Tag Archives: Now you are God’s people

“Dance, Then…”

The pastor on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding!

(a sermon for November 11, 2018, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, based on 1 Peter 2:1-10)

It’s actually one of the great assurances we’re given in Holy Scripture, and also affirms very succinctly who we are as the church: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

Of course, how we got from what we were to who we are now; that’s another story… in fact, it’s the biblical story, and what a story it is!

I love how in his wonderful little book “History, Herstory, Ourstory,” the late Rev. David Steele managed to encapsulate the whole biblical narrative by describing it as a ballet. He wrote that the story of the bible is “about how… God calls people into the Dance. About how [God] works with individuals here, small or large groups there, getting their ears tuned to the music, teaching them the rudimentary steps, putting them in touch with the unique rhythms and movements [God] has implanted in their souls. [And, yes] it’s about how people resist [that call]; how they get tired of practicing; or how they feel burdened with two left feet and just want to watch.”

But, Steele goes on to say, this particular ballet is also about “the patience and persistence of [God], who keeps at the job of getting people ready for that final number, with a cast of billions, where every person holds her head up high, [where] no one is a wall flower, [where] each one dances his unique steps, and the total choreography is so stunning, so intricate, yet so profoundly simple that as we dance it our breath is taken away… the story of the Bible is about the Dance of Life,” concludes Steele, and its music is called the kingdom of God.

Well, speaking as one of those who has perennially felt burdened in his life with two left feet, I appreciate that parable; for it reminds me that at least regarding our faith, we’re all dancers in God’s sight and that we are all meant to be a part of this wonderful ballet that God has lovingly created especially for us!

I know I’ve shared with some of you already that of all the preparations leading up to the two weddings of our daughter and son this past summer and fall, the thing that worried me the most was… the father/daughter dance!  Not that I didn’t want to do it; on the contrary, I’d been dreaming of that moment from the time Sarah was born, just as I’ve always known that someday I’d be dancing at my sons’ weddings.  It’s just that… I’m not a good dancer; I mean: I’m. Really. Not. A. Good. Dancer!  Now, I’ve always tended to blame this on the fact that as a teenager I was pretty shy and very awkward, and so I didn’t go to a whole lot of dances in high school; and even when I did, and for years afterward I was usually in the band, so I wasn’t dancing then either!  But any and all excuses aside, the fact remains that I just was never very good out on the dancefloor, and the last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass both myself and my daughter on her wedding day!

The good news here was that my daughter Sarah – the dancer, the dance teacher, the dance choreographer (!) – offered to give me a few lessons so that at the very least I would have a few “dance moves” ready for the reception; and so for several nights the week before the wedding, together with Sarah’s Matron of Honor and my wife Lisa, we practiced hard in our living room – Oillie barking at us the whole time (!) – just to get those moves down!  And you know what; come the reception, it actually all was pretty good!  The father/daughter dance went very well; Lisa and I enjoyed being on the dance floor together; and though I’ll never be confused with anyone who’s ever been on “So You Think You Can Dance,” it was a whole lot of fun… and it was fun again – and, might I add, a whole lot easier (thank you, Sarah!) – at our son’s wedding reception last month!

But having said all that, here’s the thing that I’d like to say about dancing: the ultimately, you get nowhere doing it! Understand, I’m not speaking here of the choreographed dances that Sarah teaches at the studio, or the routines you might see on “World of Dance.” No, what I’m talking about here is what happens when the music starts up, and you step out on to a dance floor and you start moving to the music: no matter how long the music plays or how long you keep dancing, at the end of it all you end up pretty much at the same place as where you were when it began! But there’s nothing wrong with that; because dancing, you see, is not about reaching a point of destination; it’s about the dance itself!  It’s all about the promise of the moment; the rush of your heartbeat; the joy of casting aside inhibitions for just a little while!  Dance is about celebration, about laughter shared with a caring partner; about the freedom to be who you really are! And the best part is that when it’s all done, even when you’ve ended up where you started, all you can think about is that you want to go again!

And so it is with the “Dance of Life” that David Steele was talking about there. It seems to me, friends, that so much of the comfort and joy that comes with faith is in what happens along the way.

There are a whole lot of people, you know, who approach their spirituality as though it were for them an intended destination; that is, they approach faith with the attitude that once certain objectives have been met, special goals have been achieved, and specific disciplines are maintained, the will have finally reached that one specific place they wish to be with God, whatever they conceive God to be. Indeed, this is not a terribly alien concept; it’s the focus of many Eastern religions including Buddhism and Taoism, and truth be told, it was a central concern of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time: the idea that the full purpose of life is in discipline directed toward the end of reaching a state of some sort of personal and spiritual perfection.

This is what I mean when I speak of faith as a destination, and a goodly number of Christians knowingly (or unknowingly!) live unto that rule; but understand me when I say to you that it is not a faith stance in which many people find satisfaction and fulfillment.  In fact, it’s been my observation as a pastor that for people like this, the ultimate destination always seems to be just a few steps beyond where they are; that perfection, whatever that means always seems to waiting beyond the next horizon. God’s righteousness, his acceptance and his love; for them it’s always somehow dependent on that “that one more thing” they need to do, that final change in behavior or lifestyle or identity that’ll make everything alright.

I had a parishioner many years back who I would consider and did consider to be a very faithful man. But he also never seemed to be all that comfortable or even happy in his faith; because where faith was concerned, by his own admission he’d never felt as though “he gotten there.” It’s not that he was brand new to things related to faith: he’d in fact grown up with a strict religious upbringing that belied an unsettled home life; and once he was old enough to be out on his own, he’d abandoned the church completely for years. Only when he was on his second marriage and his youngest daughter was born did he make a cautious reentry into a relationship with God.

The interesting thing is after so many years away from the church, he jumped right in. He became very active in the congregation I was serving; he was one of my chief cheerleaders for a lot of projects, led Bible Study, and eventually even took a two year course in lay ministry. He was a pilgrim in the best and truest sense of the word: but he was never happy.  In one way or another, he was always struggling with faith; not so much about having faith, but rather about what it meant to have faith, and being faithful. Maybe it was his upbringing that held him back; perhaps it was his own lack of self-esteem or a lingering fear that God was judging him for who he was or for what he’d been in the past; I was never sure, and neither was he. But I will say he always used to say to me, usually with a touch of sadness in his voice, “I’m a long way from where I was, but I have a long way to go.”

At one point he went out and bought himself a very nice, leather-bound Bible; one that he went on to read cover to cover, a chapter at a time, a couple of times over; and one that he asked me to inscribe for him. And though even to this day I’m not always sure what to write on the inside of a Bible (I always get this looming sense of impending posterity when I think too long about things like that!), I knew just what to write for him: I included a couple of verses that I knew held some meaning for him, but then below those verses, I wrote the words, “Remember that faith is a journey, and not a destination.”

Faith is a journey.  Faith is the dance borne out of love received and acceptance given.  It’s about being claimed by the God who loves you for who you are right here and right now.  It’s about freedom from the worldly powers and values that shackle us and hold us back; it’s being freed to truly be the people that we’ve always been intended to be.  Faith is about being led in God’s Dance; where you live in the world, but you’re not of the world and because of this the music of Life pulsates through every fiber of your being; it’s what sets your feet to motion and makes your spirit soar; it’s the music of that proclaims that the kingdom of God is dwelling within you!

Or, as Peter wrote to those early Christians who themselves wondered where their faith was taking them: “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The good news, beloved, is that God loves us! God really does love us as we are, and where we are!  And that’s even considering that God has already seen our awkwardness as we’ve tried out our various “life dance” moves with some modicum of grace and dignity.  Oh, yes, God sees our failures and our rebellion, to say nothing of our self-imposed moral lapses,; and yet God is not embarrassed to call us daughters and sons. Even as we’re struggling with how we can dance without looking like a fool, here’s God coming take our hand and so that he might lead us in in the dance; helping us not to stumble, but picking us up when we do; lovingly reassuring us so that we might understand that sometimes even a little foolishness is the way we learn!

But here’s the best part: God loves us so much that he wants us to know that we’re not going to be dancers someday – that is, if we ever learn the right steps, or if we ever get the rhythm right in our heads – no, God loves us so much that he assures us that we’re dancers now!  We’re dancers of light, beloved; we’re God’s own chosen people, sent forth in love with the promise that whenever in faithfulness we dance the Dance of Life to the music of the Kingdom of God, it will be a beautiful thing indeed!

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  That’s who we are, beloved, and as God’s people we are also dancers, each and all; and it’s good that we take a moment to remember that. Truly, we are as The Message has translated this passage, “God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him.”

So… in the words of the hymn we’re about to sing:

So, dance then, wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I’ll lead you all wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
                                   “Lord of the Dance,” words by Sydney Carter

Praise be to the Lord of the dance, and may our thanks ever and always be to God!


c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry


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Where Is Our Cornerstone?


Woody Dale, “Treasure Hunter,” July 1988

(a sermon for May 18, 2014, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on Psalm 31: 1-5 and 1 Peter 2:2-10)

His name was Woody Dale, and his well-worn business card proudly proclaimed his occupation: “Treasure Hunter.”  And when I asked him at the church office that morning how I might help him, he said, “Well, Pastor, maybe I can help you.  I’ve come to find your cornerstone.”

You see, this church I was serving at the time had been built in the late 19th century – 1880, to be exact – during which time the congregation had placed a tin box beneath the church’s cornerstone that was filled with coins, mementos and various artifacts.  They’d also left instructions that this box be unearthed and opened in a hundred years; the only trouble was, 100 years had already come and gone and the box was still buried, because no one had ever been able to find the cornerstone!  Apparently, the cornerstone had never been properly marked, and though the 20th century church leaders had dug up ground around every corner of the church building, it was never located; and now, after nearly ten years of looking, they’d more or less given up on ever finding this tin box.

But not Woody; he’d found out about this years before and had made it his personal mission to find the cornerstone and the treasure buried within!  And I’ll admit I was skeptical: you see, when you think of a “Treasure Hunter,” you sort of picture somebody like, say, Indiana Jones; but this guy… well, he probably saw the movie!  Basically, Woody was what you might call a Florida beach bum, and he looked (and acted) the part: baggy shorts, Coors Beer T-Shirt, ratty beach hat covered with pins and buttons; three-day beard stubble on a face that was tan, tough and leathery from years of sun.  The best way I can describe him is to say that he was “grizzled,” and with all due respect, I had my doubts he could find the way back to his car, much less find our cornerstone!

But Woody was determined, so when he asked if he could poke around the church with his metal detector, I said, sure, have at it;  and when he left I figured that was the end of it.  But a few days later, back comes Woody, all excited to tell me that he’d found the cornerstone!  And he’s taking me outdoors to show me what his “Binford 5000” metal detector had detected, and yes, there was something!  Of course, when we told the church historian about it, she pretty much dismissed the whole thing.  It couldn’t be the tin box, she said, since church records indicated that the cornerstone had to be at the main entrance of the church, facing the street, which this wasn’t!  Probably just a bottle cap or a lost piece of jewelry, she said, which actually kind of made sense but which also kind of insulted Woody, that we would doubt him! He just kept shaking his head and saying, “Oh, no, that’s the box, I know it!”

A *much* younger pastor, also in the summer of '88!

A *much* younger pastor, also in the summer of ’88!

And so, one very hot afternoon in July, Woody, a couple of trustees and I dug, chiseled, yanked and pulled at a granite block stuck at about the worst possible angle… behind which was indeed, the tin box.  It was exactly where our forebears had said it would be; come to find out, however, not only had the main entrance of the church essentially changed over the course of 100 years, so had the lay of the land: what we viewed as merely an access street was in 1880 the main road in town!  It turned out that for all those years, the people of the church had been continually looking in the wrong place for their cornerstone, and it took Woody the treasure hunter to find the right one!

Granted, it wasn’t “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it was quite an adventure (we even made the papers and the evening news on three – count ‘em, three – different channels!); and in the years since, I’ve also come to see it as something of a parable.  For it occurs to me that in life a great many of us find ourselves looking for treasure in all the wrong places; searching diligently and desperately but inevitably coming up empty, all because we never really knew where to look; never really understanding where our true cornerstone was to be found.

Architecturally speaking, of course, cornerstones hold both symbolic and structural importance, and that’s why it’s no accident that most of the great buildings of the world carry markings to indicate just where the cornerstone is.  A cornerstone marks a point of origin; it signifies a time or place of transition; the beginning of growth and change.  It also serves to join other stones together, and it represents the strength and form of the foundation; architects and builders alike will tell you that when the cornerstone is missing below, some identity (not to mention some integrity) is likely to be absent above.

It’s really not all that much of a stretch to say that regardless of what you’re building – be it a house, or a relationship, or a life – this same truth applies; and that it’s important that you build upon a true and solid cornerstone. And that’s no more important than for you and I who would call ourselves Christian; because for us, that true and solid cornerstone (the “rock and fortress” as our Psalm this morning puts it), this all-important building block on which our lives and living are built… is Christ himself.

In our reading this morning from 1 Peter, the early Christian church is compared to a spiritual house built upon “a living stone,” in fact the very stone which the builders rejected and yet became the cornerstone, the same stone that would make others stumble and fall: the living stone who is the risen Christ.  It’s a powerful image, especially given that so much of Israel’s history and faith had been centered on the building and strengthening of a temple.  I mean, for generations these people had been focused on matters of rock and stone and mortar, quite literally dedicated to a building project; albeit one devoted wholly to God, but still something that could and did crumble at its very foundation, the result of faithlessness amid the shifting sands of the world.

But now, says Peter, here’s a temple not built on a foundation as much as it is built upon a living presence; on the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.   Christ is that “living stone,” “a cornerstone chosen and precious,” and anyone choosing to build upon his name, Peter says, will have new life.  Anyone connected to this cornerstone will themselves be living stones, part of the “spiritual house” that belongs to God.

By definition, that’s what we are, friends, as the church of Jesus Christ; we are a house of living stones, joined together at one common point and anchored by God’s own true and solid cornerstone who is Jesus Christ.  It’s no small distinction: it’s what makes us, as Peter describes it, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”   And it’s a treasure that comes to us in life and living: light out of darkness, life out of death, love and strength in times of hopelessness, joy in the midst of struggle, peace that the world can neither give nor take away; all of it, you see, comes about out of having been built upon this “cornerstone of a whole new world!”

It’s a powerful affirmation, and yet, there are so many of us who persist in seeking our treasure in other places, so many of us who dig deeply and repeatedly hoping to strike some sort of gold in our lives, but who ultimately come up with nothing.  And the thing is, it’s not so much because we don’t know where the cornerstone is, or at least where it ought to be for us; more often it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that we already know where the cornerstone is, even when in the act of digging again and again we keep finding out – again and again – that we’re wrong!

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, consider a survey taken a few years back amongst a group of people who in defining the core beliefs of their lives described themselves as first having “an allegiance to Christ.” What they found was that thirty percent of those responding claimed that nothing was more important to them than having fun and being happy.  Forty percent agreed than an individual should be allowed to do anything as long as nobody else got hurt.  And seventy percent of these Christians – seventy percent (!) – confessed that they loved money and possessions to the point where they often wondered if Jesus Christ truly held the central place of their lives!  Incredible; we’re told we’re a “chosen race,” God’s own people; but so often the reality is that we’re anchored somewhere other than God’s cornerstone!

You know, we live in an era that is often referred to by theologians and others as “post-Christian;” that is, that by most indications the church these days seems to have a diminished presence and far less influence in the world, and that our culture just appears to be, shall we say, “less Christian” than it seemed to be just a few years ago.  Well, let me say this; that the tragedy of these times, friends, is perhaps not so much that the world is “less Christian,” but that the Christians have started looking so much like the world that it’s getting harder to tell the difference!

The question for you and me today is this: where is our cornerstone?  Is our “spiritual house,” and I’m speaking here both personally and corporately, standing on the solid rock of God, or on the shifting sands of modern life?

I know that most of us can confess to moments in which we’ve felt the foundation of our faith slip and crack beneath our feet; perhaps the result of some poor choices and faulty building along the way, or maybe just a false step or two!   But by the same token, I also suspect that each of us have known similar moments in which we’ve been strong and hopeful and very clear about our identity as God’s people, times in which we have truly known “new life.” The difference is that these were the moments in which we found ourselves grounded in Christ Jesus, the true and precious cornerstone, and discovered the treasures of faith contained therein.

Indeed, there are many such treasures to be found in faith, beloved; but the challenge is for us to seek them thoroughly and faithfully at the stone that stands at “the very head of the corner.”   Granted, that’s not always easy; just as over the years that church managed to lose its perspective and in the process, its cornerstone, so it is for us, especially given that life’s landscape is ever and always changing our perspective on things. But the good news is that by faith, prayer and some intentionality on our part, we can stay anchored and truly embrace this identity we’ve been given as God’s people, members of a chosen race and a royal priesthood.

Of course, it does take some time and growth for this to truly happen as it should.  I’ve always loved the fact that Peter starts this section of his epistle by comparing these new Christians to “newborn babies,” who “crave pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you will grow up in your salvation.”    It’s a good reminder that where faith is concerned, just as in life, we’re never done growing; and moreover, it’s true that whatever else there is that we’re seeking in this life and whatever else we’ve received, ultimately we’re all like children who long for something more; something that so often we cannot even name; but something that once we’ve tasted it, is what we know we’ve needed and wanted all along.  “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good,” you want more, and you want it for all of life, and you’ll know that to have it you want to anchor yourself to the true, living cornerstone that is Christ our Lord.

It’s just as Peter says it to these “baby” Christians, and it’s what he says to us today: “Once you were not a people, but now, you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

We are the people of God, beloved, living stones who are even now being built into a true spiritual house.  And so, let our thanks be to God who is the true cornerstone, the one solid rock on which we stand!


c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Church, Epistles, Maine, Ministry, Sermon


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