Sermon for September 1, 2002
Rejection: Jeremiah 15: 15-21, Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 16:21-28
Rejection is all around us. A young man feels rejected by a woman
whom he loves. Someone loses a job she hoped she would get. A young person wants
to make it into a group of friends but he finds himself rejected. A group ignores
a new comer who then feels rejection. A person in a nursing home waits for a
friend to come, and in the absence feels rejected. The lessons today speak of
Jeremiah feels rejected in the first lesson today. Jeremiah, the prophet, had delighted in the word of the Lord, but when that word is shared, he is rejected, laughed at, insulted. He laments or complains to God that his pain is unceasing and that God is like a deceitful stream that dries up just when water is needed the most.
Rejection is at the heart of the story about Jesus in the book of Matthew this morning. Jesus will suffer and die, be rejected by the religious authorities of the day. He suffers rejection at the hands of others. The mission for which he stands, like the mission of Jeremiah, is rejected.
The rejection of Jesus, like all rejection's impact on family life, bounces around among the disciples. Peter rejects the idea of Jesus being rejected. And Jesus rejects Peter for rejecting the idea that Jesus is going to be rejected. There is a lot of rejection here.
That draws us to think about our own experiences with rejection. First, all of us experience it at one time or another. It is part of the human condition. Rejection is part of the suffering of life, built into the human community. It seems to be almost a fixture. It would be nice if there were no rejection, but the fact of the matter is that we experience it at home, in school, in church, at work, in our relationships, in extended families, and among friends.
Decades ago, in church, we talked about original sin as something that was part of the human condition, something built in to what it meant to be human. We hardly ever hear about original sin any more. But the concept of original sin comes close to rejection being such a basic fact of life. It is something we all face, and it is part of being human.
Rejection, we know, also hurts most where we are the most vulnerable. Rejection by one we love is more difficult than the more minor slings and arrows hurled our way in the course of everyday life. When we have felt the sense of rejection in our families at young ages, we internalize what we hear and begin to repeat over and over to ourselves that we are rejected ones. We begin to reject ourselves. That is the source of much unhappiness.
Rejection at church also hurts very much. Sometimes we wonder why rejection hurts in the church so much. But whenever we come to the sacred, when we come to God, when we kneel before this altar; we are all letting down our guard. We are here at a very vulnerable place, confessing even our shortcomings to God. When we are that vulnerable in this place, of course rejection at church hurts more than other kinds of rejection. So in church, it is important for us to recognize our special vulnerabilities and to be careful about accidental rejection. This is especially true for pastors. And I need to work as hard as possible to not accidently foster a sense of rejection in what I do or say.
We know from Peter's voice in the story today, that rejecting the rejection only increases the sense of being rejected. When someone is facing disappointing rejection, it does not really help to dismiss the feelings. Even if the rejection is unintentional or perhaps not all that significant in the ultimate scheme of things, still, the feeling is there. And that difficult feeling needs to be shared and honored so that in the sharing it can be resolved. Sharing the feeling of rejection, and having it accepted, is the first step in the journey of letting go of rejection and moving on with life. Note that Jesus does not "get over" his rejection. It does him in. He dies from the rejection. And at the same time in the death there is a season for new life.
We know from the story today as well, that all too quickly, rejection can weave a tangled web of emotions. Look at how complex it gets between Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples. Rejection can bring a flood of other feelings and make our relationships with others more difficult. Soon many people are feeling many different things. And we all loose our sense of perspective. Knowing how complex it can get is the first step in sorting through the maze of emotions woven by the seeds of rejection.
We also know from our own experience and from the stories of Jesus in Matthew, that even though we may feel rejected, there are many around us who are rejected by society as a whole, who are put down because of who they are, and who cannot feel accepted because they are poor, outcasts, ill, homeless. Our own rejection gives us some sense of solidarity with those who face more rejection than we ourselves know.
We also know from the story of Jeremiah, that when we feel rejected, we sometimes feel abandoned by God. After all, is not God the one who is to take care of us? Why is this happening to me? Notice how Jeremiah is honest with God, and tells God how rejected he feels. Notice God answers that it will in time work out. This too shall pass. Eventually things will come back together for you, Jeremiah. And for me, the God of Israel. And even for those who are rejecting you now .
Notice most of all how the rejection of Jesus by the rulers of the day, as bad as it is, even though it means crucifixion, even though it complicates the relationship between Jesus and Peter, this rejection is something that transforms Jesus and brings salvation.
The paragraph on the rejection of Jesus is really the Christian story of salvation. The rejection of the Christ closes one door as another door for the universe opens. The suffering, the death, the cross of Jesus become the gateway, we say, to eternal life.
What is eternal life? We do not know for sure, but one way of thinking of it is that eternal life is life lived in the light of ultimate acceptance. We will be with God forever. God loves us that much. The opposite of rejection is acceptance, radical acceptance. The Bible's words for acceptance are grace, chesed, charis, agape, and love. A love that bears all, endures all, and never fails. There is rejection today. But embedded in the stories of rejection is the story that a greater love uses even rejection to compound its own dimensions.
Today, as we think on labor and work, let each of us, in light of this passage commit ourselves to one labor of love, one mighty act of acceptance, this week, this month, this year, this life until that time when we experience for ourselves and with the rejected around us the full grace of God.