Because that summer included a huge rite of passage – leaving my training wheels behind, my bike would become a two-wheeler.

One day that summer I was out practicing riding my newly two-wheeled bike; if someone gave me a push, I could ride a little way down the street on my own before I had to put a foot down. And putting a foot down was a common occurrence as the landscape of the dirt road changed daily depending on passing vehicles and road conditions.

I remember preparing – picking a place that I am sure six-year-old Sarah thought was well on the horizon but in reality was maybe twenty feet down the street as my goal. I gripped my handlebars. I steadied one foot on the pedal and left just the tip of the other on the ground. I nodded for my push and off I went.

*pedal pedal pedal BIG SAND MOGUL* and CRASH!

Right into a barbwire fence of the pasture that bordered our dirt road.

To this day I have a trio of scars on my left leg from where my flesh met the fence. They have grown as I have grown, stretching and widening. The upper two cuts healed fairly easily, but the largest of the three scars seemed to be an open wound the remainder of that summer…and it fascinated me! My parents enrolled me in summer day camp and the only thing I remember from that summer is my counselors telling me to leave my scab alone or my leg would not heal.

Sometimes that cut reopened itself through regular movements. Other times I reopened it. (Hey! I was six!) And if it was open, I was out – out of activities, out of participation. I was not allowed to play with an open cut.

When we reopen hurtful experiences in our lives – experiences that cut us very deeply – we, too find ourselves out. Reliving those experiences draws us out from relationships, out from our regular routines and engagements, out from participating in life with others. We cannot heal from those wounds if we continue to reopen them.

And we need to heal.

I have found that forgiveness is the most active agent for healing in my life. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to heal. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to choose wholeness over wounds. Forgiveness sets me on the path of reintegration – into activities, participation, and most importantly, relationships.

Forgiveness takes me away from being out by drawing me back in.

When faced with open wounds from hurtful experiences, what allows you to heal? How do your day-to-day experiences and interactions change when you are hurting? What would you need to do in order for your old wounds to stay closed?

Prayer: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me?”* Amen.

*“And Can It Be that I Should Gain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 363

 

New Beginnings: Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 15:15; Ezekiel 36:31; and Revelation 2:5

My first car was a small four-door gold Saturn sedan with beige interior and super dark window tint. Her name was Gina. Gina made me feel like I was just the coolest. Not only did Gina have a tape deck, but my parents bought me a tape deck adapter that I could plug into my portable discern to listen to CDs in my car. I know – you’re impressed! With Mariah Carey blaring through my speakers, I was unstoppable!

One day I was driving to school in Gina. I was two subdivisions down from my own when I realized I did not have my school ID card. I turned into the Lexington Green subdivision, made a three point turn, and proceeded back to the main road. I stopped at the entrance before making my left hand turn and then WHAM!

I pulled out in front of a fellow student at my high school. His car was older than mine – more steel than fiberglass. His vehicle sustained minor damages, but Gina…Gina did not make it.

Rest in peace…pieces?

It took me a while to start driving again. My parents wanted me and my nerves to calm down after the accident, and rightly so. I was not afraid to start driving again. I was ashamed to start driving again.

The main road where I caused the accident was the only way to and from my subdivision and a number of others in that section of North Lakeland. So no matter if I was coming or going I would have to drive by the scene of my disgrace. And in doing so I would be forced to remember…

  • My failure to look twice before turning.
  • The sound of steel crushing fiberglass.
  • The look of other high school students staring down the accident scene on their way to school.
  • My call to my mother that I wrecked the car.

I did not want to face any of that. I did not want to remember. But it seemed unavoidable. There was no other way to accomplish my daily commute. So I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

At first I would drive past the scene without looking to that side of the road. I would plan major karaoke moments so I was caught up in song when I drove that way. I would do whatever I needed to do for the sake of not remembering.

And none of them worked. I remembered. And I felt ashamed.

One day while I was in college I was again driving past the scene of my accident and the shame started descending. Until I stopped myself. I stopped myself and asked God to help me feel something different when I drove through that intersection. In mere seconds God’s peace overcame me. Through God’s peace I realized I did not need to feel ashamed at what I caused. That was not the lesson to take away from that moment in time. The lesson – God’s lesson – to take away was one of gratefulness – grateful that I walked away unharmed, grateful that my parents had the resources – like car insurance – to help our family move forward, grateful that I learned the valuable lesson of looking twice before turning left.

I would not have realized these lessons if I had not asked God for the courage to remember and grow from a difficult moment in my life.

I am not sure I will have the occasion to drive by that subdivision in coming years as my parents moved to the south end of town. Nevertheless, I will always remember that day from my senior year in high school – not with shame but with gratitude.

I believe we have lessons to learn every day – even on our hardest days. God gives us courage to learn those lessons…and God gives us the grace of space to learn those lessons when the time is right.

Consider – what days are hard for you to remember? What do those days – those memories – cause you to feel? What does God want you to learn from those days and memories? God’s courage is available to you. Ask. Receive. Remember. And learn.

Prayer:  “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! In Christ, your head, you then shall know, shall feel your sins forgiven; anticipate your heaven below, and own that love is heaven.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 57.

The Choice Is Yours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

I am thrilled to return to my regular posting on The Sunday Stiletto! My eleven week hiatus was due in part to this sweet face.

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Meet Joshua everyone! Andrew and I are completely in love and grateful each day to be this little guy’s parents.

Last Sunday Pastor Kate shared a challenging sermon based on one of her favorite Scripture texts – Micah 6:1-8. This is a text that Pastor Kate returns to again and again. The thought of her returning to this text stirred my heart to consider a Scripture text I return to again and again. Immediately I thought of The Greatest Commandment:

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The secondhand is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:38-31).

In the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “let me sum up – Love God; Love Others.

In my words and in my actions, in my work and in my play, in public and private spheres, today and always I want to love God and love others. That is my choice and my prayer as I begin each day, especially since Joshua arrived. I want him to see in me what it looks like and what it means to embody Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

I need God’s help to accomplish this embodiment. I need God to lead me. I confess that I do not always get it right. I roll my eyes, I think hurtful thoughts, I put myself ahead of others. I am grateful that God’s grace is abundant in those moments and is faithfully shaping me so that I am able to love more completely the next time.

What Scripture text do you return to again and again? How does that Scripture text inspire or guide the choices you make? Share your thoughts with someone and take care to embody that Scripture text this week.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight.”* Amen.

*“Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.