Dancing With God's People

A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, June 3, 2012
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
Blair Pogue

I recently attended a performance titled “World of Rhythm” by a group called Drums United. Drums United is made up of nine percussionists from seven countries including Bangladesh, Senegal, the Netherlands, and Venezuela. While the show started out loud and explosive, it moved into quieter segments featuring different drums and showing what they – or perhaps I should say the drummers playing them – could do. At one point a drummer from Venezuela, a drummer from Senegal, and a drummer from Ghana were playing tall and narrow drums that looked like a cylinder. They were jamming together and the beat was infectious. All of a sudden a single child ran down to the area between the front row and the stage and began to dance. The child was completely unselfconscious. He was jumping up and down in time with the music, twisting his body around and smiling with joy. Then another child came down to join him, and another, and still another. By the end of the show, the front of the theatre was a junior mosh pit full of children, and about ten adults, dancing with each other, waving their arms above their heads, and having a wonderful time.

Earlier that day I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming “ye must be born from above,” a verse that appears in today’s Gospel from John. Now, I’m not one to plaster scripture verses on my car, but the bumper sticker did keep that passage at the forefront of my imagination, including those precious moments when I witnessed that spontaneous, communal dance. The dance seems like a helpful window into the scripture passage, and why we are welcoming Anna Reimringer into the household of God through baptism this morning.

Participating in God’s life involves dancing to God’s beat, with others. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians at Rome, God has given us a spirit of adoption. Through baptism we are adopted into God’s family, a diverse family of people from many different countries, cultures, and neighborhoods. Usually people live and socialize with people who look, speak and act like themselves. We rarely have the opportunity for meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds. Fortunately, God gives us the ability to live together in reconciled diversity despite our differences. Through baptism God brings us into a holy community in which faith is the most important bond.

In our Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus that those who want to enter the Kingdom of God must be born of water and the Spirit. They must die to whatever is not of God, and rise to new life including new ways of seeing and living in the world. Nicodemus, like us, wants to know more. Yet he is embarrassed, and worried that a conversation with Jesus might cost him his job or reputation. Nicodemus is a Pharisee and he is convinced that Jesus is a teacher or rabbi from God. How else could Jesus have performed such amazing signs?

Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above, and Nicodemus gets confused. What does Jesus mean? How could anyone possibly be born again? How could anyone reenter his mother’s womb? Jesus responds that “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Here “flesh” does not mean our physical bodies. It is a general term for whatever is not of God, whatever is not of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus is not pitting our physical bodies or the material world against the Spirit. He knows that the Spirit works through our life experiences and through the world. Rather, Jesus is saying that God’s purposes and priorities are different from the purposes and priorities of those who are only interested in power, profit, celebrity, and their own well-being.

As we dance with God and God’s people we develop a deeper understanding of God’s holiness and mystery as well as God’s intimate presence. Our passage from the sixth chapter of Isaiah highlights this tension. Isaiah is overwhelmed as he stands before God’s throne, confronted with God’s utter holiness and majesty. Initially he feels unworthy. God’s purity and awesomeness make him aware of his own sinfulness and failings. And yet when God asks “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replies, “here I am; send ,me!” His encounter with God has not only given him a taste of God’s otherness and mystery, it has fired him with a desire to serve God and to go out into the world in God’s name. Being in God’s presence has given Isaiah clarity about what God wants him to do.

Anna, today we officially invite you to dance with us as we respond to God’s music in our midst. Being the offspring of two writers, we think you probably already know something about the Holy Spirit, and the inspiration and creativity She brings. We waited for your birth, and now we get to watch you grow into the beautiful girl and then woman God created you to be. We will do our best to do everything in our power to help you grow in your knowledge and love of God. Your questions are welcome, as are your insights, your doubts, and your hopes. Together we will discern what God is up to in our lives, neighborhoods, and world, and join together to participate in the specific ways God is calling us to participate in God’s life. We support your parents’ desire that you, “be someone who asks hard questions, is morally courageous, knows the value of each member of her community, feels at home in the world and in her skin, and remains hopeful and strong when challenged by adversity.”

Anna, today you are born from above, adopted into a household stretching across space and time, with members from many different cultures and rhythms. May you know always the dance of God’s heartbeat and the power of God’s love. Amen.