The Lord of the Dance
Jackson Snyder, 1994

 

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PREVIEW  Abraham : A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths  Bruce Feiler

 

Gen 12:1-9

 

Going to Extremes

   "In the daily drama that we call 'life,' what is God supposed to do and what are we supposed to do?"  There is actually a wide spectrum of possible answers:

   1. On one extreme there is the idea of "divine pre-eminence" -- that God does everything in our lives, and we as humans do practically nothing.  This idea is characterized by the saying, "Let go and let God."  It follows that in order to let go and let God, we must completely empty ourselves of self, renouncing all personal initiatives and desires, and allow God to take complete charge of our lives.  The follower of this idea proclaims that, "In my life, God must be everything, and I must be nothing!  I must decrease; God must increase."

   Once upon a time an Indian was converted to this form of faith, but was unable to explain it to his companions in words.  So he made a circle of dried leaves, and set an earthworm in the middle.  Then he set the leaves aflame around the outside of the circle.  They watched the worm instinctively and frantically try to escape, but finding the situation hopeless, the worm goes limp and gives up, accepting its fiery fate.  But then, at the very last moment, the Indian reaches in and rescues the worm.  The Indian tells his companions, "This is what it means to be saved."

   Such an understanding of how God works together with us causes us to understand ourselves as mere "worms;" God can only intervene when there is no other recourse -- when the situation becomes utterly hopeless.  This is actually called "worm theology."  And although there are times when we have little alternative but to "let go and let God," there is the danger that, if God doesn't move as we suppose he will, then we either blame God for our predicament, or blame others, or blame our wormy selves.

   2.  On the other extreme is the idea that God has little input in the lives of humans at all -- that God gave us everything we need, wisdom, compassion, resources, a brain, a body -- all to get the job done on our own.  This individualistic style of faith is best characterized by the late social worker, Jane Addams (1860-1935), who challenged, "If not now, when?  If not you, who?"

   So many see God by this perspective.  God is like a Rolex factory -- he created the universe to be a fine wristwatch set by the perfect beat of the atomic clock; now, from time to time, he looks down at his wrist and watches his Rolex tick tock tick tock.  Those who believe this way say that "The heavens and the earth belong to us -- whatever is to be done must depend solely on our God-given human ingenuity, goodness, and courage."  The danger in this view is that, if God did after all create us intelligent and emotional for the purpose of us being his companions, then imagine just what kind of companionship we are missing simply because we choose not to be in fellowship with him.

   3.  But if we are to believe the Bible, the way God and humans interact and interrelate is on neither of these extremes; God is seldom the sole actor in the history of salvation, nor are humans simply orphans on the earth, abandoned to do what they will.  The image of our relationship with God that we find in the Bible is "covenant"; that is, a mutual agreement: Like a partnership, a yoke-fellowship, a "piano duet," or a dance. 

   From Abram to Jesus to Paul to whoever is sitting in this room, one invites the participation of the other in a shared adventure, a joyful celebration, or a miserable situation.  Yes, it's like a dance; When two or more get together, something then happens that neither could accomplish singly.  And don't people love to dance?  So does God!  (PROMISE:)  Incidentally, our God has often been described as the "Lord of the Dance," and we may become "Partners with God" in this dance, and as a result of our partnership, we may do and be immeasurably more and immeasurably better than we ever possibly could have without Him.

 

Consider Abram

   Consider Abram (later called Abraham) at age 75.  At his father's direction, Abram has "sojourned" from Ur to Haran (500 mi. NW).  All his life, Abram had been controlled by his father, and now the old man's dead.  Abram doesn't know what to do without Daddy!  He wonders if he shouldn't turn to God now.  But where he comes from, way down there in Ur, there are many gods and goddesses.  But now a god named Yahweh (Jehovah), whom Abram has not previously even heard of, invites him "to dance" -- and that covenant dance has affected every person who's drawn for the last 4000 years.

 

Gen 12:1-9  Now Yahweh said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. {2} I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." {4} So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, {6} Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. {9} And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

 

  1.  Yahweh speaks to this old man and offers him a proposition that he would never had considered on his own: if he would "go forth" as Yahweh's covenant partner, he would inherit many wonderful, temporal blessings like land, a big family, fame, and the ability to be a blessing to everyone.  Greatest of all, as a partner with Yahweh, there would spring a relationship not of slave and master, but of respect and friendship.  As Abram's friend, Yahweh promised to personally bless those who blessed Abram, and curse those who cursed him.

   2.  Abram told his wife, Sarai, all about his new venture in faith.  They gathered up their belongings and relatives, and off they went 500 more miles southwest toward the Negev desert, a hostile and infertile land.  Could such a place ever be called "the promised land"?

   3.  Because Abram heeded the invitation of Yahweh by faith, Abram had a new role to play; one that had heretofore never been heard of:  that through him, all people forever might be blessed.  Shall we not claim the same promise today as Abram did yesterday?  Certainly.  But we must be willing to rumba with God as Abram did.  No we can no longer sit on the sidelines like the poor wallflower; neither dare we, out of our own clumsiness, lead God.  After all, dancing is a partnership.  In our partnership with God, God leads and together we pirouette.

   God hardly seems a watchmaker who "creates the world like a clock, winds it up, then goes away until it winds down," according to this story.  Hardly!  God intervenes in history.  Nor is Abram some poor, limp worm to either be burned up or snatched from the fire; Abram was very rich in the first place.  He didn't need any handout.  His father died and left him millions.  But now he is called to step away from his "guaranteed dollars" and slip on out to the dance floor -- to moon walk into a new land among strange and foreign people -- to become that "wandering Aramaean who sees God" in the wastelands of Judea!

   6.  This was the beginning a biblical religion -- not with gods doing everything, or humans doing everything; biblical religion, in the words of Rev. John Claypool, is "a mystery of creative collaboration when the two become one and yet remain two at the same time."  Dancing as only two can dance.  This dance is the secret of authentic Christian experience and true religious creativity.

 

Consider Jesus

  1.  That Jesus was a partner in the covenant dance is clearly illustrated in the record of his life.  Jesus was not some "limp leaf on a wet log;" he acted with true individuality, courage and creativity.  Yet, at the same time, he prayed all night.  And he did miracles, not on his own, but with God's power!  The dance was on!  The two became one, yet remained distinct.  Watch this:

 

John 5:19-20 {19} "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. {20} The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished."

 

   2.  Jesus did plenty, but he claimed he could do nothing on his own!  He did what he saw his Father do, for, as he stepped out unto each dance floor in faith, his Father took the lead!  Those who saw what Jesus and his Father did were "astonished."  Wouldn't it be great to have a little astonishment in our dull lives?  Wouldn't it be a change to see God visibly working with us through our situations and troubles and calamities?  Wouldn't it be a switch for us to be succeeding in the will of God rather than failing on our own?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Let's dance!

 

Name That Tune

   1. We've considered Abram at Bethel, now let's consider Ethel -- Ethel Waters, that is; blind and abandoned on the streets of Chicago as an infant, the victim of the less-than-perfect social system of the 1920's; she went on to be one of America's best loved gospel singers in the 40's through 60's.  The testimony of her success in overcoming all obstacles to godly living is found in one of her songs, Partners With God. 

 

            It's wonderful to have God for a partner,

                        He'll always be by your side;

            When the road gets rough and things get tough,

                        He'll come along just for the ride.

            Have faith in him, He'll guide and protect you,

                        And share each joy and pain;

            When the future's dim invest in him,

                        He'll keep you out of the rain.

            Avoided, shunned, sometimes branded a failure,

                        there's no open door to be found:

            If you'll only believe that miracles happen,

                        He can regain your lost crown.

            You just can't lose with God as your partner,

                        Faith in him is your only fee;

            O why must you delay, begin this very day,

                        Being partners with God.

 

   2.  Ethel was right, and testifying out of her own difficult experiences.  Partnership with God is what the Bible prescribes for us; we are emotionally incomplete without it.  Abram was God's partner, and later, God & Son went into the Gospel business together.  Later still, St. Paul speaks of this "mystery of collaboration" in terms of his own experience as a former persecutor of Christ:

 

1 Cor 15:9-10a: For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. {10} But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.

 

Sounds like "worm theology" so far, but listen to this:

 

{10b} On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

 

Paul writes, "I worked harder than anyone, though it was not I."  I personally realize the truth of this statement when I prepare to preach something -- I work hard at putting words to paper!  Many times I'm astounded by what I read and I ask myself, "Did this really come from me?"  And I have to answer, "Yes and No"!  I am working it is true; but God also is working, and he's working harder.  And that's true in no matter what you do; that is, if you're in partnership with him in the first place.

   Maybe you haven't an inkling of what I'm talking about -- relationship with God? -- dance partnership?  Sounds crazy, no?  But nevertheless I invite you to step out off the sidelines unto the slick, slippery floor and "join the dance," for it's only by experiencing God's life as your partner that can you ever have even a glimpse of what abundant living is really all about.

 

How to Begin

  1.  Our Father God and his Son Jesus Christ are inviting you to take part in the dance.  God's holy name is on your dance card!  And the song you heard the choir sing today teaches exactly how this is to be done.  The words are:

            Dance, dance wherever you may be -

            I am the Lord of the dance, said he! 

            And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,

            and I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

{Do some preaching here.}

 

  2.  Become the dance partner.  Invite Jesus to share you life in the dance now!  Acknowledge him in all things, and lean upon his understanding.

  3.  Expect toes to be stepped on at first, and expect the devil to try to cut in!

  4.  But also expect old situations to change; expect new adventures; cling to the promises of Abram, and to new promises that only Jesus can give you.  Learn to dance God's way!  For he is the Lord of the Dance.

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