This sermon was preached
at the Mint Methodist Church, Exeter,
by the Minister, Rev Andrew Sails
at 6.30 p.m. on 26th February 2006.


Readings: 2 Samuel 6:12-22, Matthew 11:16-19


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Today we come to the last
of our series of services on “titles of Jesus”.  
All those to date have been Biblical titles –
but today we think about a more modern title –
“Lord of the Dance”.   


Whilst Biblical images rightly have a special place
in our devotion and thinking,
doing theology means talking about God
in a way meaningful to your own time and context.  
Sometimes that process produces a new description of Jesus –
and I for one fond the title “Lord of the dance” a helpful one.


So let’s reflect together a bit on
why we dance,
how dancing and faith have been linked together,
and how we might join the dance…


There are occasions in life when you just feel like dancing –
When peace breaks out, when you fall in love,
when your team wins 4-0 -
as Michael Stancliffe puts it,
you don’t feel like “twiddling your thumbs and peeling potatoes”–
you feel like singing and dancing.  
And if your feet won’t literally dance, your heart does.


Doubtless because it is a way of expressing something deep and powerful,
dancing is there in virtually every major religion.  
from the prehistoric wall painting to the whirling dervishes,
from the Buddhist and the Shinto dances to the Hindu Shiva “Lord of the dance”.

Throughout the history of religion,
dance has been a way of expressing that deep religious sense of
glorying in, being in tune with, being in step with,
God and the Universe.


The Christian Scriptures are very positive about Dancing –

·        Miriam and the Israelites sang and danced on the far shore of the Red Sea

·        David danced before the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple.


Mediaeval Churches sang and danced –
and even sang about Christ as the Lord of the Dance.


The Shakers in the late 18th and early 19th C
had a form of worship which was largely dance.   
They justified their dancing before the Lord
in a way which still holds up today –

Dance, they said,

·        Is a gift of the Holy Spirit

·        Has OT Biblical precedent and also
echoes the joy of the Father over the returning Prodigal

·        Shows a natural impulse for joy as we move to wards God’s victory

·        Involves the body as well as the mind in worship

·         Recognizes the equality of the sexes before God,
and enables the congregation to express unity in a common dance

(see further under “Dance, Liturgical” in A New Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, ed JG Davies, SCM 1986)


Sadly in some eras Christians have struggled with the idea of dance –
For the Victorians dancing had

too much to do with the body as opposed to the mind,

too much to do with enjoyment rather than duty.

For them dancing was degrading and wrong.


But in the last century the Church has happily reclaimed the dance.


So the 20th C hymn writer Sydney Carter
took the idea of a mediaeval carol and a Shaker tune
and wrote a modern carol that was to become so well known
that many people today think it is an ancient mediaeval composition –
The Lord of the Dance.


Christ may never have called himself the Lord of the Dance,
but the image is a powerful one.


As Lord of the Dance, Christ is dancing the Father’s dance –
he enters into “a pattern of ordered graceful steps,
a disciplined obedience to certain vital rhythms,
a self forgetting abandon to a pattern of movement
ordained by his heavenly Father

(Michael Stancliffe, “Symbols and Dances, SPCK 1986, p.48).


At Bethlehem he dances into the world so that he may
bring the crashing clashing clodhopping humanity out of its confusion

·        back into step,

·        back into joyful harmony,

·        back into unity with God and his creation.


And if Christ’s dance becomes a Danse Macabre,
the dance does not end at the grave,
but he dances through to Resurrection.


So when we come to Jesus
we come to one who does not just talk,
he dances –
He bids us follow him in the dance.


How do we respond?

Are we Anglo Saxon and reserved and unwilling to look a fool
or trust ourselves to the dance floor?   
Or are we prepared to trust ourselves to our partner in the dance
to give us the grace to dance with him??


In one of his books, Rowan Williams (“Open to Judgement”, DLT 1994 p.72)
describes a BBC2 programme in the 1990s
about a teacher in Australia
who was working with a group of young men and women
who were severely mentally handicapped.   
He decided to work with them through dance,
beginning first with the simplest of movements
shown and copied, and gradually developing
the skill and confidence and enjoyment of those in the dance.  


Rowan Williams says that as he began watching the programme
expected to be moved and impressed in a rather patronising sort of way.   
What he saw bowled him over,
as finally this group of badly damaged and handicapped folk
danced Madam Butterfly and performed stunningly
to a standing ovation at the Sydney Opera House.


Then Rowan Williams has a punch in the tail.  
Sadly, he says, we of course, are not handicapped…   
All this is not for us.  
We can turn over to the 9 o’clock news
knowing that no one will ask us sane adults to dance…    
We can settle back and watch the news
about warfare and violence around our so called civilized world.

“We can leave the dancing to the handicapped,
the wounded and the inadequate –
we sane adults must get on with the serious business of living –
or rather dying – or rather killing each other”


Well that is the brutal and discordant world we live in.


So tonight as every night the Lord steps towards us
and invites us to join him in the dance….


How do we respond?


Are we sour, superior,
afraid to abandon ourselves to the dance?


If so, we can sit out the dance
and talk in the corner to the Prodigal Son’s elder brother
as he looks enviously on.


Or else we can step forward and say
Lord, I may have two left feet –
and you may need to lead
     and give me the dancing grace which I lack –
but I will trust you to lead me in the dance
     that I may know myself in harmony
     and in step with my God and his creation!



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