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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Lord of the Dance: Killing The Dance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 15:33-41.

Memorial Services are holy moments in my life. They are opportunities for me to practice my faith, to share my belief in the resurrection, and to walk with the Good Shepherd alongside his followers that are burdened by grief and loss. In Memorial Services we have the opportunity to sing, read, and hear our faith. Doing so enables me to affirm it is well with my soul.

Recently I served at two graveside services and each service included a change from which I am accustomed. Early on mentors in ministry told me to – in this order – complete the graveside benediction, shake the hands of the family seated in the first row,  move to the side for the funeral director to formally end the gathering, and leave.

Leave.

The graveside staff would not move the casket until the entire family left, which was signaled (and encouraged) by the departure of the clergy person .

But these last two services were different. The service ended and I moved to the side (with the intentions of greeting the family after the funeral director spoke) only to hear an invitation for the family to move close to the graveside as their loved one’s casket was lowered into the earth. At one service, family members were among the people lowering their father in place.

Even then – even in death – their family was at their side.

On a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross. On a hill, far away, stood Jesus’ family as Mary’s son, James’ brother, Mary Magdalena’s friend, our Savior died.

Memorial Services affirm me of the courage and strength God gifts us. They also teach me about the resiliency of God’s people. Accompanying someone to, through, and from death is difficult. People experience a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of minutes, and those minutes tend to repeat themselves again and again. There is hurt…and there is hope. It is hard to draw near – and perhaps even harder to stay near – in these moments. But proximity is so important. Proximity ultimately provides healing.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” In conquering the world, Jesus conquered death. And in conquering death, Jesus showed us the path to the Father by our belief in him.

As I continue my journey to Calvary this year, I hope I am found at the foot of the cross – just as these devoted families gathered with hope around their loved one’s graves – rather than on a hill far away. Why? Because proximity increases intimacy – it increases our connection to the depth of love displayed on the cross.

When I look at the cross, I understand the vertical beam reconciling me to God through Christ and I understand the horizontal beam as Christ’s commission that I reach out in his love – from his heart through my hands – for reconciliation, for upbuilding, for the sake of the Kingdom. I have this understanding as a result of drawing near to Christ’s crucifixion. I have this understanding because I have accompanied and will accompany him to and through death so that he can lead me in the paths I should go from his death.

I do not believe I could accomplish this from a distance – from a hill far away.

So I choose to draw near. Christ’s death has and will continue to overcome the grave.

It is well with my soul.

Prayer: “I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go 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.

 

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

 

Lord of the Dance: Dancing When People Oppose Your Groove

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 2:23-3:6.

One of the lesser known animated Disney films – a true travesty because it is fantastic! – is The Emperor’s New Groove. Andrew and I spent many high school date nights watching this movie, committing it to our memories, and laughing as we attempted to impersonate the movie’s characters.

The Emperor’s New Groove is a coming-of-age story. The Emperor – Kuzco – is a young man that desperately needs to mature. His view of the world ends at the tip of his nose. He cares only about his own wishes and desires. Furthermore, Kuzco removes anything or anyone that mistakingly interrupts his plans or opposes his groove. In time – some of which his spent as a lama – Kuzco learns that his groove must change in order to include and honor the contributions of others so that together, their grooves create a mutually beneficial world.

In our Scripture lesson for this week Jesus throws off the groove of the ruling religious leaders. “The holy people,” as they are called in Sidney Carter’s hymn, are angered that Jesus’ teachings not only contradict the teachings of old but also that his teachings are gaining popularity. Whereas people turned to the Temple to bring sacrifices and seek healing, now the people turned to Jesus. Whereas the people brought their questions about righteous living to the Temple, now the people brought their questions to Jesus.

The holy people were jealous. They feared the weakening of their influence and therefore the weakening of their power.

They misunderstood. Jesus did not want to usurp them. Jesus wanted to fulfill all the holy people had been teaching. But his presence and his teachings threw off the holy people’s grooves. Instead of working towards a mutually beneficial world, the holy people chose a course of action that would eliminate Jesus from the world.

Or so they thought…

It is frustrating when something interrupts our plans or our groove. The groove interrupter could be a person or an idea, it could be a decision or diagnosis, and anyone in Florida knows the weather is totally capable of interrupting one’s groove!

We have three choices or opportunities when we experience groove interrupting:

  1. We can avoid the interruption, thereby refusing to engage or respond to it.
  2. We can assimilate the interruption, thereby incorporating ourselves into its movement and beliefs.
  3. We can adapt the interruption, thereby working to find a mutually agreed upon solution and way forward.

I admit that these three choices appear awfully simple in our incredibly complex world. But perhaps thinking in simpler terms will allow us to address rather than dismiss groove interrupters. It is not always easy or comfortable to address groove interrupters, but we do not live in a time or have the luxury to continue dismissing them either.

It is true that the more a species adapts, the longer the species will thrive. At our very cores we have to choose to adapt our wills to God’s will. We are all headstrong and defiant. Our hearts are bent toward sinning. And so we choose to adapt our wills to God’s will, which leads us towards eternal life.

Towards the eternal groove.

What would our world be like if we applied this spirit of adaption to all groove interruptions? If we applied our thinking, our talents, and our skill sets in partnership with God’s grace to find the way our collective groove will move forward? If we did, then I think we would indeed secure a mutually beneficial world. We would thrive in a world that daily becomes more like the Kingdom of our Lord.

Prayer: “I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame, the holy people said it was a shame; they whipped and they stripped and they hung me high; and they left me there on a cross to die. 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.

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. 

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.