I had dreams of attending the University of Georgia for graduate school. There, I wanted to study higher education leadership. It was my first choice, with James Madison University my second. After going to campus to interview as a finalist for the program, after getting excited that I would be accepted, I received a terse email in the spring of 2007: I had been rejected.
When I felt the call to ministry, I applied to four seminaries, with Emory my second choice. My first choice was Yale Divinity School. I’d always wanted to study at an Ivy League school and felt like this was my chance. I knew how their admissions process worked, so I knew that if I wasn’t rejected by March 15, I would be accepted. The question in my mind was only a question of how to finance the education and how to make a living in New Haven, Connecticut. I felt assured of my acceptance. On March 13, two days before acceptances went out, I received a rather polite email informing me that I had been rejected.
Both times, I attended my second choice schools. At James Madison University, I was transformed by encountering powerful truths about who I am and where I was going. And at Emory, my heart and mind were transformed by the renewing of my faith, to paraphrase Paul’s elegant words. I would have it no other way now, but at the time rejection hurt.
Which is what rejection does. I hardly had a date in high school in part because I was always too afraid to be rejected. I stopped going to most school dances after tenth grade because I was just too terrified of rejection to ask a girl to dance. Some of you know the hilarious story of how Dana and I ended up together. Spoiler alert, I didn’t ask her out. She won her man, not the other way around.
Rejection hurts. Sometimes, the fear of being rejected hurts more than actually being rejected. Sometimes rejection comes unexpectedly. But always, rejection stings such that we actively work to avoid it.
Most unlike Jesus and the disciples in our scripture this morning. Hear now Mark 6:1-13
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. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 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. Then he 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. 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. He said to them, ‘Wherever 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.
Jesus is rejected in his hometown. He’s rejected by his family.
The disciples go to preach and heal with Jesus telling them to expect to be rejected.
Rejection seems to be the theme of this scripture. And while Mark doesn’t suggest this, it’s reasonable to assume it hurt.
Imagine coming home, doing what God has called you to do, and being rejected by your family for it. Jesus’s experience here sounds very much like the experience of many a preacher I have met and known in my life. They leave behind comfortable jobs, secure lives, to follow God’s call on their lives, only to be rejected by a spouse, parents, siblings, or children. I have heard this story of people who went into politics, people who left behind pursuing a medical degree to engage in the law, or people who have gone on any path different from what their parents or family expected.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe there’s a family member or a close friend who’s gone down an unexpected path, creating family drama. Or maybe that person is you. Perhaps at some point in your life you deviated from expectation, going in the way that God called you to go, only to find yourself rejected at home.
No matter how common the story may be, it’s still hard. It still hurts. It’s absolutely no fun. So we can imagine that Jesus and the disciples are, quite suddenly, not having a very good time.
Quite suddenly because, up until this point, Jesus has not only been accepted everywhere he’s gone, he’s been a celebrity. People flock to him in such numbers that several gospels talk about Jesus getting on a ship in order to flee the crowd as it pressed in on him and his disciples. People come to him wanting him to cure their sick relative, or themselves, of a medical malady or a demon. Jesus’s works of power have created fame, and even as he preaches repentance or other difficult messages, people continue to want to come and see him.
So here, we have for the first time, Jesus being rejected. His star power, his fame, his renown, aren’t enough for his family. Or perhaps it’s too much for his family and they are jealous. After all, he was just a simple worker, an everyday kind of guy; today, we’d call him blue collar. Who does he think he is, going around teaching others how to follow God. That’s the job of the priests! Who does he think he is, healing people? That’s the job of the prophets! Who does he think he is, declaring that he has a God-given mission? He’s just a simple carpenter, a day laborer, from a family of no repute, from a region of the country of no significance. He’s a nobody.
And then he has disciples who follow him? Who believe in his mission? And he sends them out to proclaim repentance and offer healing, just like he does? It’s absolutely no wonder he’s rejected and that his disciples are rejected; they don’t fit the mold. They didn’t go to Yale Divinity school, much less Emory. They don’t have graduate degrees on their walls. They don’t have family connections or family wealth. They don’t have the standing in their communities or their regions that comes from being from a family of good repute. They don’t have the political connections that make them powerful. They aren’t wealthy. They have literally nothing that makes it reasonable that they would be preachers, healers, and prophets.
Which leaves them nothing other than rejected.
Rejected by the good religious people of the day. Rejected by the powers of the day. Rejected by their own families. Rejected by their hometowns. Rejected, because the truth they proclaimed didn’t come from the usual sources. What they proclaimed was foreign, and so it was rejected.
In the deserts of modern-day Egypt and Libya, monks lived in caves, communes, or stood on top of columns for weeks and months at a time. They were mostly hermits, but would come out to proclaim a life of holiness, a life of contemplation, and a way of following Christ that required sacrifice. Their words were contrary to much of the preaching in churches about fifteen hundred years ago, but people still came out to listen, mostly out of curiosity. These desert Christians were weird, they were an oddity, and so a kind of tourism developed to go and see these ancient desert fathers and mothers, as they’re now called. But by and large, because they were weird, because they called for sacrifice to follow Christ, leaving behind the ways of privilege and wealth, they were rejected.
In a monastery in northern Germany, not too far east of Hamburg, a young monk looked at his beloved Catholic Church and saw many problems. He saw priests and bishops becoming rich off the religious devotion of the poor. He saw a populous blindly following what they were told because they could not self-educate on religion. He noted theological practices that had divested themselves of God and become a justification for all kinds of evil. And so Martin Luther nailed his concerns to the door of the chapel, his 95 theses. For these, he was not welcomed as a necessary reformer for the waywardness of the church, but rather, he was rejected.
All across England, protestants who had studied these early desert fathers and mothers, as well as Martin Luther, looked at themselves and their lifestyles and decided to live a simpler, sacrificial, lifestyle, believing that such would bring them toward holiness. They wore simple clothing, they ridded themselves of anything ornate in their churches, they rejected most or all music in their worship services, ate simple food, and rejected material wealth, instead donating their money to the poor and needy. They caught the attention of the Church of England, protestant itself, who decided that these folks were simply too radical and too weird. They were also threatening the base of the Church of England as their simple way of life attracted a following. And so, the puritans were rejected, forced onto ships to cross the ocean in search of religious freedom.
These three examples serve as just a sampling of the many times within our history as Christians where we, like the religious authorities of Jesus’s day, have missed where the Spirit of God is at work. From the early desert fathers and mothers, we learned as a faith what it really means to sacrifice for Christ in concepts we follow today: taking sabbath rests, having daily time with God, giving up some of our wealth for the church and the needy, as just an example. From Martin Luther, we learned of the necessity of seeking after God intellectually on our own, not just believing what religious authorities tell us. Because of him, we all have bibles in our native languages that we can read on our own. And because of the puritans, we have our beliefs in simplicity, our desire for religious devotion, and the notion that we, as Christians, are to be a shining city on a hill.
We have that now because what was once radical is now commonly accepted practice. The Spirit moved powerfully through these groups, but they were mostly rejected by their contemporaries. They were too radical, they upset the status quo too much; good, nice, church-going people simply found their ways too costly, too weird, or too controversial to be considered. And so they were rejected.
Not unlike Jesus and his disciples as they visited from town to town. Jesus tells them to expect rejection, shaking the dust off their feet as a testimony against the village’s unbelief. The disciples go in, they preach and teach, they heal and exorcise demons, and if the people still don’t believe after they have seen for themselves the power of God at work in their lives, then they move on. The disciples were, for the most part, undeterred in their mission, no matter the rejection they experienced. Such is the testimony not only of Mark, but also of Acts. The early desert fathers and mothers, Martin Luther and his followers, and the puritans, were also mostly undeterred, moving from town to town, locale to locale, preaching the truth they knew, allowing the Holy Spirit to work within them, until they found that their rejection forced them to leave.
Rejection, it seems, is part of the life of a faithful disciple, if we are truly following after Christ. History tells us this story over and over and over again. Our modern day experience tells us this story. Perhaps our lives tell us this story.
But if rejection is part of our story, so are those who do the rejection. Consider that the people in these towns that reject the disciples are not uneducated about their faith and they don’t lack in religious devotion. Jesus’s family, too, is devout. And yet Jesus and the disciples are often rejected, even by Jesus’s own family and community. Many a good, devout, regularly attending church goer, has played the role of rejector instead of rejected.
Which begs the question that’s before us this morning. Does your faith cause you to more often be rejected or to be the rejector? Are you more likely to be dismissed by others in your life for your beliefs or are you more likely to dismiss the beliefs of others?
History tells us, as exemplified by the stories I’ve shared this morning, that more often than not, the average Christian plays the role of rejector instead of rejected. While we pride ourselves on being different, on standing out, all too often we look just like the world around us. Facilitating Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is a great example of that. We say that we’re better with our money because we’re more generous with it and because we treat it as though we are stewards of a God-given gift. But in truth, we’re not. We buy cars and boats and appliances and trucks on credit, just like everyone else, piling up debt, even though scripture tells us over and over again not to go into debt. The average American gives 2.5% of his or her income away to charity every year. The average Christian? 2.5%. We’re identical in our giving to charity, just as we’re identical in our spending habits.
Dave Ramsey challenges us as Christians to imagine a world in which none of our money is paying down interest. Christians would be a huge example of what it means to be a people who live with the freedom of no debt, giving more of our money away and doing amazing charitable services for the least of these because our money isn’t being wrapped up in paying interest. In my family, we pay $400 per month in interest on two student loans and one car payment, the total of our debt. My imagination has run wild with what I could do with that $400 per month if it wasn’t paying interest. How much are you paying in interest? What could you be doing with that money instead? Imagine the difference we would make and the witness we would be to Eastman and Dodge County if all of us as a church were debt free and giving our interest payments to the church and local charities!
This is just one example where we say we’re different from the prevailing culture, but we’re not. We’re just as energized politically as a secular person, pushing our agenda and bullying with our truth, just like nonbelievers. The difference is that Christians are more likely to be Republican. We act identical to our political rivals, just using the name of Jesus to do so. What if we decided that Jesus is, indeed, political, but that he stands apart from both political parties, judging both for their bad policies? What if we decided that no politician nor celebrity holds the truth the way that Jesus does? If we started proclaiming our faith to a broken political system, it might sound like Jim Wallis or Shane Claiborne or Richard Rohr who are doing just that.
For example, Jesus is grieved by the way children and adults are treated at our border with Mexico, Jesus is heartbroken over violence in countries that force its citizens to flee to the safe harbor of America, but Jesus is also concerned with the drugs and violence that are trafficked over our border willy-nilly because of the way those destroy lives. Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. But we fall into our camp, often with the Republicans, and thus become indistinguishable from our secular political opponents. What if we offered, as Christians, our vision for our country that looks and sounds like the empathic, generous, truthful, and direct Jesus, we claim, rather than a political party platform with a veneer of Christianity? If we did so, our country and our place in it would be undoubtedly better.
We don’t tend to act in these ways because it’s easier to stay comfortable and that, in the end, is the message from this scripture for us. Jesus was willing to go and do the uncomfortable thing: proclaim his mission and the truth to a town and a people, including his family, he knew would probably reject him. The disciples were willing to go and do the same, going to towns knowing that they might be rejected. They went with fear of rejection in their hearts and minds, but they still went, they still proclaimed; they refused to simply be a part of the status quo.
So it should be for us today. Are you a person through whom the Spirit is working, meaning your life is lived in substantially different ways from the people around you? Or are you the good religious people, rejecting where the spirit is moving lest you become uncomfortable. In my life, I have known times where I am more concerned with not disrupting the status quo than I am in proclaiming the truth. I have at times been more concerned with self-preservation than with living out the mission God has given me. I wonder if that’s true for you this morning, too?
As individuals, and as a church, let’s set an example for this community by not fearing rejection, sharing the gospel we know and daring to live life the way God has called us to. What does that mean for you in particular? While there’s not a ready-made answer for what the Spirit wants to accomplish through you, I have two examples to share with us.
First, treat your money differently, for nothing else in our life speaks as loudly and as clearly to who we are in our hearts than how we handle our money. Be reticent to go into debt, give generously and without judgment about how deserving the people may be, buy less stuff and don’t let your stuff own you. Give more than 2.5% of your take home pay to charities and the church. Make your example the call Jesus put on the rich young ruler: “sell all you have and give it to the poor.” Maybe that’s not the direct call on your life, but it’s a model worth working toward.
Second, treat your politics differently. If you ask me what I believe politically, I believe that if the church did what the church is supposed to do in this country, there’d be no welfare system, there’d be no social safety net, and there’d be no healthcare controversy, because the church would be taking care of all those things, and better than a government can do. Governments exist to serve God’s purposes of ordering society. Churches exist to care for people. We have gotten the two confused.
Those two things are a great beginning point for how we can speak a powerful truth through our example. We can be individuals who act differently, and we can be a church that acts differently, too. There are a myriad of ways to be different, to be weird, to be the oddball, by living into the call of the Spirit on your life. Treating our money and our politics differently are just two examples.
So, our task this morning is this. Prayerfully consider how the Spirit is calling upon you and your family to live out the gospel, proclaiming the truth and offering healing to the world as the disciples did. Be ready for the answer to be something weird, something uncomfortable, something that requires facing the fear of rejection. Even still, prayerfully consider. God will answer. Then have the courage to go and do that thing. I encourage you to come have a one-on-one conversation with me or with a trusted spiritual advisor as a way of finding the path to which the Spirit is calling you.
We are not to be afraid of rejection. We are instead to live lives that increase the likelihood that we will be rejected. Such is our cross to bear. But such also is our hope, for it’s the oddballs, the weirdos, those most likely to be rejected like the desert fathers and mothers, Martin Luther, and the puritans, who transform the world.
How often are you the rejector? How often are you the rejected?
Be weird, don’t fear rejection, so that we can go and transform the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.