A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on July 8, 2012 (Proper 9, Year B)
Rejection is no fun. Unfortunately, most of us know this from personal experience. This life provides ample opportunity to be rejected by a variety of people and institutions. We get rejected from colleges, fired from jobs, turned down for mortgages, dumped by girlfriends or boyfriends, unfriended on Facebook, divorced by spouses, and estranged from family. Rejection runs rampant and rejection is no fun.
It’s one thing to get rejected by a faceless institution for, say, a credit card application. But it’s another thing altogether to get rejected by people we know and love. This is exactly what happens to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading from Mark. He returns to his hometown of Nazareth after a wildly successful time out in the mission field. As we’ve heard over the past month, he had recently stilled a raging storm, driven out demons from a possessed man, healed a hemorrhaging woman, and saved a little girl from the brink of death. If that wouldn’t build up your confidence, if that wouldn’t make you feel pretty darn good about yourself, I’m not sure what would! This new ministry was rolling along; Jesus is changing lives and saving souls, amazing all sorts of people with his divine power and wisdom. And he may have figured, why not head home for a little R & R? Check in with the parents, get a home cooked meal, bask in the glow of his newfound success. So Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth.
Now you’d think that his family and friends would have welcomed him home as a conquering hero. Local boy does good; let’s roll out the red carpet and have a party. The kind of treatment I’d imagine Mark Wahlburg gets when he shows up in Southie. I mean, let’s face it, Jesus put Nazareth on the map.
But as we just heard, it doesn’t quite turn out that way. Maybe the people of Nazareth felt that Jesus had gotten just a bit too big for his britches. Maybe they were jealous of his newfound wisdom and power. Maybe they resented his presumption. Rather than pride in their native son’s accomplishments, the people of Nazareth “took offense” at Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. Familiarity bred contempt.
In their anger and indignity his family and friends, at least in one sense, were right. This was the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon. But he was and is so much more. He is the messiah, the son of God, the brother of Peter and Paul and you and me. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity, for they knew full well that this was the same Jesus of Nazareth they had watched grow up and move away. But it was a case of mistaken relationship. For this same Jesus was for them and for us the Christ, the anointed one, the savior and redeemer of the world. And they rejected him.
But as hurtful and painful as this rejection must have felt to Jesus, I also believe that it strengthened him. It certainly began his preparation for the ultimate rejection by humanity that is the cross. And I think this episode of rejection brought Jesus closer to God. It forced him to put all of his trust in his heavenly father rather than in his earthly family. This must have been a difficult realization, a painful realization. Rejection is no fun. But it often leads to opportunities that we could never have asked for or imagined. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left Nazareth and called the twelve apostles to assist him in his work and ministry. There may have been a recognition out of the rejection in his hometown that he needed more laborers for the work at hand. So rejection ultimately strengthened the ministry of Jesus. And it can strengthen us as well.
Now I realize that at first glance it seems absurd to equate being rejected with being strengthened. When we’re rejected by other people we feel hurt, angry, and unloved. I distinctly remember being a senior in high school and receiving a rejection letter from the college that was my first choice. I was convinced that I was destined to attend this particular university (which shall remain nameless) and that my entire future depended on my acceptance. I had even gone so far as to mentally move myself into the dormitories and was all ready to go out and buy a sticker for my parents’ car. I was crushed when I was rejected. I felt absolutely hurt, angry, and unloved; the very same emotions I’m sure Jesus felt when he returned to his hometown. And yet, I cannot imagine my life without the friendships and education I received from my eventual alma mater – a little place up the road in Medford. My own plan for myself was thwarted by God’s plan for me. And this happens time and time again to each one of us.
There’s no doubt that to be rejected is to endure suffering. Jesus suffered during his trip back to Nazareth and we suffer when we’re rejected. But being rejected is more than just suffering. When we’re rejected it reminds us that we’re not in control of every situation. It reminds us that we must put our trust in God so that the divine plan can be worked out in our lives, not according to our own agendas but according to God’s agenda for us. And this is important for us to remember occasionally. As Saint Paul tells us, “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.” We can grow closer to God through the vulnerability that comes with rejection. It is in the very weakness and vulnerability and pain of the cross that we stand as a people redeemed in the light of Christ. The capstone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Our very faith is built upon humanity’s rejection of Christ.
As Christians we are not immune to rejection. It’s very much a part of our existence. But when we’re rejected we’re not alone – Christ knows what it is to be rejected and he stands with us in the midst of our pain. And that’s good news. We may not be immune to rejection but we don’t face it alone. Christ stands in solidarity with us in the midst of our pain and walks with us through the rejection to unimagined opportunity and hope.
Rejection is no fun. Jesus knew this and you and I know this. But if we look beyond the pain we just might see God’s presence evermore sharply in our lives. We just might be presented with new opportunities to be fulfilled and help change the lives of those around us. We just might have our eyes opened to Christ’s victory in the world and realize that far from being rejected, we are being embraced by Jesus.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2012