Dancing In Underwear & Other Ideas about Worship
Several years ago, I was working with a para-church organization that helps students in public schools form Christian athletic clubs in their school. In the town where I worked, the club meetings and the larger group gatherings were attended by more than just student-athletes. Kids from all over came to our monthly gatherings where 150 - 200 students would gather for worship and fellowship. One night, while a praise band played and a worship leader sang, I noticed a young man who was on his knees in the corner with his hands stretched out. From time to time he would put his face on the ground, presumably while he prayed and worshipped God.
Several of the parent leaders from some of the clubs approached me. One of them, a proper Southern lady, who attended the largest Baptist church in town, said to me through clenched teeth, "Do you see what he is doing over there?" I glanced over again at the young man, who had his hands lifted up once more. I nodded. "You need to go over there and say something to him," she said ominously. I asked her why. "We don't need any of that going on in here." I asked her what she meant by "any of that," and she shook her head violently. "You either go over there and tell him to stop, or I will," she barked. I looked at the other women, who mirrored her grim and determined expression.
I knew that all the rest of them attended very conservative, existing churches in town, and deduced from the way they were responding to the young man that not only did they not appreciate his expression of worship, they were downright threatened by it.
So in the end, I went to talk to him. I whispered in his ear that although I had no issues with his way of worshipping, there were some folks who were stumbling because of it. He nodded, stood up and found a spot in the pews with all of the other kids, who were sort of listlessly standing and halfway singing along with the band.
I can say now that the stated reason why I went over to talk to the young man was because I was afraid the grim, determined woman would do it and would hurt his feelings. But it didn't feel very good, and I am ashamed of myself to this day that went. What I should have done was stand up to those women and point out that out of all of the kids in the place, that young man was allowing himself to feel the Spirit of Christ rather than just remain comfortably numb like the rest of us. Instead, I worried more about my job, my standing in the community, my relationship with these leaders, and what my boss would say than I did about the young man.
God help me... I will never let that kind of thing happen again.
If I was able to have another chance, I would have gone over to the young man and joined him on the floor where he was--daring those Southern Baptist biddies to come tell us to stand up.
Which they would have.
I love the story in the Old Testament of how David was so overcome with joy that he quite messily and openly danced in his underwear "before the Lord" and "with all his might." His proclamation that he would become "even more undignified" if that's what was needed to express his worship is a clarion call for those of us who seek a more open, and unfettered view of sacraments and worship.
It's a fascinating story--how David found himself dancing in his underwear.
It seemed that he found himself as a newly minted king and in need of securing the legitimacy of his throne. There were no living heirs to Saul's throne (at least he thought), but yet David saw fit, as a sign of his connection to Saul's regime, to re-claim his former wife, Michal, Saul's daughter. Michal had been "won" by David in marriage but taken away when he fell from favor with Saul. On top of reclaiming his wife, David also wanted to reposition his capital city and to shore up the religious adherents in his new tribal kingdom. So he moved the capital to Jerusalem, which had been taken from the Hebrew people's arch-nemesis, the Philistines. In addition, he ordered that the ark of the Covenant from Israel's past be brought to Jerusalem as well. The ark had been recently taken back from the Philistines who had captured it as a sign of supremacy over the Israelites. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the ark caused them nothing but trouble so they offered it up after David defeated them. In the process of moving it, a man named Uzzah reached up to steady the ark and was struck dead. When this happened, David realized anew that he was not dealing with an ordinary God.
Yaweh was holy, dangerous and crucial. Yaweh was not to be trifled with.
The ark stayed at the house of this man named Obed-Edom, who was a Gittite. I don't know what that means, to be honest. I read that he could have been a Philistine from Gath who had become a loyalist to David. I also read that he could have been a Levite, who lived in a city that had the name Gath in it. Who knows? All that matters is that we read in the Hebrew Scriptures that when the ark was at his pad, Obed-Edom prospered.
David took this as a good sign.
So David brought the ark to Jerusalem and the entire journey was one unbelievable worship service. There were countless sacrifices, singing, dancing, praising, you name it. David at one point strips down to a loincloth like all of the other dancers and worshippers and leads his people in worship. One way of translating the passage in 2 Samuel chapter 6 where this transpires is that David was playing a musical instrument and dancing exuberantly.
Wearing a loincloth.
There are no extant accounts of a king in that time period doing such a thing. A queen, perhaps, but not a king. It was unseemly for a king to act as a commoner. But this is exactly what David was doing. And when Saul's daughter, Queen Michal saw what her husband was doing she "despised him."
David comes home after all is said and done, "to bless his household" and is greeted by Michal.
I sort of imagine what that must have been like for David. I've been married for 18 years and my wife and I are madly in love with each other and we show one another a ton of grace and we never stay angry at each other even when we don't see eye to eye. But there are times when I've done something to make my wife mad, and I come bouncing in to the house unaware of it. It doesn't take me long to figure out that I have grieved her.
I can imagine that Michal's face was pretty grim when David came into his house to greet her.
Any affection that she might have had for him was probably long gone. She'd been a pawn between her father and David for far too long. The Scriptures indicate that the guy she was "given" to after Saul saw fit to take her from David actually loved her. He followed behind her retinue when she was being returned to David's house, crying the whole way. So on top of all of her own issues, Michal sees that her husband, the king, is not acting very kingly. I imagine that she was a bit of a pragmatist. It wouldn't have been bad being Queen. In fact, she probably preferred it to any other life she would have led. And she probably assumed that she had some authority as a link to Saul's kingdom.
So Michal berates David for acting unseemly in front of everyone. She berates him because she knows what a king should act like and David isn't acting like one.
I love David's response.
"In Yaweh's presence, I AM A DANCER." And then he goes on to say that he plans on doing even more undignified things to praise God if need be.
I'm preaching on all of this on Sunday, so I've been asking myself some questions regarding Worship and what it means to those of us who call ourselves God-fearers and Christ-followers.
"Is there a right way to worship?"
I've been listening to any number of people explain the right way to worship to me lately. We are in the midst of launching a new service at our church that is nontraditional in nature. Some people tell me that they are so glad we are starting such a service because while they love our church and they enjoy the preaching, they "get nothing" out of the traditional worship. On the other hand, there are plenty of voices on the traditional side of things that have been quick to point out all of the reasons why they hate "contemporary" worship.
Amos 5:21-24 reads thusly...
"I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream."
The "right" way to worship is when we have our hearts right, not our hymns right. It doesn't matter what kind of liturgy you use, or how loud your praise band gets. It doesn't matter how awesome your screens are, or how great your organ sounds.
What matters is not your religion, but your relationship.
I also found myself asking, "What does God value in worship?"
People complain a lot in church. Over the course of my years in ministry I have heard a lot of complaints. I've made my fair share of them, too. Based on what church people complain about when it comes to worship, you would have to draw the conclusion that God values the following:
Dress Pants over Jeans
20 minute sermons
Jeans over Dress pants
You can sort of see where this is going. These are things that matter to us because these are the things that we fight about incessantly in church. Some people prefer to dress casually to come to church, others don't. Some people believe it would be a sign of the Apocalypse to have drums in worship. Others think that if you don't have drums in worship, it's lifeless and boring. Blah, blah, blah, ad nauseam.
Here's a newsflash. God doesn't give two fig trees about that stuff.
Hear Micah 6:6-8
"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
I'm not sure that I see anything in there that has to do with the list of things that matter to us.
I think that sometimes we can get so caught up in getting our felt needs met that we miss the point. Worship is not about us. It's about God. Period. What God wants is us---heart, mind, body and soul. The moment that we begin to see our times of worship as a means for feeling better about ourselves, or by getting exactly what we want out of it... we have failed to worship God, and started worshipping something else.
The story of David and Michal was the story of the proud being humbled and the humble being lifted up. Michal was doomed to irrelevance, bitterness and an unfruitful life because of her inability to see what was most important. David humbled himself and presented unwavering, yielded, self-less, no-holds barred worship of a God he feared, loved and could not comprehend.
It wasn't about style. It was about authenticity. It wasn't about getting worship "right," it was about having the right attitude, and the right spirit.