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A Pentecost message featuring dry bones, an upper room, personal narrative and a favorite song.
Do you like to dance? Boy, I sure do.
When Kathi and I married 20 years ago, our first dance was to UB40s version of the song Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. We picked that song and version, because that’s what was playing in the background during our first kiss, way back when in the Spring of 1995. We were in a gazebo near college in Valparaiso Indiana, it had begun to rain ever so softly. As we leaned in for that first kiss the song echoed in our heads. Kathi and I wanted to bring that moment with us into our first dance, and into our marriage for years to come.
These days many of our newer dance moves come from the kids. They were the first to teach us the dab. And the floss. Which has variations Graham was telling me about yesterday including one handed and no handed versions. The latter I can actually do. A floss without hands is really just moving your hips back and forth. Easy enough.
And then there’s the random dance interludes that sometimes occur when we’re watching tv and a favorite song comes on. Graham will pop up first and do his thing, followed shortly by Hannah. Sometimes they talk mom and dad to join in the fun, and when they do our Jack Russel Terrier adds herself in and the five of us collectively move and laugh and dab and talk and jump and floss and bark together for a spell. It is wonderful.
For our entire family, music, and the dance it encourages, serves as a release, from our daily cares, from our anxious moments, into a place of motion, of peace, of life.
This concept of motion, and the life it brings is part of scripture from the very beginning. In the creation story found in Genesis 1, verse two, the Spirit of God moved over the waters, before God separated the darkness and the light. Other translations say it a little differently, that the Spirit of God hovered, swept over, or came like a mighty wind. In each, the takeaway is the same: motion precedes life.
The passage from Ezekiel 37, the story of bringing dry bones to life, is another one of those moments where motion precedes life. The translation we’re using today, the Message, says it like this:
“GOD grabbed me. GOD’s Spirit took me up and led me around a lot of bones! There were bones all over, bleached by the sun. God’s Spirit said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O GOD, only you know.” The Spirit said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of GOD!’”
And then God told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am GOD!”
And that’s exactly what happens. Ezekiel prophesies over the bones and God moves, putting bone to bone, attaching bones with sinews, putting meat on those bones, covering it all with a new coat of skin. And then God’s Spirit breathes into those bones, bringing life out of death. Re-creating what had been horribly, horribly broken. Taking stillness and finality and moving it into a place of motion. Making it possible for God’s people to dance, once again.
“God grabbed me”, scripture says. “God’s Spirit took me up and led me.” It reminds me of a middle school prom, with boys sheepishly on one side of the room, girls on the other. And in the middle of all that awkwardness, hope and expectation, God’s Spirit grabs you, takes you, and leads you into the dance. Hold on to that thought, of being grabbed, and led by the Spirit, we’ll come back to it a bit later.
The Apostle’s Dance
Our text from Acts 2 is another one of those moments where the Spirit’s motion precedes life. Many of those gathered in the upper room that day had traveled, worshiped, served, performed miracles right alongside Jesus for three years. And then, over the course of six weeks, they experienced his death, resurrection and ascension. At that point Jesus was no longer with them, at least in bodily form.
Imagine what those gathered there that day might have been thinking. Where did he go? When will he return? What should we do now? Perhaps too they felt fear, not knowing what would come next.
Then, in the midst of all those unknowns, a roar of wind entered the room. Flames of fire danced over each person, filling them with the Holy Spirit. New languages were spoken, and understood by everyone, regardless of their native tongue. When the Spirit moved that day it broke down walls that divide: walls of language, of ethnicity, of nationality, of religious difference. Separation yielded to unity.
The Holy Spirit was in motion that day, taking the early Christ-followers from a place of uncertainty to one of joy. From there the one hundred and twenty went out into the surrounding countryside, guided by the Spirit, bringing new hope, new life, new motion to all of creation.
What amazes me about these ancient stories is how God’s Spirit shows up in such surprising ways. Before creation was created, the Spirit was there, moving over the waters. In a valley of dry bones the Spirit was there, breathing new life into what had been long since dead. In the upper room, amongst so much uncertainty, the Spirit moved, bringing with it joy, unity, and purpose.
Stories of the Spirit are not relegated to the past. That same Spirit continues to move in our world today, still in unexpected ways.
As just one modern example, I’d like to tell you a personal story and what the experience now means to me.
The day, six years ago, started out normally enough; I found myself in South Florida traffic, driving to work. I was serving as a hospice chaplain at the time. Chaplaincy is one of the requirements during seminary on the road toward becoming ordained.
Hospice chaplains have the honor of providing connection and spiritual care for patients nearing death. As is true of much of seminary the experience is designed to crack you open, broaden your perspectives. All these new experiences ideally help you process your own baggage, before becoming a pastor and helping people to overcome theirs.
And yes, we all have our own baggage to deal with, it is part of what makes us human.
There I was, driving to a chaplains meeting, listening to the radio. I remember hearing the song, Shut up and Dance, by the group Walk the Moon, starting to play. You may be familiar with it, it hit #1 in the Billboard charts that summer.
At the time of this personal epiphany I’d heard the song a few times before, and remembered liking it. But there was something in this particular moment struck me in a new way.
In this secular song I now heard the Holy Spirit, and understood a major depressive episode I’d had a few years ago, and saw it in a new light. The song hit me hard enough that I sat there, in the car, driving on the highway, and was moved to tears.
I’d like to share with you what these lyrics now mean to me. To take this journey into new meaning consider a Holy Spirit calling us away from our baggage, our brokenness and towards a new walk, or perhaps a dance, with the divine.
We’ll go through the lyrics line by line.
In this story the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Hebrew the word for spirit is ruach which has a feminine derivative. The story we heard earlier from Ezekiel also uses ruach; the notion of a feminine Spirit is all over the Old Testament, which doesn’t get talked about near enough as perhaps it should. A tangent for another day.
Anyhow, song lyrics will also be shown on the screen to help you follow along.
The song begins (lyrics are in bold): Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me. When hearing this I’m reminded of when I was agonizing over whether to keep my job in corporate America. At the time I was absolutely miserable, in a downward spiral of a depressive fog, and needed release. Don’t you dare look back the Spirit beckons, just keep your eyes on me, she says. We’re going somewhere new.
This conversation with the Spirit continues: I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me! This is so typical. I want to follow Christ, I want to be led to new and exciting places, but my selfishness, my brokenness, well, it still takes the lead. Look, there I go again, trying to tell the Spirit how to do her thing. It’s like when Jacob wrestles the angel to get his blessing. I want that blessing, but I want it my way. You’re holding back, I say to the Spirit, give me that blessing! She corrects me, directly, elegantly, “Shut up and dance!” she replies. “Shut up and dance with me!”
The song moves from conversation to realization: This woman is my destiny, She said oh oh oh, Shut up and dance with me! We’re being led by the Holy Spirit. Not just to dance with the divine. But to leave our pride, our selfishness, our sense of control. To leave all that, to push it aside, and to dance, letting the Spirit take the lead. That’s no easy thing, we’ll need frequent reminders to drop our perceived need for control. And to Shut up. To be at peace with following.
The lyrics then take me to another time of personal darkness: We were victims of the night, the chemical, physical, kryptonite. Helpless to the bass and faded light. Have you ever found yourself a victim of the night, tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep? Lying awake, not able to find the peace of a full night’s rest?
While in my depressive fog I sure had this problem. Sleep was elusive. I felt like a victim, suffering, in mental anguish. I felt alone. But the Holy Spirit suggests otherwise. *We* were victims of the night, she says. WE. We are never alone.
The chemical and physical effects of depression are inescapable. The ailment is commonly linked to low levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, memory, appetite and sleep. That’s pretty important stuff. Too little serotonin can’t help but have physical effects, like not being able to sleep. And withdrawing from friends and family. At the time this was my world.
The kryptonite reference is a curious one. Kryptonite is the radioactive element that takes away Superman’s powers, making him weak and vulnerable. Which is not unlike the effects of depression, which for a time took away anything I’d call a fulfilling life.
But that all sounds very dark and horrible; and there is more to the story. I’m reminded again that *we* were victims of the night. Me and the Holy Spirit. Having some all-nighters, hanging out together. Perhaps the chemical effects of depression, the effects that drew me away from certain things, were drawing me toward something new. Like this offer to dance.
The lyrics then find fate is in play: Oh we were born to get together, born to get together. We are all born in a fallen, broken state. Separated from God from the beginning. Trying to find our way back to the Garden of Eden, back to relationship with our Creator. But how? Jesus paid that price, covering our brokenness and faulty nature, restoring us to newness of life. What now? We dance. We dance into the world around us with our new dance partner, the Holy Spirit. Why yes, it’s beginning to make some sense to me, we *were* born to get together, each of us, finding new life as we dance with the Spirit.
Perhaps this is the right time to begin, the song suggests: She took my arm, I don’t know how it happened. We took the floor. Finally, the dance has begun! It’s the Spirit that reaches out, taking your arm, leading you into the world. Do you know how it happens? I can’t say that I do. I do know this: the more I let her lead, the more adventure there is. The more fulfilling life becomes.
The lyrics then offer a reminder: She said: Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me, I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me! My takeaway from her reminder? There will always, always, ALWAYS be that voice in your head that wants you to take the reins back. To take the lead. To ignore the Spirit and do things your way. But we know, each of us, what happens when we try and play God. Nothing overly good. Shut up, the Spirit says. Dance with me!
The story then ends with a look ahead: Deep in her eyes, I think I see the future. I realize this is my last chance. Dancing with the Spirit is a very intimate, personal thing. And when you do it, your future will change. You will see it differently. You will never be quite the same. And while I don’t think this is my last chance to dance with the Spirit it’s a good chance. It’s an opportunity I don’t plan to pass up.
As we celebrate Pentecost today with the arrival of the Holy Spirit there is so very much to look forward to. We can physically be with one another, without the barriers of screens, gloves, and soon enough I’m sure, masks.
The distance between us can now be less than six feet. We can handshake, high five, even hug.
And if that isn’t the case for you just yet, that’s ok. We’re getting there.
You know what else we can do to celebrate this newness of life? We can dance. We can dance in right relationship with our creator, dance in right relationship with each other. We can dance in service to our neighbor, taking their hand, helping them along the way.
To help you imagine what that new dance might look like I’d like play a super fun video that uses this song, Shut Up and Dance. In it you’ll see 88 different dance scenes from various movies; you’ll likely recognize some. As you watch and listen, meditate on what this dance with the Spirit may mean.
Do you like to dance? Boy, the Holy Spirit sure does. When she asks you to dance, to be her partner, will you stand up, and follow her to the dance floor? And if you do, will you let her take the lead? Shut up and dance, the Spirit whispers. Dance with me. Amen.