May I Have This Dance?

May I Have This Dance?

The following message was delivered to Bethel UMC – Seymour on July 7, 2019 (4th Sunday after Pentecost). Lectionary readings were: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 66:1-9, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16

Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.

A brave, powerful and highly respected general who has an incurable problem finds an uncommon advocate in one of his slaves, a young girl from Israel who, although she could have been bitter toward her captor, chooses instead to demonstrate a Godly character and confidently, almost enthusiastically provides a solution in the form of a prophet, a man of God, back in her home country.  The general takes that information to his king who arrogantly writes a letter to another nation’s king, commanding the second king to fix the general’s incurable problem.

The second king reacts far more like a drama queen than a king, assumes the worst, has a fit and accuses the first king of trying to pick a fight.

The prophet the girl had recommended to the general hears about all this, tells the second king he’s acting a bit silly and has the general sent to him instead. The general arrives at the prophet’s house in a flashy show complete with a chariot, horses, and a contingent of servants and, most likely, a few guards.

When the prophet doesn’t appear in person but, instead, sends a messenger down to tell the general, “go wash seven times in the Jordan,” the general gets instantly offended, loses his temper and starts to stomp away mad. His servants calm him down, suggest he would have probably embraced the prophet’s message had it involved doing something more heroic and convince him to go ahead and wash seven times in that muddy old river, what could it hurt?

The general does so and is healed.

So, what do we take away from this passage? What is the point?

Trust. Not trust of people one would naturally trust, but trust in those who fall into the category of the stranger, of the foreigner, of lesser status, of “the other”.

THREE TIMES in this narrative, Naaman has to consciously decide to trust someone who is, to him, lesser, a foreigner, the “other”. The first time is when he trusts the advice of the slave girl, a foreigner and someone who has every reason to betray him or wish him harm, a girl who is enslaved because she is an “other.” The second time comes when he trusts that this “prophet” person, another foreigner or “other” who is purportedly empowered by some god Naaman doesn’t know or believe in can actually heal him. And the third time is when he trusts the advice of his own servants, “others” just by being from a significantly lower social status than Naaman.

And, in trusting those three “others”, Naaman also has to consciously decide to trust God.

The “others” in this story also have to trust. They do so when they put their trust and faith in God completely and without second thoughts or doubts. In those days had the healing failed, the girl, Elisha, and Naaman’s servants could all have been severely punished, possibly even put to death. Their trust in God was greater than their fear of any consequences.

When God made us the caretakers of everything in the world – every single living and natural thing that He created including each other – He did so because He trusts us. He trusts us to build and maintain relationships with each other that mirror His relationship with us, and by “each other” He includes anyone we might label as “other.” In exchange for His trust in us, God expects us to trust Him and to show that trust through both our words and our deeds.

God’s trust in us is unwavering. However, for us, trust is a whole other story. It can come naturally, can be earned, can be lost, and can be withheld. We naturally trust our spouses, kids, parents, and siblings. We learn to trust and to earn the trust of our friends, employers, coworkers, and neighbors. But strangers, foreigners, anyone we place in that category of “the other”? Not so much …

Ask yourself … and be honest … how easily … and quickly … and often do you trust those you place in that category of “other”?

What about that guy you see around town covered in tattoos with a shaved head? What about the lady in the burka or the man sleeping under the bridge or that family in line at the grocery store speaking some foreign language or those kids that show up at all the high school ball games with the Kool-aid colored hair and nose rings and giant holes in their ears or … I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point.

Right now in our culture, in our society, trust is rare occurence. We don’t know which news source to trust. A growing preference for communicating by text or email rather than face-to-face is creating a lack of trust in the message, therefore the messenger, because the lack of sound and image removes two key elements in determining the intent of the message – inflection and body language.

Our country is so divided about policies and laws right now that family members holding differing opinions on those topics are beginning to distrust one another entirely.

And trust in churches is extremely low. According to an article from Religion News Service in March of this year, “Nones” … those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever … are now a larger portion of the population than either Catholics and Evangelicals.

Trust is a key element in relationships. To love one must trust. To love is to trust. We struggle to trust and it’s vital to being able to love – you can’t have one without the other, and yet we are commanded to love. We are specifically called to trust Jesus who ministered to the “other” and, in doing so, tells us, “you love them, too,” that the world may be healed.

As a matter of fact, Jesus commands us to “love one another” five times! John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:17 “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

And then seven more times in the New Testament Paul, Peter and John remind us again to love one another … Romans 13:8, 1Thessalonians 4:9, 1Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 1:5, Ephesians 4:2, and 1 Thessalonians 3:12 all tell us to love one another.

In his Commentary on Galatians, the ancient theologian, Jerome, tells a story about John the Evangelist. According to Jerome, John lived to be quite old and became so feeble he had to be carried to the various churches. It became difficult for him to speak, and he would usually just say, ‘Little children, love one another’. The disciples and brothers attending him got tired of that over and over and finally asked him, ‘Teacher, why do you always say this?’ John told them, ‘Because it is the Lord’s commandment and, if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.’

Jesus’ commandment to love God and to love neighbor is one of the simplest instructions we have from the Bible! We would probably all struggle to remember all ten Old Testament Commandments, but who can forget Matthew 22:36-40 when Christ says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So simple, right? Keep just those two commandments and we’ve got this thing licked! And yet, we can’t even get that right because we struggle to love one another. Why? Because we don’t trust one another, especially when that other is the other.

We like to think that we trust, we may even tell ourselves we trust, but far too often we make excuses about why it isn’t safe or prudent to trust. If we look at the racial and economic bias in our criminal justice system, the crisis at the US-Mexico border, the current state of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, our local churches, our school systems, and our families, it’s not so hard to see that we don’t really trust much at all.

When something becomes scarce, it becomes a highly valued commodity and a really big, really important thing, especially to God who trusts us with so very much. And one would think that our trust in God should lead us to trust in one another including the “other.”

We struggle to trust and often fail, and yet scripture tells us that Naaman was healed because he trusted the other.

So what does trust have to do with dancing? I’ll tell you …

When Jason told me about this church, he said you were looking for three things, two of which involve trust: reaching out into and doing more out in your community, and growing this congregation.

My first reaction was my own happy dance, followed by hands raised in praise and an exclaimed, “You have delivered me to my people, thank you, Jesus!”

Then the gravity of it all sunk in. Here I am … this 61-year-old woman in her first appointment, and I’m about to ask this congregation to trust me. Trust that I can keep all of you interested enough to come back each week. Trust that together we can come up with plans that carry us out into the community, and trust that we do so in a way that carries the community back here. I’m asking you to trust me and I’m asking you to trust “the others” that we’ll most assuredly meet when we venture out into the community. And, through all of this, I’m asking you to trust that God’s hand is and will be on us, Christ is and will be walking with us, and the Spirit is and will be guiding us and making our way clear.

It occurred to me that this was kind of like moving to a new town and school the week before the homecoming dance and your parents telling you to trust them, everything will be fine and you’ll have a good time … Will I have to go to the dance alone? What if I go and nobody dances with me? What if someone asks me to dance and I mess up?

Then I heard a story told by Taylor Christian Mertins. He told about a class he’d taken in seminary, about how the professor had spoken on a scripture at the beginning of class, how none of them remembered what the professor talked about in that message and how, at the end of the class, the professor told them that everyone remembers the last thing you said so they should take out a piece of paper and write this down, “It’s about God, stupid.”

That’s the thing. This isn’t about me, isn’t about you, isn’t about Bethel UMC or Smoky Mountain District or Holston Conference or the Southeastern Jurisdiction or the UMC as a whole. This is 100% about God. About loving God, worshipping God, praising God, serving God, trusting God because He’s the one asking us to dance with Him.

By putting His trust in us, God has invited us to the dance. He’s here, He’s waiting, and it’s up to us to accept His invitation.

I want us to accept His invitation and to dance, Bethel. I want us to dance our way out into the community and invite strangers to the dance, too. I want us to keep dancing when our feet ache and when no one can hear the music but us, and when they can’t hear that music, I want us to sing that music to them and sing it loud.

Psalm 149:3-4 says, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.”

Psalm 30:11-12 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”

And finally, Psalm 150 says, “Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”

I want us to dance and to sing joyful songs whether our souls are soaring or weary and I want us to teach the songs to all we meet. I want us to raise our hands and shout praises when things go right, and I want us to shout louder praises when they go wrong. I want us to remember that we serve a mighty and loving God who expects and deserves that we trust Him.

God is asking us to dance … standing here on His great dance floor, His hand outstretched, waiting for us to choose. What say you, Bethel? Shall we dance?