Faithlife Sermons

Hope in the Dance

Trinity Sunday 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The faithfulness of God invites the bumbling, becoming, suffering ones into the Triune Dance. God will show us the steps.

The New Revised Standard Version Results of Justification

5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Pentecost - Silence
A soundless sound, a breathless breath — one way we can commune with the Spirit
But also…dancing. While we find God in the silence — God also Dances On. God moves.
And today, we are invited to continue to move in that divine life as well. To get up out of our chair, to walk onto the floor, and to dance in participation with God. We are invited to join.
Metaphor of invitation into the divine life.
— Metaphor of invitation into the divine life.
God is participating in godself — we are invited in to join
All of this because we are justified by the faith of Christ. Our access to the dance comes through Christ’s faithfulness to us. Christ grants us access, opens up a space, makes a way for us to enter.
Will you heed the invitation to dance today?
Karl Barth - a Good Dance Partner
As I often find it helpful, in preparing and studying for sermons, I have to find dancing partners. People of the Christian tradition who have danced before me, before us, who have insights to the text that help it become more illuminated. We preachers consult the Scripture directly, and also rely upon the Great Tradition to inform our own reading of text — I stand upon the shoulders of two thousand years of Christian interpretation.
This week, I danced a bit with Swiss theologian Karl Barth. If you’re not familiar with Karl Barth, that’s ok. He’s one of the most influential voices in Western Christian thought and ethics of the 20th century. Much of our modern theological tradition stands upon his influences, especially the work of people like Jurgen Moltmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Hauerwas, and their followers.
I don’t want to get too into the weeds on Karl Barth’s overarching theological contributions, but you should know that much of the contemporary mainline Protestant tradition (Presbyterians, Lutherans, Church of Christ) are intimately linked with the work of folks like Barth. We proudly confess a document of Barth’s contribution in our Presbyterian Book of Confessions - the Theological Declaration of Barmen — written as a protest and statement of faith amidst the rise of the Nazi German regime in the 1930s.
One more quick aside — if you really want to know about Karl Barth, you need to talk to today’s lector, the Rev. Kyle Anderson. It was Kyle who turned me on to Barth’s work at first. Kyle taught a class years ago on Barth’s magnum opus, Church Dogmatics, that I participated in. I’m a fan of Barth first because Kyle is a fan of Barth. :)
Anyway — why this dance partner: Well, Barth is important to this conversation today, about suffering and hope and dancing with God because Barth knew what it was like to endure all of this. He thought and spoke and wrote in the inter-war period in Western Europe — after the horrors of WW1 and during the rise of the Nazi regime leading up to WW2. His work is deeply acquainted with a world in shambles, a world struggling. And he places the content of the book of Romans within this frame and sees God’s good, justifying love for the hope that it is.
We need to have partners in the dance who get what we’re experiencing. And, to be honest, I will not be the first person to tell you that much of what we are experiencing on the national and global political scene today looks a lot like the days when fascism arose in Western Europe. Heads of state with dictatorial tendencies and practices. Forced internment of migrant populations, the separation of families into ghetto style camps, shipment of human beings like freight upon the railways, propaganda and double-speak — I am not talking about history — I’m talking about the present. The words of a church confessing itself amidst the rise of Nazi power must deeply resonate with us here and now so that we do not allow history to repeat itself.
This sermon will not be a father’s day message — not at least how you may have heard it before. But let this be a father’s day, a mother’s day, a foreparents day message — we must learn from our ancestors, from the Great Tradition that we abide in, from those who have gone before us — learn how to stand up, learn how to resist. Learn how to stay faithful amidst all the pain, the suffering, the affliction. Others have shown us the way.
The God Dances On.
In our text today, we are shown the steps of the dance with God. There’s a formula laid out hear, dance movements.
How many of you have learned a specific “dance step”? A waltz, a cha-cha, the rumba? Anyone taken ballroom dancing? Or perhaps a hip-hop dance class?
Well, if you have, you know that dances have steps — ways to engage in the rhythm of the music with your body, one foot after the other, often in time and synchronization with a partner or group.
The glory we share in with God, the way of life that we find, it is a dance, a movement, something fluid and developing. We move outside of ourselves to find something external, something that we can become a part of.
The formula offered by the Apostle Paul to the Romans for this dance pertains to suffering and movement through it. We boast, we find glory, we shine on the dance floor in this way:
“We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The formula: Sufferings —> Endurance —> Character —> Hope —> Not disappointed
So let’s back up and get a picture of the dance, first. Barth situates our movement toward the dance in this way, acknowledging we come toward the dance from a place of lack, a place where we are out of sync, a place of hardship or pain or longing. Barth says...
Re: vs. 1 — Barth: “Therefore we are righteous before God and in our weakness we are strong. We are first, because we are last; we grow, because we wither away; we are great, because we are little…[God] takes our side and uses us for [God’s] purpose, and thereby [God’s] side becomes our side, [God’s] right our right, and [God’s] good work is begun in us. [God] acknowledges us, and is with us…By hope we [belong to God].” (150, Romans)
What is happening is that even amidst our pain or our suffering, the dance is going on. The dance precedes us. And yet the dance is our heritage, it is intimately linked to us, inviting us in. It is our hope.
It is the heritage promised to Abraham - that his descendants would know the Lord and number the grains of sand in the ocean. Our hope, our rising, our dancing — this is the living witness of a heritage we were given before creation, promised in Abraham, fulfilled in Christ, living in the family of God now.
Barth then goes on to acknowledge that we are able to enter into the dance even when we have not gotten it all figured out. Before we see it all clearly. He says,
Barth: “Faith which presses onwards and leads to sight does not wait for sight in order that it may believe. It believes in the midst of tribulation and persecution. Yes! In the midst of these things; not when their edge is blunted, because a means of enduring them has been found, or because happiness has been once more restored.” (154, Romans)
The glory, as it becomes more fluid, the dance movements becoming more natural, the music rising in us, is joyfully witnessed to in its process. Not when the dance has finished, when all the steps are complete and we reach stasis again. No — when the dance is going, when we’re stumbling, when we are out of sync with the beat…and when we are fluid, when we are moving with grace, when we have lost the room and the dance has become a part of us. It is in the midst of it all that we see the glory of God. Not when its all said and done — if if then, perhaps not at all. It is in it that we find peace. And in it that we grow.
Have you known suffering? Have you known loss, pain, regret, hopelessness?
This text is for you.
Think about the classic, leave it to beaver father whacking the son on the back as the child cries and saying, “don’t worry son, this builds character!”
Please don’t hear that message in today’s text. God is not whacking us on the back and saying, “Don’t worry kiddo, this suffering, it builds character.”
It is so easy to read the text that way. Just endure the suffering. Stay faithful through persecution. Weather the storm.
But I want us to hear the kindness in this text, the love that is hear, the invitation to something more.
Greco-Roman society was built upon an honor and shame culture. Successes raised your social status, failures and stumblings brought shame. One would “boast” of their honorable deeds, claiming more power by that right.
So hear this sweet invitation which cuts right through the heart of that cultural world — it’s actually suffering that produces hope. We are instructed to boast in suffering. This is so backwards! And yet it is so kind, so welcoming.
Do you fumble at the right words to say? Do you have “two left feet?” Then this dance is for you. You can boast of that, because its not about some system where you’re honored for what you get right. No, this is a kindness to you who suffer — the God of the Universe acknowledges that and loves you for it.
This is a grace. It is a word of hope for even those of us who have no faith, no hope. Barth, again, in closing, remarks...
Barth: “In the peace [and I would say, the “dance”] of God there is room also for what the world calls unbelief: My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
Barth: “In the peace of God there is room also for what the world calls unbelief: My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
“Redemption occurs in the midst of upheaval and amid the chaos of unredeemed humanity…The merry men of God are merry where there is no merriment: and this is the boasting of man who is righteous by faith.”
The trials are to wake us up. Wake up!! Dance. Not because it is alright, but because you are alive and awake and with the great Lord of the Dance.
I want to close with another metaphor and verse. A few weeks back, I also talked about how God’s life is like a dance and we’re invited in. But I also reminded us that it is not a pity invite. There is no pity from God here, just beautiful invitation. To us in whatever place we are. In our grief, in our pain, our fumbling, in our glory. We boast not in ourselves, but in the Lord who gives us hope.
Upon the Great Tradition, we are now invited to step in and dance. To learn as we go, to let go of all that afflicts us, to turn away from all domineering power that binds us up, to move fluidly in grace, with the great Dance Partner, the one whose faithfulness justifies us, put another way — the one whose love invites us in.
The next 5 verses of Romans chapter 5, taken from Eugene Peterson’s The Message end us today and say this about how Christ invites us to dance.
The Message Chapter 5

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

9–11  Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

The New Revised Standard Version Results of Justification

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

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