Preaching with Passion | Sermons from around the NZ connexion

The Dance that Hasn't Limbs | Embodied prayer

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Originally published without copyright restrictions, as Naked Paradox, Biblical Insights for the Heart and Mind, by Trinity Methodist Theological College 2006 for discussion groups. 

Alan suggests this framework for the sermon

At an art gallery we look at the paintings, but it doesn’t take too long to start thinking about what’s not there as well as what is there. Someone watched a famous ballerina dancing … and at the end of it asked her, “What did you mean by that dance?” She replied, “If I could put it into words, I wouldn’t need to dance it.” And think about this. The seminarians came to Jesus and said “Professor, give us an ethical construct and a theology of interrelationship that we can dissect and analyse: give us an argument that we can take to the law courts” And Jesus laughed and said “Let me tell you a story instead. There was this vineyard manager who paid everyone the same wages, even though they’d worked different hours … there was this shepherd who thought that one sheep was worth looking after more than 99 others … there was this judge, this child, this seed, this worker… ”

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Rev Alan Webster

Some years ago we visited a number of congregations in the UK, somewhat randomly. In order to get a better perspective on what we were experiencing, I developed the tourist habit of taking a 360 degree video panorama during the first song/hymn/canticle of every service. Edited back to back, it all proved a very interesting snapshot of huge differences in worship style: and one massive marker was in body language. One group that prided itself on fealty to a very particular understanding of scripture stood solemnly, arms at their sides, expressions neutral, with little apparent feeling anywhere in their bodies. I suspect they had been warned from the pulpit about the Danger of Emotionalism! Some other groups used the Compromise Position: hands at waist level, a certain amount of side to side movement, a certain ease in their movement.

And others, well, your imagination will get closer than any words I have to offer. They were glad to be there: extroverted in their joy, expressing with all their facilities worship to God.

I am trying to report objectively: some of it was culturally informed, some of it age-related, most of it probably theologically articulated if not formally instituted.

“Raise hands NOW … two step dance NOW … embrace neighbour NOW”!” But, whatever the reason for their body language dialect, it was hugely noticeable to visitors.

  • Of course it’s easy to judge, to despise “that kind” of worship.
    Which kind?
    How do you feel in services different from what you regard as normal?
    What about cross-cultural experiences, on holiday?
    Would you describe yourself as “at ease with my body’s ability to move to music in public”?
    How do you experience dance? Used to when I was younger? Folk dances are fun, but …? Watched politicians in Dancing with the Stars with admiration/disgust/jealousy?

The next passage of scripture looks at some of those factors: dignity, gravitas, formality, the cares of office, setting a good example. Get into a solemn mood, for this is a serious story!

The Ark of the Covenant was at the very centre of the Temple worship. It was a box surmounted with beautiful carvings, containing the Ten Commandments, the law by which Israel defined itself. It contained souvenirs of manna, samples of God’s provision for a nation in a hunger crisis. It also contained Aaron’s rod, symbol of Israel’s special expectations that its leaders would be blessed by God.
The ark was a sacred object: like the Bledisloe Cup but infinitely greater; like the Liberty Bell but more so; like the Stone of Scone but even more so. This most sacred object was carried only by priests on special occasions, with huge pomp and ceremony, reverence and fear. It was not quite God’s Presence: but it was very close to it.

And in 1 Samuel 4, after a major defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the Israelites decided to use the Ark of the Covenant as a lucky charm: they carried it into battle, to the terror of their opponents, to the joy of their battered soldiers. But, unbelievably, it was captured. It did no good to the Philistines, however (I Samuel 5,6). So they sent it back as far as Kiriath Jearim, where it stayed for the next twenty years. What happened next is our focal point.

Read 2 Samuel 6:12 – 23. What does it tell us about David’s character and temperament?
What is a “sacred dance,” verse 16?
How does verse 19 fit in to the picture? This is not just private worship, it involves a city

What was Michal’s problem? Is her position defensible?
Have you any sympathy for Michal? (Introverts married to extraverts: speak out now!) But after all the senses have been satiated, maybe the dance leads you into a different kind of joy. A dance without limbs, an embodied prayer. So, sometimes when words aren’t enough, when there are no words, our bodies will find a way of expressing what needs to be expressed anyway, and that’s when we will dance.