Lord of the Dance: The Dance Goes On

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 15:9-17.

This week we conclude our sermon series based upon Sydney Carter’s hymn The Lord of the Dance. In five verses this hymn sings the story to Jesus’ life – incarnation, disciple-making, facing adversaries, sacrifice, and resurrection. Carter’s final verse takes care to make us aware of our invitation to join Jesus’ dance. In verses one through four we observe Jesus dancing; in verse five he extends his open hand to us.

“I’ll live in you, if you live in me.”

I gain a sense of infinity when I sing that phrase. There is an infinite number of people that could join Jesus in his dance. And there is an infinite number of ways we could continue the dance with Jesus. These truths affirm the following for me:

There is wideness in God’s mercy.

There is great freedom in the ways we can demonstrate our commitment to the dance led by Christ.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a pastor and writer that I often turn to as I continue shaping my life of faith and pastoral craft. In one particular story she shares about a time of discernment with God as she prepared to graduate from college. She lacked certainty in her next steps…she sought confidence to continue in Christ’s dance. So she prayed. And God answered her in prayer, “Do whatever pleases you and belong to me.”

Wideness in God’s mercy.

Freedom in the ways we can demonstrate our commitment to the dance led by Christ.

How are you dancing with Christ? What objections or inhibitions do you have to joining Christ’s dance? By experiencing the wideness of God’s mercy and the freedom in how you can dance with Christ, in what ways are you doing whatever pleases you and belonging to God?

This is our invitation to eternity with Christ. “I’ll live in you, if you live in me. I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.”

Prayer: “They cut me down and I leapt up high, I am the life that’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; I am the Lord of the Dance said he. 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.

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

 

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From Wreck to Restoration: We Commit Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13.

A congregant once said to me, “Pastor, I’ve never heard a preacher talk about sin as much as you do!”

I remember laughing as he said this…and then I was quite struck as his words washed over me. If pastors are not talking about sin, then how will people in our congregations know how to talk about sin? How will people in the world know how to talk about sin?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, advises that we need language about sin as much as we need language about salvation. In her book, Speaking of Sin, she writes,

Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart form the full impact of what has been forgiven.*

It is not easy to talk about sin. Why dwell on the bad stuff, especially when God has promised to forgive the bad stuff and absolve us of it? I believe we need to talk about our sin, not so we carry the guilt and shame of it with us always, but so that we know the weight of our sin, and therefore the magnanimity of God’s amazing grace.

An essential component of John Wesley’s Class and Band structure was to have members of the bands sit before one another and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” In responding to this question the band members would share where they excelled, struggled, and out right failed in their lives – personal, professional, and of faith – since the last band gathering. (Wesley would say the life of faith pervades all spheres of life.) It was not enough for band members to say that they sinned; they would have to name the sin specifically and articulate how that sin had harmed God, their neighbors, and themselves. Some might consider this method a severe form of behavior modification, but it worked for the Early Methodists and it continues to work for many today that participate in a covenant or accountability group.

Developing a language to discuss sin draws us into intentional thinking about our sinful acts as well as their consequences and repercussions. From this sort of reflection I am led to

  1. Repent of my sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation and
  2. Make note of the circumstances, my actions, and my reactions, so that my behavior will be different the next time I encounter the same or similar circumstances.

I talk about sin and I talk about my sin as a way of letting people around me know that I am  a safe place to talk about sin. And maybe one day, if they would like, we could talk about their sin together. And when that conversation begins it will most surely end with the affirmation that our God forgives our sin, that Jesus removes the guilt of sin, that the Holy Spirit breaks the power sin has over us, so that we will indeed live as the forgiven and the redeemed.

Prayer: “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin 4.

**”The Old Rugged Cross,” The United Methodist Hymnal 504.

FAMILY ~ Ministry of All Believers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 4:1-16.

My friend Dan Dixon has the keenest ability to send me cards that 100% describe how I am feeling at the present moment. My most recent installment looks like…

 

IMG_0107

This.

I think it should be titled, “Sarah Miller: This Moment In Time.”

The inside of the card reads, “Ever have one of those days?” And underneath those words Dan kindly wrote, “Yes, we do! Yes, we all have!”

How wonderful it is to be reminded that I am not alone in this life and that I have a great friend that will send me a picture of a soaked cat to lift my spirits.

In the card Dan thanked me for all the ways we stay connected as colleagues as well as friends. We share resources, we ask advice, we laugh, we vent, we sit in silence, we complain about all the things we should have been taught at Candler, and through talk, text, and/or email, we offer “towels” to one another on the days we are utterly soaked.

Dan has the incredible gift of speaking truth in love – “Sarah, you are doing a little too much right now.” “Sarah, listen to your committee members on this.” “Sarah, let that go.” “Sarah, forgive yourself.”

In her book Altar in the World Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”*

Through the relationship we share, Dan and I are able to be brought out of ourselves – and most importantly, brought out of the stories that we tell ourselves that are not a true reflection of our actual selves – so we can love and nurture, so we can struggle with growth and grapple with fear, and so we can try on the rawness of vulnerability and realize that we can live with that rawness for just a few moments longer than we did the last time.

Barbara Brown Taylor observes that we are all born with “instinctive care” – that innate knowledge to do whatever we need to do to care for ourselves. To love the neighbor as the self requires that we apply that same sort of instinctive care to someone else, that we do whatever is needed to care for another. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “to become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.”*

When we apply instinctive care to one another in community we experience unity. We share our joys and sorrows in community. We do not walk alone; we walk with others. We share one another’s burdens and we work together to lighten those loads. We offer affirmation, we ask questions, we seek and share forgiveness. This is what it means to be in relationship with one another. This is at the core of our ministry to one another as believers – caring for one another, which leads us to caring for all, as Christ cares for us.

Is there someone in your life presently that relates to or resembles my above “moment in time?” How might you reach out to them, and in so doing, instinctively care for them as you would for yourself? Consider how your actions will draw the two of you closer together. And imagine what our world would be like if we all genuinely and diligently answered our calls to to this sort of care.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 93.

**”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

 

Heritage: The Work of Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10

This week Reeves’ concludes our Heritage series somewhat at the beginning.  In previous weeks we have been looking back to the foremothers and forefathers of our faith in Scripture, in both Old and New Testament times, to get our spiritual footing.  This week we turn to take the first spiritual steps as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

In order to go out as a person called by God I think it is first important to consider how you have experienced your call by God.  All people are called not just those persons who are set apart to be the clergy leadership in congregations.  I love the language contained in this Scripture passage because it supports that all people have been given access to God – to know, to seek, to understand, to question, to confirm.  Before the Protestant Reformation it was thought that only the priests had this kind of access to God when in fact we are a priesthood of all believers – meaning anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord has this access and is welcomed to engage.

I believe that people who call upon the name of the Lord have experienced God’s call on their life – whether or not they can easily articulate it.  It does not have to be some intense, dramatic scene.  Scripture attests that God can show up in a myriad of ways – full of pomp and circumstance or in a quiet voice.  But this call – this exchange with God – is the pivotal point that prompts a person to take that spiritual step.

In Methodist history, some scholars suggest that John Wesley’s on Aldersgate Day, the 24th of May 1738, while hearing someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was “strangely warmed” and said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”*  Some scholars have understood this to be the pivotal moment of Wesley’s call.  Aldersgate led Wesley in his next years to begin an movement in the Church of England that led him out of the church to preach where anyone would listen – to preach in the world his parish.  His movement continues as The United Methodist Church.

I experienced my call at United Methodist summer camp the summer before 6th grade.  The last night in chapel I was up at the altar praying and I heard God calling me into a life of ministry in The United Methodist Church.  I had no idea at age 11 how that would look, but with trembling confidence I responded, “whatever your will Lord, send me.”  I continue to realize and live into that calling each day as I serve in the local church and grow in my relationship with God.

Maybe you are in a vocation outside the ecclesial or church circle?  What then?  How do you live into your call?  Well, don’t fear that you had the wrong call or no call because you aren’t living into your call in the church.  As I said before, God calls all people and God is calling you right where you are right now.  So what do you do about it?  Explore it.  See what it means.  Ask yourself questions.  Ask God questions.  Dialogue with someone you trust.  Do you know your call in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards?  Are you living into everything that God wants you to do?  Is there more God desires?  How can you start addressing that?  This self-reflection and call-exploration is crucial work needed to take further spiritual steps.

I resonate so much with a story Barbara Brown Taylor tells from her own experience about exploring and living into her call.  During her final semester of seminary she recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?!”  One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”**

Maybe your question is “what do I do with my call?!”  I think the same answer applies.  Do anything that pleases you and belong to God.  Doing so will help all of us take steps in knowing ourselves more as God desires us to be and positions us to take spiritual steps as God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.  I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.  Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?  Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”***

http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=2465

** Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 110.

*** “Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hmynal, 593.