|Pomme de Terre United Methodist Church|
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|"Dealing with Rejection"
Probably one of the greatest
social needs humans have is simply to be accepted by others, to
belong. And although most of us have friends in our childhood, we
begin to have intense feelings of needing to belong during our
Adults would refer to it as a function of “peer pressure,” the need to be like other people, to be accepted by them.
But we never really get over that. We spend much of our lives trying to please others, mainly because it is comfortable for us.
Of course, if you are running for political office, the degree to which you are successful in pleasing others is measured by your vote count.
If you are a salesperson, the degree to which you are successful in pleasing others may be measured in the number of sales you make.
But what is the flip side? What does rejection tell us? I once had a parishioner who is a movie and television actor. He told me that for him rejection was a daily experience. Day after day he would go through interviews and auditions and readings for parts.
And most of the time he was rejected. He said that in his line of work, one just learned to live with it.
But I think his experience is instructive for us. In order to accomplish anything in his work, he needed to place himself over and over again in the uncomfortable situation of confronting rejection.
Most of us don’t like to do that. Most of us do not want to ever be uncomfortable. We will avoid discomfort like the plague. Most of us do not have a deep-seated sense of adventure. We don’t wander too far off the path of predictability. Which is why most folks would rather go visit a theme park than go hiking in the hills.
And why we would rather eat a sandwich at an internationally franchised restaurant than take a chance on a restaurant we’ve never heard of before.
But let’s get down to specific cases. Let’s look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Before Jesus was even born, the prophet Isaiah, in the third verse of the fifty-third chapter, spoke of him:
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.”
In the opening to the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Mark, we read, “He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.
“They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!
“’Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”
Now, note how Jesus is being judged. He is judged by what he does for a living, by who his parents are, and by who his siblings are. My father taught in the same school in the same small town for 37 years. He told me that the best thing that some students could do for themselves was to leave town after high school, to get away from all those who had already passed judgment on them based on their family backgrounds.
The stereotyping we can probably understand. Humans have this need for drawing simple generalizations. But why should it be upsetting to us that a generalization is not confirmed?
I suspect that Jesus threatened their comfort zone. Folks in his hometown wanted him to “be like them.” They didn’t want him to have any special wisdom or to be able to perform any special deeds.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
When I was a member of a church in Kansas City, we had a seminary professor preach to us one Sunday.
Folks were ecstatic about what a wonderful sermon it was, and they were saying things like, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have preaching like that every Sunday?”
And I answered, “Our pastor gives pretty good sermons week after week about 50 times a year. How do you know this fellow even has MORE that one sermon? You’ve only heard HIM preach once!”
So what resulted from this attitude of the folks in Jesus hometown?
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
I think that this is extremely important. “...he could do no deed of power there....” And we might be asking, “Why not? Is this not the son of God? Is this not God in human form? If he wants to do something, can’t he just DO it?”
Well, yes, I am sure that there were things that he probably could have done. But when God works WITH people, God needs our faith. In order for Jesus to work with the people in his hometown, he needed their FAITH.
I have known pastors who had goals and visions for their churches, but very little happened. Because their people didn’t BELIEVE anything could happen, did not have the FAITH that anything could happen, did not really WANT anything to happen.
You see, spiritual growth is always a two-way street. Even Jesus could not accomplish anything without the faith and belief of the people he worked with.
But how does one define “leadership”? It really doesn’t exist without followers. Indeed a leader without followers is just a maverick. But frequently, the maverick develops a following, when people choose to believe in the maverick.
It’s been noted that no really big new idea, no significant school of thought, has ever developed that gained immediate acceptance. Most of what we take for granted was, at some time, generally rejected.
How many of you rode to church this morning in a car or truck? We’ve ALWAYS had them, right? They were invented in 1886. Fourteen years later, in 1900, one-tenth of one percent of urban households owned cars.
It took another fourteen years, until 1914, for ten percent of urban households to own cars. After 28 years, only 10 percent of the folks in the cities had cars. But fourteen years later, in 1928, 90 percent of them did. And now, we take them for granted.
“Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
The notion of the twelve being sent out two by two has various interpretations. But the complete listing of them in the gospel according to Matthew would suggest that they had been CALLED in pairs.
Listen to the second through the fourth verses of the tenth chapter: “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”
And the authority over the unclean spirits doesn’t suddenly crop up in the sixth chapter of Mark. We find it in the third chapter, when Jesus appointed the twelve.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth verses we read, “And he appointed twelve, who he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.”
But before he sends them on their way, Jesus has some practical advice for them:
“He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”
This does not translate well to the year 2006. I almost never leave the house without a wallet with cash and plastic in it. Traveling without coffee in the car is almost unthinkable. Traveling up and down the highways, I usually know where the nearest munchies are.
If I’m going to be gone overnight, there is a change of clothes in the car. If it’s for more than one night, I invariably overpack.
So I confess that I break all these rules. But what is the meaning of Jesus’ instructions? I think it is the same message that he was trying to send in the sermon on the mount, when he accused us of being too concerned with material things.
In the thirty-third verse of the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, he said, “...strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
But Jesus knew that his twelve followers would run into the same kinds of problems he had. They would experience rejection as well. But they would also find acceptance.
“Jesus said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.”
Now, this can get confusing. But we need to understand that “the place” means a town, or a village.
And Jesus is telling his disciples that if they take up lodging in a house, they should not move from house to house within a town, but settle in, stay put, until they intend to leave the town. And again, he wants them to get their priorities straight.
We pastors of today could probably take a lesson from this. Instead of trying to settle in, we too often are looking down the road to our next move. And some pastors have such a “moving” mentality that they’re disappointed if they aren’t moved at least every three years.
But Jesus message applies also to laity. I think he’s trying to tell us that we need to be absorbed in our ministries and not be dragged down by the details of our everday needs.
And then Jesus recognizes that life will not always be a bowl of cherries.
“If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
Jesus knows what it is like to have people refuse to hear him, so he is forewarning his disciples. And really, this is a rather severe response.
Shaking dust off one’s feet was a gesture of cursing a place. Shaking dust off the feet may reflect the shaking of one’s clothing as a sign of renunciation.
In the thirteenth verse of the fifth chapter of Nehemiah, we read,
“I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out everyone from house and from property who does not perform this promise. Thus may they be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the Lord.
“And the people did as they had promised.”
“So the apostles went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
We don’t know how well the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions, or how well-received they were. We don’t know whether they encountered the same kind of rejection Jesus did in his hometown.
But what I especially wonder about is what criteria Jesus and the disciples placed on their patience. How MUCH rejection should we be expected to deal with? Jesus confronted it all the way to the cross. Did he expect as much of his disciples?
Does he expect as much from us? He tells us WHAT to do as we leave those who refuse to hear us; but he does not tell us WHEN we should leave them. Or, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, living as he did, should we EVER give up on those who reject us?
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