Jerry put the information on this morning’s worship service on the church signs on Monday. It has been interesting to hear people’s response. I ran into an area pastor of another denomination at Classen SAS graduation ceremony. He greeted me jokingly with, “hey, I saw your church sign. I did not know Baptist danced.” Someone at SALT commented with a smile on the sermon topic posted on the signs and with a smile said, “better be careful about preaching about dancing. Sounds like it could go bad either way you come down on the topic.” We all know where this comes from. Many of us grew up in an era where we were taught from pulpits across the land that Baptist did not drink, did not play cards, did not go to movies, and certainly did not dance. But with the march of time and the opening of hearts and minds something remarkable began to happen. On April 4, 1996 the Baylor Communications Office put out a press release that began this way;”The Berlin Wall has fallen, Big Macs have invaded Russia, and there are lights at Wrigley Field. Mankind's last great resistance is about to be history: There will be dancing at Baylor University.” On October 7, 2011 the Trustees of Oklahoma Baptist University voted to remove the prohibition on dancing from the student handbook. It seems that Baptist decided to learn to dance.
I can understand the objections of the preachers of earlier generations. Whether it is the Waltz or the the Tango, the Lindy or the Charleston, the Twist or the Stroll, Square Dancing or the Two-Step, Hip Hop or free flow, there is a passion and a liberty of motion that dancing invites. The movement between two people is substantively different than our normal every day beside one another. Something happens when you dance. At some level you have to let go. At some level you have to embrace the rhythm of the music. At some level you have to embrace the emotion of the moment. Dancing can be freeing. Dancing gives feet to joy.
It is funny that it has taken Baptist so long to come to terms with dancing. As we listened to our two focal passages being read earlier in our service we heard to powerful picture of the people of God ready to dance. It sounds strange to hear such passionate words from Jeremiah. He is better known as the weeping prophet. He is the prophet of doom and destruction. He is the prophet of pain and agony. But, in this passage he sees a moment, a very different kind of moment. He proclaims that there will be a day when the pain and agony, doom and destruction, will give way and God will restore the people to their intended place and joy will break out – dancing for joy will define the day.
We heard a well known passage from Ecclesiastes that speaks to the season and motions of life. It seems we most often hear this passage in moments of crisis or pain, reminding us that these seasons are just a part of story. But, as the passage reaches its crescendo we hear that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to morn and a time to dance. Did I hear that right? We know the difficult taste of grief and morning, but here we hear that just as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so too are we to claim a time for joy – a time for dancing.
We know that these two passages are talking about more than a quick whirl on the dance floor with you favorite guy or girl. These passages speak about a time when we dance with joy in the presence of God. They are describing of moments of grand celebration and freedom, of redemption and release. They envision a walk with God that is driven by joy.
Several years ago I lead a Wednesday night Bible study series looking at the Holy Spirit. I recently walked through a modified version of that study in SALT. But during that first study Lee Sneed came up to me after a night when we had looked at a number of the Holy Spirit passages and asked me a question that has haunted me to this moment. His question? “If we have the presence of God – the very power of the resurrection - living within us, why don’t we live that way?” Lee, that was and is a great question. I think part of the reason is that we know how to live by the established religious rules and cultural customs. There is a certain comfort about being able to determine our own steps and to march forward in the well worn paths and the well know rhythms. We learned to “behave” in church and life and in the process often left little room for God to do more than we plan; little room for God to do the unexpected; little room for God to change the rhythm and invite us to dance. We can find ourselves so wrapped up and holding on so tight, that we can hardly imagine letting go, even into God’s hands.
I bring you good news of great joy. The promised time of redemption and renewal that Jeremiah proclaimed has come to pass. God stands ready to restore us and invite us to dance. The time of morning has given way to the power of the resurrection; death has given way to life and God is ready for us to celebrate and dance. We are the people of Easter. The people who are forgive shaped by the cross of Christ and the power of the resurrection pronouncement. We are the people of God, made a part of the family through faith in Jesus. We can experience lives of joy and a way of life that invites us to dance with God and with one another. We can relish in our walk with God. We can delight in the way of God. We can be thrilled by the work of God. We can learn new songs and dance new dances.
I must recognize that some of you hear me this morning may believe I am talking about a style or way of worship. This word is about something much more. I want us to look at the very nature of our life with God. We are invited to a way of life where we can rejoice in God’s presence and marvel in God’s work in our lives. To experience this kind of life with God we must get out of our religious boxes and push down the boundaries so that nothing stands between us and the God who loves us, restores us, redeems us, and makes us whole. We are invited to a life with God where we walk with God with unadulterated joy and abandon. We are the ones of whom Jeremiah speaks; They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.13 Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Lee, the time has come when we live in the knowledge and power that the presence of God – the very power of the resurrection, lives within us. On this Pentecost Sunday, the day set aside to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, we must let go and break loose and allow God to invade and pervade into every aspect of our lives. It is time for us to shout with joy and sorrow no more. It is time for the young and old, both men and women to break out in dance in celebration of their walk with God. It is time to find the passion and claim the liberty of motion found at God’s feet. It is time to listen to the rhythms of God’s word and way and dance. It is time for you – for me – for all of us to relish in God’s presence and become Dancing Baptist in celebration. The dance floor is open. How will you respond?