Today’s sermon celebrates Pentecost Sunday as seen through the lens of the song Shut Up and Dance With Me by the group Walk The Moon. Once you read or listen to the message fire up the Youtube music video, and see what your dance partner, the Holy Spirit, may be saying to you. Enjoy!
Happy Pentecost Sunday!
Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and other earlier followers of Jesus. Today is often referred to as “the birthday of the church.” Maybe we should get some cake and balloons for Pentecost next year, and celebrate that birthday in style during coffee hour.
The text from Acts picks up where the Gospels left off – right after Jesus was raised from the dead, after he’d spent 40 days walking alongside the twelve apostles and other early followers and then ascended into heaven.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like to those earlier followers to experience all that? And then suddenly realize that Jesus was no longer with them? Think about possible questions from the crowd. Where did he go? When will he be back? What should we do now?
Maybe these were the questions the apostles were looking to answer when meeting on that first Pentecost in the upper room. If I were there I think I’d be afraid, not knowing what was coming next.
And what was coming? Scripture refers to what happened in the upper room that day in many ways. Some translations call it the Holy Ghost, others call it the Holy Spirit. Even there we begin to get the sense that what came that day was sacred and otherworldly. What came is also described in Acts 2 as “as strong wind, gale force” and that the Holy Spirit “spread through their ranks, like a wildfire” So the Holy Spirit can be understood as an element like wind or fire, changing the world as it goes.
The understanding of the Spirit as fire is also why we wear red this day. To celebrate the Spirit coming to us in fire.
Other places in scripture refer to the Holy Spirt as Helping Us Along, as an Advocate, a Comforter, and a Friend.
So the Holy Spirit is many things. My seminary professor, Louis Malcolm summarizes it nicely, saying:
“through the Spirit we are freed. Freed from being hooked by unjust and dysfunctional patterns within and around us.” She continues, noting “As the Spirit transforms us into Christ’s image, we no longer are beholden to any other interests but God’s purposes for us and for the world.”
I rather like that summary, and would perhaps add one thing. With the Holy Spirit you are never alone.
With that in mind here’s just one more way to consider the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Holy Spirit could be considered your divine dance partner.
This notion of a divine dance partner came to me a couple of months ago. It started normally enough while driving to a chaplains meeting, listening to the radio.
This encounter with the Holy Spirit was totally unexpected, borne of some music from the secular, FM dial. Sitting there in my car a song played, Shut up and Dance, by the group Walk the Moon. Has anyone else heard this song? It’s pretty popular right now.
I’d heard the song a few times before, and remembered liking it, but something in this particular moment struck me in a new way.
In this song I now heard the Holy Spirit, and understood a major depressive episode I experienced a few years back in a new light. The song hit me hard enough that I sat there, in the car, driving on the Turnpike, and was moved to tears.
It may sound strange, but I’d like to share what I heard. And to share what these lyrics now mean to me. To take this journey into new meaning I’d like you consider a Holy Spirit that is alive and well in 2015. A Holy Spirit calling us away from worldly pursuits and towards a life filled with the love of Christ. Calling us to new life, to move, to dance with grace.
We’ll go through the lyrics line by line.
In this story the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach) which is feminine. Some view the Spirit in masculine terms, or with no gender at all. But in this story, to fit with the song lyrics we’ll consider a female Holy Spirit.
The song begins (lyrics are in bold): Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me. When hearing this I’m reminded of when I was agonizing over whether to keep my job in corporate America. At the time I was absolutely miserable, in a downward spiral of a depressive fog, and needed release. Don’t you dare look back the Spirit beckons, just keep your eyes on me, she says. We’re going somewhere new.
This conversation with the Holy Spirit continues: I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me! This is so typical. I want to follow Christ, I want to be led by the Spirit to new and exciting places, but my selfishness, my brokenness still takes the lead. Look, there I go, trying to tell the Holy Spirit how to do her thing. It’s like when Jacob wrestles the angel to get his blessing. I want that blessing, but I want it my way. You’re holding back, I say to the Holy Spirit, give me that blessing! She corrects me, directly, yet elegantly, Shut up and dance! Shut up and dance with me!
The song moves from conversation to realization: This woman is my destiny, She said oh oh oh, Shut up and dance with me! We’re being led by the Holy Spirit. Not just to dance with the divine. But to leave our pride, our selfishness, our sense of control. To leave all that, to push it aside, and to dance, letting the Holy Spirit take the lead. That’s no easy thing, we’ll need frequent reminders to drop our perceived need for control. To Shut up. And to be at peace with following, to dance with the Spirit.
The lyrics then take me to another time of personal darkness: We were victims of the night, The chemical, physical, kryptonite Helpless to the bass and faded light. Have you ever found yourself a victim of the night, tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep? Lying awake, not able to find the peace of a full night’s rest?
While in my dark fog of depression I sure had this problem. Sleep was elusive. I felt like a victim, suffering and in mental anguish. I felt alone. But the Holy Spirit suggests otherwise. *We* were victims of the night, she says. WE. We are not alone.
The chemical and physical effects of depression are inescapable. Depression is commonly linked to low levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, memory, appetite and sleep. That’s pretty important stuff. Too little serotonin can’t help but have physical effects, like not being able to sleep and withdrawing from friends and family. At the time this was my world.
The kryptonite reference is a curious one. Kryptonite is the radioactive element that takes away all of Superman’s powers, making him weak and vulnerable. This is not unlike the effects of depression, which for a time took away anything I’d call a semblance of life.
But that all sounds very dark and horrible; and there is more to the story than that. I’m reminded again that *we* were victims of the night. Me and the Holy Spirit. Having some all nighters, hanging out together. Perhaps the chemical effects of depression that drew me away from certain things, were drawing me toward something new. Like this offer to dance.
The lyrics then find fate is in play: Oh we were born to get together, born to get together. We are all born in a fallen, broken state. Separated from God from the beginning. Trying to find our way back into the Garden of Eden, back to relationship with our Creator. But how? Jesus paid that price, covering our brokenness and faulty nature, restoring us to newness of life. What now? We dance. We dance into the world around us with our new dance partner, the Holy Spirit. Why yes, it’s beginning to make some sense to me, we* were* born to get together, each of us, finding new life as we dance with the Spirit.
Perhaps this is the right time to begin, the song suggests: She took my arm, I don’t know how it happened. We took the floor Finally, the dance has begun! It’s the Spirit that reaches out, taking your arm, leading you into the world. Do you know how it happens? I can’t say that I do. I do know this: the more I let her lead, the more adventure there is. The more fulfilling life becomes.
The lyrics then offer a reminder: She said: Oh don’t you dare look back just keep your eyes on me, I said you’re holding back, She said shut up and dance with me! My takeaway from her reminder? There will always, always, ALWAYS be that voice in your head that wants you to take the reins back. To take the lead. To ignore the Holy Spirit and do things your way. But we know, each of us, what happens when we try and play God. Nothing overly good. Shut up, the Holy Spirit says. Dance with me!
The story then ends with a look ahead: Deep in her eyes, I think i see the future. I realize this is my last chance. Dancing with the Sprit is a very intimate, personal thing. And when you do it, your future will change. You will see it differently. You will never be quite the same. And while I don’t think this is my last chance to dance with the Spirit it’s a good chance. And an opportunity I don’t plan to pass up.
But that’s just one story, one person, one dance. What about you? Where have you seen the Spirit active in your life? The next time the Spirit comes and asks you to be her partner will you answer that call? If you do, will you let her lead? Shut up and dance, the Spirit reminds us. Dance with me.
And now take a moment for quiet reflection.