I have often heard that we learn our faith from music; the hymns and songs of the church. We more easily remember the songs we sing and good church music is filled with lessons of faith and praise for God. I believe that we have taken this important lesson from the Bible and the Book of Psalms. By definition, a psalm is: “a sacred song or hymn, in particular any of those contained in the biblical Book of Psalms and used in Christian and Jewish worship.” The Book of Psalms contains 150 of these beautiful sacred songs and they have been the basis for countless worship songs throughout history. During the summer I want us to visit some of these songs and learn more about how they help us to know God better and to guide us to doing what God intends us to do. Psalm 149 tells us to sing a new song to the Lord and to offer our praise with music and dancing. This is a beautiful image…Everyone praising God with music and dance – an eternal celebration. It sounds perfect – but a bit of a pipe dream when we consider who we are and how we would have to change to make this image a reality. The Book of Revelation offers a great picture of the kind of worship this psalm envisions. This “new song” is sung by “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white.” Just imagine all people – no matter their race, class, or culture; no matter the language, worship style, or music preference – united in one voice, one verse, one lyric. All conflicts, controversies, divisions and denominations are things of the past. That would be a new song and dance indeed. It will require that we all change a great deal.
20th Century philosopher, Alan Watts wrote: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” That is a great image for something that usually scares us a little – CHANGE. Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives. God is constantly leading us through change – transformation – from who we are into who God wants us to be. The process of change might be akin to a dance. The key is, understanding who is leading.
I want us to watch a short video clip; many of you have probably seen this particular clip before. It is a scene from the classic film musical, “The King and I”, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. I promise there is a point to us watching this clip, so I will ask that you pay close attention to what is happening in this scene and how we might learn from what we see.
On the surface we see Anna, a modern woman for her time, trying to help a man steeped in ancient tradition learn the ways of the modern world. Imagine that Anna represents the contemporary church trying to find its way in the midst of traditionalism. Imagine the King represents the traditional church wanting to move forward, yet not quite understanding how. Their dance is gentle, but complicated. Anna treats the King with dignity and respect, but, in the end she finds there is much to learn from the more traditional King. The church today has much to learn from the traditions of our past. The traditional church knows it needs to change, yet it struggles with how best to do that. It is indeed a dance.
The psalmist this morning tells us to praise the Lord with singing and dancing. It is a joyful psalm and it exhorts us to praise God with all that is in us. It makes me smile to think that God gets pleasure from our music-making, even when it is less than perfect; God loves to see us dance, even when we are not Fred and Ginger. God just loves to see us happy and celebrating.
I wonder today about this dance metaphor and how God may be calling us to dance in many different contexts. We celebrate and worship with music and dancing. We also dance around issues that affect the church and we dance with one another as we negotiate change. We often dance around rather than face the challenge of taking a stand. We also wrestle sometimes more than we dance when the steps are complicated or different from what we are accustomed to.
What I hear in Psalm 149, as well as in the passage from Revelation, is that God wants us to celebrate. God wants unity among the peoples of this world as we look to spending eternity together praising God, “standing before the throne.” The dance may feel awkward at times when we feel like we have “two left feet.” It is clear to me, however, that God expects us to keep practicing. Dancing for the Lord involves dancing with one another. It requires us to love and accept others in the same way God loves and accepts us. Maybe the key to dancing for God is learning to follow “The Lord of the Dance.”
Shall we dance?