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.

 

 

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Giving Up: Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11.

As I scrolled through social media this morning a fellow pastor and friend posted this as his status,

Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus. 

At first I thought, “*name has been removed to protect the innocent*, did you really just write that!?” And then as the words washed over me, I realized…Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus.

Lent is the season of the church year that is the antithesis of a spiritual warm fuzzy. Lent is not fuzzy; it is scratchy – scratchy like burlap, scratchy like sackcloth, scratchy like ash on my forehead.

If we choose to lean into Lent, then we choose to lean into our lack. We participate in the sort of self examination where the answer is always you have been found wanting. We look at our sin full on in the face, and in doing so, look deeply into our mortality.

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Ex 20:5) .

“For the wages of sin is death”(Rom 6:23a).

Ouch, Lent. Ouch.

I believe leaning into our lack presents us with two opportunities:

(A) We could become so consumed by our lack that it defeats us. We could throw our hands up in the air. We could roll our eyes at Jesus. We could question (could yell) “What is this life of faith even about? Why are you making me feel worse than I already am? See, I was right; you are just here to judge me!”

(How many of our friends that do not have a relationship with God or are hurting in their relationship with God share these words on a regular basis?)

OR

(B) We could see in our lack – and in recognizing our lack – that God is near. That God’s grace is abundant. That it is annoying to unlearn or change present behaviors so that we are transformed into God’s people who are on the path towards life rather than death.

God is not here to judge us. God is here to love us and to give to us – be for us – the example of holding one another accountable for our actions and behaviors so that we will be a people of life rather than a people of death.

If we continue reading in the two Scriptures quoted previously, see how grace is present in the next breath,

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:5-6).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). 

During the Season of Lent the Tuskawilla Family will study our way through a sermon series entitled Giving Up, which will encourage us to give up practices or learned behaviors not just for this season, but forever. Giving something up – a regular practice for some during Lent – can be annoying, but I encourage you, if you give something up, to see it as an opportunity to recognize the nearness of God and God’s grace to you in this time (and at all times!).

The life of a disciple is necessarily a life of change – of giving up and taking on, of leading and following, of serving where comfortable and serving beyond our comforts. In all of these environments, God perfects our faith, Jesus strengths our compassion, and the Holy Spirit feeds our appetites for further work in the Kingdom. Essential to this growth in the knowledge and love of our Triune God is recognizing the depth of our need for God’s incredible grace. The Season of Lent, then, is a unique opportunity for us to look into our lack – which can be oh so annoying – and find God’s grace – which is oh so abundant.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.*”

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal 268.

Atonement: Crucified God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 21:1-11 and Mark 15:25-39

As Marcy said so eloquently to Peppermint Patty in a beloved Peanuts movie, “Duck, sir; Easter is coming.”  It is the week before Holy Week…otherwise known as the week to work and write and prepare and pray before we join our Christ (and pastors join their congregations) in the walk through Jerusalem that began with a block party and ended with a stone blocking the grave.

This year – for the second Lenten season in a row – Reeves will offer prayer stations on Monday through Wednesday evenings of Holy Week.  Each station – of which there are 14 – is an opportunity to read, reflect, and respond.

  • Read a passage of Scripture – this year based on places visited in the passion narrative
  • Reflect on a brief interpretation of the Scripture passage
  • Respond to the Scripture passage by prayerfully engaging an short activity

Today I gathered rocks, burlap, posterboard, markers, nails, candles, scarlet and violet fabrics, and lettuce.  I held the signs of Holy Week in my hands.

Intentionally selected.  Purposefully placed.  Spiritually directed.

These every day symbols take on a new meaning as they are manipulated.  The symbols of this experience combine to make lasting memories and bring a fresh perspective to the journey of Holy Week.

In the prayer stations participants will journey from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to Jesus’ anointing and Bethany, to and through the events of Jesus’ passion.  As I collected each manipulative and readied each station I have had to walk through each “place” – each “moment” of Holy Week – to make sure I have not overlooked something…like the need of a table or pen.  In the course of this day I have walked from branches waving and fabric flying to sealed grave and women crying…and Holy Week is not even here yet!

I need to back track.  This journey still awaits me.  It is not quite Easter…and as much as I want to I will not race to get there.

This process of preparation has heightened my awareness to all the small moments that create big moments as we move through Christ’s passion.  This heightened awareness, then, makes me ache for persons that will share in a Palm Sunday party one weekend and then join in an Easter celebration the next.  What about all the little moments in between?  What about all the big moments in between?  If we were meant to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter, I am quite confident that God could have worked that out.

There is a reason that we have all the moments in between.  I believe they are intentionally selected, purposefully placed, and spiritually directed.

The moments that Jesus experienced in Holy Week – they are to give us confidence, strength in endurance, and hope when we find ourselves in similar circumstances.  Jesus held people accountable, Jesus was afraid, Jesus received praise, Jesus was judged, Jesus was defended, Jesus died.  Jesus faced all this and more.

Some may say, “Yes.  He faced it and it killed him.”

And I say, “Yes.  And then he conquered death.  So shall we.”

I aspire to walk and journey mindfully through the Infinal days of Lent.  I do not want to be in a rush to get anywhere or cross any tasks off my list.  I want to be my Jesus’ companion.  I accept the invitation – the challenge – to keep watch with him and pray.  And I know as I do he will reveal something spectacular.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.  Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.”*

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 268.

Atonement: Family Transaction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 22:1-19

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent!  We also “spring ahead” at 2am on Sunday morning.  Three cheers for more sunlight…and being to worship on time!  Woot-Woot-Woohoo!

This week I find it rather fitting to study the almost child sacrifice of Isaac alongside the beginning of Lent, which is a season of sacrifice.  Both occasions – the pericope from Genesis and the liturgical season – are opportunities for obedience.

God gave Abraham instructions and he obeyed.  He started and – at the right time – God stopped him!  God provided another sacrifice – a gift of a ram so that Abraham could retain his greatest gift, his son.

The season of Lent presents us with an invitation to reflect and fast – reflect – on who we are and what we do; fast – that who we are and what we do make us more into who God desires.  We are not called to mandatory obedience in this reflecting and fasting…but I have to question why we would shy away from it?  Is it because we are too proud?  Is it because we are scared of what might be revealed?  Or is it because we are resigned in thinking that no change can come our way?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to lead enrichment sessions at a conference women’s retreat.  My session, Letters of Treasure, was a time for retreat participants to write letters to women currently incarcerated in our local area.  Our mission was to remind these ladies that they are women of worth; that they are treasured, beloved, and special; that they belong to God.  We wanted to affirm in these ladies that change is possible, that God is already at work in their lives, and that God is inviting their participation to continue their change to lead more healthy and whole lives.

In the letters we asked the ladies to consider who they were, who they are now, and who they wanted to be.  We encouraged the ladies to (1) identify their healthy behaviors and then (2) either transform unhealthy behaviors or leave them aside completely.  We invited them to reflect and and fast.  Why?  Because we believe change is possible.  Because we are affirmed that we bear the change of Christ in our bodies.  Because we believe reflecting and fasting are signs of our obedient faith.

It’s not about who these ladies have been or what they have done.  It’s about who God will lead them to be and what God will lead them to do.

The same is true for each one of us.

During this Lent I will take pause to reflect upon who I have been and ask God to lead me, break me, craft me into who God wants me to be.  Tonight I will starkly remember that all that I have is because of all that God has given and continues to give with the sign of the cross upon my brow.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

During this Lent I will fast from all bread related products as a way of standing in solidarity with my neighbors worldwide who hunger and ache for daily bread.  My prayer is that in these 40 days God will lead my heart and my body to God’s true and everlasting nourishment that as God’s vessel I will be able to nourish others.

What will be your reflection this Lent?  Where will God lead you to fast?  How will God encourage, challenge, and increase your obedience?

Believe in change.  Be prepared for change.

Obey and change.

Prayer: “O God, maker of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of the earth you would raise us up.  By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Ash Wednesday,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 353.

Unrest: Out of Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jonah 4:1-11

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent and our Lenten Sermon Series at Reeves is entitled Unrest.  Lent is a great season of unrest.  In the life of Jesus this is the time where Jesus came into his own as an authority of  the Word of God.  This is the time he came into his role of as Messiah.

On the Sundays leading up to Easter we will study Scripture passages and scenarios of unrest and my hope is God will reveal to each of us in our own way how God is leading us to lean into and perhaps find comfort in unrest.

So Jonah…the guy that was swallowed by the fish.

Tangent – My husband taught this pericope to his students one night at youth group…the high school boys were all convinced that it was a salmon that swallowed Jonah.  I was convinced that high school boys are weird.

Back on track – Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh.  He runs away and flees into the sea.  A terrible storm erupts and he is tossed overboard to calm the waves.  Jonah is swallowed by a fish, cries out to God in repentance from the belly of the fish, is spat up on dry ground, and makes his way to Nineveh.  He delivers God’s message that the people must repent or they will surely perish…

The Ninevites repent…God spares them…and Jonah…

is ticked.

Twice in the Scripture passage for this week God questions Jonah about the value of the anger.  The questions neither affirm nor condemn the anger.  They ask, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

As one commentator reflects on anger and on the figure of Jonah he writes, “Anger leads to destruction.  If it is repressed or suppressed, it burns the one who contains it; if it is expressed, it burns those to whom it is directed.  Although anger is an inevitable part of the human condition, the divine questioning offers the opportunity to work it through and to work through it.”*

I think it is wise that Jonah sat with his anger for a while.  I recall a song we used to sing in UMYF back in the day, “If I could just sit with you a while, I need you to hold me, moment by moment, till forever passes by.”

I have found myself sitting with a lot of things recently.  Just sitting and it hasn’t been pleasant.  It’s been a place of unrest.

I had a business professor in college – Dr. B! – we can all thank him for rubbing off the word marinate on me.  This is why he would say it: in business classes he would present a concept – for example credit cards – and someone would immediately want to I-ize meaning they’d want to take it to themselves, “so Dr. B. with credit cards I…”  And he would shut them down.  “Quit trying to walk with it!  You’re not ready to walk.  Just marinate.”  In other words, sit with it.

Sit with it.

Jonah sat with his anger.  The text doesn’t reveal if he ever understood that his anger could eventually consume him if he let it run rampant inward or consume others if he let it run rampant outward.  But he took time to sit with it.  I wonder what would happen with my anger, with individual anger, with collective anger if we all just sat with it for a while…if we let God hold us…if we let God make something else of the anger…of us…and then we walked with it?

I think it’s time we take time…that we make time.

That we sit with it.

Prayer: O God, your Scripture teaches that everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Jas 1:19).  Forgive us, Lord, in those moments when we are quick to anger, and invite us to join with Jonah and sit with you.  As we sit with you in that unrest, may we grasp your nearness and may your transformation touch us.  May we experience hope, healing, and revealing through the sitting.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

* Leander E. Keck et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, and The Twelve Prophets (Volume 7) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 524.