Have you ever been to a Turkish or Lebanese restaurant on an evening where there is a belly dancer? It’s a lot of fun … except for when you are the person in the room whom the dancer beckons and then pulls up to join her in the dance. These dancers have an uncanny ability to notice the most uncomfortable person in the room and inevitably it will be that person who is dragged up to participate. However little eye contact you make, it won’t matter. She will draw you up and expect you to follow her lead to join in the dance.
Most us would prefer to sit back and watch. The dance is beautiful to watch, mesmerising. But it is awkward to participate in. You feel embarrassed because your body won’t move in the same way as the dancer’s. Your cheeks grow warm and red because you feel the eyes of the room upon you- those you are dining with, those eating with other groups, the wait staff, the dancer herself. You know they may respond with judging laughter as you fail to keep up and show your ineptness. But you know they may also respond with laughter of joy and a kind of respect, if you can give yourself over to participate in the dance.
Even when the Belly Dancer has compelled you to get up and join her, you still have to make a choice.You still have to give yourself over to participating, to finding your way in the rhythm as you follow her lead and get caught up in the movement and the joy.
Mark’s discipleship story is like this dance. We let it wash over us, this story that is so familiar. We sit back. We watch. We know where this is going. We’ve seen this all before- like a favourite TV serial repeat or a reread novel. We sit back because we’re comfortable there, like in the restaurant with our Belly Dancer. We’re comfortable as long as we can watch.
But Mark didn’t write this gospel story for passive watchers. Mark didn’t write this Jesus manifesto for us to sit back and be unmoved by it. Rather this story is the script for our lives. It invites us to get inside the action, to put down all the awkwardness of our body not moving in the right way or our fear of people watching, and to give ourselves over to following the lead in the dance. Mark’s story about Jesus wants us to be actively engaged within it. There is no place here for those who would sit back and watch, who would avoid all eye contact to try and get out of the awkwardness of the dance. Mark’s story is one which beckons and compels us into a journey that will turn our lives upside down over and over again. Encountering Jesus changes us from spectators who watch what God is doing from the sidelines, to actors who are less concerned about whether their movements are quite as nuanced or practiced as the master-dancer who leads them than in throwing themselves into the dance and learning to follow the lead they are given.
Get up and join the dance. And over time, as you participate in the story and practice it in your life you will find that the movements, though still strange and awkward, come more easily.
This post was part of last Sunday’s sermon preached by Bec.