Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dangerous Dancing - a Sermon

It is my grandmother’s fault that I can’t dance. Her, and the Methodists.

Inside, I’m Fred Asataire, but outwardly, I look like a Walrus trying to get back to the sea or a chicken trying to take flight.

I blame my grandmother, of course, because she was … a Methodist. Not just any Methodist, of course, but a country Methodist. Of course, they did not allow alcohol, but they didn’t believe in movies or dancing. Especially dancing was dangerous because it led to, well, all sorts of things.

Since Granny never danced, my Dad never danced, and since he never danced, I was deprived of rhythm in my life. Dancing. Do it at your peril.

Now, you would have thought that my grandmother got this idea about dancing from the bible, and if you read the Old Testament and Gospel today, you might think she had a point. The dancing in each of these had a pretty bad outcome.

But, of course, the dancing back then was just as innocent as it is today despite all those terrible things Granny imagined it was guilty of. The dancing was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Take a look at the Gospel for a moment.

King Herod has imprisoned John the Baptist because John criticized Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who just happened to still be married to Herod’s brother Phillip. Got that? But at a birthday party, Herodias’ daughter dances beautifully for him -- the way I do inside, I’m sure -- and is rewarded with a promise of anything she wants, up to half his kingdom.

The girl may have been a great dancer, but she wasn’t very bright. She had to go to her mother and ask what she wanted! Of course, Herodias knew: John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Personally, if I were the girl, I’d have taken a chalet on the Mediterranean. Either way, dancing gets a bad wrap. It was all that darn Herodias’ fault.

Things are even more of a soap opera in the Old Testament. There, King David finally brings home the ark of the covenant and dances in ecstasy as it’s brought into his city. Any king would probably have done the same thing. But his wife Michal sees him from her window and despises him. Why is she such a party pooper?

Don’t be too hard on poor Michal. She and David actually loved each other at one point. But that was when Saul was king, and he only allowed her to marry David because he thought he could use David’s love for Michal to get David killed. As a bride-price, he required David to go get 100 Phillistine foreskins. Saul assumed David would die in the attempt, but David succeeded, and Sau was forced to give her to David in marriage.

But soon David had to flee for his life from Saul. While on the run, David married two other women who are kind to him, and Saul gave Michal to another man to be his wife.

Upon returning and gaining the throne (after battle with Saul in which Saul is killed), David reclaimed Michal. There’s no description of how she felt about it, but just think: when he fled, she was his only wife, and her father was still alive. Now he comes back with other wives - and his army is responsible for her father’s and brother’s deaths. That’s got to put a crimp in the relationship.

So is it any wonder she might find an excuse to publicly despise him? When David brings the ark home with ecstatic dancing -- in which he is barely clad -- she confronts him -- just after the section we read in church -- and argues that he danced nearly naked in front of the servant girls. It was unseemly for a king, she said. She blamed the dancing -- but it’s clear there was a whole lot more to it.

Now you might be thinking, so what? David and Michal lived a loveless life after that, big deal. But for the writer, it was because he ends Michal’s story by saying she died without having children. She was Saul’s last child. No children meant Saul’s line came to an end. It was over for Saul just as it was over for John the Baptist.

These two dancing stories result in tragic ends. But the dancing is innocent! Itjust allows us to see into the soap operas that so often populate the bible. It helps us realize that these were real people, real stories that were complex and conflicted. Even if the stories were tweaked by their authors, it’s real human drama. And that means that they are more like us than we want to imagine. Of course, that also means that we, like they, are dependent on God’s love far more than our own righteousness. Or our ability to dance. Amen.