July 15, 2018: "Dancing For God"

“Dancing For God”

A sermon by Andrew Philip Long

The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK

July 15, 2018

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

I’m not much of a dancer, but if I was, you better believe I’d be dancing up and down the aisle this morning. You see, this past week was an important one in my life: six years ago last Sunday you elected me as your pastor. Now, I know I talk about this every summer, but the story of how it all came to be, how I found my way to this wonderful place called The First Presbyterian Church, is really something marvelous. It is something that makes my heart, if not my feet, dance for joy before God!

It was May of 2012 and I was a week away from graduating from seminary. The classes had been hard, the internships intense, the year I worked as a chaplain to cancer patients emotionally and physically exhausting. But for me, seminary was three years of exploring God and all the wonderful things God had in store for me. In the days leading up to graduation I encountered one of those things when I started a conversation with some people about a church in Enid, OK. Of course, the first thing I did was find Enid on a map—the reaction I got from most people when I told them about this congregation was, “Where is Enid?” Graduation was a tremendous celebration and when the festivities faded, the conversation about Enid continued.

Around the second week of June in 2012 I made my first visit to Enid. The search committee showed me around, took me to Sonic for my first happy hour, and intuitively took me to Starbucks every morning for coffee. The final day of my visit I preached at the Presbyterian church in Blackwell so that the search committee could see me action. We went out for Mexican food after and then they took me back to airport. When I got back to my apartment in Princeton that night I was so excited from everything that had happened that I barely slept. By the evening of the next day, Monday night, the call came asking if I would come and do ministry with the folks here; by Tuesday night I had accepted. Then, just three weeks later I was back in Enid to preach for you, and at the meeting after worship you said ‘yes’ to God’s call to us as pastor and congregation.

In these six years as your pastor I have presided over 7 marriages, I have baptized 12 children and two adults, I have confirmed 16 young people, I have officiated the funeral services for 42 faithful souls, I have celebrated and survived 6 rounds of Christian holidays, and I have preached nearly 300 sermons. That’s just some of the numbers. This doesn’t count all the conversations we’ve had together about God, about faith, about death and life and hope. This doesn’t count the visits I’ve made to your homes, your hospital rooms, at your graduations and dance recitals. This doesn’t count the hours the youth group and I have spent together eating Chinese food or talking about growing up or learning together at Dwight Mission. This doesn’t count the tears that have been shed, the laughter that’s made our bellies ache, or the moments of grace we’ve had to extend to each other…and the Lord knows there have been a lot of those!

The numbers also don’t account for how we hosted a Presbytery meeting here at the church in the Spring of 2013. At that meeting I met a very nice young woman who had recently become the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministry at the Presbyterian church in Stillwater. Two and half years later we were married in this very sanctuary, and on Easter this year, again in this sanctuary, we baptized our son.

All of that sounds really good and impressive when its stacked together. It’s not always been a yellow brick road, though—we’ve had our fair share of stumbles and falls and detours. But all of it is a testament to the faithfulness of God. These past six years are not the result of a good education or the right timing or even great leadership—these past six years are the result of a God who says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.” This congregation waded through the raging rapids and braved the hottest flames. And here we are today—a stable, active congregation that exercises a vibrant and compassionate faith. Here we are today loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Here we are today, standing for a God of unconditional grace and acceptance in an increasingly hostile world. Can you see why I want to dance?

The scene of David and the Israelites bringing the Ark of The Covenant into Jerusalem is chaotic and joyful. David gathered 30,000 men and together they went down south to a little town where the Ark had been stored generations before. When they got to the town of Baale-judah, they were told that the Ark was in the house Obedeom; Obedeom and his family had been greatly blessed for keeping the Ark safe. When David had built a cart and placed the Ark on the cart, the journey to Jerusalem began. At the start of the journey, just six paces outside of the house of Obedeom, David and the whole company stopped to make a sacrifice to God. Then, all the way to Jerusalem, David and the people danced with all their might before the Ark.

The Ark was God’s resting place on Earth. For it to be enthroned in Jerusalem meant that God had kept some promises. Way back in the book of Exodus, God promised Moses that God would no longer be in the clouds, a God sitting on a throne in a far-away place. God said to Moses, “I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt.” No more impersonal god; no more disinterested god; no more god that constantly needed to be pleased. God is with the people. With the Ark in Jerusalem, made it abundantly clear that God is faithful. David and the people did the only thing they do in the presence of this faithful God: they danced.

The Ark in Jerusalem was also a sign that better days had come at last. We’ve been reading in the books of Samuel for a few months now, and its been rough: wars, giants, God’s wrath, death and destruction. The Israelites have been assaulted from every side since the time they left Egypt. They’ve suffered under terrible, corrupt rulers, and they’ve enjoyed moments of great wealth and prosperity only for it to be taken away as they are once again shackled in chains. The Ark, the fiery presence of God within it, is a sign and seal that they’ve come through the deep waters and survived the terrible fires. It is a unifying symbol that the trails and temptations haven’t been meaningless. God promised to be with Israelites and God promised that they would one day have a place to call their own—it may have taken a wild and winding path to get there, but they’ve arrived, in Jerusalem, with the Ark and with their God. And so, they dance.

Dancing for God, either wildly like David or in the heart like me, is a very potent recognition that God is source and power and inspiration behind all things. We love to celebrate our own ingenuity, our own power, our own cunning and prowess. We like to pound our chests when we do something cool. But the story of our faith speaks of something different. From the opening lines of Genesis to the closing line of Revelation, the story our of faith is a story of a God who formed us from the dust and loves us so much that an only son was not too much to give to set us free. The story of our faith is of a God who sacrificed over and over to bring us back to the narrow path, who yearned and pleaded for and defended a people who were experts at giving the cold shoulder. The story of our faith is a story that no matter how many times we fail, how many times we turn away, how much we do to anger God, God is love, God is mercy, and God is grace. The story of our faith is one of God’s faithfulness and how every single moment of life depends and thrives on that faithfulness.

David and the Israelites danced for this God and we should be dancing for God, too. We haven’t gotten to this place and this time on our own; we’re here because God’s good will is that we are here. We enjoy the blessings of this life not because we have earned them or because we’ve been such good people; the blessings of God rain down on us because God is so generous. We have come through the waters and survived the fires not because we can swim and use a fire extinguisher, but because God’s will for us, and for all of creation, is life in abundance. And is willing to go pretty far to give us that great gift, even as far as going to the cross. God asks for nothing in return, at least nothing tangible, for the life we have been. The only thing God asks us to do is to take the life we have and spread it around, give it to others, use it for the good of all.

And there’s something really fascinating about dancing: when we’re dancing, spending all of our energy celebrating God and God’s faithfulness, we’re not doing other things. We’re not fighting with each other. We’re not looking for someone to blame. We’re not questioning the movement of God’s Spirit. We’re not excluding or pushing out or chasing away. Dancing also makes it really hard for the powers of sin and death to hold onto us. Dancing for God is so time-consuming, so energy-consuming, so life-consuming that it might just save us and this whole world.

So, will you dance? I know that for some here today, life is a bit chaotic, a bit uneasy, a bit unclear and uncertain—it might be hard to find the steps. But I also know that even through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. We each have something to celebrate today—we each have something to get our feet and hearts dancing for God. I’m not talking about a good parking spot or all green lights on the way to church or finding a $20 in your coat pocket. I’m talking about the strength you’ve had to survive a terrible diagnosis. I’m talking about the peace you’ve experienced in the midst of chaos. I’m talking about the warm harm and the sympathetic tears of others. I’m talking about the door God opened for you; I’m talking about the window God shut for you. I’m talking about good relationships and productive work and happy families. I’m talking about the freedom to worship and serve and ask questions. I’m talking about the miracle of every single day, the breath that fills our lungs, the chance we have at every single moment to live in the presence of a God who will never let us go.

We must dance. We must dance with all our might and celebrate the Lord. We must get moving because we’ve come this far by faith and we’ll only get to the Promised Land leaning on the Lord. The Lord is with us, people of God! So let’s dance! Amen.

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