Been Rejected Lately?

What follows is the transcript of a sermon I gave today from Luke 4:14-30.

Have you been rejected lately?

I know that this seems like an odd question to start a sermon. I’m sure at first glance our mind goes back to high school or college. We met that person of our dreams, and we truly thought – for a moment in time – that God did, in fact, have this person in mind for us from the beginning of creation. Finally, you get the nerve to ask him or her out, and only to your dismay you find out that he or she is, surprisingly, not that interested in you, or, even worse, doesn’t even know who you are.

Have you been rejected lately?

Maybe we can think of more recent occurrences. It’s that time of the year when we go before our boards and our churches to seek their approval and blessing of our future plans. We get excited to tell them all the things we believe God has called us to, but are disappointed to find out we’re not wanted, or, worse yet, they don’t see that call in us.

Have you been rejected lately?

We don’t want to think about being rejected. It brings up too many bad memories. It brings up hurts, and it brings up too many pains. We want to be accepted by our peers. We want to be loved. We want to be encouraged. This is what the world has taught us: We have to be liked. We have to be loved. We have to fit in.

Yet, I wonder if sometimes we need to be rejected in order to press forward in the callings that God has placed on our hearts. That in order to see all that God has for us, we need to be rejected by the same peers we want to love and accept us.

Indeed, this may be the most difficult aspect of Christ’s life for us to follow. But, what does it mean for us to be rejected in order to follow God? Luke 4:14-30 gives us a good idea of what it means for us to be rejected.

The passage begins after Jesus had his wilderness experience in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil to live into the expectations of the world, instead of the expectations that God had placed on his heart and called him to live. He had begun his public ministry, and word was quickly spreading about the wonderful things Jesus had done and the things he was teaching.

This was especially true for his hometown of Nazareth. In this place where Jesus was raised and called home, the people were excited and wanted to hear and see him in their midst. They wanted him to come to the synagogue to teach. They wanted him to perform miracles in their presence. They wanted to experience all that Jesus had done, and would do, because this was his hometown, and they were going to be honored for it.

We can all relate to this. At this point in our seminary careers, we’ve probably have been blessed with the opportunity to preach at the churches we called home as children, or the places we found Christ again. If not, I hope one day you have this opportunity. For it is a special time, and the people are filled with excitement as they remember us “way back when” and get the chance to say “how proud they are of us.”

There is a temptation here to preach a “light” sermon that offers little challenge, leaving the people feeling good about themselves, because we want that praise and adulation. We don’t want to be rejected by our hometown, our friends, our family, and so we will talk about things that we can all agree on and hope that someone invites us to lunch before we have to get on the road to head back to school.

On a larger scale, we, the leaders of the church, face this same temptation each Sunday. Will we give our people the depth of the passage, the challenge of living the Christian life, and the promise of God working in their lives and in their communities? Or, will we fear being rejected, fear losing our appointments, and fear losing our ministries so much that we will instead preach a faith that is only personal, and not social, a faith that is divorced of deep transformation, and a faith that ignores the living presence of Christ Jesus working in our midst.

Here, in Luke 4, we see Jesus facing this temptation. Will he give the people what they want? Or will he proclaim the message God had for them at that time, and at that place?

Jesus held nothing back.

He opened the scroll to Isaiah, turned to chapter 61, and, I’m sure with the clearest of voices, proclaimed that he had been sent, because of the Holy Spirit’s anointing, to proclaim the good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he told them the Scripture had been fulfilled in their midst.

Jesus took on the prophetic message and the messianic hope that lies at the heart of this message. In these few lines, he claimed that day was the day of jubilee, a time of liberty for the oppressed, the poor, and the blind. He was not there to perform a show, but to proclaim the love of God and the message of God that is central in all of Scripture – the message that God’s justice is concerned about caring for the poor and the stranger, and to provide salvation for the lost.

This was not the message the people of Nazareth wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that God came for them. That they were going to be benefited because of their good works. They wanted to be blessed. They wanted Jesus to do for them what he had done for everyone else. They wanted the signs and the healing.

Jesus knew this, and he preached as God had called him to preach. It nearly cost him his life. After telling the people “you will reject me, because I am going to the poor over there, I am going to the lost over there, just like Elisha and Elijah,” the people wanted to throw him off a cliff. Yet Christ ran away to continue the ministry God called him. Are we willing to be rejected to the point of death for the sake of the Gospel?

Would we have preached that same message on that day? Would we preach that same message today? My friends, I fear that if given the opportunity to preach today, many of us in the pulpits across this great land would not proclaim the words of Isaiah 61 with great power and conviction. We have turned away from the radical call of proclamation, and are content with preaching a faith that is only personal, and does not connect our faith with the social. Even more, we are so afraid of being rejected, that we have weakened the Gospel in order for it to be kindlier and gentler to our people. Instead of the words Jesus spoke from Isaiah 61, we would proclaim the message of America 61, which goes like this:

The Spirit of Consumerism is upon me,

because It has chosen me

to proclaim the message to the rich.

It has sent me to proclaim comfort to the comfortable,

and continuance of our good programs,

to protect our traditions,

to proclaim the hope of America.

This is no Gospel, it has no truth, and it is not what our people need to hear.

Are we so afraid of being rejected that we will reject our calling to proclaim the message of Christ and its implication in the world today? Do we desire being accepted by our friends and our peers so much that we will say what they want us to say, and carry forward the lie that we will always have tomorrow to preach what should have been preached today?

My friends, we only have today to preach the message of jubilee in a world that is in need of true freedom and liberty. We are called to stand on the shoulders of Christ, to bear the cross of our calling, and proclaim the message without fear of rejection.

Have you been rejected lately?

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