“Riffing on the Lindy Hop”

A Sermon on the 5th Commandment
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
February 14, 2021 

A couple of years ago, Michelle, Leo and I went with some family over to a brewery in Richmond, VA where they are not only for the beer but for the large social events. That particular Saturday afternoon there was a live band playing – stand up bass, saxophone, keyboard, light snare drum. 

As we are walking from where we park to the area where the band is playing I have this sense“ –I know this song.” 

Actually, I didn’t know the artist or the name of the song, but at the same time, I know this. 

And suddenly my mind travels back in time, and I see myself sitting next to my grandmother in her green Buick, grey leather seats, faux wood paneling. This was the kind of music grandma always had playing in her car. It was that 1940s jazzy flavor with a little swing and a little pep to it. 

As we continue to get closer I notice all these 20-somethings gathering on this makeshift dance floor that is actually just a parking lot in front of the band. 

They are dressed in their flannel shirts and skinny jeans and tattoos and they are partnering up and doing the Lindy Hop dance to the music of their grandparents and great-grandparents. 

2018 was holding hands with 1942. 

Honor your father and mother. 

How beautiful when the hands hold like that…And yet isn’t this particular commandment also one that seems so challenging in each generation? Isn’t sometimes painfully true that such hand-holding does not always come naturally or even easily? 

I’ll never forget, a few years ago I was leafing through some older sermons in the library of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA so that I could better appreciate some of how pastors preached and addressed different issues and challenges of their times. Well, I came across one from the mid-1950s, Dr. William Ward – a sermon entitled, “Which Amusements Are Right?” 

And Dr. Ward sets up the conundrum this way: 

“Olders insist the younger generation is ‘going to the dogs ’at a furious rate.” 

In other words, if you are in your 80s or 90s then your parents and grandparents were worried. 

He goes on…” Young people declare their parents are old-fashioned ‘squares ’and ‘creeps ’still living in the dark ages.” And so apparently some in that same now 80 and 90-year-old group of people saw the older generation as people with little to teach them because the old folks were in the dark ages. 

Of course, is, some form of this happens time and again – and surely we can name the myriad of unfortunate ways it unfolds in our day where suspicion, distrust, and sometimes even outright disdain has been sown among the generations in our country. 

The likes of “Ok, Boomer” and “snowflake” or even just “selfish” – these and others became catch-all insults at wide swaths of people and assumptions about that generation or that generation. 

God, of course, invites a different posture: “outdo yourselves in honoring one another” is how Paul implores when he writes to the multi-generational church in Rome. 

And then in the middle of the Ten Commandments, of course, “Honor your father and mother.” 

What does that look like in our time? Does it, as Mason has asked, mean doing everything your parents say? 

Let’s back up briefly and define “mother” and “father.” 

The Larger Catechism (which was written in the 1640s) which is found in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions is a great help here. At one point it is exploring the meaning of this 5th commandment, and it asks the questions: 

124. Who is meant by “father” and “mother,” in the Fifth Commandment? 

A. By “father” and “mother” in the Fifth Commandment, are meant not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as by God’s ordinance are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth. 

We could do a whole sermon series exploring the implications here, but for today I want to focus on what it means to honor parents or spiritual parents and mentors – people who have shown us the love of Jesus, taught us the love of Jesus. 

I invite you to take a moment to think about some of those parents. Some of the folks who first introduced you to the music of Jesus Christ, took you out onto the dance floor of God’s kingdom – who comes to mind? 

What is it to honor them? 

When I think of that Lindy Hop scene in at the brewery, I really do believe my grandmother would have gotten a kick out of seeing that. Actually, I really believe she would have been honored because they were imitating her and her generation. 

“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17 

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you… and imitate their faith,” Hebrews 13:7 

Imitate them? Everything? As much good as they surely had in them, they are not perfect and in some cases quite frankly – they were or are far from it. 

The Larger Catechism again helps us here when it asks the question… 

Q. 127. What is the honor which inferiors owe to superiors? (or how does one generation honor the one or ones above it) 

A. The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is: all … prayer and thanksgiving for them; 4 imitation of their virtues and graces… 

Part of honoring our fathers and mothers is about praying for them. Giving thanks for them. 

And then you heard, imitating them…but not everything about them. 

We imitate or copy their “virtues and graces.” 

The Jesus qualities in their life. 

  • “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” 
  • Courage on behalf of the vulnerable.
  • Speaking the truth in love.
  • Their prayerfulness. Their thankfulness. Their servant-heartedness.

“Imitation of their virtues and graces…” 

I think about my grandfather who was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I am not called to imitate everything he did and every way he did each thing. But…When he said “yes” to a commitment, he followed through. 

He understood duty and faithfulness in season and out of season, in times where we love how everything is unfolding amid the commitments we have made in our family, the church…and in seasons, where we don’t. Where it’s a lot of wilderness.… 

He taught me about that. He’s still teaching me that as I seek to imitate his virtues and graces. 

What about you? What would it mean today or this week for you to honor one of those names who came to mind a few moments ago? To imitate their dance moves? 

There is one other thing that must be mentioned about the Lindy Hop: you cannot actually do the Lindy Hop just by imitation alone. 

As some of you may know, the Lindy Hop is a dance that began among the African American community in Harlem, NY in the 1920s, and then it really became popular throughout the country in the 30s and 40s. 

And the thing about the Lindy Hop is that it is a dance that combines a European 6 or 8-step count with improvisational techniques from the African American community. 

Part of the dance, then, is very predictable and repeatable and part of the dance is new and different every time. 

Part of the dance is learned through imitation – follow the 8 count step. But part of it is learned by experimenting and improvising. 

In fact, the sign that you really know the Lindy Hop is not when you have nailed the part you can imitate, but when you so understand and feel the music within your body and soul that you begin improvising your own expressions in that 8 count move. 

My grandma would have been honored that Saturday afternoon because these folks not only imitated her generation but also because they also got it so deeply that they were able to improvise upon what her generation passed along. 

And this, then, gets us at the heart of the commandment: We most truly honor our parents when we imitate and improvise. 

In fact – improvisation is probably, even more, honoring to our mothers and fathers than rote imitation. 

I shared last week that I spent a summer in college as an intern for the youth group the Presbyterian Church where I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. 

And Brian Shockey – who I mentioned last week, he was the Youth Director there at the time – he was constantly encouraging me to use my gifts to build relationships with the kids and teach them about Jesus. And time and again he told me to be creative and faithfully use the gifts God had given me. 

Well, I began mentoring a couple of the high school guys in particular. And one day we were trying to think of a way we could be helpful to Brian since he does so much for everybody else in the youth group and he hardly has time for himself. 

And to this day I have no idea how we came up with this idea…except that I guess we did recall how Brian lived in a house somewhat out in the country with a large open expanse of a yard that he never kept up with mowing wise because he was pretty busy with all of the youth. 

What we came up with was called the Midnight Mowing Ministry. It would be a ministry in which the three of us would show up to his house at midnight in a truck – all of us wearing headlamps and each of us with a lawn mower. And we would mow his yard. We did this twice that summer. 

The first time we did this he comes outside with the biggest goofiest grin on his face. He loved it. 

Looking back I can see about 1000 reasons why he should not have loved it – too loud, too dangerous, poorly timed, and poorly executed because in both cases the next morning revealed the fact that we missed some spots in his yard. 

But, no, he loved it. In fact, the second time, once we finished mowing, he sat outside with us and the four of us played guitar and sang worship songs till 2 in the morning. It was really quite beautiful the bond we knew from this outside-of-the-box ministry. 

What made Brian a great spiritual father, a great mentor was the fact that he encouraged me to improvise with my gifts. He did not want me to simply copy the way he led and follow through on all the ideas that he had. Why? 

Because mere imitation does not a Christian make. Mere imitation does nothing to suggest the faith is sinking deep into the soul. 

You can tell that someone really feels the music, someone is really being caught and shaped by the Holy Spirit… when they are mature enough to not only imitate the 8 count virtues, but improvise with wisdom and love as to how those virtues are enfleshed and take hold. 

We sometimes get upset when our child or grandchild or the next generation in the church does things differently. Runs things differently. And sometimes we have a good point. But before judging too quickly because they are bringing out the mowers at the wrong time and missing the spots that shouldn’t be missed… 

…be sure to lean in and consider if that child, that generation isn’t imitating a lot of Jesus qualities living in Jesus ’spirit…and what they are really doing is improvising and therefore showing forth the kind of maturity for which we can give thanks. 

How encouraging then it really is to think of the countless ways this church has proven so adept at improvising, especially in this past year. 

Virtual choirs, Zoom Sunday schools, virtual worship and liturgists and children’s moments, small groups meeting on front and back porches, worship services in the cemetery, boxes delivered to front porches for our children’s ministry… painting classes, coffee shop music programs, trivia nights over Zoom. 

In fact, time and again you all have been remarkably willing to try something new, trying something different, see if something might work… 

That has had me recall that if you want to improvise on the dance, you need to be flexible. It helps a great deal if you body is limber when it comes to riffing on the Lindy Hop. 

And in the spiritual life, those who are most flexible are those who are most humble. Those who come unto Jesus like a child. 

And FPC Georgetown, you have flexibility in spades. A willingness to stretch, to reach, to try. I hope you are deeply encouraged by how alive the Holy Spirit is in this congregation. 

We honor our mothers and fathers by imitating them – in particular imitating their virtues – but also improvising. Same fundamental steps – different, sometimes significantly different, forms. 

In our society divided along so many lines – one of which is most definitely generational – we as the church have an urgent call to show forth the Good News of Jesus Christ who has broken down every dividing wall. 

And I can think few more joyful, surprising ways to give witness to this truth than a dance floor filled with people of every generation out-doing one another in honoring one another. 

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert