by Rev. Scott D. Summerville
… Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Are you a minority? Or a better question may be, “In how many ways are you a minority?” If you are male, you are part of a minority, because the females have us outnumbered. If you are of primarily European ancestry, you are a minority in this world, though you may be part of a majority in this country.
Are you a “person of color?” I have to say that I find that phrase “person of color” to be a bit odd. Can you imagine going to Africa and talking about “people of color?” Or India or China? Or any number of other places. And if there are “persons of color,” does that mean there are persons without color? “Are you a colorless person?” Be that as it may, that is the phrase that is au courant, so — are you a “person of color?” If so, you are in the minority in the United States of America, at least for the moment, but you are very much not in the minority globally speaking.
How old are you? If you are thirty-seven years of age or older, you are in the minority in this country. More than half the population is younger than you are. If however, you are in Uganda, and you are sixteen years old, you are in the minority; the median age in Uganda being fifteen years —fifteen years old.
If your annual household income is in the neighborhood of $60,000 you are in the minority in the state of New York, where the median income is somewhere in the $50s.
Wherever you find yourself on this questionnaire so far, I can tell you that there is at least one category in which each of us is part of a minority. Less than a quarter of the population in the United States is participating in religious observances with any regularity.
This may come as a surprise considering that our elected officials are now required to mention God at least once in every speech. And if you do not end your speech by asking God to bless America, you may get branded as
an out and out heathen.
Why is it that a minority of people in this country attend church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship? I have no formal data on the subject, but it is not difficult to speculate:
Surely there are many people who are tired; they are worn out; they want to spend their spare time chilling out and resting up.
Many people are alienated from formal religion for a variety of personal reasons and have no interest in it.
Some people believe that religion is archaic and has been replaced by
Some people associate the church with hypocrisy, scandal and narrow mindedness.
Think about your own extended family. Where are the rest of your family members right now? Most of my close family members are not in church at this moment. Where are your children, parents, sisters, brothers, cousins at this moment? Most of them are probably not doing what you are doing. It is quite possible, if not probable, that you are a minority in your own extended family.
The important question is not why others are not here, but why those of us who are here, are here.
So then, why are we here? It is fitting to ask that question on this Sunday when we are remembering the baptism of Jesus. Baptism is the outward event that marks us as Christians and signifies our belonging to the church. Everybody loves a baptism – especially when the person being baptized is cute and cuddly, and somebody else has to change the diapers.
The baptism that Jesus participated in was an ordeal, baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. You had to trek out into the wilderness on foot, and you had to listen to John’s sermon, which was not as gentle as the sermons you are accustomed to.
Since most of us were baptized as infants, very few of us have any recollection of our baptism. We have to conjure it up in our imagination.
What does that sign – that water on the brow – that event lost in memory — what does it mean to me now?
If we live in a time when it is no longer the custom of most people to worship with other people, then those who do have made a conscious choice. Social customs do not require us to be here. Each of us is here [or not here] by a free choice and a personal commitment. That is an exciting thing. That is a powerful thing.
I made that statement once in a sermon – that none of us has to be here, and after the service a woman approached me and said, “I am here, because I have to be here.”
But of course she did not mean that she had to be here because social conventions required her to be here or that family pressures required her to be here. She had to be here because she needed to be here. Her soul needed to be here.
I heard of an Orthodox priest who said that a woman came to him requesting the baptism of her infant. The priest knew from previous conversation with this woman that she had lost her faith. The priest asked her, “Having lost faith yourself, why is it that you want your child to be baptized? ” She answered, “I do not want her to be empty like me.”
We are offering today an opportunity for remembering and renewing our baptismal covenant. This is an entirely optional thing. Each of us may decide how we wish to participate in the ceremony. We may wish to participate fully or we may wish to observe and reflect. No one should feel pressure or expectation to participate in any specific way.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are participating in words and gestures that go back to Jesus himself and the life he shared with his disciples. We are continuing a meal that Jesus organized for his disciplesbefore his death. In baptism and in the renewal of our baptismal vows we are participating in something that Jesus himself experienced and that his followers experienced. In the bread and wine of communion and in the waters of baptism we are experiencing a connection across time with Jesus and with all who have lived their lives looking to him for meaning and hope.
We are remembering that Jesus invited ordinary people to experience an extraordinary love and to undertake an extraordinary journey. Those he invited were not all of a certain type; some of them fished for a living, others tilled the soil; some had office jobs – they were scribes who wrote contracts and filled out papers for other people; some were tax collectors; some were reputable and some disreputable; women and men both answered his invitation and followed him. It was a cross-section of humanity, much like a congregation such as ours today.
At any given time, some of us have great faith – confident and passionate faith – and some of us have just a shred of faith that we cling to. By choosing to be together as a community, we are pooling together the bits of faith that each of us has, so that we may encourage one another and build up each other’s hope.
I invite you now to remember your baptism, even if you cannot remember it, to imagine it, and to think about why you are here, what it means to your soul to be here, what hope brings you here, what need brings you here, and if the moment is right, when the invitation comes, you may come forward to touch the waters of baptism and renew your commitment to join your soul in love with the souls of others in the body of Christ and to share together in life and service .
Grace and peace to you.