Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reality is a Dance because God is a Dance

When my dad was learning to fly a plane, his instructor warned him that he could easily lose touch with the reality around him, that he couldn't trust his senses.  He had to trust the instruments to tell him the truth.   One day the instructor drove that lesson home.  While they were flying through a cloud, the instructor asked my dad.   Are we flying right side up or upside down?   Dad answered right side up.  The answer seemed obvious.  Then the instructor said.  “Look at the instruments.  The instruments told the real story.  The place had turned completely upside down, but my dad had never felt it.”

That’s how JFK Jr. died.   When he flew his plane directly into the ocean, he thought the ocean was far below.   That’s the story his eyes were telling him.  But if he had looked at the instruments, they would have told him the truth, a truth that might have saved his life. 

But it’s not only in the air that our perceptions will lie to us.  They blind us to the reality that lies around us right here, right now.   That blindness may not kill us, but it will kill the life we’re meant to live.   It will limit our relationships.  It will take away our peace.  It will give us ambitions that lead nowhere, false fears that only bring us to dead end places.   That blindness will lead us away from who God created us to be.   What is this reality that we often can’t see, but desperately need to.  In these words, Jesus shows us.   

In this strange story, Jesus shows us reality, the reality that actually exists rather than the one we often believe does.   And in doing so, he opens the door to a life that will liberate us from the false beliefs that bind us, even enslave us.   How is all this happening in a simple story about Jesus’ baptism?   But is this story so simple?   Have you ever asked?  Why is Jesus getting baptized in the first place?   If Jesus is who he says he is, that makes no sense. 

But to find the answer to that question, we need to see what happens after Jesus’ baptism.  When that dove descends, and that voice comes down, we’re not simply seeing a divine special effects show.   God is showing us the very heart of reality, the meaning of life, the truth that undergirds everything in the universe.   How is that? 

The key to what is happening here lies in a detail we can overlook.  Beyond this description at Jesus’ baptism, God is likened to a dove in only one other sentence in the Bible, in reality, only one unique translation of that sentence.    At the very beginning of the Bible, in the creation story, the very first sentence tells us that the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.  But the word isn’t really moved, it’s actually the word fluttered, like a bird flutters.   So in the Aramaic version of the Bible, the one that Jesus and his disciples read, the rabbis wrote the sentence as “theSpirit of God fluttered above the face of the waters like a dove.”  

At creation, Genesis is telling us three parties were present, God, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word through which God created.    Now at Jesus’ baptism we see the same three parties, the Father who is the voice, the Son, who is the Word, and the Spirit, who is the fluttering dove.   By pointing back to the beginning, do you see what God is doing?   God is telling us.   I am bringing in Jesus, a new beginning, a new creation. 

But more than that, in both places, God is telling us.  This is who I am.   I am a Trinity.  I am One God in three persons.   Now, as difficult as that reality is to grasp, if we don’t grasp it, we miss everything.   God is telling us.  This is the reality that lies at the heart not only of creation, but at the heart of the new creation I am bringing in Jesus. 

Think about it.  Why do we say that God is love?  How can that be true?    Love is something that one person has for another person.   So if God was a single being, then before the world was made, God couldn’t have been love.   But of course most people don’t get this, because they read these words more like.  “Love is God.”   As in Love is where it’s at.  It’s like the Bible version of the Beatles song.  "All you need is love.”   But that’s not what the Bible is telling us at all.    

No, the Bible is saying that the “living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and it is that activity of love that has created everything else, that is in reality, God (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)…… In other words, God is not a static thing—not even a person—God is a dynamic, pulsating activity of love, a life, almost a kind of dance.    

And if God is that, if God is a dance, then that means all reality is also a dance.  And stunningly, the more science studies the universe, the more this reality becomes apparent.   When we look at this table, we see a table, but in reality, this table is billions of infinitely small particles moving ceaselessly around in well, a dance.   And what is true of this table is true of everything around us, at the heart of every piece of matter that exists is adance.  And, at a bigger level, we see that in everything that exists around us, even in us.  It all has a rhythm, the rhythm of the waves, of the seasons, the rhythm of our own breathing and heartbeats.   Everything around us is dancing all the time, but here’s the problem.  Often, we’re not.  

You see to create a dance, you need people who are willing to defer to one another, who can let go of their own egos in order to create something larger than themselves.   That’s the rhythm of a dance.   But often, we don’t do that.    No, instead we want a world where everyone dances around us.   Now, we don’t say that because, well it would be rude, but we do.   Its why, when I need to get somewhere fast, and I hit too many red lights, I get frustrated.  Why?   Because, I want all the lights to be green for me.    But do you not see how that way of seeing life is insane, how it is utterly disconnected from reality, even sad? 

Imagine you’re at a party, and one group is all coming together in one big group dance.  They’re all clapping, singing together; kicking their legs together.    It’s like a scene from the best Jewish wedding you’ve ever witnessed.    And then there’s one dude over in the corner, yelling “Hey look at me.   I can do the moonwalk!”    Wouldn’t that kind of be pathetic? 

Or have you ever seen the Rockettes do their thing at Radio City Music Hall?  It’s amazing, seeing these incredible dancers all moving together to create something beautiful.   Then imagine, if all of a sudden, one of them moves in front of everyone, and starts doing her own little routine of crazy kicks. It would mess the whole thing up.   And you’d just be embarrassed for her, for her obvious cluelessness to the whole point.

But that’s us.   We live as if the dance has to be all about us, but that’s not a dance at all.  It’s our own twisted desire to be God, a desire that shows us that we really have no clue who God actually is at all.   And that twisted desire isn’t just pathetic.  It is deadly.  It messes up our relationships.  It leads to fractures in our families, and misery in our work-places.  It brings us a world of appalling inequality and horrifying violence, to the evil we saw at Mother Emmanuel this past week. We have become separated from reality, from the dance, and that separation is killing us.      

That’s why Jesus got baptized.   He didn’t do it because he needed it.   Baptism stood for a desire for cleansing from wrong-doing, for a return to a relationship with God.    Jesus was already clean.   And he already had an intimacy with God we can’t begin to comprehend.  His cousin, John knew this.   It’s why Jesus’ request puzzled him.  But Jesus’ reply gives us the answer.  He said, “I am doing this to fulfill all righteousness.”   Jesus isn’t talking about his righteousness. He is talking about ours. Righteousness simply means being in a right relationship with God, in rhythm with God’s rhythm so to speak.   And when Jesus entered those waters, Jesus was saying, I have come to bring you that relationship, to bring you back into the dance. 

Several years ago, I traveled to Nova Scotia in what is called dance season.  During the brief summer months, folks gather each weekend at these local village halls for huge dances.  They bring in the best fiddlers they can find, and everyone comes together in these elaborate Scottish folkdances.   The music is incredible, and the all dancers know the steps so that it looks great too.   So I went, and stood in the corner and watched.   An old man saw me, and said in his gruff Nova Scotian way, “You’re at a dance.  Get out there and dance.”   I said, “I don’t know anyone, and I don’t know the steps.”  He said, “That doesn’t matter.  Just go, and they’ll show you.”   I didn’t want to go, not because I didn’t want to.   I just didn’t want to embarrass myself.  I had too much pride.   But he kept pushing me, and he was pretty intimidating, so I did.   And it wasn’t all that pretty.  I missed some cues, but people helped me along.  They patiently showed me the way. They forgave my faulty steps.  And before I realized it, I was caught up in the dance, in the flow of the music, in creating something beautiful with people I hardly knew.   And it was wonderful.   

Jesus came to invite us into a dance of infinitely greater beauty and wonder than that, one that has been going on for all eternity.   When he entered those waters of baptism, he was opening the door to that dance.  He was saying, “I will make up for all your faulty steps.   I will heal all your self-conscious, self-seeking ways.   I will free you to dance once again, even at the cost of my very life”   That is the gospel, the good news, the good news we all need to hear. 

As the song Sydney Carter wrote puts it:
I danced in the morning when the world was young, I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun 
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth At Bethlehem I had my birth 

They cut me down and I leapt up high I am the life that will never, never die 
I'll live in you if you'll live in me I am the Lord of the dance, said he 
So….Dance, dance, wherever you may be I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he

That’s the point of life, the point of everything, to live in the flow of that dance with God, with each other, and with our world.  It’s why Jesus came and died so that the dance might live in us once again.   And as we let Jesus bring us into that dance, it will change everything.  It will change us.  It will change our relationships.  It will change our world.   Let us pray.