Sunday’s sermon: Being Dancing People


Texts used – Psalm 30 and 1 Thessalonians 3:7-4:1 (read within text)

  • For thousands and thousands of years, people have used movement to express themselves. – movement = dance in some form or another
    • Present in every culture around the world
    • Part of ceremonies, rituals, celebrations, entertainment → Throughout the centuries, people have danced for healing, for prayer, for show, and even as a challenge.
    • Dance tells stories. Dance expresses emotions and ideas, theologies and beliefs. Dance can run the gamut from strong, powerful and forceful to gentle, delicate and serene.
    • Dance can be anything from …
      • Classical ballet to modern hip hop
      • Huge, theatrical Bollywood numbers to solo contemporary
      • Flashy tap to exuberant swing
      • Choreographed Broadway numbers to a country bar room two-step
      • Extemporaneous riffing of break dancers to ancient steps of Native American dances handed down through the centuries from one generation to the next
      • Boys’ book: Elephants Cannot Dance![1]

Elephants Cannot Dance

  • Piggie is learning to dance → wants to teach her best friend, Gerald → Gerald = elephant → Despite Gerald’s warnings that “elephants cannot dance” Piggie tries so hard to teach Gerald the moves she has learned, but Gerald just can’t get it → Gerald quits in spastic explosion of frustration (flailing, grunting, stomping, grimacing, etc.) → as Piggie is comforting her friend, others approach wanting to learn to dance → Piggie tries to send them away because she’s busy comforting her best friend → But as it turns out, they do not want to learn the conventional steps from Piggie. They want to learn “The Elephant”!
    • SPOILER ALERT: Gerald teaches them all how to flail and grunt and stamp and grimace – teaches them to dance in his very own way

Elephant dance

    • Moral of the story: Dance can be anything
    • And yet despite the universality of dance, there have been many times throughout history when people in power – especially church power – tried to repress dance … to convince others it was shameful, wrong, and sinful. Or that it was a frivolous waste of time – not important, not productive, not beneficial to society.
  • Friends, sometimes it feels as though the world we’re living in is solely about the negative.
    • News reports sensationalize the bad while often forgetting to highlight the good
    • Confronted daily (if not hourly) with images and stories and warnings about all the terrible things in the world
    • Constantly reminded by culture of the ways that we are flawed
      • Salary isn’t high enough
      • Appearance isn’t perfect enough
      • Family isn’t ideal enough
      • Something about me doesn’t fit into this impossibly perfect box that has been created.
    • Can lead to a worldview of defeatism and dread
    • Can lead us to become pessimistic and critical and judgmental → comparing ourselves to the people around us and turning a spotlight on their mistakes in order to distract attention from our own
    • Can sometimes get lost in all the negativity
    • Can sometimes get bogged down in all the “have to”s and “should do”s that society has created for us → forget that God created us to be something different, something more
      • Created to be special
      • Created to be treasured
      • Created to be testament to God
        • Do God’s powerful work in this world
        • Be God’s amazing love
    • Hear this tension in our psalm[2] this morning:
      • Down side – speaking of “my enemies [celebrating] over me,” about “crying out for [God’s] help,” about weeping and the grave and mourning
      • But in the midst of all that: I exalt you Lord, because you pulled me up … You who are faithful to the LORD, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! … Because it pleased you, LORD, you made me a strong mountain.[3]
      • One of the things that I love about this psalm is that it doesn’t separate those low points and those high points into different sections. It doesn’t just speak of the bad, then switch to extoling the good. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride! Up … down … up … down.
        • g.: () You who are faithful to the LORD, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! () His anger lasts for only a second, () but his favor lasts a lifetime. () Weeping may stay all night, () but by morning, joy! … Because it pleased you, LORD, you made me a strong mountain. () But then you hid your presence. I was terrified.[4]
        • I gotta say … it feels a little truer to life, doesn’t it? Up … down … up … down.
  • But the point and the power in this psalm is how it ends: You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.[5]
    • Reminds us that even in the midst of all the muck and yuck and mess and struggle that we find in those down places, God made us to be dancing people
    • Sometimes we can see this for ourselves. We are a solo act – dancing with the joyful abandon of King David before God despite all the crazy looks that we’re getting from everyone else around us. We are God’s embodiment of praise and joy and thanksgiving and light. But sometimes, we need others to draw us into the dance.
      • Hear prayer from 1 Thess 3:7-4:1
      • Have you ever been to a Native American Powwow? → powwow = powerful e.g. of this
        • Hold one at UWEC every year – Honoring Education Powwow → description from UWEC: The powwow is a celebration of culture that bridges the customs and stories of the past with the energy and vitality of 21st-century Native American people from the UW-Eau Claire campus and the community. Music, song, dance, food and storytelling will bring together indigenous people as well as the greater community in a day of socializing and visiting with family and friends.[6]
      • Powwows are incredible because you get to witness history and culture and storytelling in one of its most extravagant forms: dance.
        • People dancing individually
        • People dancing in small groups
        • People dancing in large groups
        • People supporting the dancers with their voices and their drumming
        • But what’s even more powerful is that often, there are a few times when those who are watching are invited to join the dance. Despite all the downs – all the ugliness and repression and suffering and humiliation – in the history between white people and the Native peoples, still we are invited to join the dance … to travel that sacred circle together in steps as old as time with the heartbeat-drumbeat of the world and the intense cry of the singer filling your ears and your soul. It is a powerful moment.
  • Today, we come together for our annual meeting. It may not always be the most exciting part of church. It may not be our highest high (though it’s also hopefully not a low for you either). We come together to remember the year that we’ve had and to look to the year before us. We come together to lift up new people to do particular works of this church – to fulfill crucial roles of governing and caring in our midst. As Christians, this is part of our dance together. This is part of the way we remind each other of who and how and where God is among us, and it’s part of the way that we are inspired again to do God’s work in this world.
    • May love indeed cause our hearts to be strengthened before our God when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. … So then, brothers and sisters, let us be encouraged in the Lord Jesus to keep living and worshipping and meeting and dancing in the way we already are and even do better to please God.[7]

[1] Mo Willems. Elephants Cannot Dance! (New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children), 2009.

[2] Ps 30, various verses.

[3] Ps 30:1, 4, 7.

[4] Ps 30:4-5, 7.

[5] Ps 30:11-12.

[6] Denise Olson. “Honoring Education Powwow Set for Nov. 7” on the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire news website, Written Nov. 2, 2015, accessed Jan. 31, 2016.

[7] based on 1 Thess 3:13-4:1.