Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 7/6

God Invites Us to Dance

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 6, 2008
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Bethany Lutheran Church

Most of you have come to know that I love the liturgy of the church. Worship has been molded and shaped throughout time to exist as we know it today. The language we use has evolved and changed. I love the vast and yet delicate array of symbols that you can find among one worshipping community to the next. Worship buildings and sanctuaries each have their own assortment of styles. With so many things to watch and see, the most awe-inspiring element is almost always the people. And if you remove the people from a church, you are left with nothing more than an empty façade, a shell of what once was, or in some cases, an ornate and historical museum.

Our gospel text for this day begins with Jesus comparing the generation to a group of children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another saying, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.” For pastors and regular churchgoers, there is a tendency to want to read this text in the context of our many of our churches. The flutes have been playing Sunday after Sunday. Have you not been hearing Jim pull out more and more organ stops, adding more and more pipes, many of them called “flutes?” The very joy and celebrative mood of our liturgy, our worship that is enacted here week after week, calls us to get up and dance. We stand and sit on cue, not because someone instructs us to, but rather because it is part of the great dance.

“This is the Feast of victory for our God” and “Glory be to God in the highest heaven” are among those declarative songs we typically sing. They mark our excitement and our thankfulness to a God who has rescued us from death. They are songs of highest praise to a God who is so good, so merciful, and yet all too often I catch even myself singing these songs as if I am bored by them. If the words to the music are full of joy, a person who could only see some of our faces certainly would not believe it. Churches provide the music for dancing and yet there is no one who will get up to dance. And for many congregations, the reality is a diminishing church attendance.

There is an expression used in theatre where sometimes the actors and actresses are told to “break the fourth wall.” In most cases during a show, the actors and actresses onstage perform as if the audience does not exist. That is one reason why a show will usually be almost exactly the same regardless of whether there are two people in the audience or two hundred. When actors and actresses, however, are given the note to “break the fourth wall,” what they are actually being told is to interact and engage the audience directly. It can be rather scary and intimidating for the actors and actresses because audiences can be so unpredictable, but almost always, when it is appropriate in a show to “break the fourth wall” the audience is captivated and drawn into the show on a deeper and more intimate level. The audience becomes part of the story.

Perhaps that is what we need to do as Christians in order to add new life to our congregations. Let us “break the fourth wall.” Let us “break the fourth wall” and regularly interact with the world and engage our neighbors and families in our Christian identity. Let us draw them more deeply into what it is that we are about as people of faith. We cannot shy away from our faith or be afraid to share our faith with others. We cannot be afraid of people pointing fingers and saying, oh look at him, look at her, they are a Christian and like to talk about God. Young people are especially conscious of what is and is not “cool.” And being a Christian is not always cool. But as I was saying last week, we are destined to fail. People will always find some reason to criticize you, some reason why you are not cool. So you might as well enjoy being a Christian, because if that is all they can criticize you for, well that is not so bad. Is it?

Once you have become more comfortable with being a Christian who regularly “breaks the fourth wall” to engage and interact with the world, you will find more spring in your step. You will hear the flutes more clearly and find that you cannot keep from dancing.

Some of you may have heard me tell the story of a congregation that I once worshipped with regularly. It was a normal Sunday morning during the season of Pentecost. There was nothing special about the day, although it was a beautiful one. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, flowers were in full bloom and everything looked golden. It was also somewhat hot, since it was during the summer and the church had no air conditioning. We opened the windows despite the noisy streets that surrounded the church. The music minister was a rather lively and charismatic fellow and that morning had decided to bring his accordion for worship. The pastor finished her sermon, the congregation stood to sing as the organist began the introduction to the hymn and then the music minister picked up his accordion and began playing with the organ as everyone in the congregation chuckled and smiled as they sang. In the middle of the hymn, suddenly a dozen or more people entered the church. They had been simply walking along the street when they heard his joyful and festive sound of voices, organ and accordion pouring out the windows of the church. They came into the church off the street to see what all the excitement was about and ended up staying for the remainder of the service.

It is a true story. And I imagine that some of you are probably thinking that I am crazy because that would never happen here, although I beg to differ. You see, I hear that there is this church picnic next Sunday that involves all four ELCA congregations in Ishpeming. I was not at the picnic last year, obviously, but from what I am told, it was a joyful time to be worshipping God among a larger community, outdoors. This week is a great time for you to practice breaking the fourth wall. I challenge each of you to invite your families to join you at the picnic. Invite your neighbors, since we all have them. Invite your colleagues or classmates. Even if you are not planning to be there next week, tell them about the picnic anyway and invite them to join us. The music will be playing. People will be singing and perhaps I will even get to see some of you dancing.

Practice dancing so that we will be more comfortable in our mourning, since churches are for that too. I think that most pastors agree that when they have to perform a funeral service for someone who has died, there is often a great sadness for those who do not have a church home and for those who have little or no Christian beliefs. Grief and mourning is much more difficult for these people because they do not have the benefit of the Christian community. The Christian community may surround that person, although they typically feel like an alien in a foreign land.

So let us not wait until times of mourning to practice breaking the fourth wall to begin talking to our friends and neighbors about our Christian faith, let us begin now, for now is a time of celebration. When we hear the flutes begin to play, let us all rise to sing and dance as we are able, and may we be empowered to encourage others to join in the dance.

Vicar Luke Smetters

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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