Dancing. Before. God.
When we talk about dancing, I imagine the zoned-out people at Woodstock, or the elite crowd at Studio 54, or the bouncing energy of mosh pits, or the amazing athletic moves of pop stars and those who back up rap artists. Or maybe we think of the religions of the world—dancing like the whirling dervishes of Turkey, or the multitude of religious dances on the African continent, or the ecstatic expression of the Hassidim, to mention a few. Dancing before God is not something unheard of in our world.
And yet, there have always been those who have tried to suppress anything that lets us take leave of our senses. Think of the evangelical church bans conjured in the film/musical “Footloose.” Think of the horror of Elvis’ hips thus demanding a “waist up” shot when that Ed Sullivan show aired. Think of the story of David dancing before the Lord—and Michal (his wife), looking down from an upper window, and despising him.
I love this image of dancing before God, because I have always loved dancing. From my failed attempts at being a ballerina (I was physically unable to turn out my hips in that way, and the shame of being seen in a leotard in a prepubescent body didn’t help); to my somewhat awkward attendance at school dances and cotillions (where I never really felt I fit in); to my discovery of country line dancing (where you didn’t need a partner to spin and twirl and enjoy the beat—even if you didn’t want to listen too hard to the words). But, as some of you have heard me tell before—the quintessential image of dancing before God happened early in my life, when I would put music on the record player in the living room shut my eyes, and with the orange glow of the afternoon sun imprinted on my eyelids, I would dance before God.
So I understand David. I understand the joy that can fill you when you allow yourself to be swept up in gratitude for life and for God’s love and for your own part in this larger picture of God’s world. I understand the way you can get lost in the moment—forgetting all cares, almost all thought, as you bask in the rhythm, as you let your body move, as you spend a little time praising our maker. It seems to me that dancing before God is something that we need to schedule a little more of in these anxious, busy, super-planned out lives that we lead.
And, as I see it, dancing is just a metaphor, for doing what you love, for putting yourself into a space to praise God, however that is for you. I can imagine painting before God, or walking before God, or even sitting in meditation before God-- whatever it is that allows you to shed some of you, and puts you in touch with the boundless energy that radiates from the One who created us. Sometimes we think that dancing before God must be loud and frenzied and create sweat (or at least endorphins), and for some that is true. But let's not constrain what “dancing” might look like. Dancing before God—suggests that we find ways to get out of the way, to loosen our tight control, and to stand in the presence of God, allowing God to move though us. Dancing before God (however you define it) is good for the soul.
This isn’t just any dancing though. This is dancing before God. This is allowing ourselves to revel in the gift that God has given us—the gift of life, the gift of being in relationship with God. Where is David dancing? He is dancing in the presence of the ark of the covenant—the very vessel that was supposed to hold the tablets of stone that God had given to Moses on Mt. Sinai—it was the tangible embodiment of the God who they worshipped. Great pains were taken so that no one touched the ark as they moved it. This was as close as most people would ever get to being in the presence of God.
And David danced because God had chosen him, the youngest of his family tribe—born to nothing of consequence, but the prophet Samuel had come and through God’s word anointed David to be the next king of Israel. David danced because God had been with him when he fought Goliath with 5 smooth stones and a slingshot. David danced because God had given him victory over others, including the king he was to replace, Saul.
When we dance before God, we too dance because of the gifts that God has given us. In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he mentions that we are “destined for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” and in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance.” Remember that Paul was writing here mostly to those who were not Jewish. They would not have been part of the “chosen people.” Even Jesus himself struggled with whether his message was meant for those who were not Jews. Paul had to fight for acceptance of his ministry to the Gentile population. And so he is remarking on their status.
God had chosen a people through Abraham and his progeny. And if you weren’t part of that biological line, you were out of luck—unless you spent years training and passing tests. But then Jesus had come, and the gospel offered another way. God offered adoption—to any who wanted it. You could become family, you could get an inheritance. That’s why Paul says, “In [Jesus] you also, …were marked with the seal of the promise.”
So when we dance before God, it isn’t just to lose ourselves—it is to say thank you, it is to participate in the relationship that we have been offered, our adoption as children of God, our unexpected inheritance of God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy. We dance because God somehow chose us, and anointed us, and has plans for us.
Dancing before God, is not something you do for approval from others. For there will always be those who do not understand. I brought up Michal despising David as she looks down from her window. Now I have to tell you that I’m always slightly suspicious when the Bible tells a story where it is the woman who is all in the wrong. So what might we learn from Michal and her distain? Maybe she is a reminder that we should not judge how others dance, or what beat they want to dance to. Or maybe Michal thought David wasn’t really dancing before God. Maybe she suspected that he was showing off to others how well he could dance, and he was doing this dance with very few clothes on as well. Maybe Michal is there as a poke at us to make sure that we are dancing before God, and not dancing to show off ourselves, not dancing to impress, not dancing to seduce, not dancing for anyone but God.
David, later in life, will start dancing only for himself, taking liberties with other people namely Bathsheba, who was not free to be with him, and setting up the death of Bathsheba’s husband so that he could have her as one of his official wives. The bible rarely lets us elevate people, or put them on a pedestal. The stories here are of flawed people, and the fact that even with their flaws, God could find ways of working through them.
So let’s not pat ourselves on our backs if we have moments when we dance before the Lord. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is right. That doesn’t immunize us from being human, and making mistakes, and needing to put ourselves before God time and time again.
So what does this dancing before God have to do with us? I hope you will consider finding your own way of dancing before God, personally. Today I want us to imagine what this Scripture lesson might it say to us as UPC?
Well, it might say to us that we have to find our own way of dancing before God. We can march to the beat of our own drummer. We can listen for the whispers that only we can hear. We can write our own story. We don’t have to follow a path that others have charted. We don’t have to look for the cookie cutter approach to what we intend to be and do. David dances before God the way David dances. And anyone who has ever been on a dance floor knows that we all dance differently. Some spiral and spin; some punch and kick; some make up elaborate choreographed moves. Dancing before God requires that we dance as our authentic selves, our unapologetic selves, the selves that God saw and blessed before we were ever aware of who we are. Let us stand firm in the knowledge that God wants us to create our own dance, and then dance with abandon.
In the midst of that freedom to lose ourselves before God, we should “keep our eyes on the prize.” We can’t allow ourselves to forget who we dance before. We must not get so puffed up with pride, or so enamored with our moves, that we lose sight of our gratitude for all that God has given to us. We were not entitled, we were chosen. We were not born to the manor, we were adopted, given a surprise inheritance.
And although we can claim the title “children of God” without fear, I believe that Paul is encouraging us (for Ephesians is often seen as a letter to the church as a whole), not to forget the grace of God in adopting us, not to lose sight of the family that we now belong to—our status isn’t just for us, isn’t just for our community, isn’t just for our denomination. God has opened wide God’s arms and wants us, all of us, to come in. As was said at our 8am service, “the doors of the church are open”—as a way of inviting others to join the family, God’s family.
I think that “Dancing before God” defines how we are to live our lives. We are not to be wrapped up in worry. We are not to be sitting around in despair. We are not to focus on how to make ourselves the end all and be all of the world. And, of course, there are times when the music seems too far away, or on break, or we lose our dancing shoes. But that may be just the time when we need to dance, even if it is a dance of loss, a dance of pain, a dance of hopelessness.
Dancing before God might seem solitary (since being lost in ecstasy usually removes you from your surroundings)—but dance usually involves others—those who make the music, those who dance alongside you—if not with you. Dancing together, or being together in the dance, is part of our worship and praise of God. God has brought us together, God has showered us with so much, God gave us dance as a way of deepening our relationship with God, and with one another.
For if you look at the end of our passage about David—at the end of the dance, David blesses the people, and gives them food—bread, meat, raisins. Only then do they go back to their houses. The dance, the praise of God, isn’t just for our own enjoyment. It is meant as a way of filling us up, a way of making us strong, a way of preparing us so that we can continue to reach out and serve.
So let us come to the dance. Let us lose ourselves in the dance. Let us close our eyes and be filled with the glory of the Lord. And after dancing our fill, let us know that it is our job to invite others to the dance as well. And if they don’t come to us, then we have to dance our way into our world—bringing the presence of God near.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.