4 July, 2021- Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 9B
Rev. Leslie Sterling
Sermon preached by The Rev. Leslie Sterling
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength at our Redeemer.
Please be seated. Everybody doesn’t like something. But nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee. Some of you remember the jingle. Everybody doesn’t like some thing. But nobody doesn’t like savelii. Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee. For you young uns, that’s an old commercial about pound cake that was supposed to be so good that everybody liked it. And a lot of people did like it. It was made with real butter and real sugar and real eggs at a time when other commercial baked goods were starting to cut corners. And for storebought cake, it was actually pretty good. But in spite of the commercial, everybody didn’t like it. In spite of the commercial, lots of folks didn’t like Sara Lee. And as we see in today’s Gospel reading, everybody didn’t like Jesus either. Not everybody welcomed him. Not everybody responded to him. That’s why I love this passage, and find it very comforting for what it teaches about how to cope with rejection, and failure. Jesus goes to his hometown after being away for a while, and he is very different than they remember him. And a lot of folks don’t know what to make of him. Almost all of us can identify with that you stay away from your parents and relatives for a while, you go back to visit them, and they freeze you at the age where they want to remember you. They still see you as you were no matter what you have accomplished, or achieved, or how you have changed since they saw you last. When you were six years old, you didn’t like broccoli, so they assume you still don’t like broccoli now things like that. So Jesus had a lot of nerve to show up in the Nazareth synagogue, preaching and teaching like some kind of elder, he was only barely 30 years old. Who does he think he is?
It’s not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? are not his sisters here with us. Where did this man get all this? We know him. We know his whole family, how can he be capable of all these things we have heard about. They were so busy looking at who they expected to see that they missed the actual miracle that was before them. Emmanuel, God with us.
The very qualities about Jesus that should have been the clearest sign of his holiness and divine gifts were the very same things that put people off his deeds of power, the wisdom he shared through his teaching and preaching. These were the very things that caused gossip and resentment. People who thought they knew him best, refused to give Jesus the honor he was do. They did not or could not see him for who he was. Now, if Jesus himself had people who underestimated him, and sold him short, and did not recognize his worth, then none of us should be surprised with all our human faults and failings and flaws when the same thing happens to us. You may find yourself someday in a rejection situation you don’t understand because you’re just being you you’re giving your best, you’re not doing anything wrong. And you run into a bunch of hostility and rejection.
Let that time you have to stop and remember, sometimes people will reject you for the good that you do. instead of jumping to the conclusion that something must be wrong with you. Stop and consider if you are being rejected in spite of the good you do that says more about the people rejecting you than it says about you. If you think you’re in that predicament, you have to stop and look and before you blame yourself, look at the situation from all angles. Are you being judged by shallow short term worldly values instead of godly values. That’s the kind of situation where believers And other righteous people are more likely to be disliked and despised, rejected and even hated, for doing what is right. For example, people will reject you for the good you do if you are a person of honor among dishonorable people. Or if you are a truth teller, in the midst of people who think they can only get over by playing games with the truth. Or if you are a person of integrity, dealing with folks who like to cut corners and get away with doing as little as possible, people will reject you for the good that you do. If you insist on considering the needs of others. In a world where so many people’s first thought is, hey, what’s in this for me? Am I getting anything out of this. And some people will reject you for the good you do. Because seeing your faith reminds them of their lack of faith. Some will see you being selfless. And be reminded of how selfish they are. Some will see you performing random acts of kindness. And that will remind them of how little kindness they show. They will see your work for inclusive justice and it will highlight for them how little justice work they do. And you haven’t done anything wrong. They are the ones judging their own selves. They are convicting themselves by engaging in the sin of comparison with you. But there’s nothing you can do about it. If when they look at you doing right. They reject you because your good example highlights parts of themselves that they don’t want to see. Now, I could have written a whole Fourth of July sermon about patriots and patriotism. In our political environment right now. Maybe you can think of one or two people who are being rejected for the good they do. public servants who have been fired, shunned, removed from leadership positions just for attempting to do what is best for the country, just for protecting democracy and upholding the Constitution. They are receiving death threats. They are being called traitors. Even their faith is being questioned. And that has to be a sermon for another day. But as you watch the evening news, you will notice who is being castigated for speaking truth to power. You will notice who is being punished for trying to break oppression and set captives free. And I believe that the people who are rejecting and castigating those who are doing right, know that that is what they’re doing. They’re not blind, they’re not pretending. They know that they are putting people down for doing what is right. And I think some of the people in Jesus’s hometown looked at him and saw he was doing right and rejected him. In spite of that they saw his goodness, His Holiness, his righteousness. It’s practically normal for people to be rejected when they seem too good to be true. Have some of you seen the Mr. Rogers documentary? Won’t you be my neighbor? This is not the Tom Hanks movie. I love that one too. But this is a documentary, released at about the same time called Won’t you be my neighbor? I strongly recommend it especially for people of faith. It illustrates the idea that being perceived as too good turns people off.
Lots of people perhaps some of you listening now, hear Mr. Rogers name and just cringe. They can’t stand them. They make faces. They make fun of him the way he talks, his little songs, his little puppets. They call him corny. They call and cheesy. But over and over again. In this documentary, what people keep asking is Is he really like that? I mean, is he really like that? It’s as though people are almost hoping it’s a put on. They’re hoping it’s an act because if it’s real, it’s almost too wonderful to be believed. If it’s real, his behavior almost feels like an accusation. They’re not as gentle with children. They aren’t as caring and trustworthy so they cynically reject His goodness as fake and too good to be true. He’s doing nothing wrong. He’s just being a kindly teacher, a sweet father, figure, Minister of Christ, really to children of all ages, of all ages, all over the world, who just wants someone anyone to look into their eyes and say, I like you, just the way you are. That’s the kind of affirmation the kind of affirmation or presence and affection that I believe Jesus gave to people as he met them and love them. When he was walking this earth. It’s the kind of affirmation he still wants to give all of us accepting people for who they are, is the bedrock of all ministry. And it’s so radical that some folks just can’t handle it, they push it away. It’s almost safer to reject it, than to take the leap of faith and believe it. So the main teaching about rejection in this passage is that sometimes you will be rejected, even when you are doing God’s will and doing good. But the next part is even better. And it does not get preached as often. The reading says, if people refuse to accept you, if any place will not welcome you, and they refuse to hear you. It’s okay to leave. It’s okay to leave the situation and not just leave, but shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. Leave. And don’t take the rejection experience with you. Put the whole thing behind you. It does not say you must always bloom where you are planted. It does not say stay there and keep beating your head against the wall. No, it says you have a message to deliver and a mission to complete. And if you are rejected in one place, there may be some other place right down the road where they are anxious to hear you, anxious to receive you where they have been longing to encounter someone like you where you are exactly what they are looking for. So lots of folks didn’t like Sara Lee. And some don’t like Mr. Rogers, and some didn’t like Jesus, and not everybody is going to like you. Some people are going to hate you. Even when you are doing good, or especially because you are doing good. But if that happens, as Jesus said in john 15, remember if the world hates you and hated me before it hated you. That’s something I’ve really want to keep in mind about Jesus. It’s one way I wish I were more like him. When people rejected Jesus, he knew it was not a reflection on him. He knew that it was just as much a reflection on the people who rejected him. They were the ones who lost out because of their unbelief. They denied themselves the chance to receive what he had to give. If someone had preached that, to me when I was younger, a few decades ago, my whole life would have been different. Jesus didn’t let this hometown rejection hurt him or diminish him because he knew who he was. He knew he was the righteousness of God. He knew he had the eternal power of the Spirit burning within him. And so he was confident in his holy identity, regardless of what people said.
And Jesus offers that same righteousness and power and confidence to all of us, to you to me to everyone. Don’t judge yourself by people who reject you, no matter who they are. Just as Jesus did not judge himself by the hometown rejection. Do not measure your success by how the world receives you. Measure your life and love. See reflection in God’s eyes. eyes that love you. weakness and insults and hardships and persecutions are part of every human life and part of many ministry experiences. being rejected feeling as though you have failed in hurts really bad in any context. Not just ministry, work, school, family life anywhere. But rejection can also be a teacher, a guide to separate us from people, places and things we are not meant for, to point us away from a bad situation. And encourage us to take a different path. And sometimes rejection and failure are a byproduct of daring to do great things. As the old saying goes, only the mediocre are always at their best. So dare to do big things, dare to risk failure, get into good trouble. And do not be quick to judge events with the label of failure, because you can faithfully do everything God has asked you to do, and everything God requires and still fail in the eyes of the world. Jesus on the cross looked like a failure. on Good Friday afternoon everyone thought they were seeing a failure. But God had a larger purpose in mind. And it was not revealed until later. So do the best you can judge your success by godly standards and be aware of that confused or hurting people may reject you precisely for the goodness they feel pouring off of you. If that happens, just stand firm and who you know yourself to be. Stand confident in the holiness God gave you.
Don’t let it bring you down. It’s only castles burning. pick yourself up, dust yourself off, shake the dust even off your feet and start all over again. God never offered any heavenly opinion on whether or not Sara Lee pound cake was good. But when it comes to you, God’s opinion is clear. You are loved. God is always ready to come to your aid. And even in times that you feel our rejection or failure. God never No Never. No Never will forsake you