SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Dear Christian Friends,
I really don’t know too much about face to face rejection other than the one time years ago when I walked into a nursing home room to visit an older man with whom I had a polite but not perfect relationship. He wasn’t a member of the Church and he had not asked me to visit him. As I walked into his room with Bible in hand, I could see his eyes strain to see who I was. When he recognized me, his eyes started to grow angry. I started to say, “good morning Mr. So and So, how are you today. But before I could even get his name out, he hollered with a raspy voice, “Get out of here!” I thought maybe he mistook me for somebody else and started to say that I was interested in having a little prayer with him, but again the command came through loud and clear and angry, “Get out of here!” No, I didn’t take the time to shake the dust off my feet. And yes, did take a few minutes before my heart stopped racing and I could process what had just happened.
This morning, I invite you to process with me first of all why Jesus was rejected by his home town folks, why Paul was rejected by so many first century folks, and why the Christian Church seems to be increasingly rejected in this land of the free and home of the brave. Secondly, I invite you to think through with me, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how Jesus reacted to rejection, how Paul reacted to persecution, and how we should react as individuals and as a congregation when our message is not received.
Question #1 - Why is there such a rejection of Jesus? When Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples two by two, he said it this way, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Matthew records Jesus reassuring his disciples that they are absolutely valuable to their Father in heaven and ought not be afraid, and then adds, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” It’s no small matter when people drift away from and will not listen carefully and believe Biblical teaching.
First question of the day again – why was there and why is there and why shall there ever be here on earth a rejection of Jesus and His Bride the Church? Three reasons come quickly to mind.
Reason #1 - Satan is always on the (attack). In the story of Job, Satan’s agenda was to cause so much suffering in his life that he would do as his wife said he should do, “Curse God and die.” Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Job’s story and learning to patiently suffer whatever afflictions come their way. In the story of Paul in our Epistle lesson for today, Satan’s agenda was to harass and to torment / original language uses the word “fisticuff” blows to the body / to get Paul to quit preaching the power of the cross. Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Paul’s writings and believing that God’s grace is sufficient for them. While it is true that we wrestle against forces of darkness that can be powerful and ever so frightening, it is also true that Jesus Christ has wrestled the perfect fight and come out on top. We are as weak as we can be, but He is strong. Paul’s conclusion has to drive the devil crazy, “therefor I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Reason #2 there is wholesale rejection of the Christian message is that we live in a world that has always been inclined towards evil. It is inclined that way in this generation, and this side of paradise, it shall always be inclined in that direction. To say it another way, it seems as if we live in a (Nazareth culture). Why Jesus’ hometown people rejected Him isn’t entirely clear. Initially there was a positive reception, but somewhere in our text, everything changes. No doubt some thought Jesus was just a crazy man. Others seemed to think his power source was demonic. Yet another factor was that they lived in a social system was status was fixed at birth. Who you were at birth defined who you would always be. In the minds of many, it was simply impossible for Jesus the son of a carpenter to amount to anything special. One author Eugene Peterson translated it this way, “Because people think they know who Jesus is, they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does he think he is.”
Why such rejection of Jesus? Reason #1 was the devil and his nasty demons. Reason #2 was and is a world of sinners conceived in iniquity, born in sin, and inclined towards evil from their youth. Reason #3 is our own sinful nature. Many days our worst enemy is (us). Jesus was despised and rejected by His generation for doing what was good, right, and proper. He taught truth in a perfect fashion, and people just didn’t want to hear it. Still to this day, there will be times when we will be rejected for doing what is right, it’s also true that we will be rejected for doing what is wrong.
Christianity in the western world is in deep trouble. In America over 1/4th of adults have left the religion of their youth, most for no religion at all. In Europe, many grand cathedrals and basilicas are more like mausoleums than thriving centers of worship. A pastor Rick Morley has suggested the root problem to be trust. He points out that the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in a child sexual abuse scandal…that evangelical pastors who have railed against homosexuality have been found to seek male prostitutes…that we have high profile church leaders saying that hurricanes are the result of gays and abortions….and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Bible teaches us to let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. And vice versa is true as well, as often as church going Christians fall into darkness, people will see our hypocrisy and want nothing to do with organized religion. They see us coming with Bibles in our hands and self-righteousness in our hearts and say to us in a variety of ways, “Get out of here! Don’t be preaching to me. I just don’t want to hear it today.”
Which leads us to our second and final question. How shall we react when our message is rejected? When Jesus was rejected by His home town folks, he doubled down. He went to other villages and kept on teaching, whether people received it or not. He kept on healing and helping, whether folks believed Him or not. He sent out the Twelve and later on 72 disciples two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He urged them to travel light and not to worry about their pension plans. Don’t be spending your time and money shopping for clothes, but as one sinner talking to another sinner, do be telling them to repent. If they won’t listen to you, shake the dust off your feet and warn them that a heap of trouble is coming their way. And move on with absolute confidence that the grace of God is sufficient for you.
Dear friends in Christ, how shall we react to the news that church attendance is declining and immorality is increasing? How shall we react to folks who do not want to hear that that the Bible is still true, that the Ten Commandments still apply, and that traditional values should be defended? How shall we react to our neighbors and friends and co-workers who have concluded that we really don’t care about them, that we are full of self-righteousness, that we are more concerned with building fancy buildings than we are with showing mercy to the down and the out? How shall we react to good and decent people who say that they believe in God, but not so much in the Church? Three reactions the Spirit of God would teach us today. To keep on repenting, to keep on teaching, and to keep on trusting.
First, to keep on (repenting). Collectively and individually, we have much for which to be sorry. We have reason to be sorry for the bad habits we have fallen into and the good habits we have failed to form. We have been quiet when we should have spoken up and spoken up when we should have been quiet. We have prayed in our quiet places when we should have been marching in the streets and marched in the streets when we should have been praying in our quiet places. We have judged people when we should have tolerated and tolerated when we should have pronounced the judgement of God. We have dishonored marriage in wholesale fashion in our heterosexual kind of ways and then blamed the gay community as if they were worse sinners than we. Collectively and individually, we learn again today to be ever so concerned about the speck in our brothers’ eyes, but only after we have removed the log out of our own. Yes, we want to keep on repenting. Can I get an amen to that?
Secondly, we keep on (teaching). Our chosen theme this year is “With Burning Hearts.” For the next 12 months, we want to be informed by a particular Bible story of the risen Jesus coming alongside of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. To be informed by Jesus the Master Teacher as He asks really good questions, as He listens carefully to their stories, as He explains to them truths they had learned but forgotten, as He breaks bread with and reveals His heart to them. And so their hearts burned as they rehearsed in their minds what Jesus had taught them. Our assignment in this place is to keep on rehearsing in our minds what we have been taught from our mother’s knees and to keep on teaching. In this year, we would teach what has always been taught – and to do so with hearts on fire for the one message that matters. The message that the grace of God is sufficient and not to be taken lightly. That the love of Jesus Christ is for everybody but only benefits those who receive it. That if we’re going to follow Jesus Christ, there will be rejection, but that rejection ought not sour our attitudes.
Which leads us to our third and final assignment - Keep on (trusting). Keep on trusting that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s permission and that you are much more valuable than the sparrow. Keep on trusting that your sins of omission and your sins of commission have been paid for by the son of a carpenter man and that for that reason alone you will be accepted and not rejected on the Last Day in the courtroom of God / the one courtroom, by the way, that matters.
“It could be my last chance!” The kingdom of God is like a man I knew 35 years ago who loved to go on evangelism calls. He loved to knock on doors, to engage in small talk and to get invited into living rooms and make a full-fledged Law and Gospel presentation. But if that wasn’t going to happen, he would do all that he could possibly do to get a word in about Jesus. And almost always there would be an invitation to Church. And the thought that was constantly burning in his soul was this one – with this one person, it could be my last chance to tell them about Jesus. Amen.
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