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Ordinary Sunday 15, Year B
Reaffirmation of Baptism of Stephanie Hayter
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 15, 2012

2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:9-10; Mark 6:14-29

Dancing before God’

At Thursday night’s Bible study we read Psalm 24 from various translations – a joyful song of approach – a song sung by worshipers on their way to the temple. It is fitting as our call to worship and inspiration for first hymn this morning. Denying all other claims to sovereignty, we profess that the universe is a wondrous work of God. In the light of God’s presence in every leaf and every blade of grass, we reflect on our integrity as creatures made for communion and community. Are we sensitive to our place and role in the life of the planet? Are we attuned to wellness and forgiveness? Are we good and kind friends to one another? Are we trustworthy? Are we open to new knowledge and possibilities? Are we open to God who rallies and raises the most maligned: the slaves, the wanderers, Joseph, Ruth, David, Jeremiah … Mary, Jesus? Like believers of old, we sing as we process, in joyful anticipation of God’s coming to meet us – God’s coming to meet us in scarred and hospitable hands and faces, in words of wisdom and assurance, in bread and wine and blessing. We “fling wide the gates” and “open the ancient doors” because God is both object and subject of our worship – God is here, and God is reforming and transforming the world in and through us! It’s enough to make us – like David – rejoice and dance with all our might! God be with you

It’s a wonderful image – the mighty ruler, David, lost in rejoicing – dancing in nothing but a skimpy apron (ephod), the people enjoying bread, cake and raisins (could it have been as wondrous a cake as Naomi has baked and decorated for us today?) – celebrating the presence of God in their midst. David’s wife, Michal, is “disgusted” by his leaping and dancing – behaviour unbefitting a mighty ruler. David dances. With all his might. Happy. Free. Free of anxieties, rivalries and jealousies. Centred on love of God and neighbour. And in spite of Michal’s disgust, such rejoicing is contagious. We read that “all the people returned to their homes”. It’s akin to saying that all the people returned to places of comfort, safety, creativity, nurture. May that be so for us today – that each of us, following this celebration of thanksgiving – of acceptance and serious vocation – returns to a place, inwardly and outwardly, of security and peace.

I want to suggest that Stephanie’s Reaffirmation of Baptism is a sort of homecoming. That God delights in the unfolding of her life and faith; that God delights in her involvement in social justice activities, her support of junior rugby league (the Newtown Jets), her abiding passion for truth, her respect and love for her mother Irene, her brother Alan, family and friends.

Traditionally, today’s celebration is a Confirmation. Stephanie, God confirms your boldness and good humour in the face of judgemental authority, and we, the Body of Christ in this place, confirm it, too. We don’t say simply that we accept you, but that we are a more faithful and secure and nurturing place because you have chosen and accepted us – because you have recognised in us a Spirit that calls you home. Be unafraid. Be at home.

I chose the image of the ballet dancer (on the front of our printed liturgies) because there’s something important to be said about the discipline of such an artist. Lest we think today that dancing is all spontaneity and carelessness. Dancing before the God of grace entails a comparable gracefulness. It can be hard work – there’s much to unlearn and much to learn. Compassion isn’t always my first instinct. Patience towards another with other interests and principles isn’t always my first inclination. Persistence in the life and way revealed for me isn’t always my primary objective. Like a ballet dancer, I need to learn gracefulness – by way of meditation and study, imitation of wise and trustworthy mentors; by way of experiment and error, rehearsal and performance with others …

On Thursday night we joked that it wouldn’t be easy being Psalm 24 – that Psalm 23 is a hard act to follow. Our Gospel for today reminds us that Jesus’ ministry followed hard on the heels of John’s – and in a long line of prophets persecuted and executed. The daughter of Herodias represents every dancer or creative soul exploited in the name of vengeance or vain authority – in the name of a heartless or gutless ruler who rarely dances.

Dancing before God is more than spontaneous joy, then. It is also more than hard work. Dancing before God is impossible but for God – but for the God who dances before me, who dances before you, before us – as sunlight dances on water or sandstone or high-rise windows. Dancing before God is impossible but for the God who dances within us – to the beat of heaven and earth, peace and justice, gift and task.

Dancing before God has become possible for us thanks to the God who dances among us and with us. Step 1: Christ is the victim of humiliation and violence (and each of us knows what this can be like). Step 2: Christ is the victim without resentment, “the victim who knows his own murderers as victims, as those caught in the web of hostility and violence and unable to break themselves free”. As the lyric to the well-known spiritual, “Lord of the Dance”, lays out, Jesus “is able to pray for the forgiveness of his own killers … [and] comes … to us, raised to life by God, as the sacrificed victim whose death exposes the sickness of all our violence but whose wounded hands are open in welcome and mercy …” (Nathan Nettleton).

When do you dance before God? …