Pentecost 5, 2013 (June 30)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Rejected and Accepted”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter nine.
Jesus sets His face firmly toward Jerusalem and His death on the cross for the whole world. That is His purpose and His intention. He will not be moved from it. It was in place before the foundation of the world. St Paul reminds us that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2Corinthians 5:19 ESV) This has been God’s plan from the very beginning.
But that plan, as simple and as beautiful as it is, that plan is not as popular as you might think. The disciples announce it to the Samaritans on His way to Jerusalem, and the Samaritans reject Him. They don’t want God’s forgiveness. We will see in the weeks and months to come that the Pharisees reject Him, the Saducees reject Him, and eventually that even His own disciples forsake Him and flee on the night of Jesus’ death.
Can you imagine that kind of rejection? All He wants is to love them, to forgive them and to give them eternal life, and they will have nothing to do with it. Even His own disciples have a hard time with this kind of rejection. Hear again the words from Luke:
“But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9:53–55 ESV)
Jesus’ disciples see this rejection as a slap in the face. They see it as an offense, and they want to respond in kind. Truth be told, we react the same way to rejection. If you offer a kindness to someone and they toss it aside, you aren’t really motivated to help them again, are you? No, our kindness and mercy tends toward the quid pro quo, that is, we want to help people who will help us in return. This is what we see with the story of Elijah in our Old Testament today. Elijah feels that He is alone, that all of His acts of mercy have resulted in isolation, in rejection, and probably in His own death. Elijah, like Jesus’ disciples, really wants to stick it to all of these people who want nothing to do with the true God.
This is a time in the Church when we are being tempted to do the exact same thing. Christianity seems to be attacked and beleagured on every side. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the decisions of the Supreme Court, or the over-sexualization of our culture, the greed and materialism that is so rampant, the coverage of Wendy Davis or Kermit Gosnell, or pick your own topic. Today the impression that we get is that traditional Christianity is in the minority and shrinking, and that people are leaving the Church in favor of a god and a religion of their own creation.
So we in the Christian Church are faced with a choice: Do we call down fire from heaven like Jesus’ disciples, damn the torpedoes like Admiral Farragut and go on the attack for God and country? Or do we go the way of the cross with our Lord, risk rejection and death, all for the sake of the love of God toward wayward sinners like you and me?
Make no mistake about it, this is a great challenge and temptation for the people of God today. The picture of the Christian Church as the moral majority that is out to force everyone into the straight jacket of white surburbia is a powerful one. What does it mean to cling to the truth of God’s Word, while at the same time act in love and mercy toward those in need all around us?
Both Jesus and St. Paul have much to say to us about it. St. Paul in Galatians puts it this way:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13–15 ESV)
What this means in English, brothers and sisters, is that God’s call to you and me is to love one another, to build one another up and to care for one another in mercy. God does not say “show mercy to people just like you” or “love people who are going to love you back” or even “serve people who agree with you.” What St. Paul says here is that we are to serve one another. Period. Everything that we do serves as a witness to our neighbor. That means when and where we go to Church, our behavior toward both those we love and those we don’t love, and it means how we show mercy to those in need.
And let’s be clear about this. Love means thinking of your neighbor and what they need more than you think of yourself. And that, beloved, does not come naturally to any of us. I want to do what I want to do, and it doesn’t matter if my witness hurts those around me. Yet if I use my freedom as an excuse to sin, I will become enslaved to that sin, no matter how much it feels right or makes sense at the time.
And that brings us to another huge point for our Lord. The point is repentance. Repentance doesn’t mean being right all the time. It doesn’t mean doing the right thing all the time. It means recognizing who you are, a weak sinner who messes up all the time, that lives only by the mercy of God. That is what it means to “walk in step with the Spirit,” as St. Paul put it (Gal. 5:25).
Jesus walks the path of rejection for you. He goes the hard road, the road of love for you. He does this because you cannot, not on your own. We all look back from following Jesus. None of us are fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). And yet, because you are Baptized into Christ, you are fit for the kingdom. Jesus keeps all things for you. Rest in His great salvation, and be at peace with yourself and with each other. Follow Christ, for He is the one who leads the way to eternal life. And love all those who cross your path, for they are in need, just like you are.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.