St. John's, Centreville
July 8, 2018
Proper 9 B
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rejection. Every one of us, at some time or another in our lives, has experienced rejection. We don't make the football team or the debate team; we are the last one chosen for a pick up game of basketball; the job that we really wanted or the promotion we feel we deserved is given to someone else.
Rejection. It's part of the human experience. But that fact doesn't make it hurt any less. That nagging little voice inside our heads tells us we are not good enough, or smart enough, we lack certain skills, we're not the kind of person "the company" is looking for.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus is rejected by the people of his hometown of Nazareth. He is becoming well known. He has healed many people from illness and evil spirits, and he has performed many miracles. People are following him from place to place, to hear his teachings, to be healed of their infirmities, to see his miracles.
So we can imagine that his home town friends and neighbors would be excited to have him back in Nazareth. The invite him to teach in the synagogue. At first they are astounded by what he has to say. But as we know, Jesus tells it like it is. He does not sugar-coat anything. So he may have said things that his friends and neighbors did not want to hear. He may have said things that they found troubling. Jesus upset the applecart, wanting things to change.
We can almost hear the murmur in the crowd. "Who does he think he is, telling us to repent of our sins, to love our neighbors, to treat others as God treats us - with love and respect. He's just a carpenter, Mary's son. Remember the time when his family went to Jerusalem and they couldn't find Jesus for three days? He let his parents worry all that time. He is no better than we are." And they rejected him. "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin, and in their own house," Jesus said.
People we grew up with, people who know us well, seem to remember the times we messed up, the times we didn't quite get it right. Since we know very little about Jesus' childhood, we don't know what the neighbors might have remembered. It was hard for them to accept the fact that he was not only a prophet but the Son of God. He was the boy next door. Why should they listen to him? So they rejected him and refused to listen. Not only did this small town of Nazareth reject him, but he was rejected other places as well. And his final rejection was by humanity - his crucifixion on Good Friday.
Jesus also knew that his disciples, who were sent out two by two, would sometimes be rejected, so he tells them, "If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." If people do not want to hear the gospel message, you can't force them to do so. Leave that town and go on to another place that might be more receptive.
Paul, in our reading from Second Corinthians, is often rejected as well. He has suffered many beatings, imprisonments, persecutions and hardships for the sake of spreading the gospel. He has some kind of physical infirmity that is painful and he has asked God to take it from him. But God gives him the strength to endure the suffering and to keep going. The power of the gospel is too important not to spread it. He cannot and will not stop preaching the gospel, no matter what rejection and harm it may cause him.
Rejection. It's hurtful. It's painful. It can make us stop what we are doing and put up our walls of defense. But that is not what today's lessons tell us to do. They tell us to keep going, despite the setbacks. They tell us not to quit just because our ministry may cause us pain. It is in our weakness that God gives us strength. It is in our weakness that God continues to work in us and through us, as we realize that our dependence is on God alone, and not on our own efforts.
It is easy for us to look at this gospel story from a distance of 2000 years. We can say how dumb it was of those Nazarenes and scribes and Pharisees not to believe in Jesus, not to believe he healed people and performed miracles. Because we have the gift of 2000 years of history. If we had been in those crowds in Nazareth, would we have believed what Jesus was teaching? Would we have believed he was the Son of God?
But the point is that we are no different than the Nazarenes in their doubts and uncertainties and their refusal to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. How many times every day do we dismiss good things that happen to us or to others and deny that it was the work of God? How often do we want to take credit when we do something good, rather than thanking God that the Holy Spirit was working in us and through us?
Jesus was familiar to the people of Nazareth. They had watched him grow up. They knew who he was, they knew his family. But many of the people who were listening to him that day didn't want to see a change in the boy they knew. They didn't expect anything great to come out of their community, so they didn't see it. They didn't see the greatness of Jesus because they were not open to the change in him through the power of the Holy Spirit.
How often do we do the same thing? How often do we not see change in the people we live with or who we see every day? We don't expect them to change so we don't see it when it happens. Little Johnny is always going to be Little Johnny to us. We don't see God working in and through those who are right in front of us because we don't want things to change. We don't see the face of Christ in each other because we are not looking for it. When we don't look for something, we are not going to see it - whether it's the face of Christ in a member of our family, or the working of the Holy Spirit to help us through something, or the miracles that God performs every day, like the sun rising and setting every day.
The people of Nazareth did not expect to see the Son of God as one who had grown up among them, so they didn't see it. May we keep our eyes and ears open to see the miraculous, the mysterious, the hand of God working in us and those around us every day. Amen.