July 4th The 6th Sunday after Pentecost - Sermon By : Pr.Tom
Have you experienced rejection? It can be painful sometimes leaving lifelong wounds. Especially if it is by someone near and dear to us. A parent, a spouse. My wife Laurie learned early on that her parents were hoping for a boy – they even told her they were disappointed. She was supposed to be Wayne not Laraine. As the second girl and middle child she felt unwanted. That notion wounded her for a lifetime and shaped much of her life.
My most profound feeling of rejection happened when my first marriage ended in divorce. Oh, I was crushed. It was so painful that I didn’t want to even think about dating for years. How do we react when we’re rejected? Sometimes the painful experience causes us to isolate and withdraw. Sometimes in our pain we become angry and want to lash out.
We’ve been going through the gospel of Mark and we’ve been watching Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God and he taught not as others but as one with authority. In addition, he has been demonstrating miraculous power - healing the sick, casting out demons, even raising the dead and calming a storm. And his fame grew as did the crowds that followed him. Jesus encountered some opposition and yet his ministry was growing - getting bigger and better – until he went to his hometown. Somehow Jesus’ ministry has a limited effectiveness in his hometown of Nazareth.
Throughout his gospel Mark gives us one account after another where the faith of people does not affect the ministry or miracles of Jesus. The man filled with a legion of demons had no faith. The disciples that were being swamped by a storm at sea were filled with fear and not faith. So, it quickly becomes evident that faith is not essential for God to act, and that lack of faith is not a limiting factor for God. Divine miracles are not controlled by our faith. They come from the will and power of God.
And yet Jesus is amazed at the unbelief in Nazareth. Our catechism might help us make sense of their unbelief. We read about the 3rd article of the Apostles Creed. The part dealing with the Holy Spirit and the Church. Luther sums up the Bible's teaching saying - I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In one sense their lack of faith indicates that the Holy Spirit had not opened their hearts yet.
To his town folk Jesus was just the kid down the block that worked with his dad as a builder or carpenter. They were offended that now he had returned – who did he think he was - all high and mighty – teaching at the synagogue and with authority.
I believe this time in Nazareth was important for the disciples. Before Jesus sends them out, he wants them to know that he has experienced rejection even from those who knew him best. As they went out, they needed to know that their message and ministry would have a mixed reception. It would be accepted by some and rejected by others, and who are these disciples that Jesus is sending out. They are common uneducated men that aren’t exactly pillars of faith. Not long before this Jesus is in a boat with them and calms a storm and asks them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It’s these same men of little faith that Jesus sends out with his authority but few other provisions. They were to depend on God and the hospitality of others.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. The power to do the miraculous isn’t so dependent upon the faith of the messenger. It depends on the word and authority given by Jesus. This time in Nazareth was also important to the early church and to us. We know that after the resurrection, members of Jesus' family became pillars in the church. James the brother of our Lord was a prominent church leader. But Mark wants us to know that it wasn’t always this way. When the early Christians left their Jewish faith or their Greek or Roman gods, many of them experienced rejection. They often brought dishonor to their family. Today, many people experience rejection for their faith. In a Muslim home you are often thrown out of your home and your family for becoming a Christian. Many put their life in danger to follow Jesus. Jesus says to them and to us - you might be rejected by the ones that know you best – after all-says Jesus - I was. We often react to rejection with withdrawal, isolation, or anger. How does Jesus react?
One thing we see is that Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth doesn’t slow him down a bit. He doesn’t stop in Nazareth and wait for the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of people. He leaves his hometown and is off to the neighboring villages. His ministry isn’t slowed down, he multiplies it by sending out his disciples. Sometimes our most difficult mission is to our own family and friends. They know us – better than anyone. They know we are not so holy. Sometimes the transformation that has taken place in our lives can be a powerful testimony to God. But sometimes, familiarity can be an excuse that people use to reject our message. I think it is important that we continue to pray for our family and friends – especially those that don’t have a vibrant faith. But I also think it is important to recognize that Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations – not just family members. Our witness and ministry is not just inside the walls of our church building nor inside the walls of our home.
So one thing we note is that rejection doesn’t hinder ministry and witness. If we experience rejection for our faith we keep praying and we move on to see where our message is welcome.
Another thing we see is that for Jesus - rejection and opposition – become opportunities for grace – for in the very night in which he was betrayed, denied, deserted our Lord Jesus took bread and said - this is my body given for you. He took the cup and said - this is my blood shed for you. Even when Jesus takes all the rejection and rebellion of all humankind upon himself - suffering the ultimate humiliation as he hangs from the cross – it is again another opportunity for grace - Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
I’d like to close with a few words that I’ve adapted from a Chris Tomlin song.
We’re forgiven because He was forsaken
We’re accepted, He was condemned
We’re alive and well
His Spirit is within us
Because He died and rose again
Amazing love, how can it be?
That our king would die for you for me? Amen