Monroe Congregational Church
April 29, 2001 - Diane Schmitz

There is something about preaching that is very much like a dance. While one might move alone with some delight to a beautiful piece of music, it nevertheless is more enjoyable when there is another moving with us to that same music. Even in the midst of missed steps, crunched toes, awkwardness or shyness, still! Such a human activity as dancing brings more pleasure with another than when done alone. This conjunction of two people (or a group) moving to some bit of music creates something quite more than just the simple movements of the bodies: hearts and lives, at times, open up one to another. Just so in preaching...

I have the opportunity to be on your dance card this morning, and there is pleasure and some sense of real possibility of discovery hidden in that invitation. And fear. None of us is so old that we can not remember those moments of terror when some stranger, or someone that we've known for years, comes over and asks if we'd like to dance - there is always that brief moment of surprise and instant of hesitation. We don't know each other quite well enough; and maybe we don't know ourselves; and maybe this dance will teach us something new. It's a risk.

Diane, your pastor, and I were students together at Seattle University where we studied for our Master of Divinity Degrees. That was where we met. Our lives diverged some little bit - my intention to go into congregational ministry shifted, hers deepened. I minister daily now - and in a way different than I had every anticipated - to the crafts people and farmers at the Pike Place Market, where I am the Market Master. They are, in quite a tender way, my congregation.

Well, I bring all this, and more, to the pulpit this morning, to this dance.

And each of bring a story here this morning, don't you? Some bit of the journey each of you is on: Aged or young; single, married, widowed or divorced; good health or poor; joy, happiness, depression, or just getting by; lives filled with love, or envy; engagement or distrust. The pews are filled this morning with all of these, and more.

This is not so much a ballroom dance of couples today, but some complicated circle dance where the whole community is invited to join together with fancy steps and intricate movements.

We do not dance here, this morning, in silence but to powerful rhythms. This preaching is not simply a conversation between you and me singly or as a group. We move to the Word of God; it weaves us; it moves our limbs; it brings us together. We hear this music and are gently encouraged to ask, `Do you want to dance?'

It may, no, it does seem troubling, to hear the words of Mark this morning, words condemning the rich, holding up for shame those who oppress the poor while claiming privilege, and all the while giving generously to the church. Enough that these give only what they'll never miss, but this woman, this poor widow, coming to the same collection plate, empties her purse and her pockets and puts her whole life's savings into the offering.

"Where's the beat!" we might say, in this music of God's word. Or, more simply: "I can't dance to that." The images trouble; we know quite well how to criticize the Scribes, though we dare not look to closely at them, lest we recognized the faces of our friends and neighbors, and yes, ourselves within that group. The images trouble; especially that of the woman...she is the one that Jesus directs the attention of his disciple towards. It is not our face that we want to discover as we gaze at her.

But God's music is insistent. We may hesitate, but are nonetheless called forward, called to gather on the floor where we can help each other learn new steps, to move our arms and legs in some fresh ways.

I must say that my reading of the Word of God this week has been shaped by a video I watched recently. The title is Affluenza. It's been on Public Television a few times in the last couple of years. It is a serious and humorous look at the human costs of all of our possessions. A description of lives that are possessed by jobs that rob of us our time, by desires that take away our joy, by the accumulation of goods that burden us till we are immobilized. Make no mistake about it, this is a dis-ease that afflicts us all, either as active carriers or, like cigarette smoke, the victims of the second hand affects of affluenza. We are a society possessed by our possessions. Our trust and hope is no longer in the God who brought the Israelites through the desert, brought Jesus back from the tomb, and brought us to life in our baptism, but rather our hope is in what we have gathered around ourselves to sustain us, the bric a brac that fills our days and desires. The music of the Word of God this morning invites us look again at how we choose to live, where it is that we place our hope; who it is we choose dance with.

Listen to the Psalmist

Unless the Lord builds the house
Those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The guard keeps watch in vain.
It is vain that you rise up early,
And go late to rest,
Eating the bread of anxious toil;
For He gives to his beloved
While they sleep.

God's invitation to the Dance this morning is not, I think, about the houses we live in, or how we go about protecting our communities; it is not about quitting work, or about living stress free lives. It is, as I hear it, about our relationship with our possessions. What it is in our lives that holds us down, holds us back, that replaces the heart that had it's hope in the abundance of God with things that take the place of love. We labor in vain if what we acquire from our labors posses us. I have, as have many of us, eaten enough of the bread of anxious toil to have soured my stomach even as I reach for more.

Today's music for our dance together is not a prohibition against work, against earning a living, but a tango towards freedom.

Let me tell you a story...
A man awoke to find himself alone in a lifeboat. Everywhere he looked there was ocean. He was alone in the lifeboat and alone on the ocean. The lifeboat was stocked with food and water to last him many years. As the days and nights went on, the man experienced and survived heat and cold, calm and storm, rain and blazing sun. Although he survived, his life in his little craft was extremely monotonous, and his loneliness grew almost unbearable. He began to pray. He prayed and prayed to God that he would be delivered. Nothing happened to change his life. He heard no answer to his prayer. He continued, however, in his prayer. Finally, one night, there was the voice of the Loved One, "Leave your lifeboat." He could not believe his ears. Was this the answer to his prayers, to leave the boat? He replied, "If I leave my lifeboat, I will surely die!" The Loved One said, "You are already dying. Staying in the lifeboat is killing you. Leave! You must leave the lifeboat! Leave the boat, dive deep, and I will be waiting for you there."

As long as we are possessed by what we carry with us in our lifeboat, the act of leaving it, of giving up its control over us, will be simply more than we can manage. Even when we are down to our last two cents as the widow was...

Tell me. What is your image of this woman, this poor widow...Hold her in your mind and your heart and listen again to Mark.

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor woman has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

I confess that for all the years that I have listened, or rather heard this story, I imagined her as hunched over, head down, eyes averted, shuffling slowly forward, trying NOT to be noticed, and leaving quickly after making her offering. Fearful, diminished, almost invisible, maybe a `bag woman,' maybe homeless....

Now, I want to ask, does that seem like someone who is leaving a life boat, diving deep, with only the promise, the remarkable hope, that life will go on?

Maybe what Jesus sees that afternoon is a woman, poor yes, but still able to find that last glad rag of bright color to wrap around her head, striding down the courtyard of the Temple to the offering baskets, walking past the daily crowd of the rich, who were there to be seen and praised, walking with her head back, eyes flashing, a song of delight and of praise to God on her bright red lips, hips swaying to a music that only she (and maybe Jesus) heard, poor, socially and politically powerless as only a widow could be, but filled with a love that went bone deep in her.

Maybe what Jesus sees, and understood, since he is preparing to make that leap himself, is someone standing on the edge of the lifeboat, ready to plunge off, dive deep, and discover the promise waiting for her.

Maybe what Jesus sees, in that moment, is a person in love. Passionate love, a wild love that only finds its power in the presence of the Mystery that we call God; she moves her head and limbs and heart to a music that grips her; she dances and moves towards those baskets like one possessed; as she must be as she prepares to give back to her Love all that she has, everything that she counts on in her life for security and hope for the next day.

She has made her heart an altar, and God's love the flame that burns there.

May that be so for us this morning, as we move forward, move together in our dance, towards the altar here, moving our limbs, swaying our hips, feasting not on the bread of anxious toil, but on a gift of utter love, and a promise of freedom. May the music of God's word this morning be the strength we need to step out of our life boats and dive deep, no longer held back by fear and burdened by all that we own, but like the poor widow, possessed by love.