In the movie, Shall We Dance, the plot is simple. Richard Gere plays a lawyer named John. Susan Sarandon plays his wife Beverly. They are a loving family. They have been living the same life over and over again for twenty years. Life has plateaued and John is restless . . . he feels that something is missing . . . but he cannot put his finger on it.
Making his daily commute on the train back and forth from the city one evening he sees a beautiful woman played by Jennifer Lopez, staring with a lost expression through the window of a dance studio. He is haunted by her gaze. Impulsively one evening he jumps off the train and signs up for dance lessons, hoping to meet her. Ironically it is not the young beautiful dance instructor that becomes his teacher, but instead it is the older instructor.
Sounds like an illicit love story doesn’t it? And, I would have to admit, it is a love story . . . one with the potential to become an illicit affair as it titters on the nexus; but, in the end, things work out for the best for all involved as true love wins out. The love story in the end is between Richard Gere’s character and dancing, not between him and the young dance instructor. Surprisingly she puts him into his place right from the beginning when she tells him with ice in her voice that she hopes that he has come to the dance studio to seriously study dance and not to look for a date.
And he does.
Richard Gere’s character falls in love with dancing. His new obsession has him throwing himself whole-heartedly into dancing. His goal is to dance in the big contest. It is a time consuming process that takes him from his family . . . and, of course, his wife—Susan Sarandon—becomes suspicious. She is thinking the worse. She hires a private detective to find out what her husband is up to. Upon discovering the truth, she chooses to end the investigation . . . to let things be . . . and, to not interfere with her husband’s privacy. It is a sort of mid-life crisis.
One evening she is out with a friend and they are talking . . . talking about marriage. Marriage is hard. Yet, she realizes that each person involved in a marriage has a role . . . a part . . . to play. She tells her friend: “We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."
The essence of the word “witness” is: attestation of a fact or event—testimony; one who gives evidence; one who is asked to be present at something so as to being able to testify to its having taken place; one who has personal knowledge of something. In one of the Scriptures last references to Jesus’ resurrection at the start of the Book of Acts, Jesus calls upon his disciples to be his witness: “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus calls his followers to be “witnesses”. Jesus calls his followers to take notice of his life . . . to testify to its authenticity and authority . . . to affirm that it has taken place, that it has happened . . . to give evidence to it . . . to embrace their experience of it and to acknowledge that relationship. Jesus calls upon his followers to be witnesses.
And, then it was done. Jesus departed before their eyes . . . ascended up into the heavens. Thus marks the end to the Easter season of the church year . . . Jesus leaves. Now the real work is about to begin . . . the followers of Jesus are called to be witnesses . . . witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
On this last Sunday of Easter, on the nexus of the season Pentecost, we too are asked to step in line and become witnesses to and for Jesus. So, where do we begin?
Well, I believe in simplicity. Jesus us calls us to be witnesses to him . . . to his life. In his life Jesus lived for two things . . . two things that he challenged us to live up to: to love the Lord completely and to love our neighbors. Jesus’ life was a life of love. All he said, all that he did, pointed up to this act of love. It is to this that we are to be witnesses.
speak, but more importantly through the actions that we live. It has been said that “actions speak louder than words.” We witness to and for Jesus in the way that we love . . . plain and simple. We are to live our lives in love as Jesus lived his.
So, what happened in the end with John Clark? Well, first of all I want everyone here to understand . . . God did not bless me with the ability to be a graceful dancer. No, God blessed me with two left feet. I am a lousy dancer. Yet, I recognize the beauty and grace that is found in dance. I recognize the freedom that dancing releases. I know its power. I see it all the time whenever my granddaughter dances with abandon and joy. Dancing is powerful and freeing. Oh sure, I follow the adage—especially when no one is looking and I am with my granddaughter—of dancing as if no one can see me; but, I cannot dance.
John Clark . . . well, he learns to dance. He doesn’t win the big contest. In his disappointment he quits dancing . . . hangs up the shoes . . . much to the dismay of those around him. He denies the “love” of his life and its effects upon his life . . . the way that it made him change . . . the way that it drew him into the lives of others, made him care . . . made him love again. He throws it all away in his disappointment.
This then is where his wife steps in . . . his witness. She shares with him all that she has observed . . . the changes that have happened in his life and the lives of others . . . the joy she saw in him as he danced . . . the joy others experienced. She shares it all and then she leaves a pair of dancing shoes she has bought for him on the counter.
Okay . . . it is a Hollywood movie . . . good triumphs in the end. John Clark returns to dancing . . . not for the sake of competition, but for the sake of his love for it. The movie ends with him and his wife dancing in the kitchen. All because someone chose to bear witness to the love that they observed.
We are called upon to bear witness of the love we have seen and experienced in our relationship with Jesus. We are called upon to share the stories of his love in word and action. We are called upon to share love as his followers. We are to do it with the same compassion and passion as John Clark’s wife in the movie, Shall We Dance, when she states: ““We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."
We are called to bear witness to Jesus in our lives . . . in the lives of others . . . in the world in which we live. Jesus will not go unnoticed because we are his witnesses. Amen.