I love reading in II Samuel, 6 about King David, dancing before the Ark of the Lord. You know, don't you, this was not lovely liturgical dance –– It was wild, barely under control, not choreographed at all.
You probably know that Presbyterians are known as the "frozen chosen," because our worship is often quiet and reverential, and the very idea of David dancing in this way makes us a little nervous. We can be a little stiff, we like to follow our Order of Worship, and we like things done "decently and in order." (That's a quote from the Presbyterian Book of Order. And, I see that the word "order" has shown up three times in the last two sentences! Well, I guess that tells the tale.)
So this whole scene in II Samuel is something that many of us, Presbyterians or not, just aren't accustomed to. Consider first of all the noise that was being generated: singing, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals! (Where's a simple piano or organ when you need one?!) And there was all that, plus trumpets and SHOUTING. Pretty chaotic! The noise must have been deafening.
Now I realize that there are lots of ways to worship God, including silent reverence and beautiful choral music, and a lot of what we treasure. But joy and chaos are in the Bible, too! And maybe … such things CAN be done decently and in order.
We know that David was a whole lot more than just that painful episode with Bathsheba. He wrote many of the psalms, and had a real, honest, passionate relationship with God. He lamented to God, questioned God, expressed sorrow and anger and bitterness to God. But, no matter what else David says to God in a psalm, he always ends with love and praise and hope.
Just thinking of God made David joyful. And when he was engaged in worship, his joy became so great that he just couldn't stop himself. He danced, sang, and shouted! And it may be important to know that the distance David danced that day in II Samuel was thirteen miles, which is a LONG way to dance nonstop.
He was just carried away the presence of the Lord.
David was so oblivious, in fact, that when his wife, Michal, looked out her window, all she saw was a crazy man whose linen garment was way too skimpy. And she despised him in her heart, which is a strong lesson for us today, too. It's risky to criticize, to be judgmental. We're told later that Michal had no child till the day of her death.
Sounds to me like we better be careful when we start looking down on folks who may not worship just like we do. Seems like there's a good possibility that OUR idea of what's "decent and in order" isn't always the same as God's idea. Because I firmly believe that God LOVED David's dancing!
There are two things here that are very important. We need to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. You never know what he's going to do. So if something different shows up in our worship occasionally, we need to be open to the possibility that it's the work of the Spirit. We need to keep open minds and open hearts. God doesn't always stay in the box we try to keep him in!
The second thing is personal, and very much a heart attitude. Let's be open to the possibility of true, overwhelming JOY in worship. We're happy to see each other; it's good to be in church together; we like worship! Those are all good things. But, somewhere in our hearts … even though we are called to worship God always, in all that we do … there's something very significant in this hour (or so) of worship every week.
This is our time to focus on God, leave the world behind, and open our hearts and minds to God and God alone. He's certainly worthy of all that and more. There's so much to praise God for, to thank him for, to express your love to him, to remind yourself of his power and goodness and wisdom and compassion.
Even if dancing isn't usually a part of worship in your church, dance in your heart! And what if God wants to speak to you? What if he just wants to tell you he loves you and he's proud of you? What if he just wants you to feel the joy of his presence? We need to be paying attention!
David wrote Psalm 16, and its last verse says, You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
That's our God! Just being in his PRESENCE is to have great joy. It's his will that he bless us and we continue in pleasure and joy. No wonder David danced!
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.