Joining in the Dance

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When Christopher and Tiana Maslanka, along with their daughter Lilia, joined our flock, Tiana told me that she had done liturgical dancing in other congregations and would be happy to offer her talents here as well. Today is the day! As someone with two left feet, I have always admired those who are able to present their bodies not only as living sacrifice to God, but as a graceful sacrifice as well. Whether graceful or not, Paul encourages all of us to do, in whatever way God may lead us, to express the good, the acceptable and the perfect in our lives. This invitation seems especially appropriate for us this morning on Rally Sunday, which gives us the opportunity to fill up our dance card and get back out on the dance floor of parish life.

The last time I worshipped with liturgical dancers was at a church camp in West Virginia during their music and arts camp. Liturgical dance was one of the electives, and the campers who joined that group spent the week preparing a dance which they offered at one of our final chapel services.

I believe they danced to a song that was popular back then in the late sixties and early seventies entitled, “Lord of the Dance”. The lyrics of that song introduced me to a way of thinking about our Christian walk with the Lord that was new to me. Considering Paul’s epistle this morning, where he appeals to us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, to become dance partners with Jesus, the Lord of the Dance, and with each other, we have an apt metaphor for putting mind, heart and feet into our faith and discipleship.

And when Paul goes on to tell us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect, he is reminding us that the first step in learning a new dance is to pay attention to the Dance Instructor, to comprehend the dance sequence in our minds first and then pass along that understanding to our feet, so that our dance eventually comes naturally through the muscle memory we have built into our bodies by practicing the sometimes unusual requests that Jesus asks of us if we would follow his lead, and not imitate the passing motions and fashionable movements of this world.

Here are the stanzas of the song, to give you a better understanding of what I am talking about:

And this is the refrain they danced to after every verse:

And so we make our annual appeal on this Rally Sunday to accept Jesus’ invitation to get on the dance floor, both with dance steps we already know – perhaps ushering or altar guilding or Honduras missioning or Fall Festing or Wednesday dinner cooking – as well as dances the Spirit of the Lord is encouraging us to try but we hesitate because are afraid we might step on Jesus’ or somebody else’s toes in the process of learning the joy and reward of following his lead in a new direction.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to host a social hour, or do craft projects with the children at Vacation Bible School or price donations at the Thrift Shop, but you hesitated for one reason or another. I know I sometimes waver, for instance, if I think the dance will go on forever. That’s why the dance card we have given you is just for one year, and not forever. Even Jesus grew tired and rested and invited his disciples to take a break and do the same. If your dance no longer brings you joy, if the living sacrifice that you are offering is not promoting the good, the acceptable and the perfect, then it may not be the will of God for you to continue, but to take a break with Jesus, your dance partner, to step away from the dance floor, until he invites you to get up and join him again, perhaps to learn a new step.

I think it’s appropriate, in this regard, to think of Canon Tim Nunez as the Dance Instructor for the vestry and its survey and profile committee as they oversee the occasional and unfamiliar dance that the parish will do between your last dance with me and your first dance with your next rector. Chip Thullbery, your senior warden, has chosen twelve parishioners who are familiar with many of our dances and who respect each other’s toes and who will be patient with themselves and with each other if there is confusion, misunderstanding or a painful misstep or two along the way.

I printed a sampler of photographs I have taken over the past twenty years for each household today to help you remember many of our past and present dances and to assist you as you anticipate and offer your own thoughts to the vestry later this year on the kind of leadership you will want in the future.

I have been your dance instructor in many ways, but perhaps no more consistently and devotedly to teaching you about Christian stewardship. A month from now, and over the course of four consecutive Sundays, I will briefly review some of the basic steps we have practiced and I have modeled for you during my tenure. Just as first one counselor and then another, as the years have come and gone at Camp Wingmann, has stepped forward to instruct the campers on three or four line dances, so will someone in our congregation will need to become your stewardship dance instructor next year.

I would encourage you to make a special effort to attend, to pay attention, and to pray about whom God is calling to step forward next year to continue to transform the congregation by renewing the minds of our flock with sound, Biblical teaching so that you may be able to put the resources entrusted to you and to the congregation to good, acceptable and perfect use.

So thank you, Tiana, for leading us into our worship today and for leading us out at the end of the service into the parish hall to consider what one, two or three dances we will want to put on our dance cards for the coming year, as well as to enjoy the refreshments that are so much a part of our dances, adding to the joy of being partners with each other and with Jesus, the Lord of the Dance. AMEN.