August 19, 2007
"A Chance To Dance"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
He was born Fredrick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska in 1899. His stage and film career spanned a total of seventy-six years, during which he made thirty-one movie musical. He's generally acknowledged to have been the most influential dancer in the history of film and television. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.
In 1932, a Hollywood talent agent made this note on his screen test: "Can't act. Can't sing. Can dance a little." The screen test was clearly disappointing, and David O. Selznick, who had commissioned the test, described it as "wretched" in a 1933 studio memo. However, this did not affect RKO's plans for Fred Astaire who later, danced his way into the hearts of America through musical after musical. Like Top Hat, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, Carefree and Holiday Inn.
Fred Astaire had the ability to make dancing look easy. He made you feel like you could get up and glide across the floor with the same grace and agility he had. Unfortunately for most of us, it wasn't that easy. Some of us, like me, suffer from two left feet. Of course we know it Fred Astaire spent hours and hours practicing so it would look so effortless.
The truth is, most of us will never dance like Fred Astaire. And that's OK. But like the man in the passage these morning, we can still dance for joy because of the joy of the Lord. Let's look at the passage and see why the man danced for joy. Luke 5:17-25 (NRSV)
 One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.
 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;
 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.
 When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."
 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?
 Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'?
 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"- he said to the one who was paralyzed - "I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home."
 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.
The Scripture has this kind of bland description that says the man stood up, took his bed and went home glorifying God. I'll bet he leapt for joy. I'll bet he did a little jig and then danced his all the way home. If not on the outside, then at least on the inside.
In the United Methodist Church we have permission to dance, unlike some other denominations. Not only that but metaphorically speaking, we are all invited to dance with the Lord of the Dance, Jesus. Like Psalm 150 says, we're called to praise the Lord with dance. But there are a few things we need to know in order to dance with the Lord of the Dance.
A. First we have to LEARN THE RIGHT STEPS. There is nothing more embarrassing or goofier looking than someone on the dance floor dancing the Cotton-Eyed Joe to Beethoven's 5th or doing the Watusi or Twist to Tony Bennet's "I Left My Heart In San Fransico." You can't dance proper ballet to Blue Grass or Heavy Metal.
Certain forms of music have certain steps. In order to not look like a fool, we have to LEARN THE RIGHT STEPS.
A carnival owner attended a talent show in which the winning entry was a man with a dancing duck. The man set a duck on top of a large upside-down pot on a table. As soon as the man placed the duck on the pot, the duck began to dance.
The carnival owner was impressed with the talent of the duck and figured that he could buy the duck and make a fortune. So, he approached the owner of the duck after the talent show and offered to buy the duck. After a long negotiation the two men finally settled on a price. The carnival owner purchased the duck and the pot for ten thousand dollars.
Two days later the carnival owner returned the duck to the former owner and was absolutely furious. "Your duck can't dance! I don't know how you pulled it off, but I had to refund all the money when I set this duck on the pot and he wouldn't dance. I've lost all my credibility because of this stupid duck!"
"So?" asked the duck's former owner, "did you remember to light a candle under the pot?" (10
We have to LEARN THE RIGHT STEPS
B. For us, that's learning the basics of our faith. Some of you remember the series we did last September titled "Reaching Out Without Passing Out." I put 6 points which Adam Hamilton identified as basics on business cards for you to carry with you. The card is a reminder of the basics and of how to share your faith when someone asks. Let's review:
1. I believe the accounts of eyewitnesses. That's simply talking about the Gospel accounts.
2. Because of the Christian Ethic. This is one of my favorites: Most of the world's religions have an ethic of retribution or justice. The eye for an eye evening the score kind of ethic. The Christian ethic stands all that on it's head and says "love your enemy, do good to those who despise you."
3. The compelling picture of God in Jesus. Jesus is the very image of God in flesh and blood. When we look upon the face of Jesus we see the heart and soul of God. Jesus' life, His words, His message are so compelling that we can hardly not follow. Joy bubbles up just being in His presence.
4. The redemptive power of the cross. We live in a fallen world. The word we use is Sin. Our sin, our disobedience caused a great chasm to open between us and God. The cross is the bridge across that chasm. And the cross points to the depth of God's love for us. God didn't just abandon us when we did wrong. God's love for us is so deep, God sent His only Son, who gave His life on the cross for us..
5. The hope given because of life after death. Christianity is the only religion which offers the hope and promise of resurrection. I don't know how I'd face death or help others face death without the gift and promise and hope of the resurrection. That one day, we will be raised to life eternal.
6. My own personal experience. And then share how this has impacted you. (2)
These are THE RIGHT STEPS. Knowing these helps light the candle under our pot so we can Dance.
A. We have to LEARN THE RIGHT STEPS but then we have to remember not to DANCE TO CLOSE TO THE EDGE. What do I mean by that? Well, it sort of ties into the first one. You see, we have a tendency to lose focus or lose interest real quick.
Do you remember the scene in It's A Wonderful Life where George Bailey is at the dance with his brother and meets Mary, who is now all grown up. They begin dancing the Charleston. And everyone begins watching them and laughing. But what they don't see is that the dance floor has opened up to reveal the swimming pool underneath. And they keep getting closer and closer to the edge and finally dance right off and into the pool.
The reason they fell into the pool is because they lost their focus on the important thing, the dance. They began focusing and thinking about how good they must be to be getting that much attention. The focus moved from the main thing, the dance, to them. And when they did, they came up all wet.
They same thing happens to us when we lose our focus on the faith. When we quit focusing on God through Christ we've danced too close to the edge. And in order NOT to lose that focus we have to continue in Worship, Prayer, Bible Study, fellowship, tithing, all of those things which keep us centered in and focused on the Lord of the Dance.
A. You have to LEARN THE STEPS, NOT DANCE TO CLOSE TO THE EDGE and we're called to DANCE WITH THE ONE WHO BRUNG YA. Do you remember the lyrics to that song by Little Texas. It said: You'd better dance with the one that brung ya
You'd better hold on to the one that loves you
You'd better turn around before we're through
And dance with the one that brung ya
You'd better dance
Simply put for Christians, we have a tendency to get distracted by pop religions and allow them water down what we believe. We fall to the temptation of letting outside influences control our actions instead of staying focused on Christ.
B. I read something interesting this week. There's a bird in Europe called the chaf finch. It's about the size and color of a robin. It has a beautiful song, and people keep these birds like canaries, to hear them sing. But the chaf finch has a peculiar characteristic. It can forget how to sing. If it doesn't learn how to sing again, it becomes depressed and dies. There is only one way for it to relearn its song. The bird has to be taken back into the woods where the wild birds sing.
In order to keep from forgetting the DANCE STEPS WE'VE LEARNED, we have to associate with other Christians and participate in the Christian disciplines. When we do, we're surrounded by and we are enabled to remember both the Lord's Song and the Dance Steps we've learned.
A. Finally, the major thing we need to do while Dancing with the Lord of the Dance is to INVITE OTHERS TO THE DANCE. That's our major calling. That's our mission in the world, not to fill OUR dance card, but to invite others into this joyous relationship with the Lord of the Dance who can heal us from the paralyzing effects of sin and fear.
B. When Rhoda went to the nursing home, nobody ever thought she'd walk again, much less dance. She spent her days watching game shows and soap operas, an endless cycle of Jeopardy and General Hospital. She could hardly move down the hall to the television. When she got there, she could barely see the screen. Everyone thought her days were numbered.
One day the activity director announced, "Rhoda, we're going on a bus trip."
Rhoda said, "I don't want to miss my shows."
The activity director said, "Don't worry. We'll be back in plenty of time." She was lying, but it got Rhoda on the bus. Rhoda allowed herself to be carried aboard. They put her walker by her side, although nobody thought she would use it.
The bus carried Rhoda and the others to a huge arts and music festival in a nearby city. Attendance at the festival that day numbered over 100,000 people. It was an ambitious task to take 25 nursing home residents to a place like that. It was also nerve-wracking experience, because when the activities director counted 24 heads at the end of the day. Rhoda was missing. They looked everywhere and couldn't find her. They finally found her aluminum walker near a bandstand in a circus tent, but not Rhoda.
Then suddenly someone spotted her. Thirty feet away, she was dancing with a man half her age. "Rhoda," shouted the director, "what are you doing?"
Rhoda said, "It's the polka!"
"But what about your legs?"
Rhoda shouted back, "When I heard the music, I couldn't stop my toes from tapping."
Wasn't that something? She was so caught up in the dance, the life-giving dance, that she forgot her troubles and like the friend who was lowered through the ceiling, she was able to stand and walk and dance the Lord's Dance once again. But that never would have happened if she hadn't been invited. Our number one mission as Christians is to We're called to INVITE OTHERS TO THE DANCE.
There was a little boy who went to the ballet for the first time with his father. He was absolutely amazed watching all the girls dancing on their toes. He turned to his father and asked, "Dad, why don't they just get taller girls?"
This daring dance of Jesus and the kingdom of God continues. This daring dance of Jesus continues because both sin and death have been defeated. We don't need to get any taller girls or guys. We just need to stay focused on the Lord's Dance.
LEARN THE RIGHT STEPS,
DON'T DANCE TO CLOSE TO THE EDGE
DANCE WITH THE ONE WHO BRUNG YOU
AND INVITE OTHERS TO THE DANCE
Hope is Singing the Lord's Song. Faith is Dancing To It.
This daring dance of Jesus continues with us or without us. So, which shall it be?
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