Summary: Dancing with God begins when we realize that God chooses the music and the dance, but most importantly, God leads.

Dancing with God

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

The Reverend Anne Benefield

Geneva Presbyterian Church, Ash Wednesday

February 25, 2009

Introduction: The passage we will read tonight is the traditional reading for Ash Wednesday. It focuses our attention on the three disciplines of Lent: Praying, Fasting, and Giving. You will hear each one described.

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the churches, synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the churches, synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Prayer: Lord God, We have so much to learn and so many spiritual practices to renew. We bow our heads humbly before you. As we begin our Lenten journey, guide us to a deeper understanding of what it means to follow you. May your Word take hold of our souls in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of my very favorite stories is told by Gertrud Mueller Nelson in To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. It’s the first thing she says at the beginning of Chapter 1:

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon caught up in a piece of sewing I was doing. The waste basket near my sewing machine was filled with scraps of fabric cut away from my project. This basket of discards was a fascination to my daughter Annika, who, at the time, was not yet four years old. She rooted through the scraps searching out the long bright strips, collected them to herself, and went off. When I took a moment to check on her, I tracked her whereabouts to the back garden where I found her sitting in the grass with a long pole. She was affixing the scraps to the top of the pole with great sticky wads of tape. “I’m making a banner for a procession,” she said. “I need a procession so that God will come down and dance with us.” With that she solemnly lifted her banner to flutter in the wind and slowly she began to dance. [Gertrud Mueller Nelson, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration, (Paulist Press: New York, 1986), 3]

I think we all want to dance with God. I think that is why we’re here. We long to experience God’s presence moving and flowing and dancing in our lives. The difficulty is that when we dance with God, we want to choose the music, the dance step, and we want to lead. That’s one of the reasons why Lent is sometimes such a hard sell for pastors. We’re all glad to dance to the music of the angels at the birth of the baby Jesus. We like to skip down the streets of Bethlehem with the shepherds. We love to rock the baby to sleep with a lullaby. But dancing with God for Lent is a different thing. In her book entitled Kneeling in Jerusalem, Ann Weems captures some of our feeling in a poem called “Looking Toward Jerusalem.”

The journey to Bethlehem

was much more to my liking.

I am content kneeling here,

where there’s an aura of angels.

And the ever-present procession

of shepherds and of kings

Who’ve come to kneel to the Newborn

in whom we are newborn.

I want to linger here in Bethlehem

in job and celebration,

knowing once I set my feet

toward Jerusalem,

the Child will grow,

and I will be asked to follow.

The time of Light and Angels

is drawing to a close.

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