Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. These were mottos back when I was in high school and they are still making the rounds on bumper stickers and Facebook posts. They are still rippling through our culture. For as much as I think they sound cliché and are a little over used, there is something tried and true about them. There is something about dancing when no one is watching or singing when no one is listening, or not caring if they are. Because something really honest comes out of us, I think. Something we aren’t always willing to show others.
A couple of years ago, I was at a Cloud Cult concert, a band with two members who hail from Owatonna. As my friends stood together like sardines listening and watching, a man nearby danced. And it wasn’t the tame body swaying and head bobbing seen in the rest of us. His body lurched and labored; he clapped and shouted. At first, he just seemed like an annoying superfan. But as the night went on and the dancing endured, you could tell something was happening inside him. Something profoundly true about his life was being worked out and confessed in his dancing. He was communicating something desperate and deep, something honest about himself. Dance like no one is watching.
When I was in high school, I would sometimes listen to music in my room and I would sing. I would sing along with my tape or CD like I was the one stage. Not so much to imagine the fame and attention of being on stage, but as way of embodying the song. As if it was my song. One day, I was singing with such passion that I didn’t hear the creak of the door opening or my mom walk in. As soon as she caught my eye, I rushed to turn off the music and I was immediately embarrassed. I couldn’t even look her in the eye. Part of that, I think, is because something really true was coming out and I was afraid for anyone to see it. Sing like no one is listening.
I think that is what happens when we think no one is watching or listening, or when we don’t care if they do. Whatever is most true about our life at that moment emerges from within us. It could be that life is so full of joy at that moment that it feels like you are bursting into a thousand points of light or it could be that the walls are crumbling all around you and everything is turning to dust. When we dance like no one is watching or sing like no one is listening, something really honest comes out of us. So, what is your song?
Sing to the Lord a new song, the Psalmist says. Which means you do have a song to sing. A song for God. A song God wants to hear. And in fact, it isn’t just you who sings. The whole earth, all of creation is called to sing. Peoples, nations, mountains. Even the trees of the forest sing.
If you come to our home, you’ll see that Lauren and I have hanging on our living room wall a piece of art. A high schooler painted it. Against a tan, earthy background and with a little piece of a tree branch stitched to the canvas, are words that read, “There are tongues in trees if we have ears to hear.” A friend of mine stood in front of that painting for a couple of minutes. He then turned to me and said,”I don’t get it.”
Have we forgotten? That the whole earth sings? Do we no longer have ears to hear it? Maybe this younger artist is prophetic when she paints those words – There are tongues in trees, if we have ears to hear. If we have forgotten that the trees have a song to sing, maybe we have forgotten that we have a song too. According to the psalmist to be part of creation is to have the capacity for song. So the questions isn’t whether we sing, but what? A song of courage or fear. A song of confidence or insecurity. A song of justice or oppression. Compassion or disdain. A song of peace or a song of war.
You have a song to sing. And songs are powerful.
When there is a great tragedy in a community, people will often gather by candlelight for prayer and for song. When we can’t find the words to tell someone how much we love them we make them a mixed tape or play list. Or when governments lord power over their people and become oppressive, citizens protest with songs. Songs are powerful.
Many years ago, the Berlin Wall was erected in Germany, separating families and preventing people in East Germany from escaping their Communist society to the Democratic West Germany. It was government lording oppressive power over its people. Over 20 years ago, months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, citizens of Leipzig, in East Germany, peacefully protested. It was called the Velvet Revolution. On Monday nights they would gather at a local church to sing. Over two months, their numbers grew from just about 1,000 people to over 300,000 people. All of these people singing songs of hope, and protest, and justice, until their songs shook the powers of the nation and changed the world. Someone asked a military officer why they hadn’t silence that protest like they had so many others. “We had no contingency plan,” the officer said, “for prayer and song.”
Songs are powerful. But do you even know that you have a song? I have heard some of you talk about this congregation and our ability, or is it lack of ability, to sing. Such comments are always said with humor, but there is also a little sliver of embarrassment attached to it too. Sure, maybe we are not always in tune or maybe we don’t even know the rhythm of the song. We just let the pitch of our voice rise and fall with the dots on the page. But in tune or out of tune, we can sing. And, in fact, we all have a song to sing. And we all have a song to teach.
What song do you want to teach your children, or grandchildren to sing? Will we share with them the songs of deep truth that lie within the caverns of our hearts? Will our songs point to the God who brings light out of darkness and who brings life out of death? In a couple weeks we are going to hear of a song that Mary sings to her unborn child. A song about bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly. A song about tearing down walls. A song about filling the hungry with good things. Mary sings out of a deep place and trust that her song and God’s song are knit together. May we trust the same about our songs.
Because songs are powerful and you are called to sing to the Lord your song. Because then it becomes part of God’s song. God’s new song. Sing like no one is listening? Yes. But also, no. Yes, let us sing in such a way that allows us to share the truth about our lives, whether it be a truth of struggle and defeat or of joy and hope. But let us also sing like someone is listening. Because someone is. God is listening. The world is listening. And the world has no contingency plan for prayer and song. You have a song to sing – to God and to the world. A song we all need to hear. Thanks be to God. Amen
 I am indebted to David Lose and his sermon on Psalm 96 for this story and much inspiration for this sermon.