The Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton
Let us pray.
Tell us what we need to hear, O God. And show us what we need to do to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you’ve ever felt the sting of rejection at any time in your life, then you have a chance of understanding what is going on in the story of today’s Gospel text. It has the word rejection written all over it.
Have you known it? Have you been like the one that has been through that pain of life known as Senior Prom–when all your friends talking excitedly about their boughs, their dates and the wonderful time they would have. And then they ask you, “Aren’t you going, Mary?” But you remember the weeks before when you asked someone, and you remember the laughter of them saying, “The Prom? With you?” And they went off. That’s rejection.
Or maybe you were born five miles from this Cathedral, the five miles in the other direction–east–the other side of the Park. And growing up you remember a time when you went to another section of the town, and you remember the stare of the one word, that awful word that the person said to you that made you know that you were not welcome. That’s rejection.
Or when you’re expecting that letter. You rush home. You find it there. You tear open the envelope, and your eyes reach down to that paragraph that begins, “Although in many ways you are qualified for this position,…” That’s rejection. Your heart falls.
And you would expect that to happen at various times in life. The world can be so cruel. It is a cruel place, isn’t it? You know that. But what about those you love? Or who are supposed to love you unconditionally? But you can’t help but remember that parent who just does not come through when you need him or her the most. The brother who never calls. The sister who slams the door in your face. And your own love? The one on whom you pinned your life’s dreams, sits across the table as says to you all too calmly, “I’m leaving you, John.” That’s rejection.
Have you ever felt it? And why, you ask? They never tell you why, but you know why. You know it’s your weight, your height, your color, it’s your accent. You know that it’s only because you’re the wrong gender, or you’re the wrong orientation, or the wrong age. You went to the wrong schools. You have the wrong personality. You have the wrong look. Whatever it is that you are, whatever it is that you have to offer, what you’ve accumulated in terms of life’s resources–you simply are not what the world is ordering this year.
And so I’ll take a poll. Have you ever been rejected? Wait till I tell the Bishop of Washington, that 90 percent of the worshippers at the National Cathedral are social rejects. And so was Jesus. Jesus went home, in today’s Gospel lesson. He left home sometime ago, and he made a bit of a flash. He turned some water into wine in Cana. He raised from the dead a young girl, the normal things a boy does when he leaves home. He came to his hometown, and they invited him to preach. He stands in the Synagogue and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. And the people were astonished.
Where did this man get this? What wisdom is coming out of his lips? What deeds of power he is doing? They are absolutely amazed. They are astonished. But then things take a sinister turn somewhere first in the human heart. But then it gets spoken. “Wait a minute. Isn’t this the carpenter? We know him. It wasn’t that many months ago that he was patching our roofs. He was fixing up our barns. He replaced the weakened beam in the shepherds’ loft. We know him. And is he not Mary’s son? Notice they did not say “Joseph’s son,” as would have been in cultural norm. But then that brings up the slur that Jesus has heard through his life, around the peculiar circumstances of his birth. “Well, you know after all, we don’t really know who his father is.” Is not this Mary’s son? We know him. Who is he to be telling us these things?
And they are beginning to fulfill what Thomas Flur’s famous observation was–familiarity breeds contempt. Or as it is commonly said of an expert, “An expert is someone who is at least forty miles away and who shows slides.” But an expert is not the one whom you’ve seen in the morning before he shaved, who burps after meals and who tracks mud into the house. We know him. He’s no expert, much less a messiah.
My oldest son came home from his first year at college. And we’re having a wonderful time at reconnecting around the home, and so I start reminding him of things that bug me. And, of course, he needs my correction. And I well remember the time he said, “Dad, stop treating me as a child! I’m an adult now.” And I know he’s right. I know that somewhere in my heart when I see him, I see the young boy standing by my side who needs my protection, my care, my admonition. He needs me maybe more, maybe I need him to need me. And it’s so hard to let him go, to let him grow. And that makes it so hard for him to experience home as he once did.
Jesus went home, but Nazareth was no more prepared to accept Jesus grown into the fullness of what God had intended for him. They were no more prepared for that than to consider him as anything other than that carpenter. Today, we would say, we know him. He does our landscaping. He washes our dishes. He takes the trash out of our alleys. We know him. Who is he to be teaching us? And so the jealous, the envy, the anger first turned outward as it normally does. Who is he to be so extraordinary? He should be like us. We’re Nazareth. We’re simple folk. We don’t take on airs. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Even a Messiah?
But then the anger inevitably gets turned inward, and it results in “Why do I feel so inadequate, so insecure, so unbelieving? Why can’t I be extraordinary like him?”
The irony, of course, is that Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was for the purpose of teaching and showing people like me, like you, that we are extraordinary persons in God’s eyes. And that the only obstacles to accessing the love, the grace and that astonishing power of God are the ones that we put in place. That belief in God is intimately wrapped up in belief in ourselves. And belief in ourselves is intimately linked to believing in the divine possibilities in others as well.
In 1994, in his inaugural speech to be President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said an amazing thing. He was about to become president of a country that had rejected him. And for over twenty-six years silenced in a jail. He got up and said these words quoting an American author:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, ‘Who are you not to be?’ You are a child of God. You’re playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” And then he closes, “It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In a seminary classroom an argument ensued on holiness: Who really is holy? Who is a saint? And one person in the classroom said, “Desmond Tutu is a saint. He is holy.” And the class argued with him. “Why is he holy?” And finally in exasperation the student answered, “I know that Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of South Africa, is holy because whenever I am in his presence, I feel holy.”
We are holy people, called to a holy purpose. You are a holy person. And if you feel rejected, you have a friend in Jesus who knew that it was the route of rejection and suffering and pain and ultimately experiencing defeat that enabled him to manifest God’s glory.
I close with the lines of St. Paul in today’s second lesson: “I will boast all the more in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may be manifest in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.