Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

To Leap and to Dance

Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

 

II Samuel 6: 1-5; 12b-19

 

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

As I sat this week with this story of David leaping and dancing, I found myself thinking about three questions about my own life and I would like, in turn, to ask you to think about the same questions this morning:

 

The first question is this: What in your life has caused you, literally or metaphorically, to leap and to dance?

 

I asked some friends this question this past week. One of them said “falling in love.” “I could have danced all night,” he said, “and still have danced some more.”

 

Another replied it was being with his partner on the Cape (Cape Cod), where he and his partner could dance and just be who they were without having to worry about what people might think or say.

 

For David it was bringing the ark of God to Jerusalem. It made him want to leap and dance.

 

At first, David’s bringing the ark of God into Jerusalem might seem quite different from falling in love or being able to dance with your partner on the Cape. They might seem like very different things, but I wonder if they are?

 

The Ark of the Covenant had been part of Israel’s history since the time of Sinai. It was a sign of God’s presence with the people of Israel – a sign of who Israel was as God’s people called by God to be a blessing to all the world.

 

The ark had gone with the Israelites through their 40 years in the wilderness. The ark had led the way when the children of Israel had passed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Once they got there, the ark had been cared for by the priest Eli and by Eli’s disciple, Samuel.

 

Then it had been captured by Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, who had kept it for some time but finally decided it was bad luck and they sent it back to Israel. But the new king of Israel, the first king of Israel, Saul, was not interested in the Ark. And so the Ark sat in somebody’s backyard for 20 years. It just sat in Abinadab’s back yard for 20 years, uncared for and unattended until Saul had died and David became king.

 

King David went and sent a group of people to fetch the Ark of God, the Ark of the Covenant, from where it was just sitting uncared for. David rescued the Ark from Abinadab’s back yard, built a new cart to carry it, and he had it brought to his capital city of Jerusalem. And as the Ark was coming into the city, David began to dance and to leap and to celebrate. David had fallen in love with God.

 

He reclaimed Israel’s identity and heritage and story as the children of God, as God’s people with a mission and a calling that God had given them to be and to do. David had made Israel whole again. He restored a part of Israel that had been lost and forgotten during Saul’s kingship. He made Israel whole again and it made him want to dance and to leap.

 

And isn’t something like this really what happens to us when we fall in love? A part of us that is lost within ourselves is found. Our brokenness is healed and we are made whole. Isn’t this the same sort of thing that happens to us when we feel safe enough to take the risk of just being who we are? We become whole. We are reunited with that part of ourselves that is broken and it wants to make us dance and leap.

 

So the first question is when in your life have you wanted to dance and leap, literally or metaphorically? I want to suggest this morning that whenever that was is when you were most whole, when you were most you. A lot of us pay a lot of attention to problems in our life, but are we paying attention to the joy in our life? When have you, in your life, wanted to literally or metaphorically leap and dance?

 

Here is the second question: When have you been resentful of someone else’s joy? When have you, like Michal, the daughter of Saul, who looked out the window and saw David dancing and despised him, when have you felt resentful of someone else’s dancing?

 

Paul Tillich a long time ago preached a famous sermon entitled “You are Accepted.” [1] He said something in that sermon that has stuck in my mind from the day I read it about 40 years ago. He was talking about how all of us, all of humanity exists in a state of separation from self, others and God. He was talking about us existing in a state of “sin.” The word “sin,” he says, should never be used in the plural. Sin is not wrong or immoral things that we do, but sin is the condition in which we exist which causes us to do harmful things to our own self, to one another and to God. We exist in a state of separation and sin.

 

One of the evidences that he gives for this, for us existing in a state of separation and sin, is this: “There is something in the misfortune of our best friends which does not displease us.” This is evidence that we are alienated from each other, from God and from our own selves. There is something in the misfortune of even our best friends that does not displease us.

 

There is a word for this in the German language that I learned from our youth minister Matt Smith this week:  the word is scha·den·freu·de which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others.”

 

I asked Matt which seminary class he learned this word in. He told me he heard it on The Simpsons. Schadenfreude – when we take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. What this is talking about is a twist on scha·den·freu·de, when we find displeasure in the joys of others. The joys of others make us resentful.

 

When have you felt resentful of someone else’s joy, someone else’s success, someone else’s elevation? When have you been unhappy because someone else was praised or rewarded?

 

It is a part of our human condition. It is a consequence of our own joylessness, because we ourselves are not full of joy we become resentful of the joys of others. I am tempted to suspect that much of the harm that we do to one another is a consequence of lack of joy in our own lives. I think it is part of the reason that we become racist, that we become sexist, that we become homophobic and heterosexist, that we look down on people who are different, including people who are differently abled.

 

I think all of this has to do with the lack of joy in our own lives, because if we had joy in our own lives it would make us happy to see others living out their lives with joy and fulfillment and happiness.

 

When have we been resentful of someone else’s joy?

 

The third question is this: What is keeping you from dancing and leaping, literally or metaphorically, today?

 

What is getting in the way of your joy?

 

If you read the story of David you will see what got in the way of David’s joy. When David could not face his own pain, his own dishonesty, when he could not look at the hard aspects of his own life in the face and deal with them, he also then lost his joy. Look at the story of David and Bathsheba and the story of David and his son Absalom.

 

When we cannot face that part of our lives which is painful, or in which we have anxiety, or sometimes when we just plain feel empty, when we cannot face the hard things, then we also numb ourselves to the experience of joy. There is no way to joy except through grief. There is no way to joy except through living through the pain and the agony and the emptiness that is also part of our lives. The psychiatrist Herb Cohen says again and again: the only way out of hell is through the middle.

 

A friend of mine who is going through an intense period of therapy right now, looking at the pain and anxiety and the emptiness that has been part of his life ever since childhood, told me that it is such hard work that he said to his therapist one day that it was too hard to do. He said to his therapist: “I don’t know if I can look at these things. I don’t know if I can examine and face these things. It is too hard.”

 

He tells me that the therapist said to him: “Yes, it is hard, and I would advise you not to put yourself through it unless you are planning on living at least five more years.” The implication of this being, however, that if he wanted to find his way to joy and peace for the remainder of his life, he would have to face the pain, the anxiety and the emptiness.

 

When David refused to face his own pain and brokenness was when he also lost his joy.

 

What is getting in the way of your joy?

 

When Jane and I visit Rome last month, if we can find it in every place we visit, we like to go to find the place where the Jewish community is. So, when we vacationed in Rome, we went to see the Museum of Jewish History and the synagogue of Rome which has been built on the very same ground where the Jews had been ghettoized in Rome from 1555 to almost 1900. They lived behind the walls of the ghetto much of that time. At night they had to be inside the walls behind locked gates. It was the only place where they were allowed to be. Then around 1900 it was torn down and a museum and a synagogue were built.

 

In the gift shop of the museum there was a print that we bought a copy of showing the Jews of Rome celebrating the Jewish holiday simhat torah. In the print you see the Jews of Rome dancing and leaping on the lawn of the synagogue, celebrating simhat torah. The rabbi is in the midst of them dancing with the scrolls of the Torah.

 

The Christian theologian Harvey Cox has been attending synagogue weekly now for several years with his Jewish wife. He says that simhat torah is one of the Jewish holidays that he loves the most. They attend an old synagogue in Boston. He says that when simhat torah arrives, they close down the street outside the synagogue. He says the street is jammed with 200 people whirling and jumping and holding hands in circles to the beat of blaring klezmer music. Some of the dancers are hugging large, rolled up scrolls encased in silk cloths.

 

“On this night,” he writes, “Jews dance with the Torah – sometimes into the wee hours of the night — in near euphoria to thank God for the gift of the [Torah.]”[2]

 

If we could just get over our fixation on a few passing verses of the Bible that distract us and really pay attention to the story that the Bible is telling, the real message of the biblical story, if we could just pay attention to the story the Bible is trying to tell us, we too could spill out onto 16th Street and dance with our Bibles. We could dance and leap and whirl our wheel chairs with our Bibles.

 

Don’t be distracted, because the Bible is the story of a God who has fallen in love with us, and who would like us to fall in love with God. It is the story of a God who completes us and makes us whole, a God who knows us as we are and loves us still and wants nothing more for us than that we would come to love ourselves and each other. The Bible is the story of a universe where, in the heart of it all, all of the brokenness and pain and anxiety and emptiness of the universe really is healed and reconciled and made whole.

 

If we could just see the God of the Bible in love with us, we would run and dance and leap and whirl our wheelchairs into the wee hours of the night on 16th Street until people thought we were touched.

 

What in our lives has made us want to dance and to leap?

 

When do we find ourselves resentful of the joy of others?

 

What today is getting in the way of our joy?

 

What do we need to surrender today to the grace of God to just let joy happen?

 

 

 

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[1] Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), 157.

[2] Harvey Cox, “Gamboling with God” in Best Spiritual Writing 2002, edited by Philip Zaleski (HarpertSanFranciso, 2002), 27-40.