Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dancing with God: The baptism of Priscilla Nicole Kottmeyer

Today is not only Trinity Sun, it is also the day we baptize Priscilla Nicole Kottmeyer. Now, I know that all of you have come here to listen to me talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, especially with regard to the contributions of the 4th c. theologian Tertullian, and I have prepared about 45 minutes of notes on that topic. However, important as the Trinity is, Priscilla’s baptism is even more important, so here’s what I’ll do: I’ll meet you back here this afternoon for my talk on the Trinity. And don’t think you’re going to get away. I know who you are and will know if you don’t show up later this afternoon!

But today is Priscilla’s big day, and I want to talk to her. The rest of you are invited to listen in.

Priscilla, first let me tell you that you have picked a great day to be baptized, but I’ll explain a little later why this is such a good day to be baptized.

You have also picked excellent parents and grandparents. Your grandmother Kottmeyer is from Strasbourg, France, a beautiful and historic city. And the Measels are from right here in Bluff Park. But the most important thing about both your parents and grandparents is that they love you very much and today they are making the commitment to raise you in the Christian faith.

Priscilla, I know that you are wondering what baptism is and what difference it will make.

The first thing you may notice about your baptism is that your parents and godparents are answering a series of questions on your behalf. For the next several years, people will be doing things for you that you are unable to do for yourself. Right now, people are feeding you, bathing you, changing your diapers. And in a few years, they will be driving you to school and ballet lessons and soccer practice. Soon you will be doing things for other people that they cannot do for themselves. That is a big part of what it means to be human. None of us is complete in and of ourselves. God made us incomplete. God made us so that we need each other and must seek out each other. In other words, God made us so that we must learn to love one another, and if we fail to love, then we remain incomplete.

Baptism is one of the first examples of how we need each other. Whether we are baptized as infants or as adults, it is something that is done for us and to us. We cannot baptize ourselves.

The second thing you may notice about your baptism is that your parents and godparents promise to reject one thing and to accept something else. What’s that about? Right here at the beginning of your life, why should we ask you to reject anything?

Priscilla, you will find that life is a series of choices. To choose one thing is to reject something else, and it is very important for us to choose well.

Today we ask your parents and godparents to make the most important choice of all on your behalf. We ask them to choose light instead of darkness; goodness rather than evil; life rather than death; to follow Christ rather than the Evil One.

Priscilla, you live in a world that hovers between darkness and light. That sounds a little scary, but there is nothing for you to fear. The darkness falls only in places where we block the light. The light is permanent; the darkness is temporary. The Bible tells us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. There are times of darkness in every life, but if you look for the light, you will find it.

Third, your parents and godparents not only reject the darkness on your behalf, they also promise to help you learn how to follow Christ. Starting now, your parents will be bringing you to church every Sunday. I know they will because they promised me they would when I talked to them about baptism, and I intend to hold them to that promise! In a few years, you will start coming to Sunday School and begin learning the story of Jesus of Nazareth. His story is not only one of the most wonderful stories you can learn, it is also the most important.

Jesus lived long ago in Israel. He was not only the son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, his followers experienced the power and presence of God in him in such a powerful way that the only way they could explain that experience was to say that he was the very embodiment of God, God incarnate, God made flesh, the Son of God. For a short time, Jesus taught people about the nature of God, healed the sick, and confronted the powers of evil and injustice. But the authorities feared him, arrested him, and had him killed. But three days later, his followers found his tomb empty and experienced Jesus not only as alive again but more fully real and alive than he had ever been. So even though Jesus lived 2000 years ago, we believe that he is just as alive today as he was way back then.

Priscilla, the most important story you can know is the story of Jesus. The most important friend you can make is Jesus. And today your parents and godparents are not only promising to help you get to know him, we believe that baptism is also the time when Jesus promises to get to know you, too.

Now, I said that Trinity Sunday is a great day to be baptized, and I would like to explain that. You did not come into the world alone. You came into the world as part of a complex network of relationships. These relationships make you who you are. None of us exists alone. The African word ubuntu expresses this perfectly. Ubuntu means “You are who you are because I am who I am and I am who I am because you are who you are.”

The Trinity is a good example of this. Many years ago a great Christian thinker explained the Trinity in terms of dance. Now the dance he had in mind was not the kind of dancing we normally see today. He was thinking of the circle dances that we still see on special occasions in Mediterranean countries. While there may be many dancers, they are one in the movements they make; they are one in rhythm. So, he said, it is with the Trinity. The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit; the Spirit is not the Father. But they are one in love; one in power; and one in eternity. The Trinity is the dance of God, a dance that had no beginning and will have no end.

Priscilla, in a few minutes I will pour water on your head in the name of the Trinity. In doing so, I will be inviting to dance with God, and inviting God to dance with you. It is the beginning of an eternal dance, an eternal relationship. Sometimes you will dance boldly and joyfully, sometimes you will dance slowly and sorrowfully. Sometimes you may not think you have the strength to dance at all and God will do all the dancing for you. Sometimes you will hold up others who no longer have the strength to dance for themselves. But the dance goes on in every time and place, when life is joyful and when it sorrowful, when it is light and when it is dark.

Welcome to the dance, Priscilla. Welcome to God’s family.