By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
In the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus is rejected. Rejection is one of the most difficulty of human experiences. It slightly unravels our sense of self, at least the false sense of self we receive from the feedback of others. Rejection is never something too easily sloughed off. Jesus knows this. So, He experiences rejection, first, for us, to show us the right way. Why would I say that He chooses this rejection? It doesn’t look that way on the surface. However, the One who knew all, also knew the way He would be received in his hometown, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that sometimes the people who have known us since childhood have a hard time changing their opinions.
Jesus wanted the disciples to be there for this moment of proclamation and rejection. Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, He was invited to teach, and the response of those gathered was, “Where did this man get all this? Don’t we know him? Aren’t his brothers Joses and Judas and Simon? Isn’t his mother Mary? Aren’t his sisters here today?” And they became offended by Him. They took offense at the teachings of Jesus. I won’t judge this community too harshly, at least not without acknowledging our almost universal tendency to think one way about someone, without allowing that people grow in grace as we do. We have to keep an open mind about others, as well as about our own identities, as they change and evolve in our journey with God. And it’s important to remember that our truest identity, children of God, does not depend upon our acceptance or our rejection by anyone. In our baptism we promise to proclaim the good news in word and deed; it’s not contingent upon how it’s received. Whether we are rejected or received with great joy, we are children of God.
But the onus is on us, however, to respond in the right way. Why did Jesus want the disciples to experience this moment of rejection? It seems like a weird kind of pep rally to give them before He sends them out, two by two. He wanted them to be prepared for the inevitable: that some people would not receive them with grace, and they would have to behave with grace. He said to the disciples a little bit later, “‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 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.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” I think that is an impressive response. After all, they’re just two ordinary folk, no fancy entourage, no nice clothes, not even a staff or a second tunic, showing up in a community with a word and a gesture of love. And moreover, they proclaimed that all should repent, that is, turn around. The response they received, in my opinion, was remarkably positive. But surely we know that there were some villages that did not accept them.
We need to hear these instructions as if Jesus Christ our Lord were standing in front of us teaching us about church growth. As if we had paid the Lord of Life to come and teach us, to be a consultant, because these are simple and remarkable instructions for that word we as Anglican Christians don’t like to use: Evangelism. Sharing the good news. Imagine, here are the instructions from the Lord of Life: Go! Don’t take a lot of stuff, and preach the good news. Stay for as long as you can. If they don’t accept you, leave. Shake off the dust, and start again.
Those are simple and powerful instructions for sharing a word and a gesture of love with a neighbor or a stranger, and we really ought to take them as seriously as we would take any instruction for church development from a paid consultant. Their lifestyle was a statement in itself, they didn’t call the people to come to them in some building, a center of power. They went out to the people, and that is what we must do as a community of faith.
I want to lift up something that happened on Wednesday, which was, as you know, Independence Day. A group of young adults from our congregation organized themselves independently to open up the church from 10:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. To offer a word, and a gesture of love. The word of love being a welcome, and the gesture of love being a cup of cold water, a good biblical offering. For those seven hours, they acted as evangelists. Not by convincing people of some complicated belief, but by offering a word and a gesture of love.
This simple organized act of love reached a lot of people, not only in person out there on the steps, but much, much farther through social media, and now it’s reaching everyone who listens to our sermons via podcast. Greetings, podcast listeners! As I and the young adults engage in the ministry of open doors along with so many others who are sitting here today, we know that when we offer a word of love, people are generally very happy to receive it. There is, however, some occasional rejection, and we can’t be afraid of that. We simply follow our Lord’s strategic plan for church development: To greet the friend, the stranger. To offer the word and the gesture of love, and if we are rejected, to move on and try again.
When we deal with rejection in our personal lives, it can be very difficult. It’s important to remember that if we’re in the heat of rejection in our own lives, that Jesus did not say, “Get revenge.” Jesus did not say, “Seek to justify yourself.” Jesus just said, “Move on.” Sometimes we’re called to reconciliation, and that involves staying, being present, communicating. But sometimes, we are not meant to respond to an unkind word, but simply to accept it as the price we pay for accepting the many blessings of others.
Most of the time, whether in our own lives or in our ministry as ministers of this church, the majority of folks will receive our word and gesture of love by blessing us with another word and another gesture of love. It’s important to note, also, that our word and gestures of love have consequences and effects that go far beyond the ones we might see in that moment. Not everyone we greet will come into our church, but some will. And even if they don’t, we have no idea the effect that simple act of love may have in the life of another, and in others through them. As we seek to be God’s ministers of the Church of the Advent, we’re called to keep going in this simple but profound ministry of presence by continuing our open doors ministry, and in other ways, such as our flea market which is coming up. Doing this work is our sacred call as the baptized. We’re called to share the good news. This is lived out, not in difficult, but in simple ways: by opening up our doors, by greeting people with a word of love, a cup of cold water, a listening ear. Not all of them will join us at Mass, but some of them will. And all of them will witness, by God’s grace, not by our effort, that we are striving to be an authentic community of love that lives into our mission, to be a loving, diverse, and inclusive community, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with everyone.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.