Sermon Seed: Rejected
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Grace Emerged (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
I wonder how Jesus dealt with rejection…on the inside. We hear his words, but how did he feel? We’re acquainted with Jesus’ anger when he confronts the money changer. We witness his grief as he learns of the death of Lazarus. We cannot escape his deep physical pain at the cross and the anxiety he experienced in the garden in anticipation of it. But, do we ever wonder if Jesus’ feelings were hurt?
His life was full of rejection. In many ways, rejection was central to his coming into the world. What is rejection if not the opposite of repentance? Rejection is in the Garden of Eden and rejecting abundance of the whole for the scarcity of the one. Rejection builds a golden calf in the desert and murmurs about manna. Rejection insists on a human king to exalt. Rejection turns from the warnings of the prophets. Rejection of his message and ministry ultimately leads to the cross but it also led to his manger.
In this week’s focus scripture, we continue the story from last week. Jesus has begun to achieve notoriety in his ministry. Word about him has spread. He has stood up in the midst of a worship service and held the rapt attention of all in attendance as he has proclaimed a message of hope and liberation. He has declared the good news and the fulfillment of the long-held promise of the prophecy of Isaiah. The listeners are stunned…momentarily. Something happens and the mood and reception of the worshippers turns. Awe shifts to anger as those with ears to hear reject their first exposure to the embodied gospel.
After all, good news for all is often perceived as bad news for those who cling to their privilege. An even playing field threatens those who are used to their team starting with the bases loaded. A world in which we all share freely in God’s abundant provision holds little appeal for those who have learned to hoard resources and consider that a sign of their value and worth. It isn’t so much that the people in that place rejected Jesus as the person they knew as much as they rejected his message.
They can’t dispute his interpretation of the text from Isaiah. It is the word that they have heard before even if they haven’t fully embraced its potential or adopted its possibility. They were just words to them, but they meant more to Jesus. In Jesus, the word is embodied and made flesh. Words not only have meaning but they live, breath, and have their being. Words create and destroy; they build up and tear down. Words change circumstances and transform lives. Words give life, and words destroy.
When Jesus speaks, his words manifest. He tells his audience that the words have accomplished their work as they have listened to him. By hearing the words, they have even participated in the fulfillment. It wasn’t like in the creation narrative; speaking wasn’t enough. Hearing–the mutuality of communication in community–creates a new reality. They not only reject Jesus, they reject their complicity in bringing about the good news.
But, again, there is no room for them to reject his means. They sat and listened willingly and seemingly were enthralled by his teaching. They try to take it back. Not by any logical reasoning or sincere questioning. They take the cheap shot and attempt to attack Jesus’ credibility. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” This attempt to limit his identity is pretty transparent, but this box cannot hold Jesus, who understands his assignment:
There is a clear holistic liberation emphasis in the Spirit’s mission program: the aim is to radically change the spiritual, personal, social and economic conditions of all the victims, of all those who have been put aside by religious, social, political or economic developments in society. The categories are clear: the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. The aim is clear also: good news, release, sight, freedom. There is no “priority” within this holistic vision. Usually, the various exclusion processes reinforce each other anyhow….One should thus not minimize what Jesus’ proclamation implies; it really gives dignity to the poor, liberates the oppressed and opens up the eyes of those who do not understand, by declaring that the “old” social and religious rules of the game have been replaced by the kingdom of God (see Luke 7:18-23 and 11:20). Jesus’ own activity indicates how fundamentally the situation has changed.Jacques Matthey
Realization of the good news necessitates change, and even when presented with the potential of better outcomes, beloved community, and “on earth as it is in heaven,” the prospect of change provokes resistance in those who prefer comfort over progress.
As Matthey notes, liberation is also dignifying. By extension, oppression aims to strip human beings of their dignity, diminish their worth, and evoke shame at their place of vulnerability. The angered among the gathered assembly have no other avenue to discredit Jesus so they attempt to reach him at his point of vulnerability–his humanity. The Son of God is before them, but they attempt to put him in his place, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They don’t even associate Jesus with Mary. While part of that omission reflects patriarchal norms, we should not discount that Mary not only births Jesus into the world, she served as a prophet–proclaiming the good news of liberation that Jesus echoes in this moment.
This narrative demonstrates the vastness of Jesus’ incarnational purposes. Individual salvation was tangential to a much larger end–liberation, release, and restoration. Why would a people settle for some being saved when heaven on earth is possible? Is the vision too big to grasp…or does it jeopardize a way of life we don’t want to sacrifice? In how many ways do we reject Jesus–and their message of liberation–today? How much of the brokenness in our world persists because we’ve made the calculated decision to live with it rather than take the personal risk that God’s kindom coming would exact upon our individual situation? How have we snuffed out the light of Christ and traded a world-changing gospel for a feel-good (and diluted) message of comfort?
Is it any wonder that the church suffers from decline in places where the transformative message of Jesus Christ is diminutized? In times of great, communal peril, people turn to the church. Following the attack on 9/11 and during the early days of living with the pandemic, church attendance (even virtually) rose significantly. The gospel still is a beacon; human beings still long for good news in the time of trouble. But, the question is…what did they find proclaimed, not just from the pulpit, but also from hearers of the word?
[block quote] In our secularized world today, there is disenchantment with institutionalized forms of religion that do not make categorical pronouncements about social evils, some of which threaten people’s very existence, and those things which will help them to attain transcendence and deeper ways of experiencing the reality. The things that people long for in the innermost part of their being are liberation, fulfillment, dignity, freedom, peace and catching a spiritual vision of their own true situation and the world around them. Jesus sees his own mission as holistic, and this is the purpose and significance of the Nazareth proclamation. (Samuel O. Abogunrin)
Too many of us want to be awed in the sanctuary but when presented with the fullness of the gospel and its implications for our lives, we too will run Jesus out of our presence. Our soup kitchens are good and needed, but a world without hunger and the economic inequities that cause it would be so much better. Do we seek that? Do we proclaim that? Salvation lifts us from perilous and deadly conditions; liberation changes the condition. Jesus saves, to be sure, but Jesus came to liberate.
His people–kinfolk and neighbors from his hometown, did not reject his saving ways. They wanted him to replicate the healing miracles that he’d performed in other places. Word had reached them of those awesome works. They weren’t calling him Joseph’s kid in a diminutive way in response to those rumors and reports. Surely, they claimed him as their own in those moments. We too claim Jesus as our own as we recite those parts of his ministry that don’t challenge or convict us. If we’re honest with ourselves, Jesus asks something of us that we simply don’t want to do or outright reject.
Consider the reference Jesus makes to the widow of Zarephath, Naaman and Elijah. We can contrast the responses to the two individuals to Elijah’s presence. Both were in need. The widow and her son were starving during a famine. Elijah gives instructions to her that would not seem to address her need, but she follows his words. She and her son are delivered, not just for a meal, but in a sustained way. She was a person in need of saving but finds herself liberated from hunger. Naaman dealt with a debilitating skin disease that threatened his way of life. He attempts to use his privilege to bring Elijah to heal him. When Elijah alters the terms, Naaman is angry and has to be persuaded by a servant to not reject his liberty because it comes in a way that is distasteful to him.
The hearers of Jesus who run him out of town start off like Naaman. They have an expectation that Jesus does not meet. Jesus offers them something greater, but they refuse to recognize it. Unlike Naaman, they cannot be persuaded to move forward on faith. They want what they want and don’t see the life-giving benefit of the gospel that releases, liberates, and restores. They reject the word that has the power to begin that work, first of all, in them.
F. Bryan Wilkerson tells the story of a woman in the faith community in which he served who adamantly objected to his messages, but she kept coming. He kept preaching. For a long time, the acrimony between them went unabated. He kept preaching, and she kept objecting. But, over time, something happened, and she began to soften. He had continued to pastor her, to care for her, and to treat her as a beloved member of the community. Eventually, she began to cling to the word she had rejected. Her life transformed and she became an integral part of the ministry as she began to live the gospel and participate in the liberating work of God through Christ’s church. As Wilkerson states, “The Word of God can do that to a person. But sometimes, it has to undo them first.”
Maybe, we haven’t tried to pitch Jesus over a cliff. Maybe, we just have some neighbors we refuse to love because they’re different or difficult. Maybe, we’re content to proclaim eternal life but fail to participate in earth as in heaven. Maybe, we’re satisfied with a Sunday morning faith when Jesus calls us to follow in every moment with our whole lives.
Here’s the good news in this story: rejection of Jesus does not stop the movement of Jesus. He’s not destroyed; he keeps going. And, despite the setback and decline in that particular place, Christ’s body remained intact.
Yes, his life was full of rejection–culminating on the cross. Yet, Jesus overcomes those rejections and moves forward, and so can we.
Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
I can not see why trials come,
And sorrows follow thick and fast;
I can not fathom His designs,
Nor why my pleasures can not last,
Nor why my hopes so soon are dust,
But, I can trust. When darkest clouds my sky o‘er hang,
And sadness seems to fill the land,
I calmly trust His promise sweet,
And cling to his ne’er failing hand,
And, in life’s darkest hour, I’ll just
Look up and trust. I know my life with Him is safe,
And all things still must work for good
To those who love and serve our God,
And lean on Him as children should,
Though hopes decay and turn to dust,
I still will trust.
– Daniel Webster Davis, I Can Trust
For further reflection:
“When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.” ― Kelly Cutrone
“I am good at walking away. Rejection teaches you how to reject.” ― Jeanette Winterson
“I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me. People feel with their hearts, Ellen, and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.” ― Emily Brontë
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to consider if there were ministries, ideas, or initiatives previously rejected that may be reconsidered from the lens of liberation, release, and restoration. Alternatively, if you
Abogunrin, Samuel O. “Jesus’ Sevenfold Programmatic Declaration at Nazareth: An Exegesis of Luke 4.15-30 from an African Perspective.” Black Theology 1, no. 2 (May 2003): 225–49.
Matthey, Jacques. “Luke 4:16-30–the Spirit’s Mission Manifesto–Jesus’ Hermeneutics–and Luke’s Editorial.” International Review of Mission 89, no. 352 (January 2000): 3–11.
Wilkerson, F Bryan. “The Strange Agony of Excellent Preaching: Luke 4:14-30.” The Journal of the EvangelicalHomiletics Society 7, no. 1 (March 2007): 76–88.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD.”
9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
1 Corinthians 13:1–13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.