Monday, January 8, 2024

Baptism & Acceptance


Mark 1:4-11

Epiphany 1 / Year B

Earlier this week, the Episcopal News Service posted a story about two priests in the Diocese of West Virginia.  What did they do to warrant the attention of the faithful?  Start a new outreach ministry?  No.  Baptize fifty people at a single service?  Not quite.  Write a new Christmas carol?  Hardly.  So what then did they do to be noteworthy?  Well, while watching the Duke’s Mayo college bowl game, they took offense when the announcers put mayonnaise on a pepperoni roll (apparently West Virginians have strong feeling about their favorite foods).  So the two priests, who both serve in the diocesan office, took to Facebook with their complaints, which in and of itself, does not merit comment.  However, their post, as they say, went viral and received over 13,000 responses.  This the Episcopal News Service deemed to be worthy of a report.  

David Lose, a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor, observes we live in a culture where people crave affirmation.  He cites social media as one manifestation of this.  How many ‘friends’ do you have?  How many ‘likes’ did your last post receive?  How many ‘hearts’ did the picture your dog get?  Some on social media give only a passing thought to this while others are obsessed by it.  Wherever you fall on this scale, we seek affirmation because we are social creatures.  We want to be noticed.  We want to believe our life matters to others.  We want to be liked.

Lose contends being on social media crates the perception we are surrounded by a like-minded community of people who value us.  He asks why then does research reveal people today report feeling simultaneously more connected and lonelier than ever.  His answer, while we crave affirmation, what we need is acceptance.

Acceptance, Lose contends, is not the same thing as fitting in; a skill we learn as children and draw on time and again as adults.  In order to fit in we change ourselves so we will be accepted in our various peer groups.  This helps to explain why we may present ourselves one way at church and a totally different way with, say, our bridge partners or bowling buddies.  It can be a lot of work to act up or act out who you suppose you are supposed to be.  To be accepted means you are absolutely valued for who you are just as you are.

Which brings us to the baptism of Jesus.  As he emerges from under the Jordon’s waters he hears God’s voice, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Coming just a few verses into the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we are given not even a hint of what Jesus has done to deserve such status.  As David Lose writes, this much we do know: “Wrapped up in these words of acceptance are the blessings of identity, worth, and unwavering regard.”

This new self-awareness, along with receiving the Holy Spirit, empowers Jesus to launch into his public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.  Is there a connection between a sense of acceptance and a pursuit of mission; a connection between baptism and the “blessings of identity, worth, and unwavering regard”?  You bet there is. 

I am so very proud of our teenagers who about a year ago identified food insecurity as something important to them.  Over time, meeting with young people from Main Street Methodist and Suffolk Presbyterian churches, the group got excited about participating in a nation-wide movement known as “The Lil’ Food Pantry.”  Based on the concept of the lending library box, but focused on food, its motto is “Take What You Need, Leave What You Can.”  Will Henderson and Graham Webb came before your Vestry to present the idea and ask for funding, which they received.  They then set out to build a pantry, which is now located just outside the door of the Parish Office.  Other young people have thought through how they can publicize this new ministry so the community knows it is here to help and here to be stocked. 

I am inspired by the vision, dedication, enthusiasm, and effort of our teenagers.  Now, you may take these words as being rooted in affirmation, and most certainly those who have worked on this project (including Lee Cross) deserve to be noticed.  But for me, the praise I offer is grounded in acceptance.  Every person who seeks to live out the faith deserves our support and encouragement.  I am so encouraged God’s Spirit has moved and our young people have responded.

In just a moment we will renew our own Baptismal vows and promises.  We will remember what we have renounced (Satan, the world, and the self) and who we have embraced (Jesus, our Savior, Lord, and guide).  We will affirm the core of what we believe by rehearsing the Apostles’ Creed and we will recommit ourselves to the basic values and practices of the Christian life… with God’s help.

In this moment I hope you gain a sense of how deeply loved and accepted just as you are… not only by God, but also by your family in the faith.  And while the national religious media may not report on anything you ever do as you live out your faith, your life matters and your witness makes world a more loving place.  We are richer for all you do.  Thank you for the way and manner in which you live into your baptism.