Epiphany 4, Year C, February 3, 2019, Luke 4:21-30, “Acceptance and Rejection”

There is a certain reality to life which we all experience.  At times we are loved and accepted by others.  But on the other hand, there are moments of conflict and rejection from others.  Life indeed has its ups and downs.

This reality of acceptance and rejection is experienced in many areas of our lives.  It happens when a couple is married.  At first they love and accept each other, but then there can be ugly moments which lead to rejection and perhaps divorce.  The result is heartache and tears.

Our supervisor at work may love what we are doing and accept our work with high praise.  But there may be moments when there is harsh criticism and perhaps even being  let go from our job.  Despair takes hold of us.

There is love and acceptance in the family among siblings.  But the reality is that there can intense disagreements which cause family members to split apart and rejection sets in.  There is pain in severed family relationships.

There is even acceptance and rejection in the church.  I read an interesting on line article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about an Hispanic pastor and his African American wife who lead a Pentecostal church in a St. Louis suburb. (“Maplewood Flock Quits Fast Growing Pentecostal Denomination”, 1/27/19)  They decided to leave their Pentecostal denomination because they feel it is not doing enough to deal with racism.  They feel that their national church body needs to be more diverse and there are no measures to move in that direction.  So the pastor and his wife who once accepted their denomination have now rejected it.  They plan to move on and start an independent church.

I must admit that in my 35 years as a parish pastor I have experienced moments of acceptance and rejection.  The acceptance and love came early in each pastorate, but at times there were moments when there were disagreements over ministry programs, decisions made, and leadership style.  In some cases those disagreements resulted in members leaving the congregation and searching for the “greener pastures” of another church home.

When rejection comes, it hurts.  I experienced that and you have, too, in your walks of life.  That is just the way life is.  There is never smooth sailing so to speak all the time – not in a world fraught with brokenness and sin.

One would think that everyone who came in contact with Jesus immediately loved and accepted him.  After all, Jesus was a miracle worker.  He brought hope and healing wherever he went.  He taught with authority and provided insight into the Kingdom of God.  Why would anyone not love and accept Jesus the Messiah?

As Saint Luke began his gospel, all was well with people accepting and loving Jesus besides his own parents, Mary and Joseph.  In the Jerusalem Temple, Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as the Messiah and praised God in joyful response.

Once again in the Temple, Jesus was twelve years old and he was conversing with the teachers.  They apparently were delighted that someone so young and so mature was asking questions and listened carefully about the meaning of the Hebrew faith.

John the Baptist prepared the way for his cousin, Jesus the Messiah.  John even preached that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Certainly John loved and accepted his own kin.

All was going well when Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah on the sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth.  At the end of that reading, Jesus said that this prophecy was fulfilled through him.  He was the one upon whom the Spirit of God rested so that Jesus himself would “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.” (4:18)  With those words from Jesus, his friends in the synagogue that day were amazed.  They loved what Jesus said.  They accepted him.  They looked forward to the great and amazing things Jesus would do for them.

When the political candidate we voted for gets elected, we are excited about what that candidate can do for us.  More jobs, better health care, cleaner environment, safer roads, first-class schools are all things we hope for when our candidate gets elected to a position in the government.  We admire, respect, accept, and love the person we put in office.  But when those promises of a better life fail, that politician loses support.  That politician and civil servant is rejected and will not retain office in the next election.

That day in the synagogue Jesus preached on and what he had to say angered his friends.  They heard about the amazing things he had done in Capernaum and were expecting those same great deeds to be done among them – his hometown folks.  But Jesus reminded them that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.  He told them the prophets, Elijah and Elisha, also did good works of love among the Gentiles and not just for the Israelites.

That was the final blow.  That was enough for Jesus’ hometown folks.  That kind of preaching enraged them.  Their love and acceptance of Jesus soon turned into anger and hate.  Saint Luke even tells us that they drove Jesus out of town and wanted to throw him off a cliff.  Jesus was sorely rejected by the people who saw him grow up in their midst.  How painful that must have been for Jesus and his family!

During my years as a pastor certain issues caused church members to become upset and there were intense disagreements.  Should the congregation offer a “contemporary” style of worship?  Should the congregation be growing in membership by ten or more percent a year?  Should certain restricted funds be used for the general operating budget when offerings can’t quite cover weekly expenses?  Should the congregation accept same sex marriage?  And the list goes on.

When these issues surface, opinions can be held firmly.  Sometimes there is no compromise and there seems to be no solution.  Sometimes anger becomes deeper and in the end the pastor leaves or members of the congregation search for another place to worship.  How tragic and painful those time are for anyone involved in these conflicts!

The pastor feels rejected and maybe guilty because he or she cannot offer a solution everyone can accept.  Or perhaps church members feel rejected because what they believe is best for the congregation just won’t come to fruition.

But this moment of rejection would not stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission.  Next we find Jesus in Capernaum where he cast a demon out of a man who was plagued with its evil.  Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever.  He continued to preach in the synagogues of Judea.  He called disciples and sent out seventy of them to heal in God’s name.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus healed.  Jesus taught.  People were thankful.  They were filled with joy.  The accepted Jesus as the One sent from God.  Jesus touched the lives of Jews and Gentiles alike with the love of God.  He was loved and accepted by many even though those in his own hometown rejected him and wanted to end his life.

Even though Jesus did much good, the chief priests and the scribes plotted to kill him, (chapter 22).  His own disciple, Judas, betrayed him.  Peter denied him.  Herod and Pilate could not accept Jesus and his life of mercy and love.  The crowd shouted to crucify him.  Jesus faced the ultimate rejection when he suffered and died an ugly death on the cross.

But even though this innocent Jesus was put to death, he held no grudges.  He harbored no hatred in his heart for those who rejected him.  Instead Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are signs that he loves us with an everlasting love.  He accepts us just as we are – sinful, broken, weak, and struggling with our ill feelings toward others.

Jesus knows how we feel when we face rejection in the family or at work or in the community or in a group of friends.  Jesus knows how we feel since he, too, was rejected by two of his disciples, his hometown folks, religious leaders, and officials of the Roman government.  And because Jesus knows how we feel and suffer when rejected, he comes to us to bring comfort and hope.  He still loves us even when we feel down and out so that we can move on in life with confidence and strength. And he give us the strength to love those who have rejected us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope.”  (BrainyQuotes)  Yes, Dr. King, we realize that disappointments and rejection are part of this life  But there is always hope with Jesus who loves us and accepts us now and forevermore.  He gave his own life to make it so.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

 

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