Passing Through Rejection
Pass through when people don’t like you. This sermon on Luke 4:21-31 shows that early in Jesus’ ministry, his hometown crowd turned against him because he spoke about the inclusion of people they didn’t like. It’s a reminder that you can be perfect and some people will still find fault with you. What can we learn from Jesus about how to handle the critics?
Amazed by Jesus’ gracious words
There must have been some charisma exuded by Jesus that drew people to him. His first sermon was a big success. In the passage Susie preached on last week we heard the sermon. They handed Jesus the scroll opened to the text for the day from Isaiah. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, to announce the year of the Lord’s favor. He said these things are being fulfilled in their hearing of it. Everyone thought well of him and they were amazed by his gracious words, Luke says. They were gracious because they left off the part about judgment in the reading and because he suggested that they weren’t ancient words on a scroll, but about God’s present activity in their lives.
Stay in your lane, you’re just Joseph’s kid
But their praise did not last long. Some commentators think that people question his authority to say such things. “Wait. Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” You know, Joseph the carpenter. It was an era when they brought you up to do like your daddy did. The rabbis, preachers, and prophets were well-trained professionals that were brought up in clergy families. There is still a bit of that. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I went into ministry because my father was a minister, too. “Not quite,” I say with a smile. Most of you have heard the stories about my father who thinks organized religion is just plain cuckoo.
The folks in Nazareth adopt the attitude of. Nice sermon, Jesus. But stay in your lane. Go back to carpentry where you belong. It wasn’t personal. It was just the way things were.
When someone puts you in a box
They had a certain view of who Jesus was and expected him to conform to their ideas. I wonder if you’ve ever had someone put you in a box like that. No matter how you’ve grown or changed, they will see you through a certain lens. Small towns like Nazareth can be that way, and so can families. My brother was a troubled kid, got into lots of mischief as a kid but when he grew up, some people always suspected a hidden agenda with anything he did. Although he had matured some people’s concept of him hadn’t. Sometimes no matter what you do, no matter how you change there will be people who won’t let it go.
I heard one guy say that families never let you get too big for your britches because they will remember the time when you were three years old and shoved green beans up your nose. And they will remind you of it every chance they get.
Some people are always seen as the clown, the trouble-maker, the liar, the prude. Isn’t that Joseph’s son? I think of my friend Frank growing up, the fifth child in the family. Some teachers treated him as another one of those slacker Hurley kids. They had low expectations and had trouble seeing him for who he was. It made an impact when they read every little thing through a narrative of one of the Hurley kids.
Some people have to live in the shadow of a parent’s image or a sibling’s image–not seen for who they are.
It’s maddening when people do that to you. No matter how you try to let your actions tell a different story, they won’t accept it. They have you in a box and expect you to belong there. Not even Jesus could break out of people’s conceptual boxes. Isn’t that Joseph’s son?
Jesus sees you and says pass through
The good news is if that has happened to you, Jesus knows what that is like because it happened to him. And he sees you. He doesn’t see you through any of those other lenses. He sees your heart, your best impulses and dreams, and desires. He sees you, not a label.
You have a model in Jesus to break out of others’ expectations and follow what is in your heart. You have permission, no a mandate to do what is in you, to follow God’s call.
Try to do as he did. The text says he passed through, walked right on by them, and sought others who would be receptive. Sometimes we have to pass through those who would diminish us, try to make us feel ashamed, limited. Don’t waste your time trying to change their opinion, pass through.
He sensed that he wasn’t going to change their minds and that nothing he did would ever be good enough. “Hey, if you can do great things, keep it at home, here in your town, your people. Don’t waste your powers on other people.”
What got the crowd worked up?
Jesus said it’s doubtless you will hear about me doing great things and complain that all the attention didn’t go to you.
He invoked Bible stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah bypassed plenty of widows in Israel and went to help the starving widow who lived in a foreign country. There were plenty of sick people in Israel, but Elisha healed Naaman, a foreign adversary.
People liked his gracious words then they thought he was just talking about the good things that would happen for them, but they did not like it when he started talking about God’s grace extending to foreigners and sinners and people they didn’t like. They were so infuriated they bared their teeth and forced Jesus out of the synagogue and tried to push him off a cliff. That turned quickly. It’s hard to explain a crowd worked up into a violent rage.
I remember growing up seeing pictures of the crowd of parents when a black little girl, Ruby Bridges, went to what had been an all-white school. Their faces twisted; group rage took over. Everywhere you look today people are getting worked up into frenzies over almost any social topic or issue. They are on street corners, school boards, flooding social media.
Jesus wouldn’t back down
Jesus’ charisma only went so far. It couldn’t penetrate hate. When people grasped the expansive inclusiveness of his message they were beyond done, they were hostile. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was his inclusion and acceptance of folks that religious people had been taught to hate. The message of inclusiveness is a big part of what got him on the cross. Jesus wasn’t crucified for being a nice guy that everyone liked. His message of inclusion and a new way of seeing people and the world got him killed.
Gracious words still rejected
We who follow Jesus are called to the same radical inclusiveness and acceptance of all people. We should see how he pushes us to let go of the labels and stereotypes we put on people. It is always a challenge–Jesus always pushes us to see beyond what others see.
Those of us who are called to be preachers know about the resistance to this kind of message. My mentor, Bill Cotton, grew up in Texas and during the Civil Rights era, he spoke out about inclusion, and soon the bishop had to transfer him to Iowa for his own safety. He became human rights director for the state.
How many leaders have been kicked out of their churches for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community? Or helping undocumented immigrants, or homeless people? How much hostility has been poured out on those who confront racism, or advocate for policy changes so that we don’t have a permanent underclass? Some believe these are “political issues” that the church has no role in. But we’ve always had an advocacy role for the oppressed. As Susie said last week, it was part of Jesus’ job description and therefore we need to be about what he was about.
A Pew survey revealed that nearly 40% of ministers have thought about leaving the career of ministry in the last year–largely due to the stress of serving churches in such a toxic political culture. It’s hard to preach compassion when a significant population only wants it for themselves and no one else. Like Jesus, many preachers have been pushed out of their churches. Some have even received death threats and sometimes people carry through on those threats.
Bay Shore Church’s Edgy Faith
If we are to be faithful to the model of Jesus, there must always be an edge to our preaching that pushes people to expand their acceptance of others. There is the old saying that the job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the conscience of the comfortable so that we can change and make the world more user-friendly.
In case you were worried, or hopeful, that I might be in that 40% thinking about abandoning ship, I’m not. I serve at Bay Shore Church, a community that is rooted in the radical inclusiveness of Jesus. It’s the Bond of Union that drew me here. It is this pledge to honor everyone in their search for truth. It’s about diversity at it’s root. That statement was drafted in the 40’s when everything in our culture pushed for uniformity and conformity. But not here. It is about acceptance and love and working with people who are different.
The people who are finding their way to our church now are people attracted by that message. In a world of bared teeth, we are a church of open arms.