Sunday, November 15, 2009
A happy dance
1 Samuel 1: 4-20; 2: 1-10
******** United Church of Christ
November 15, 2009
(Begin by doing an end zone happy dance.)
The touchdown spike is said to have been born in 1965, by New York Giants wide receiver Homer Jones. Over the years since then, NFL or “Not Fun League” officials have made it illegal for players to call attention to themselves in any number of ways, levying huge fines on players but effectively have not been able to stop players from trying.
Let’s face it: when we have succeeded at something, when a prayer has been answered, when we realize our wildest dreams, when we have conquered the odds against us, the urge to do a happy dance cannot be squelched.
But have you ever done a happy dance before the job was finished, before the prayer was answered, before the dream came true, when the odds stacked against you were seemingly too high? No, of course not, we answer—that would jinx it. Jinx it?! Are we a people of superstition or a people of faith? Listen to this story of a preemptive happy dance by Jim Wallis, author and writer for Sojourners magazine, that took place in the last years of apartheid in South Africa. He writes:
“Change always begins with some people making decisions based on hope, and then staking their lives on those decisions. The difference between optimism and hope is that the former changes too easily; the latter is rooted in something much deeper. That something is faith. South African archbishop Desmond Tutu always said that people of faith are ‘prisoners of hope’. The succeeding events in his country vindicated that faith.
“Perhaps my favorite story of the power of hope comes from a memorable moment shared with Desmond Tutu in South Africa. I love to tell the story of the extraordinary drama I witnessed at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town where the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican cleric preached. A political rally had just been canceled by the white government, so Bishop Tutu called for a worship service instead, inside the beautiful cathedral. The power of apartheid was frighteningly evident in the numbers of riot police and armed soldiers massing outside the church. Inside, all along the cathedral walls, stood more police openly taping and writing down every comment made from the pulpit. When Tutu rose to speak, the atmosphere was tense indeed. He confidently proclaimed that the ‘evil’ and ‘oppression’ of apartheid ‘cannot prevail’. At that moment, the South African archbishop was probably one of the few people on the planet who actually believed that.
Jim Wallis continues: “…I watched Archbishop Tutu point his finger right at the police who were recording his words. ‘You may be powerful, indeed very powerful, but you are not God!’ ‘You have already lost!’ the diminutive preacher thundered. Then he came out from behind the pulpit and seemed to soften, flashing that signature Desmond Tutu smile. So—since they had already lost, as had just been made clear—South Africa’s spiritual leader shouted with glee, ‘We are inviting you to come and join the winning side!’ The whole place erupted, the police seemed to scurry out, and the congregation rose up in triumphal dancing.” 
In an interview with Homiletics, an online preaching resource, Jim Wallis said this: “[The] choice before us as Christians is not the choice between belief and secularism; the choice is between hope and cynicism. And hope is not optimism, hope is not idealism, hope is not a feeling. Hope is a decision based on what we know about the outcome of history. Hope is based on the resurrection. Hope is based in the confidence of the triumph of God’s purposes in the world.” 
In Hannah’s song of exultation, most of what she sings has not yet happened but because God has granted her a son, she knows God can accomplish the rest of her hopes and those of her people. She has decided to say ‘yes’, to celebrate God’s purposes that will happen in God’s time.
You have not yet begun a search process for your settled pastor. You have begun to consider how you might change how you govern yourselves but you have not yet arrived at the future structure of your life together. Many of you have big question marks looming in your lives right now. But you have declared that you are people of faith, people who say ‘yes’ to hope, who choose to celebrate God’s very real presence in the face of uncertainty. Now is the very right time for a preemptive happy dance. And so dance whenever and wherever you can, celebrating that God’s purposes will indeed happen in God’s time. Amen.
 Jim Wallis. Faith Works: How Faith-Based Organizations Are Changing Lives, Neighborhoods and America (New York: Random House, 2000, 2001), pg. 5.