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Sermon for Pentecost 4, Year B

Based on 2 Cor. 12:6-10 & Mk. 6:1-6

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Rejection”

Rejection....Every human being experiences rejection. Most of us have difficulties dealing and coping with rejection. We all want to be liked and accepted by others. In our second lesson and gospel for today, we learn of Paul’s and Jesus’ experiences of rejection. Paul and Jesus, by virtue of their calling, both experienced rejection during the coarse of their respective ministries.

The apostle Paul’s experience of rejection is related to a very heated controversy with the false apostles at Corinth. These false apostles were undermining Paul’s apostolic ministry among the Corinthians. They impressed some of the congregation’s members by boasting about their strengths. The apostle Paul responds by boasting of his weaknesses. His concluding statement is at once shocking offensive no doubt for some, and indeed remarkable: “Therefore I am content ~ notice that word CONTENT, he doesn’t say “I put up with, I endure, I grudgingly tolerate,” NO! he says “I am CONTENT” ~ with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

For Paul, this is what it means to be an apostle and to be a living example of bearing the cross of Christ. Oh that we too could be able to boast of our weaknesses when we experience rejection! Some people, by God’s grace, have, and they are certainly an inspiration to us all.

For example, people like the black woman, Harriet Tubman, who was the victim of racial discrimination. Yet she was able to use that experience of rejection to help other blacks out their slavery through the underground railroad system from the southern United States up to Canada and freedom. Another one was Albert Einstein, who was written off and labelled a “slow learner” and next to impossible to educate. Yet, out of that background, Albert proved his worth and brilliance to become one of the 20th century’s brightest lights. Another one who has transformed the attitudes of society and the church towards the mentally and physically challenged around the world is Canadian, Jean Vanier. From a very humble beginning, he worked with the physically and mentally challenged to celebrate their gifts as human beings created in God’s image, with wisdom and love to teach the rest of us so-called “normal” folk. Out of this, Jean gave birth to the L’arche communities, which have spread around the world.

The story of Jesus’ rejection upon his hometown visit to Nazareth is a very sobering one. Mark drives home his point in a very subtle, ironic and masterful way. The people, we are told, were astounded by Jesus ~ they even admitted to the wisdom of Jesus’ words and the power of his deeds! In so doing, they were actually bearing witness to the authenticity of Jesus’ person and ministry. Yet, at the same time ~ and this is the irony and the tragedy ~ while hearing and seeing “they took offense at him.”

The Greek word for offense literally means that which causes someone to trip. Jesus becomes a stumbling-block for his own townspeople. We too trip, how many times have we rejected or been sceptical of someone because we’ve known them so well and limited our view of them because of stereotyping them into our comfortable box? In doing this, we too trip over Jesus, because Jesus is present to us and for us through our neighbours and strangers, family members, friends and colleagues. Whenever we reject another because of our presupposed familiarity of them, do we not in a sense, crucify Christ anew? Do we not close ourselves off and limit ourselves from any number of opportunities to serve, love, learn and grow as followers of Jesus, when we reject others?

William Barclay tells the following story: “One of the leaders of the Labour movement in Britain was Will Crooks. He was born into a home where one of his earliest recollections was seeing his mother crying because she had no idea where the next meal was to come from. He started work in a blacksmith’s shop at five shillings a week. He became a fine craftsworker and one of the most honest, bravest persons around. He entered municipal politics and became the first Labour Mayor of any London municipal district. There were people who were offended when Will Crooks became Mayor of Poplar. In a crowd one day a lady said with great disgust, “They’ve made that common fellow, Crooks, Mayor, and he’s no better than a working man.” A man in the crowd ~ Will Crooks himself ~ turned around and raised his hat. “Quite right madam,” he said. “I am no better than a working man.”

In a similar manner, Jesus was also rejected because he was too common and ordinary, like everyone else in the community. The very persons that we assume we know the most, we may very well know the least; those persons whom we judge as too common, may, in fact, be most able to help, understand, empathise with and heal us precisely because of the things that they share in common with us. In the commonness of Jesus, God’s love, justice, and mercy were and still are offered to us.

What about us and our experiences of rejection? What has it meant ~ does it mean ~ for us to be rejected? Have we learned anything from our experiences of rejection? Do they cripple and destroy us or do they mould and shape us into more faithful disciples of Jesus? One thing that’s clear in both our second lesson and gospel today is that we all will experience rejection. If we attempt to be true to our calling as Christians, we will be rejected by some people.

However, God continues to call us and give us the message of the Good News to share with others. For it’s by faithful proclamation of this Good News in word and action ~ even in the face of rejection ~ that new life is given and the foundation of faith is built in the hearts and lives of people. May God’s grace help us to remain faithful when we experience rejection. May we, through grace, learn and grow in our faith journey as we experience rejection, in order that such experiences don’t cripple or destroy us, but strengthen us as followers of Jesus Christ.

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