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Dance, dance, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the dance said he…a line from our closing hymn. There is defiance in the dance. Defiance against self pity, defiance against withdrawl, defiance against all that would crush us, both inner and outer things. This defiance is not the rude defiance against all authority but a life-giving, life-preserving defiance that affirms who we are, what we love, and most importantly, Who we serve.
In the midst of pain and loss, we dance. In grief, we dance. In joy, we dance. Drawn into this eternal dance of the God who is three unique individuals engaged in a dance that unifies them into the one true God, one God who is yet three without any loss of particularity, without being homogenized, without losing all the unique qualities of the father, son and holy spirit. The very definition of perichoresis, God who is engaged in a dance within God’s very self, relational, creative, defiant against all that would erase difference, celebrating, life giving. We are drawn into this dance, this song. We are encouraged by this laughter, this refusal to allow all that is wrong with the world to diminish us, to make us small.
The temptation during hard times, during difficult times, is to turn inward. To close down. To shut down. Pain and loss have a way of narrowing our focus until all we can see is us, our hurt, our need, our loss, and dimly far off in the distance the one hoped for solution. All else gets shut out. All else is extraneous and unwanted information. We are focused on survival! Wow. Hear that in your heart, in your bones. It’s the same cry that justifies brutality and neglect the world over. It’s the same cry that insists we’d better take care of ourselves because no one else will.
Do we remember to be grateful? Or do we sink in sorrow, no one will rescue us, we cry, our numbers are small we cry, our finances are so tight, we cry. But are we grateful? Do we sing broadly and boldly of the good thing that God is doing for us? That we are a lively, vital congregation no matter how small? That we are a credible witness to the love of God for all people? That our worship and community life is so full, so wonderful? Do we remember and hold dear and with utter humility how much we are loved?
Maya Angelou wrote this poem, Still I Rise, about the experience of defiant joy:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Are we rising today? Rising in defiant joy?
Do not look to the past, the Lord says, For behold I am doing a new thing! Do not look to the past, lest you be encrusted with tears of regret and longing for what was, what could have been, what might have been, lost forever to this new thing that God is doing. Lost like Lot’s wife, forever staring into the horror of loss and unable to turn around, unable to see her children, her family, safe and alive. Behold I am doing a new thing, can you not see it? Go on now, rise! Rise!
Moses and Miriam left Egypt behind with song and dance. Imagine the adrenaline rush. The fear that would have seeped from their pores, electrifying their whole beings, but not in a good way, as they ran. The gasp, a whole body shudder that ran through them as the walls of the red sea collapsed on the Pharoah’s army. They had lived their whole lives in fear, suddenly, with brutal suddeness, they were free. The first laugh would have been a startled one, ragged with the edges of fear and exhaustion. The first song would have risen from a murmuration of words repeating across the crowd, rising to a chant, becoming a song of defiance! Dance broke out among stumbling, falling limbs. The tension too tight to hold in, finding release in a whoop and a dance! A riot of anger, and rage, of hopelessness and fear, of kill me first defiance, converted into a dance of freedom and new hope! This was no timid, proper procession. Moses and Miriam leading with tamborine and cymbals as they walked in a stately manner into the desert, No! This was a riot of, “you will no longer rape my daughters” it was a defiant shout of , ‘you will no longer kill my sons!” It was the heavy sigh of “I can sleep tonight in peace and safety, at last, at long last.”
I want to remind you all, because we are engaged in racial reconciliation, that these are the same cries that our neighbors of color long to shout out. At long last my daughters are safe, my sons are safe, at long last I can sleep tonight in safety. At long last when my daughter says no, don’t touch me, it really means no and is not an invitation to break her. At long last when my sons are tall and broad shouldered, strong and healthy, they are seen as the bright, capable hope of the future and not a threat to be destroyed.
And God invites them, and us, into the dance. A dance of defiance against all that would diminish or crush us, a dance of vitality that celebrates the incredible diversity and beauty of the human condition. A dance which is full and joyous, which is expansive and looks to the future, even when the future is an unknown walk into the desert, with faith and joy. Go on now, look at the future with faith, hope and joy. Behold I do a new thing, do not look to the past. Do not be frozen with remorse, dead to the world, curled in upon yourself in grief and loss. Don’t go there.
We are called into the dance, into the new thing. We are not people of what was, but rather of what is and will be. We dance in the midst of pain and loss and sorrow, of confusion and fear, because God is with us.
Just as we might wonder if there were hebrew slaves who refused to follow Moses out into the desert, who hid and hoped that whatever evil the Egyptians would visit on the escaping slaves would pass them by, we might wonder if there were other Mary’s, other young girls who were offered the chance to be the virgin mother, but who said, with all wisdom, no. Were there other girls who responded to the news that the messenger of God brought by saying, “Are you kidding me? My father will kill me! and not figuratively. I can’t do this!”
But there was something defiant in Mary. Her yes was spoken in defiance of all tradition and law, all expectation of neighbors, of society. Her yes resonates deeply across the centuries. It is a yes to life. A yes that embraces life so fully it encompasses hope, and loss, grief and joy. Her song, her dance and laughter, echoed a refrain of joy and defiance. God has seen me! I am not invisible, I am NOT nothing! Do you hear? I count, I matter, God sees me! And God will pull down all those who abuse their power, all the bullies, the bad cops, the brutal soldiers, the corupt mayors; all who are arrogant of heart—beware! God will pull you down. Freedom from hunger! Oh yes, freedom from fear and hunger are coming! All you who sit down at full tables thinking, well I got mine sorry for ya if you don’t—beware! God will send you away hungry! God is going to fulfill his promise and that does not bode well to all those who walk on by the hurting and homeless, the hungry and alone, refusing to dirty their hands by serving others. This is Mary’s song! Is it any wonder it has been banned in corrupt places? This iis a song of defiance and table-turning justice!
Mary’s song of defiance is a little different from that of Moses and Miriam. It is focused more on the every day brutality of poverty. The grinding diminishment of not enough, and the invisibility of the lower classes. Mary’s song turns more quickly to joy, God is doing a new thing—Through ME! She sings with the incredulity and faith only a teenager could have. She sings with the same defiance that Malala expresses as she fights for education for all young girls. Malala who was shot in the head by the taliban for daring to learn, daring to attend school, and refusing to stay stuck in the pain and loss of this event, says I’m not done yet. God is still doing a great thing through me.
There must have been Hebrew slaves who didn’t dare to run with Moses and Miriam, but we hear no more of them. They fade from history. I can’t imagine that the Egyptians were too kind to them when they returned from the death and destruction at the red sea. There must have been other Marys, because we do not have a God who forces himself on us. We have a God who offers us the new thing and begs us to step into this new thing. Don’t look back at things that were. In all faith and fidelity, join the dance in the desert, join the dance in the quiet of the night.
Do not look back with regret and remorse, letting your soul become encrusted with the salt of tears and brittle with loss. God is doing a new thing, and you are invited into the dance! You are drawn ever closer to God, like a child standing on her father’s toes as she learns to enter the dance, like a child swept up into his mother’s arms as the dance continues. We are a part of this dance and we can continue to live fully and faithfully into the call that God has placed on our hearts, not an onerous call of duty, but a call to light, and love, and joy! A call that celebrates exactly who we are and where we are.
We can get lost in fear and trepidation. We can turn inward and grieve that our hopes and expectations have not played out the way that we thought they would. Or we can boldly join the dance, let our songs rise ever heavenward, even if they begin with a stuttering, sobbing breath, aching with loss. Still we sing. Still we rise, because we are first and foremost children of God, claimed and loved eternally, and no one, and nothing, can ever take that away.