Sunday’s sermon: Rejecting Rejection

rejection

Texts used – Psalm 27 and 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

  • Dick Rowe[1] … a name that will forever live in infamy.
    • Senior A&R (artists and repertoire) man for Decca Records – “talent spotter,” as some have described the position
      • Find talent
      • Oversee recording process
      • Assist with marketing/promotion
    • Reportedly one of the most important music producers in Great Britain in the 1950s and 1960s
      • Signed incredible groups like The Rolling Stones and the Moody Blues as well as soloists like Tom Jones
    • But Dick Rowe will forever be known, not primarily for the bands that he did sign, but for the one band that he rejected – a quartet of young, shaggy-haired boys from Liverpool who were calling themselves The Beatles.
      • Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein paid Decca Records for an hour-long audition (enough time for 15 songs!)
      • Rowe’s reported response upon hearing the demo tape: “Not to mince words, Mr. Epstein, but we don’t like your boys’ sound. Guitar groups are on their way out.”
        • Words anyone would regret
        • To be fair, words that Rowe denied all his life
        • But whether he actually said those words or not, it cannot be refuted that Dick Rowe rejected the highest grossing, most popular, and most influential rock group of all time. … Ouch.
  • But Rowe certainly isn’t the only famously foolish rejection in history.
    • Literary publishing world
      • More than a dozen publishers turned down The Diary of Anne Frank with comments like, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”[2]
        • Currently published in 60 different languages with more than 30 million copies sold
      • 15 different publishers rejected a single mother named Joanne when she brought them a humble manuscript entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
        • Currently published in 67 different languages with more than 400 million copies of books sold
        • Franchise (books, movies, video games, amusement parks, etc.) worth $25 billion making J.K. Rowling first billionaire author
    • World of patents and inventions → many examples, to be sure, but one in particular
      • William Orton
        • President of Western Union in 1876
        • Refused to pay $100,000 for a patent for a silly little contraption peddled by a man named Alexander Graham Bell
        • Response to the idea of the telephone: “After careful consideration, while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities.”
        • 2 yrs. later – admitted that being able to purchase the same patent for $25 million would be a bargain
  • Friends, as we well know, the world is full of rejections. We’ve all had our fair share. “Thank you for your interest in the position, but we’ve decided to go with another candidate.” “Thank you for your hard work, but we’ve chosen to promote someone else instead.” “Thank you for a great evening, but I just don’t think this relationship is going to work out.” Thank you, but … thank you, but … thank you, but. Each rejection stings, no matter whether it’s business-related or personal. But what about rejections because of our faith?
    • Quote from Why Christian? Conference last year: Faith is risking rejection by the world.
    • Jesus talked time and time again about how those who followed him would be rejected by the world and how they needed to reject even family and loved ones to follow
    • Plethora of examples scattered throughout both OT and NT of those who suffered rejection for God’s sake
      • “Fathers of the faith” – Abraham, Jacob, Moses
      • Prophets
      • Early church disciples (Peter, Paul, Stephen, etc.)
    • Heck, today’s New Testament reading basically screams it at us – text: Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed. If you are mocked because of Christ’s name, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory—indeed, the Spirit of God—rests on you.[3]
      • “the fiery trials that have come among you to test you” – Gr. “test” = same word that shows up in Mt when Jesus gives the disciples the Lord’s Prayer → When we pray, “Lead me not into temptation,” this is that word. “The fiery trials that have come among you to test you … to tempt you … to try you … to entice you to stray.” This is some serious stuff that Peter is talking about. These are those moments when the choices we make for our faith are not the popular choices upheld by society.
        • Becoming more prevalent in an increasingly secular society
        • Choosing to come to church on Sunday morning → “Wouldn’t you rather just sleep in?”
        • Choosing to give money and time to the church → “Are you sure you can’t do more good somewhere else?”
        • Choosing to stand with those who society has pushed to the margins
          • Correcting other’s misinformation
          • Calling out prejudice when you see it
          • Defending someone being hassled for being different
          • Speaking up when it would be so much easier to stay quiet
  • All of these are ways that we choose faith over what is easiest, what is most comfortable, what is most popular. And that’s hard to do, especially when we’re already feeling tired or stretched too thin by the busyness of our day-to-day lives. So when we’re already feeling depleted, where can we find the strength to make those decisions in the face of the rejection that we know awaits?
    • Solidarity in numbers – 1 Pet: Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world.[4] → There is power in numbers, friends. This is the basis of our faith – why we gather together for worship and fellowship, so that we can be strengthened in our faith together, so that we can lift each other up and encourage each other when the need arises.
    • Ps: The LORD is my light and my salvation. Should I fear anyone? The LORD is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything? When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up— it’s they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall! If an army camps against me, my heart won’t be afraid. If war comes up against me, I will continue to trust in this.[5] → We find strength in God, knowing that God hears our prayers – our pleas for strength, for help, for reassurance, for courage. God hears our prayers and walks with us in the midst of whatever trials we’re facing. Because when we are doing that work for our faith – being present, being generous, being an advocate for someone else – we are doing the work that God has called us to do as Christians.
      • Micah: He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[6]
      • Speaks to other part of Anna Keating’s quote from Why Christian?: Faith is risking rejection (by the world), but faith is also about rejecting rejection – things like judgment, prejudice, and exclusion. → All of those things that people try to use as separators – as labels and categories that create an “us” and a “them” – are things that we are called to reject. All of those things that tell people they are not enough for the love of God. All of those things that tell people they are not enough for the grace of a Savior. All of those things that tell people they are not enough for the spark of the Holy Spirit. We are called to reject those things.
        • Hate
        • Fear
        • Misinformation
        • All of the “isms” and the phobias – racism, sexism, classism, ageism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.
        • These are all ways that the world rejects God’s own beloved children. But we are called to reject those rejections, to stand firm in the love of God and our call to share that love and God’s incredible light of hope and welcome with all no matter what darkness rages against us.
          • Sojourner Truth: I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.
  • You know, ultimately, here’s the thing about rejection and faith: We are all imperfect beings. We all make mistakes. We all lose our way sometimes. We all make snap judgments and ill-informed decisions. We all have reason to cry out to God as the psalmist does: LORD, listen to my voice when I cry out— have mercy on me and answer me! Come, my heart says, seek God’s face. LORD, I do seek your face! Please don’t hide it from me! Don’t push your servant aside angrily— you have been my help! God who saves me, don’t neglect me! Don’t leave me all alone![7] So none of us are making our way in this world perfectly. We’re slogging through. We’re stumbling through. We’re limping through. We’re scraping our way through by the skin of our teeth.
    • Rest of the world = focused on perfection → advertising industry makes billions of dollars every year (roughly $200 billion dollars last year!!) trying to tell you how your life can be more perfect
      • Right clothes
      • Right car
      • Right look
      • Right house
    • But this is God’s house. This is a place of safety. This is a place of persistent hope. This is a place of extravagant and radical welcome. Isms have no place here. Lines of separation have no place here. This is a place where grace is enacted and rejection is rejected.
      • Hope in the LORD! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the LORD!

[1] “Dick Rowe.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Rowe, accessed May 21, 2017.

[2] Brian Viner. “The man who rejected the Beatles” in The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/the-man-who-rejected-the-beatles-6782008.html. Written Feb. 12, 2012, accessed May 21, 2017.

[3] 1 Pet 4:12-14.

[4] 1 Pet 5:8-9.

[5] Ps 27:1-3.

[6] Mic 6:8.

[7] Ps 27:7-9.

Sunday’s sermon: Wherever Two or Three Are Gathered

Christian community

Text used – Luke 24:13-35

  • The Walk to Emmaus – a passage that is chock full of meaning and nuance and lessons and insight into our relationship with God, with Christ, and with one another. For a lot of pastors, this is a favorite passage to preach on because there are so many layers of meaning through which we can dig.
    • Passage can teach us about how to walk with Christ
    • Passage can teach us about communion – about breaking bread and encountering the risen Christ at the table
    • Passage can teach us about opening our eyes and hearts to what (and who) may be right in front of us, especially when we least expect it
      • For that matter, it can teach us about God upending and resoundingly surpassing our expectations
    • Passage can teach us about the way that Christ continues to act in us – to “warm our hearts” – as we walk beside our Savior
    • As you can imagine, this was a topic of discussion on a few of my Facebook message boards this week, and the messages that people were describing were as different and varied as the pastors preaching them. So I started thinking about where we are as a community right now – what we’re going through, what we’re facing, the crossroad at which we find ourselves. And the thread that emerged from this story for me this morning – in this particular time, in this particular place – was a message of being in Christian community.
  • Certainly no shortage of examples of Christian community given by Jesus
    • Mt: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[1]
    • Mk: [Jesus’] mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”[2]
    • Jn: “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”[3]
    • Again, Mt: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”[4]
    • Not to mentions examples that he set
      • Eating with wide variety – rich people like Zaccheus, sinners, women, Pharisees, tax collectors → Way more types of people than the disciples themselves felt comfortable with!
      • Welcoming “the wrong people” into his presence → lepers, an unclean woman who had been bleeding for more than a decade, Samaritans, children
      • Even going so far as to heal the servant of one of the Roman oppressors![5]
        • Roman centurion had a servant who was dying → centurion sent some local Jewish leaders to ask Jesus for help → at his request, Jewish leaders tell Jesus that centurion doesn’t even feel worthy for Jesus to visit his home but that his faith is so strong that he knows all Jesus has to do is speak and his servant will be healed (no presence necessary)
        • Lk: [Jesus] was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.”[6]
    • And all that community stuff was all well and good … while Jesus was still with the disciples – teaching them, leading them, dazzling them with his ability to heal the sick and calm storms, shocking them with his audacious in-your-face approach to the Pharisees’ challenges and verbal traps. When Jesus was still with them, they could move mountains! When Jesus was still with them, they could conquer the world! When Jesus was still with them, they could take on those horrible Roman oppressors because they had the Mighty Messiah, Savior of the People of Israel, Son of God at their side!!
  • But then Jesus was arrested. Then Jesus was put on trial. Then Jesus was found guilty. Then Jesus was tortured and humiliated. Then Jesus was hung on a cross like a common criminal – literally between two common criminals, in fact! And then a few of the women in their group started coming up with some crazy story about an angel and Jesus’ tomb being empty and the once-mighty-now-fallen-Messiah actually being resurrected. … And that was the last straw. That’s where the two disciples from our Scripture story this morning just had to draw the line. It was time to cut their losses, time to get the heck out of Dodge. So before things got any worse – any sadder, any stranger, any more dangerous – they packed up their stuff and left Jerusalem.
    • Back to old lives – family, friends, hometowns, occupations (probably fishermen)
    • Back to what they knew, what was safe
    • Back to “the way it used to be” because they were uncertain and afraid of what lay ahead and because they didn’t know what else to do → This Jesus thing was over. It was time to get back to “real life.”
    • Can imagine them plodding down that 7-mile stretch of road together
      • Dusty, hot, and dry
      • Dragging their weary and dirty feet
      • Alternating between talking about all of the things that they’d been through (past 3 yrs, past week) but also walking in silence
        • Silence thick with memories
        • Silence rough and jagged with broken hopes and shattered dreams
        • Silence heavy with sorrow, disappointment, grief
        • Silence burning with frustration and resentment: Why had they let themselves be swept up by that Jesus guy? Why did he have to go and let himself be captured like that? Why did such a great story have to have such a brutal, terrible ending? What was the blasted point?!
        • Scholar: Though Luke spends only a sentence on the conversation between the disciples before a stranger joins them, we know that this conversation can last a lifetime.[7]
    • And in the midst of all of this, these two disciples are approached by a stranger – a stranger who has apparently been living under a rock [PAUSE] because he doesn’t seem to know anything about the events that have rocked their entire world over the last few days. – text: He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”[8] → And so as they continue to walk together – in this little ragtag community that they’ve formed – they talk together. They talk about all the things that have been, the disciples describing the events of the past days. And they talk about things both past and to come, the Incognito Jesus “interpret[ing] for them all the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.”[9]
      • Important lesson in this interaction: OPENNESS → They talked about everything, including the most recent, most horrible things that they’ve been through. Yes, this was Jesus that the disciples were talking to as they walked along that road to Emmaus, but they didn’t know that. And still, they were real. They were honest with each other and even with this newest member of their community. They were genuine – in their struggles, in their learning, in their need, in their broken places. And that is how the strongest relationships are forged.
        • This congregation = in a place of uncertainty → What does the future hold for us? Where are we going? Who are we as Christians? As Presbyterians? As Oronoco-ans? To figure that out together, we’re going to need to be open with one another: about hopes and dreams, about ideas, about struggles, about our needs and our broken places.
  • They actually spend so much time talking and sharing and listening to each other – the disciples and their new, unknown friend – that they suddenly find themselves at Emmaus.
    • Jesus’ actions when they reach their destination are interesting – text: When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.[10] → Jesus’ little charade: “Who, me? Where am I going? Well, I’m just gonna keep on walking. You folks have a good night now. It sure was swell meeting you. What? Stay? No, I couldn’t possible. I don’t wanna impose. … Well, gosh, if you insist.”
      • Have to wonder if Jesus was anything like a Minnesotan – how many times did the disciples need to invite him before he said “yes”? Three times, perhaps?
      • We have to wonder why Jesus put on this little show. Was he testing the disciples? Was he giving them the opportunity to extend that radical hospitality that he had so desperately tried to model for them? Was it to keep up his disguise so they wouldn’t suspect his true identity too soon?
        • Only time in all the Scriptures that this Gr. word “pretend” is used → makes this a moment of distinctiveness and mystery in the text – something to remember: Jesus pretended.
        • I don’t think there was any malice in Jesus’ pretending here. I don’t think he was putting on this show to try to trip the disciples up or make them look dumb or make them work for their own personal resurrection appearance. I think that Jesus may just have been having a little fun with them – drawing out the charade.
    • Lesson to learn here: HUMOR/IMAGINATION → We have a lot of work ahead of us, and at times it may feel daunting. It may feel intimidating. It may feel scary. It may feel exhausting. Those are the times when we have to remind each other that our God is a God of creativity and joy, kind of like we did with Holy Humor Sunday last week. Our God is a God who laughs and creates and pretends with all the joy and commitment to character of a child. That humor and that sense of imagination and wonderment and fun are things that this congregation is really good at! And they are things that we can’t lose sight of in the weeks and months and years ahead.
  • Lk text: After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together.[11] → Friends, this passage is all about community.
    • Disciples start off in community → met by Jesus on the road
    • Travel in community
    • Find a place to stay in community
    • Share a meal together in community
    • Encounter the risen Christ in community
    • And when they’ve had that miraculous, eye-opening, strangely-heart-warming encounter, what do the disciples do? They rush back to their larger community – the rest of the disciples – to share their experience. They hurried back along those same hot, dusty, dangerous 7 miles of road that they had just spent all day walking because they couldn’t wait to share their experience with their friends, their brothers and sisters in faith, the family that had been forged and so radically tested over the past 3 years and especially the past 7 days. Because that’s the power of a community of faith.
      • There to mourn with you and celebrate with you
      • There to listen as you share your greatest joys and sorrows, ready to lift you up with a smile, a giant bear hug, or a prayer
      • There to remind you to be open, to be imaginative, to have fun, and to have faith … because God knows sometimes we need a reminder.
      • To put it simply, the power of the community of faith is that it’s there … period. Whether you’re walking or skipping or dragging your feet, it’s there. Whether you’re sharing your story or learning about someone else’s, it’s there. Whether your eyes are wide open or you need help to see, it’s there. When you’re being challenged, when you’re being tested, when you understand and when you don’t, it’s there. Wherever two or three, twelve or thirteen, twenty-two or twenty-three or a hundred and three are gathered, the risen Christ is there in community. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 22:37-39.

[2] Mk 3:31-35.

[3] Jn 15:12-13.

[4] Mt 18:20.

[5] Lk 7:1-9.

[6] Lk 7:9.

[7] Cynthia A. Jarvis. “Third Sunday of Lent – Luke 24:13-35, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 421.

[8] Lk 24:17-18.

[9] Lk 24:27.

[10] Lk 24:28-29.

[11] Lk 24:30-33.