Jeremiah 31:2-4, 7-14
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 5, 2020
Research in the field of bioacoustics has shown that every day we are surrounded by millions of ultrasonic songs. For example, supersensitive sound instruments have discovered that meadowlarks have a range of three hundred notes and earthworms make faint staccato music.
Even inanimate objects make music. The electron shell of the carbon atom produces the same harmonic scale as the Gregorian chant. Physicist Arnold Summerfield has noted that a single hydrogen atom emits one hundred frequencies, or twelve more than a grand piano.
Science writer Lewis Thomas summed the situation up in this way: “If we had better hearing, and could discern the [singing] of sea birds, the rhythmic [drumming] of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonies of [flies] hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet” – and move us to dance to the magic of the music.
While such scientific findings do not prove the possibility of another kind of music behind this music, people of faith believe that the initially imperceptible music of creation suggests the initially imperceptible music of its Creator. The Bible teaches that God is singing an everlasting song of steadfast love over us, and offering us His hand that we might take a turn with Him on the dancefloor of His grace.
That is reality, the Bible says. The only question then is whether we have the ears to hear God’s music and the eyes to see God’s proffered hand to lead us in an exuberant and exultant dance of joy.
In truth, however, we only see what we are looking for and hear what we have our ear attuned to. For example, Adele’s brother Cliff is in his own home taking care of their 89-year-old father; and Cliff hears, both day and night, the slightest sounds from Poppy’s bedroom, sounds that often everyone else misses.
We see and hear what we set our hearts on seeing and hearing.
Humanitarian worker Heidi Baker has a heart for God’s labors of compassion on behalf of the needy. Thus, she has long served the poorest of the poor in Mozambique. One day she received a vision that filled her ears with the music of God’s grace and opened her eyes to the beautiful work of mercy He was sharing with her. In the vision, she heard Jesus call out, “I’m having a party, and my house is not yet full. I want everyone and anyone to come to my dinner party.” Then she saw him dance on the Maputo garbage dump. As He invited those who lived in it to join Him at His home (that is, the church), the starving people who made a life amidst all that trash jumped to their feet and started following Jesus in a conga dance line headed to His house.
The question always is: Will we believe in the music that could be only a product of our imagination, and keep dancing the dance that could lead nowhere?
The people of God living six centuries before Jesus struggled with that question. They had been exiled into Babylon from their homeland in Israel and were doubting whether they could survive as a community.
God sent them the prophet Jeremiah to remind them that God loved every last one of them with a steadfast, enduring love and that He had promised to bring about the reversal of their fortunes and return them to happiness and prosperity in the only land that could feel like home.
God here describes that wonderful future by a succession of “photographic shots”, a series of images that, while not literally compatible, enable people to visualize how good things will be in the future. They will be like a “fixer-upper” rebuilt and made new, like a flock of sheep grazing in peace under the protection of a powerful Shepherd, like hostages rescued from hands too strong for them, like a watered garden that shall never languish. As a result, they all – men and women, old and young, lame and blind – will kick up their heels in happy exultation and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
In the near future, this redemption would involve their return to Israel. In a future still further down the road, it would involve the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah in the Baby of Bethlehem. And in the future for which we also wait, it will involve His coming back in power and glory to set all things right.
In this present time of waiting, a lot of things have already been set right, but we still have to deal with a lot of things that are wrong and awfully so – stillborn babies, abused seniors, and minorities denied equal opportunity. Nevertheless, the right response is, without denying the reality of remaining evils, to sing with joy and to dance in hope. It is to let loose in a holy jubilation that may look to some like an unholy lack of decorum – just as David’s wild, exuberant dance before the ark of the covenant once scandalized his wife Michal.
We Presbyterians love to do everything, as 1 Corinthians 14:40 puts it, “decently and in order”. But sometimes the devotion to order can diminish the development of ardor. Sometimes, for our own good, we have to get carried away and dance a jig of joy. After all, to have Christian hope is to hear the melody of the future when most hear no such music, and to have Christian faith is to dance to that music when most see nothing coming of such cavorting.
Yet, under these circumstances, the sheer act of obeying God and following His dance lead changes us for the better.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber tells a story about his beloved grandfather who had been lame. One day the family asked Grandfather to tell them a story about the rabbi who had instilled in him his deep and radiant faith. Remembering someone he deeply appreciated and through whom God had touched him, Grandfather warmed to the subject and related that the rabbi was so enthralled with God he would hop and dance with joy when he prayed. Grandfather got so swept up in the wonder of the rabbi’s relationship with God that he himself rose to his feet and started to hop and dance in a glad and grateful imitation of his beloved teacher. The family was stunned by Grandfather’s limber movements, and Buber swears, “From that hour, he was cured of his lameness.”
Dancing will rarely cure us of physical disability; and some of us, if we tried to dance, would increase our physical disability. But I suspect that, if we all at least danced in our hearts and with our bodies to the extent we can, it would cure us of spirituality disability. Why, we might gain a new capacity to be swept away in awe over God’s steadfast love and to get caught up in the joy-inducing grace of His goodness and His promises.
God does not need us to dance; but we need to dance in obedience to His commands in the Psalms to “praise Him with dance”. By doing so, we might just dance our way into higher heights of happiness in Him!