Summary: We as the church, facing today's challenges, think of ourselves as nobodies. But we are God's kind of nobodies, those in whom He has been at work to make changes, and we are needed by the world around us.
(Originally preached at Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, Aug. 12, 1973; subsequently, with variations, at Woodbrook Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD, Aug. 19, 1973; Viers Mill Baptist Church, Rockville, MD, Sept. 9, 1973; Bethesda First Baptist Church, Bethesda, MD, Oct. 14, 1973; Greenbelt Baptist Church, Greenbelt, MD, Nov. 11, 1973; First Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, Dec. 30, 1973; St. Matthew Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, MD, July 14, 1974; First Baptist Church, Wheaton, MD, July 21, 1974; Carrollan Woods Baptist Church, New Carrollton, MD, Aug. 4, 1974; First Baptist Church, Laurel, MD, Aug. 18, 1974; Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, MD, Aug. 25, 1974; Kensington Baptist Church, Kensington, MD, Sept. 22, 1974; Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church, Washington, DC, Oct. 13, 1974; Belair Baptist Church, Bowie, MD, Aug. 31, 1975; University of Maryland Chapel, College Park, MD, Sept. 21, 1975; Riverside Baptist Church, Washington, DC, Dec. 9, 1975; Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, Feb. 22, 1976; Clifton Park Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, Aug. 15, 1976; Calvary Hill Baptist Church, Alexandria, VA, June 18, 1978; Hillcrest Baptist Church, Hillcrest Heights, MD, Sept. 23, 1979; First Baptist Church, Gaithersburg, MD Oct. 7, 1979; Clinton Baptist Church, Clinton, MD, Oct. 28, 1979; Westover Baptist Church, Arlington, vA (youth retreat), Apr. 24,1982; Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD July 25, 1982)
In his novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” James Baldwin has given us the plaintive description of a boy who frequently made his way to the front entrance of the great main branch of the New York City Library. Baldwin tells us that the child found the building and what it represented enormously attractive; the great stone lions guarding the steps seemed to him at a distance to be but oversized friendly pussycats. The building and its promise of learning offered great attraction; but the boy could never quite bring himself to enter the library and to check out a book. Somehow as he approached it, the building loomed too large, the halls too long. It became frightening, it communicated in all its silence that it was not for him, that he did not belong there. And so always the boy would return to Harlem and would go back to the branch library in his neighborhood, there to pore over books he had read many times, hoping somehow to become somebody and to feel as though he belonged, really belonged in the great main library, lions and all!
Baldwin's boy, in a word, felt that he was nobody. Something deep within him telegraphed a continuing silent message to him: you're a nobody, you don't belong in this grand hall. Wait until you are somebody. As for now, you're a nobody.
Indeed this is a universal human experience. Each of us has those moments in which he senses his inadequacy, his lack of worth. Each of us comes on occasions, a set of circumstances in which he can only feel that he does not belong, that here, in this time and place, he is a nobody. Martin Luther King said it well as he spoke of black America: For years the black man in America has been given a sense of nobodiness; only now is he developing a sense of somebodiness.