On Saturday I will be in Tavistock, at a service to celebrate the new roof: they chose Romans 12 1-18 as the text - and perhaps I got a bit carried away with the idea of celebration...
Today is undoubtedly a day of celebration.
And if, like me, you are a fan of a certain hit Saturday night BBC show that reaches its final at Christmas each year, then you will (strictly) associate celebration with dancing!
I like to think St Paul would have agreed with me – because he certainly advocates some dance theology in his letter to the Romans.
Don’t you just love reading someone else’s letters?
Paul is writing to the church in Rome, because he is planning to come and visit them. He begins with his usual giving thanks to God for the church, sending greetings to people he knows, and then he starts addressing what seems to be some trouble that has arisen for the Roman church. It seems there’s a problem with followers of Christ with a Jewish
background, and others with a non-Jewish, Gentile background. Paul tries to show the relationship between the Jewish law, and the new way of following Jesus, which doesn’t have to follow all the old laws.
So I don’t think Paul would have much truck with the current waves of anti-Semitism being seen in our world. He is at pains to underline the fact that God hasn’t finished with the law and the prophets and all the promises given to the people of Israel, but that in Jesus Christ, God has spoken even more directly to his people, grounding the laws of Moses in the example of the life of Jesus Christ, which shows us in the flesh what God’s love looks and sounds and acts like.
You’re looking puzzled – where’s the dance?
I think it’s the conga – the unbroken chain of God’s love to all people.
Beginning at creation, stretching to the people of the Hebrew Scriptures, those who follow the law, to the prophets and all those who through the years have tried to keep God’s commandments – an unbroken chain through Jesus to his followers in first century Palestine, and Rome, and eventually across the world and down the centuries to us. But watch out – if you’re at the back of a conga chain it can be a pretty hairy ride !
Things speed up as you get further down the chain – it’s easy to get a bit lost, a but thrown about, because everything seems to change so quickly.
So even in this newly refurbished building, remember to hold in tightly to the best of what’s gone before, but also be ready to move your feet. Enjoy the conga.
Having talked (in chapter 11) about the conga of continuity, Paul says Therefore – the first word of the reading we heard – therefore because of this relationship between Jesus, the Jew, who was Son of God, and the desire of God to see people follow Jesus and come close to God’s love – therefore Paul tells the people of Romans to engage in another dance - the ‘Hokey Cokey ’ .“You put your whole self in”. Offer your very selves – worship of mind and heart – be transformed. Then you will discern the will of God.
I hope you don’t think now this building is looking so splendid that the work is done & you can sit back & rest! It’s time for the hokey cokey – put your whole selves into serving and loving and worshipping God in this place – and be alert to discerning God’s will for the future.
Next Paul gives a whole list of things that wholehearted followers of Jesus will do: they will offer their various gifts to God – whether it is the gift of inspired utterance, administration, teaching, counselling, giving to charity, leading with enthusiasm, or helping others.
And all these gifts can be summed up in one phrase ‘love in all sincerity’. And the dance which will set the rhythm for this love – the waltz. A dance of love, attentive to others, keeping moving amidst all the dipping and swaying, the rise and fall of life.
In your desire to waltz with love as a church you may need to ask who your partner will be, who you need to dance with so that love can be shown in this community. It might even be that at different times you will need to dance with different partners – so that the love can be shared around.
Finally, Paul exhorts the people of the church in Rome to live as those who want to be part of God’s dance of life and love. With zeal serve the Lord, let hope keep you joyful, in trouble stand firm, persist in prayer, contribute to the needs of others practice hospitality.
Last weekend I had the great honour of staying at the Benedictine Abbey at Downside for a 24 hour retreat. The Benedictines take very seriously the call to hospitality. The rooms weren’t lavish, the food was wholesome but not cordon bleu, the brothers themselves were few and elderly – but they had hospitality cracked! From the moment you arrive you feel the community, almost the building itself welcome you to join in with the prayer, life and service of the place.
Practice hospitality – never tire of inviting others to come dancing – joining you here in your journey towards God’s kingdom. If this is like any dance perhaps it is like the Grand Chain in country dancing – everyone involved, no-one left out, hands reaching out to touch and bless and include.
The dance of God’s love can’t be kept to yourselves – and the dance needs to spill out of this place to the world outside – so that all may be included in the dance of life.
So today, people of Tavistock, be ready to celebrate and dance.
Dance the conga – stay connected to tradition, but be ready to move your feet!
Dance the hokey cokey – out your whole selves in
Dance the waltz – love and show love through partners
Dance the Grand chain – leave no-one out of God’s dance.
And most of all – listen for the music of the spirit, follow in the steps of Jesus Christ, celebrate God’s love and Keep Dancing !