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At first glance it would seem that the only thing our two Scripture readings have in common is a dance—one by David who danced with joy before the Lord, and one by Herodias’ daughter who danced at her mother’s behest to manipulate Herod to go against his better judgment—which worked very well. But when I read these two lectionary passages together, I see something a little different, I see two very similar dances: David’s dance of faith and joy before the ark of God, and John’s dance of faith, the way he walked and talked and lived his life to bring glory to God and point to Jesus.
We often speak of the dance of life. John Michael Montgomery, his song Life’s a Dance, says that life’s a dance and you learn as you go. Another person said, Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Today, as we take apart these scripture passages, I want you to consider two things:
- Are you dancing? Are you continuing to move through life in a way that your dance, your life, is bringing glory to God, bringing to others a picture of God’s glory?
- If you aren’t dancing, are you willing to learn the steps, as Jesus, David, and John demonstrated, in thanks to God for His inexpressible gift?
Why is dance used as a word to describe life? Well, to me dance is an expression of self, of deep-seated emotion. It is putting movement to thought. Whether the steps are a box-step or waltz, or the hokey-pokey, dancing is active, moving, changing, adjusting. Looking back to the days of my youth, to the freedom and energy of spinning on the dance floor, I resonate with David’s dance before the ark of the Lord, his celebration of God’s presence entering into the city.
God called David, and Saul persecuted him. With his life threatened and in danger, through it all David came to the moment when he was crowned king. There were many moments when he could have given up dancing, changed the steps, began dancing for himself and given up moving toward the call of God and God’s plan for his life, but even though the steps were slower, maybe even mournful, he continued the dance, continued to demonstrate his faith before those who saw him.
I don’t know about you, but I love a parade, especially the drum line. I just can’t stand still when the drums start playing. I have to move! Maybe you’ve seen that when we sing a rousing song! What makes you joyful? What helps you dance? What could cause you to stand up and give a little jig?
Years ago in Pittsburgh, my husband was a social worker. He had an elderly client who had experienced a nervous breakdown of some type and was separated from her family because of it. Because of Don’s care for her she became attached to him emotionally. In fact, she was jealous when he and I started dating! In any case, she was so grateful to Don for his involvement in her life that she would come by the office and stand outside his window doing a little jig, bringing some joy into his busy day.
Dance is not only an expression of self, but if we are doing it right, it is also humbling. It involves putting yourself “out there,” taking the chance that someone will disregard or dislike your dance. It is taking a stand and demonstrating who you are beneath it all.
14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
We don’t really know what it meant for David to be wearing just a linen ephod. Some commentators say it was a light tunic that had replaced his kingly robes and such, humbling himself before the ark of God in celebration of God’s great presence. Others say he was dancing in his underwear! Now I’m not suggesting you dance in your underwear, not in public, at least! In any case, David was humbling himself before God and others. Setting aside his power and majesty to reflect on the majesty of God.
Secondly, David’s dance showed his tremendous faith and commitment to God. Think of it, instead of being carried before the ark, as would befit a king, David danced before it, with abandon, celebrating, rejoicing! It didn’t matter what others thought; David danced. It didn’t matter how he looked; David danced. Only his love for and commitment to God mattered. Some said David was out of control.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
Perhaps he was exhibiting out-of-control behavior, or maybe the joy of God and the Spirit of God were in control. Some of us think this passage belongs in the Pentecostal churches down the street, not here in a Presbyterian church. We are never out of control! Decent and in order. Maybe we need a little joy, a little release, a little celebration! When Michal complained about David’s dance, he replied,. 21. . . I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.
David worshiped before God’s presence as represented by the ark, testifying to everyone who saw him that God was mighty and strong and present with them.
Finally, David’s dance—his expression of faith—included sacrifice and giving, sacrifice to God and giving to the people of God.
13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord.
David didn’t dance to bring attention to himself, but rather to bring attention to the ark, to God’s presence and blessing on God’s people. He incorporated sacrifice to God into his worship, into his dancing, into his life. Then he participated in God’s blessing of the people by giving them each a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins, kind of like sending them home with a piece of the wedding cake! His dance blessed both God and God’s people.
Let’s take the analogy a bit further by looking at the Marcan passage briefly. You see, using dance as an analogy for life, I believe we can see a similar dance in the life of John the Baptist. Now few, if any, writers refer to John as one who laughed and celebrated, but rather as someone who was somber and serious, who preached repentance and hellfire. I’m not so sure about that representation. Yes, his message was repentance. He did demand that people change their lives by submitting to God’s hand, but he was also a discipler, a mentor, a man who sought out sinners and danced before them—living his life in abandon before God and man to bring glory to God.
Like David, John’s dance was one of humility, living in stark places, wearing uncomfortable clothing, and preaching even when others dismissed him.
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
John’s dance of life was one that seemed to be out of control to those who didn’t recognize the dance, not doing things the way they had always been done, preaching and teaching about Jesus’ coming, telling those who would listen that the status quo was not enough, but that they needed to repent and live lives that were glorifying to God. And also, like David, John’s dance was one that pointed to God alone.
When David danced, and when John danced, not everyone was impressed, but there were those who were, who noticed, who heard what they were saying, who heard the music. Mark tells us that John and Herod had an ongoing relationship. John wasn’t just out in the wilderness, but he had repeated audiences with Herod, discussing God’s plan, God’s Savior, and God’s demands on Herod’s life, even to the point of telling him not to marry his brother’s wife.
When we dance before the Lord, when we live our lives in abandon to the hand of God in our lives, we will bring others to curiosity. They will have questions. They will notice. Herod noticed and wanted to protect John. He got it. He knew John was righteous and holy.
20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Herod most likely didn’t understand John’s dance, but it intrigued him. He like to listen. Perhaps he was even being wooed by the Holy Spirit to return to God instead of the Roman Empire. But unfortunately, his heart was tethered mightily to his reputation, to his position, which led him into Herodias’ trap and John’s untimely death.
I asked you at the beginning of this message about your dance, how you express your faith and the presence of God in your life. Are you still learning the steps? Still a bit clumsy with the movements? Don’t worry! Dancing is a process. Living is a journey. But God still calls us to dance, to celebrate in His presence, to be a living example of God’s Spirit working in us. We learn, we grow, we change, and we dance on.
Once a student asked the Teacher why Jesus was so misunderstood. The religious leaders opposed him. His disciples were often confused. Some thought he was crazy, possessed by demons. The Teacher replied, “Once there was a wonderful wedding. The couple hired the finest fiddlers and banjo players and drummers, musicians of all kinds. The music was so exhilarating that everyone began to dance, young and old. The people were flinging themselves about the church in the greatest of joy.
About that time two men in a car drove by the church. They had their windows rolled up and their radio was blasting their own music. They saw the people jumping about and dancing their hearts out inside the church. They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Look at those folks flinging themselves about. The people at that church are crazy!” And they drove away.
The Teacher said to the student, “That is the conclusion people make when they cannot hear the music to which others are dancing.”
Michal, Herodias, and even Herod to some degree—they couldn’t hear the music. They didn’t recognize the steps. They only knew that something was different and didn’t want to join in the dance. They didn’t want to change their lives, to learn the steps of faith and commitment to God. And when you dance, as you learn the steps, as you move through life celebrating God, humbling yourself before God’s hand and plan, and sacrificing so that His name might be glorified, others will notice. Some will listen. Some will even dance with you. But there will be those who will shake their heads and walk away. Dance anyway! Not sure of the steps? Don’t worry! The Spirit of God who lives in you will lead you, guide you, give you the strength to dance, whatever may come.
Charles Schulz once wrote, “To live is to dance, to dance is to live.”
Are you ready to dance as David danced, as John danced, as Jesus danced? To celebrate and be awash in the tremendous presence of God, to give yourself for the gospel and in following God’s will, and in sacrificing that others might see Christ in you? Let’s dance!