Dancing in the Vineyards

Isaiah 55: 1-5
MARK 2: 23-28

August 6, 2023

There’s a song from my younger days that always brings a smile to my face … it gets me into a dancing mood. In a way its opening line should be a lead in every place where God is being worshiped today … “[1]Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat? Summers here and the time is right for dancing in the street. They’re dancing in Chicago … down in New Orleans … in New York City and all we need is music; sweet music. There’ll be music everywhere … an invitation across the nation … a chance for folks to meet. Dancing in the street.”

Well here on August 6 in the year 2023 this church … God’s church on Church Street in West Deptford New Jersey has been literally calling out around the world since we started streaming our worship services on FACEBOOK. People on every continent have heard us singing in this very sanctuary … sensed our joy in worship … and this church family has never stopped demonstrating that this is a place where any kind of folks can meet. All kinds of folks … every definition of human being always welcomed here … I hope you are constantly and consistently offering an invitation across your personal nation for those you know … encouraging them to come to this church to experience God and Jesus Christ. To help us take on missions old and new while taking care of our challenges and obligations.

And, so do you find the value of the Sabbath that Jesus talked about? A connection with God … a set aside time to worship God … a realistic not overly burdensome time to push the world aside and sense the sweet music of God’s love through worship. Jesus reminded us in this morning’s Scripture that “The Sabbath was created by God for humans … humans were not created for the Sabbath.” That is why Jesus Christ, the “Human One” Mark refers to is “Lord even over the Sabbath.”

So, this morning as you were getting ready to travel here to St. Paul’s or to turn on your computer to watch this worship service on FACEBOOK … were you sensing that special joy that automatically brings you into a dancing mood? To clap your hands … to stomp your feet and to be energized with joy? Wanting to high five with someone? Smile a never-ending smile? I certainly hope so. I hope your relationship with God and Jesus Christ is so alive that it is almost palatable this morning. Your personal desire to be in worship with friends and strangers because of God and Christ.

Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus had been preaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot, the Jewish festival celebrating God’s provision and guidance for the people of Israel during their escape from Egypt. The politically focused religious leaders had had enough of Him. They were worried that his message of love and justice was going to not only reach the local people they tried to control but also to Jews still scattered about the world and in a recorded rhetorical question they asked, “He isn’t going to teach the Greeks, is He?” The chief priests and Pharisees sent for guards to arrest Him but they were unable to do so.

On the last day and most important day of the Festival there was Jesus again in the Temple. He was standing in defiance of those power focused religious leaders… and Scripture tells us that Jesus stood up and shouted… no whispers from our Savior, He wasn’t couching His words so only a few could hear… not afraid of the bullying voices who stood against justice and against love of all neighbors. Jesus stood up and SHOUTED, “All who are thirsty should come to me! All who believe in me should drink! As the Scriptures said concerning me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow out from within Him.”

And, so on this first Sunday of August… did you hear the prophet’s call “All of you… ALL of you… who are thirsty come to the water… Listen and come to me… Listen and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you.”

Frankly, I am thirsty friends… I need God and I need Christ… And, so when I consider the opportunity to be in Sabbath… to be in worship… to escape from the world even for an hour the very thought gets me dancing in the streets! It brings back Paul’s exclamation REJOICE in the LORD ALWAYS, AGAIN, I SAY REJOICE!! And, yes, I want to shout it out because Jesus is the living water for my soul … our souls!!!

And, on this morning as we approach the Table of the Lord I am in that dancing mood … my sense of connection to God and Jesus Christ always seems to grow stronger when I know that Holy Communion is on my schedule. Last Wednesday morning as I walked towards Calvary Episcopal Church where Reverend Robert Harvey would bring the 7am message of the day before offering Holy Communion to those of us gathered I was literally dancing in the street. There’s truly something extra special in our faith walk or there should be as we approach the table of the Lord … as we dance in the vineyards of God knowing that we are about to experience a truly special moment of prayer, forgiveness, love and connection.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches humanity as He shares the cup and the broken bread in that upper room in Jerusalem a short distance from where the powerful will attempt to shut Him down. A short distance from where that cross will be shoved into the ground … within walking distance from the tomb that couldn’t hold Him … the tomb where the women came and discovered that HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>>

It is in that Upper Room that Jesus delivers an important lesson as He established an essential sacrament of the church for all time for all people of faith. “When you gather together in my name, eat the bread and drink from the cup.” But, more importantly it is in those moments that God establishes for eternity … the EVERLASTING COVENANT with humanity that God brought to light through Isaiah’s prophecy. “Listen and come to me. Listen, and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I made Him a witness to the peoples.”

And, to think the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were wondering if He’d reach out to the Greeks … of course Jesus would. Jesus is Savior to all people whoever they are, wherever they live, whatever they look like … ALL PEOPLE … God’s love … Jesus as the witness whose words were God’s words to the people; to us.

And, there in the Upper Room Jesus said when you get together in the future … eat the bread and drink from the cup BECAUSE “This cup is the new covenant by my blood which is poured out for you!”

And, when Jesus says ‘you’ that clearly includes you and me. When God says ALL well there are no exclusions nor exceptions and this table at the front of this church and this service of Holy Communion is open to each and every person who declares they are connected with Jesus Christ … not only members of St. Paul’s, not only members of the United Methodist Church … not only American citizens … not only men … ALL means ALL and I think God is pretty darn clear on that point.

But Scriptures want us to be in celebration of God’s love … God wants us to acknowledge our connection with God not as if we belonged to the crowds of the disconnected but as people who understand that God established this new agreement or covenant with ALL of HUMANITY through Jesus Christ. Just believe, change, and live as if you really believe rather than falling back into the world’s habits and customs.

Those perhaps haunting words of Jesus to take the bread and cup when you gather together in His name put a value on Communion. He didn’t say once in a while but when you gather. We also know that when two or more are gathered in His name to worship that He is there but this Table friends … this agreement God has made with You and me. It’s actually in writing in the Scriptures even though neither party signed on any dotted line but our acknowledgment and acceptance of it I believe comes down to being willing to dance in the vineyards of the Lord!

We know the reaction of David and the people of Israel when they recovered the Ark of the Covenant … “David and the ENTIRE HOUSE of ISRAEL celebrated in the Lord’s presence with ALL their strength with songs, zithers, harps, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals! David danced with all his strength before the Lord, this is how David and the entire house of Israel brought up the Lord’s chest with shouts and trumpet blasts!”

A lot of joy back in the day … joy because of faith … joy because of a connection with God knowing how much God loves God’s people as well as knowing that God loves those who reject God but that a celebration happens when just one person gains faith.

And, my prayer today as you and I take simple elements to remember Jesus is that we each take our sharing in Holy Communion as an honor, a privilege, a joy knowing we are forgiven by God, and not as a trivial extra few seconds taking you from getting to breakfast moment.

Communion brings us back into connection with God and Christ I believe. A chance for, as Marvin Gaye might say, a chance for a brand new beat. We are in worship so the time is right to be dancing … dancing in the streets with great joy! We meet together through this shared meal with people of faith from around the world.

Every Wednesday morning, we offer Holy Communion here and online. EVERY WEEK an opportunity to share in the brevity of a special connection with God. An opportunity, just like Sunday morning worship, when you can invite friends and family to join with you as they notice your joy, your energy and your life dances because of your faith.

A few verses further down from our reading in Isaiah from this morning where we heard the invitation for “all of you who are thirsty, come to the water” is a proclamation that should be the reality for people of faith on the Sabbath, which God created, following worship … “Yes, you will go out with celebration and you will be brought back with peace. Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you; and all the trees of the field will clap their hands!”

May today’s sacrament of Holy Communion refresh you again with the Living Water which is Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. AMEN

[1] Dancing in the Street songwriters Marvin Gaye, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Stevenson

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