DANCE

Rick Sweeney
8 min readApr 27, 2024

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Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

A sermon about being open and alive to the

Spirit

JESUS IS TEACHING ME HOW TO DANCE
MATTHEW 11: 16–19 OCTOBER 22, 2023

I. THE EDGE OF THE DANCE FLOOR

A. The couple was in pretty good shape at their 50th anniversary party. But their hearing had declined. When the husband stood up to toast his bride of 50 years he said, “After 50 years you are tried and true.” And the wife stood up and said angrily, “And after 50 years I’m tired of you too.” There is something to be said for “tried and true.” There is something to be said for the things we can count on to be the same day after day, year after year. We all develop patterns that make our lives more comfortable. In fact sometimes we become so attached to what we know and how we have always done it, that trying something new makes us afraid. Trying something new makes us self-conscious and uneasy. We’d rather stick to our familiar patterns. And we lose our appreciation for mystery and surprise.

B. We were at a wedding reception once and we were trying to get our son on the dance floor. He adamantly refused. He said, “Look at those guys out there dancing. They look silly.” And he was pretty much right. Then I realized that is why Prudy has a hard time getting me to dance at wedding receptions. I’m afraid I will look silly. By the way when a beautiful young bridesmaid came and asked our son to dance, he got up with no argument. Some of it is motivation. Bob Hope said he grew up with six brothers and one bathroom. They asked him if that was how he learned to fight. He said, No, that is how I learned to dance.

C. Jesus says, “I played the music, and you would not dance.” There was a movie a few years ago called “Music from another Room.” Jennifer Tilley plays a blind girl. She has an overprotective sister who tries to keep her “safe” all the time. But the blind girl sneaks out of the house with a man named Jesus (Haysoos). They go to a club where Jesus’ teaches the frightened blind girl how to dance. She stands on the edge of the dance floor hesitantly. But she takes his hand, and they start to dance. The overprotective sister finds them and says to the blind girl, “What do you think you are doing?” And she says, “Jesus is teaching me how to dance.” Sometimes I am afraid to try new things. Sometimes I am afraid to let loose and celebrate with abandon. Sometimes I feel like I spend too much time at the edge of the dance floor; too afraid or too self-conscious to allow Jesus to teach me how to dance.

II. WHICH FACE

A. Jesus says, “Come on, dance. It doesn’t matter how well you do it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never done it before. It doesn’t matter how it looks to others. Dance for God’s sake. And I say, well Jesus listen I’m too busy to dance. I don’t do it well. I might look foolish. It’s undistinguished for the people to see the minister doing the chicken dance. But Jesus simply holds out his hand and beckons me onto the dance floor.

B. In the passage in Matthew Jesus says that his generation is stuck in neutral. They won’t dance, they won’t mourn. When John came telling them to repent and follow his austere example, they called him crazy, and they would not budge. When Jesus came and said, “It’s time to party for in God’s grace the kingdom of God is here.” They would not dance. Actually Jesus says this about “THIS generation.” It is the same now as then. Most people are stuck in neutral. There isn’t a lot of opposition to Jesus. Nor is there a lot of enthusiasm for Jesus, even among those who claim to be Christians. There is a lot of apathy about Jesus. Maybe it’s the same in every generation. Back in the time of King David, his wife Michael was very upset with David. It seems when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he danced with all of his might, wearing just his ephod. He danced with pure passion for the Lord. One writer said that David was drunk on God. Michael thought it was lewd and undistinguished for a king to dance like that. And then as John writes the Revelation warning churches that being lukewarm, his way of saying stuck in neutral, are in big trouble.

C. The people around Jesus had their game faces on. That’s what they say about an athlete when he is mentally prepared for the contest. And when you listen to John the Baptist and realize how much you have displeased God and how much repenting you have to do, you should mourn. But Jesus came in order that we might celebrate in a new way. I think the face Jesus looked for was the face of a child on Christmas morning. You don’t have to call them to get up twice that day. In fact most of the time they wake you up. And then they get that look as they stare at the packages and wonder what is in them. That’s the kind of look Jesus was looking for; wonder and anticipation and unadulterated joy.

D. My parents told me that they used to get concerned about how excited I would get on Christmas morning, they would make me sit down and take a few dep breaths. My dad would say, “Now, Rick, I know it’s Christmas morning and you are excited, but your 20 years old for goodness sake.”

III. MATCHBOX

A. In the book “Like Water for Chocolate”, Laura Esquirel says, “Each of us has a box of matches inside. We can’t light them by ourselves. When passion and love come to us, like flame and oxygen, we light an inward match. Left unlit for too long, the matches dampen and the soul leaves.” We have to learn to light the matches of surprise and wonder in our matchbox. And I think we need to steer clear of those who would blow out the flame of our celebrations. I call them “It’s just a….s” You get a new job that you love, and they say, “It’s just a job.” You get a new puppy, and they say, “it’s just a dog.” It’s just a sunset. It’s just a date. It’s just a song. We should stay away from the frigid breath of those who would extinguish the wonder and the joy of our celebrations. They would keep us from risking something new.

B. Now that sounds all well and good for first century Palestine But remember Jesus was talking about this generation, US. We like being in control. And being in control means no surprises. We want to manage every aspect of our lives. And that need for control keeps us from taking risks. We are afraid of how it might look if we allow for the spontaneous sparks of something new. I had a friend in Pittsburgh who was the pastor of a non-denominational independent Pentecostal church. He would laugh at the way I “planned” worship. His church didn’t even use a bulletin. He would say, “How do you know what the Holy Ghost is going to do next?” You don’t know how to be spontaneous.” And I said, “Yes, I do. In fact it’s on my calendar. I plan to be spontaneous next Wednesday between 10 and 11.

A. So I’m standing on the edge of the dance floor. I want to learn to celebrate surprises. I want to break away from the tried and tired once in a while to experience the flame of the untried. The bumper sticker says, “Dance like no one is looking.” I am too afraid of what others will think of me. When you are twenty, you worry about what others think of you. When you are forty, you don’t care what they think of you. And when you are sixty, you realize that they were not thinking of you at all.

B. If someone offers me some dish, I have never tried my automatic response is, “no thank you.” If I go to a restaurant and have something I like, I will order the same thing every time we go there. But I am trying. When we went to Scotland, I tried Haggis. You don’t want to know what is in it. It’s Scotland’s version of a hot dog. You don’t ask what it in it, you just eat it…. Once,

IV. UNFORCED RHYTHMS OF GRACE

A. It is appropriate that you are honoring your wonderful choir and your excellent music ministry. One of the highlights for me worshipping here is the music by George and the other musicians and the choir. You make it possible for my soul to dance. C.S. Lewis talked about a deep magic. I think music is a part of that. Music reaches that place in us that is beyond words. Music talks to our hearts. I think that is a place where Jesus can talk to us without words. It’s a place that dares us to feel and to experience things that we have never experienced before. It’s a place that calls us to dance.

B. When Jennifer, the blind girl in the movie trusted Jesus’ she was not afraid. When she followed his lead, it was not all that hard to dance. Jesus came to enable us to live with joy and surprise; to embrace change and risk. Experiencing new things is a part of trusting God and following the lead of Jesus. In his paraphrase of the Bible Eugene Peterson writes, “Learn to embrace the unforced rhythms of grace.”

C. I want to experience life in its fullest. I want to stop using words like can’t and even worse, won’t. I want to learn, to grow, to dance to whatever tune God is playing without fear of what others may think. I want to break away from the tried and true that would keep me from discovering what God has in mind for tomorrow.

D. 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. I am the Lord of the dance, said he.

E. That’s what I want to do. I want to trust and embrace the unforced rhythms of grace. I want Jesus to teach me how to dance like no one is looking. I want us all to get ready to dance to the tune that God is playing. Cue the music.

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Rick Sweeney

The Reverend Dr. Richard Sweeney, Rick, is a retired Presbyterian pastor and author. Rick lives with his wife, Prudy, in Greensburg, PA.