Songs can be remixed, sermons can too. I originally prepared the Shut up and Dance message over a year ago for my home congregation, St. Michael. The message today was done for my internship congregation, Holy Spirit, and features new personal narrative, new scripture passages (Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2: 1-8, 12-18), a new video, and a reworked open and close. Either listen or read below. Enjoy!
Do you like to dance? Boy, I sure do. Many cherished memories during my past 41 years on this earth involve dancing through the most important moments of life.
When Kathi and I married 15 years ago, our first dance was to UB40s version of the song Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. You know that one, at least many of you should, it’s a classic. And apologies to the Elvis fans out there, Elvis recorded it first, tho UB40 recorded it best. We picked that song, Kathi and I, and that version, because that’s what was playing in the background during our first kiss, way back when, twenty one years ago, in the Spring of 1995. We were in a gazebo near college in Valparaiso Indiana, it had begun to rain ever so softly. As we leaned in for that first kiss that song echoed in our heads. Kathi and I wanted to bring that moment, and that song, with us into our first dance, and into our marriage for years to come. So far so good.
These days our favorite dance moments involve our kids. When you have a two-year old and a six year old, and they start to get crazy at home, doing all those things young kids can do like yelling, fighting over toys, basically running around with their heads cut off, putting on some music, and having a family dance, acts as a magic elixir to soothe the savage beasts that sometimes go by the name of Hannah and Graham. Within moments of putting on that first tune, all that youthful energy is focused and transformed, into joyful dance.
Hannah is a spinner most often, elegant and carefree, flowing to the music, sometimes with mom or dad, sometimes solo, moving with ease right alongside the music. Graham is more of a jumper, and a head banger, my guess is when he gets to college he’ll enjoy some hard rock, alternative rock or perhaps some heavy metal. And when he goes to concerts he may well hop into the mosh pit and join the fracas, just like his daddy did, back in the day.
For our entire family, music, and the dance it encourages, serves as a release, from our daily cares, from our anxious moments, into a place of motion, of peace, of life.
This concept of motion, and the life it brings is part of scripture from the very beginning. In the creation story found in Genesis 1, verse two, the Spirit of God moved over the waters, before God separated the darkness and the light. Other translations say it a little differently, that the Spirit of God hovered, swept over, or came like a mighty wind. In each, the takeaway is the same: motion precedes life.
The passage from Ezekiel 37, the story of bringing dry bones to life, is another one of those moments where motion precedes life. The translation we’re using today, the Message, says it like this:
“GOD grabbed me. GOD’s Spirit took me up and led me around a lot of bones! There were bones all over, bleached by the sun. God’s Spirit said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O GOD, only you know.” 4 The Spirit said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of GOD!’” 5-6 And then God told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am GOD!”
And that’s exactly what happens. Ezekiel prophesies over the bones and God moves, putting bone to bone, attaching bones with sinews, putting meat on those bones, covering it all with a new coat of skin. And then God’s Spirit breathes into those bones, bringing life out of death. Re-creating what had been horribly, horribly broken. Taking stillness and finality and moving it into a place of motion. Making it possible for God’s people to dance, once again.
“God grabbed me”, scripture says. “God’s Spirit took me up and led me”. It almost reminds me of a middle school prom, with boys sheepishly on one side of the room, and girls on the other. And in the middle of all that awkwardness, hope and expectation, God’s Spirit grabs you, takes you, and leads you into the dance. Hold on to that thought, of being grabbed, and led by the Spirit, we’ll come back to that a bit later.
The Apostle’s Dance
Our text from Acts 2 is another one of those moments where the Spirit’s motion precedes life. Many of those gathered in the upper room that day had traveled, worshiped, served, performed miracles right alongside Jesus for three years. And then, over the course of six weeks, they experienced his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. At that point Jesus was no longer with them, at least in bodily form.
Imagine what those gathered there that day might have been thinking. Where did he go? When will he return? What should we do now? If I were there I’d likely be afraid, not knowing what to do next.
Then, in the midst of all those unknowns, an amazing thing happened. A roar of wind entered the room, and flames of fire danced over each person, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Those gathered spoke in new languages, be they Jew or Roman or Greek, and were understood by everyone, regardless of their native tongue. When the Spirit moved that day it broke down the walls that divided them, and us: walls of language, of ethnicity, of nationality, of religious differences, and birthed the Christian church in its place.
The Holy Spirit was in motion that day, in a big way, taking these early Christ-followers from a place of uncertainty, and of fear, and moving them into joy, into motion. From there the apostles went out into the surrounding countryside, teaching people all Christ had taught them. The apostles were guided out into the world that day by the Spirit, to bring this new hope, new life, and new motion to all of creation. That same Spirit continues to move in our world today.
What amazes me about all of these Holy Spirit stories is how the Spirit shows up, in the most unexpected of places, in the most unexpected of ways. Before creation was even created, the Spirit was there, moving over the waters. In the midst of a valley of dry bones, the Spirit was there, breathing new life into what had been long since dead. In the upper room, among uncertainty and fear, the Spirit moved again, bringing with it joy, unity, and purpose.
In my own life, the Spirit moved, unexpectedly, last Spring, and it totally caught me off guard. I’d like to share a little bit about that experience, and what it now means to me.
The day started out normally enough; I found myself in traffic, driving to work. My work at the time was the role of a chaplain intern, as part of CPE, or clinical pastoral education. As a chaplain intern my job was to visit with people on hospice, and provide spiritual care for clients nearing death. CPE is another one of those seminary requirements designed to crack you open, to immerse you in new experiences, and to help you process your own baggage, before becoming a pastor and helping people to overcome theirs. And yes, you all have baggage, everyone does, it’s part of the gig.
Anyhow, there I was, driving to a chaplains meeting, and listening to the secular, FM radio. I remember hearing the song, Shut up and Dance, by the group Walk the Moon, starting to play. You may be familiar with this one as well; it was pretty much the most popular song out there last summer.
At the time of this personal epiphany 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’d had a few years ago, and saw it 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 with you what these lyrics now mean to me. To take this journey into new meaning I’d like you consider a Holy Spirit calling us away from our baggage, our brokenness and towards a new walk, or perhaps a dance, with the divine.
We’ll go through the lyrics line by line.
In this story the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach) is feminine. Some view the Spirit in masculine terms, or with no gender at all, and that’s just fine. But in this story, to fit with these song lyrics we’ll consider a feminine Holy Spirit. Song lyrics will also be shown on the screen to help you follow along.
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, well, it still takes the lead. Look, there I go again, 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. And to Shut up. 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, the effects 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 Spirit 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.
You’ve heard stories from scripture, a few personal stories too, but what about you? What about you? To help you answer that question I’d like play a video that uses this song, Shut Up and Dance, in a super fun way. In it you’ll see 88 different dance scenes from various movies; you’ll likely recognize a lot of them. As you watch, and listen to the lyrics, meditate on what this dance with the Spirit may mean.
Do you like to dance? Boy, the Holy Spirit sure does. When she asks you to dance, to be her partner, will you stand up, and follow her to the dance floor? And if you do, will you let her lead? Shut up and dance, the Spirit whispers. Dance with me. Amen.