“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Baptism, an Invitation to Dance with God


A sermon based on Psalm 30 and baptism

Last week I had the pleasure of assisting a group of High School kids prepare for the prom. Now, I have already been through the prom thing twice with our daughter, not to mention Turn About and Homecoming. We have several formal-ware dresses hanging in the closet - never to be worn again, as a case in point.

It was quite a process preparing a girl for these rites of passage in high school. For the girl, the dance is secondary; it’s really all about the dress. And the hair and make up and jewelry. And, well, maybe the date….

I imagined this time, as I helped our son prepare, that it would be different. What I found out, is, it’s not that much different. It was quite a sight to stand in the Men’s Warehouse with racks filled with hundreds of tux’s waiting to be picked up. And all these young men coming in, trying them on, and looking ever so uncertain and uncomfortable. Full of hope and expectation and trepidation.

On the night of the prom the parents and kids of this group all went to one house for pictures. The young people were dressed, all looking beautiful and handsome. At picture time they posed, or allowed parents to pose them for photos. A mixed degree of giggling and stiffness followed by a digression to goofiness and then stiffness again. I could tell they were anxious to leave their parents behind and get on with the party.

After they left, and through the night, I wondered about them. Were they having a good time? (yes). Were they dancing? (no). Or remaining at their table, awkward and giggly. (probably). Or worse, fighting. (thankfully, no)

Do you remember your prom, those of you who are old enough to have gone? Or did you not go? Perhaps you remember other school dances? Did you dance? Or did you stand in the corner and eat pizza?

Recently I attended CREDO at a conference center in Virginia. One of our last nights there the leaders brought in a group of Colonial Dancers to show and teach us dances from the colonial period, like the minuet and the Virginia Reel. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I wanted to dance every dance. A few other folks were just like me.

But others – oh no. They did not want to dance. And were even offended at being asked, like they had no choice…clearly uncomfortable…I thought, some things never change…

Today we celebrate baptism. Baptism is an invitation by God to enter the dance of faith in a new way. As Christians we know baptism to be the rite of passage that brings us into the fullness of community a people of God. Baptism moves us from one way of knowing who we are to a new way of knowing who we are, from person to Christian. From individual to partner and community.

In baptism Jesus meets us and clothes us in the attire of a Christian…We wear on our being; faith, hope, love, compassion.

For the last several weeks we have prayed for Claire, who will be baptized in a few minutes. It may seem odd that we pray for her simply by Claire. But, this is because in baptism we are all known by the same surname. Today, through the waters of baptism, she takes on the same last name given to each of us, Christian. We are all one in the family of Christ.

Like prom, it is a group dance. It’s not a solo, nor is this dance even a duet.It is a group dance, like the Virginia Reel, or a square dance with interchanging partners…But the dance of faith that God invites us into with baptism is a reminder that life will not always flow with ease. Like any complex dance we may loose our place or forget the steps, or simple get out of rhythm.

In her book, Grace, Eventually, Anne Lamott writes about a time she helped in a special-ed dance class. She says: “All of us lurch and fall, sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance, gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going….I know that humans want and need: to …belong, to feel safe and respected... And that dancing almost always turns out to be a good idea.”

Life is a dance, it moves fast, it moves slow, it can be easy, and it can be hard.

At times the clothes of Christian - faith, hope, love, compassion will feel like our birthday suits, natural and right. But on other occasions the clothes of Christian will feel awkward, we won’t be quite ready for them, like kids dressing up in formal ware.Asking questions like: How do we live our faith? Where do I find hope in this situation? How can I love in this personor show compassion?

Life may take us to places of such great vulnerability that we feel totally exposed.

This is the place of our psalmist today. Psalm 30 cries out to a God once known, but now, unknown. Where is this God? In our Psalm today we hear the psalmist cry out to God who is suddenly gone. “You, Lord, with your favor made me strong as the mountains…Then you hid your face – Hear, O Lord and have mercy on me…Turn my wailing into dancing…”

We hear the cry for God – lift me up and restore me. God who is known… and, yet, God who can seem to hide God’s face. As Christians we know, over the course of a life time, there will be days, weeks, even years, when we will wonder where God has gone.

Why has God hidden God’s face?

We will wonder if God is with us or are we dancing alone dressed in nothing but the “Emperors new clothes, (If you remember that childhood story….?

But also as Christians, over the course of a life time we come to know, that even in those dark and lonely days, God is present. Even if we have no idea how or where. God is with us.

Thomas Merton, The famous monk and Christian Spiritual writer once wrote that "no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there.”

God lives with us in a holy rhythm… as a holy partner. Being clothed in baptism is not a guarantee to perfection, nor an easy life. God’s invitation to dance is not dependent on whether we are comfortable in our clothes nor able to dance. It doesn’t matter if we have rhythm or know the steps. Nor does it matter if know and then we loose sight of God…

The dance is God’s dance.

And we are God’s partner.