A Sermon about Rejection and the Persistent Love of God That Breaks Through Anyway (especially when and where we least expect it)

Lutheran Church of the Cross, Arlington Heights
8 July 2018 + Lectionary 14B (Pentecost 7)
Mark 6.1-13

Rejection hurts.

No one likes being rejected.
Because rejection means exclusion.
And we’ve all experienced it.
Being rejected goes back as far as we have memory:
Being excluded from the “cool kids” lunch table.
Being chosen last for kickball at recess.
Getting the dreaded “no” when you finally muster up the courage to ask that special someone out.
Feeling alienated from family over differences in political views or religious beliefs.
Getting turned down for a job you were really hoping to get.

Rejection hurts.
It’s never a good thing,
and yet it’s a part of life.

Jesus knows something of what it’s like to be rejected.

We know that Jesus’s message wasn’t a hugely popular one among the authorities and the powers that be. We’re used to hearing that much: Jesus upsetting the status quo, threatening the power that “haves” had over the “have nots” in the ancient world, threatening to topple a brutal imperial regime and its oppressive social structures.

But what we don’t often remember is that Jesus was also rejected by his own family, by his own people, no longer welcome in his hometown.
Think about that for a minute—
Imagine what it’s like to be outright rejected or cut off from everyone you know and trust and grew up with and everything that’s comfortable and familiar and safe. I suspect some might not have to imagine all that much.

Rejection hurts.
And it’s a part of Jesus’s experience.
Jesus is no stranger to rejection, to exclusion, to being kicked out of his hometown, cut off from his own community. There’s a profound solidarity in that on its own.

It doesn’t take much probing to wonder what could have elicited such a strong rejection by Jesus’s own community. Earlier in Mark’s gospel, we heard the story of Jesus’s family coming after him to restrain him, accusing him of having gone out of his mind, even being possessed by a demon. His teaching and preaching and healing were all too much, too quickly. He was drawing too much attention to himself, causing too much of a scene. It’s embarrassing us, Jesus.

Even if his family and closest childhood companions were on board with his message, they knew it wasn’t going to be the most popular, that it wouldn’t end well for him. And truth be told, they were right.

There’s a resistance and a hesitancy to get fully on board with the message of the reign of God, the proclamation of God’s extravagant, boundless love for all of God’s creation. As Karoline Lewis puts it, “When we realize that this is a love over which we have no control, a love that will infiltrate the world like a persistent weed despite our best efforts to curb its spread, a love whereby we do not get to decide its objects, it seems less attractive than it did at first blush.”

Isn’t that most often the case?
Our need for control,
getting to decide who’s in and who’s out,
trying to set limits of the breadth and depth of God’s love?
The church has done it for centuries:
It’s as old as the debates over circumcision and clean and unclean foods among the early Christian church in the book of Acts.
It’s the stuff of ancient church councils that came up with the creeds we still recite today in worship.
It’s even part of the work of committees and synod and churchwide assemblies today.

Not that those things are inherently always bad, but they’re also part of our human need to contain the divine, somehow to box in what cannot be boxed in.

But that’s just the thing:
God’s love can’t be boxed in.
It can’t be controlled,
it can’t be tamed,
it can’t be pruned back…
Remember the mustard plant?
The kingdom of God is like an invasive species…
It pops up where we least expect it,
it takes over,
it threatens to choke out the status quo of injustice and fear and violence and hate,
and replace it with God’s reign of equity and love and justice-seeking peace.

But there’s a certain resistance to that, even among those of us who should know better.
It’s a popular joke that church people don’t like change, but there’s a lot of truth to that, too.

It’s too much, too quickly.
it’s drawing too much attention.
It’s causing too much of a scene.

So we reject it outright.
Not yet, or maybe after another committee meeting, or council vote, or congregational survey…
We reject change.
We resist the stirrings of the Spirit pulling us into new directions, more expansive ways of doing ministry and being the church, ever bolder, if not riskier, ways of proclaiming the boundless, limitless love of God in Christ Jesus.

But the love of God can’t be contained.
The message of Jesus can’t be boxed in.

Even amidst rejection,
even in Jesus’s hometown,
even in our own churches and denominations…

Even there, the gospel writer says, Jesus could do no deeds of power… except (did you catch it?) to lay his hands on a few sick people and cure them. Even there, Jesus could no deeds of power, except—he kind of could.

Even amidst rejection,
God’s love cannot be contained.

Even in the face of resistance, the power of God’s life-changing, world-altering, table-turning, status quo-toppling love for the sake of the life and wholeness of all cannot be stopped.

Nevertheless, God’s love persists.