“Doing the Right Thing” January 31, 2016; MCC Windsor
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
Herod said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my realm.”
She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
At once the girl hurried in to Herod with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
Herod was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Message: “Doing the Right Thing”
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, open our mouths to speak your praise and our ears to hear your wisdom. In all your names, amen.
Rejection. It's painful, and no one likes it. We've all faced it--the person who didn't want to date us, the job we didn't get, the part in a play we didn't get, the friend who turned away when we needed help. It hurts because someone we care about--whether a potential boss, a friend or a date--has, in effect, said they don't want to be around us, wants us to go away. It probably isn't put in quite those terms, but that is what it boils down to, isn't it?
Jesus, the disciples and John all face rejection in this reading. The people who knew Jesus best didn't think he had any good word for them. They sneered at him. The disciples were warned that some towns would not listen to them, and would treat them roughly--rejecting them. And poor John the Baptizer--he was not only imprisoned, but was executed at the whim of a young woman he probably did not even know.
Most of us won't have to face what John did--execution--but maybe we have experienced what Jesus and the disciples did. When have you felt rejection because you were speaking up for truth, or for a different reality, or because you were inconvenient? It's awfully easy for that rejection to rear its ugly head. Because, let's face it, we've been on the other side of that fence--we have rejected someone, at least once or twice in our lives, haven't we? We looked at them and said, "That's not a smart person," or a good-looking person, or a nice person, or a strong person--and so we decided we did not want to be friends with that person. Maybe it was a new boss, or a family member's new significant other, or even--another church member. Rejection based on appearances.
How many of you saw the movie "Legally Blonde," with Reese Witherspoon? It's not a difficult or deep movie, as you can guess from the title! The main character, Elle, is a beautiful sorority girl at a California university. When her boyfriend dumps her, she decides to follow him to law school, so she can try to win him back. No one really expects her to do well at law school, even the admissions committee who are--straight men--struck by her beauty and seeing a way to fill the quota of women admitted to the school--but she turns out to have a talent for law. She opens herself up to her full potential. There's a sequence early in the movie in which she is shown on the first day of class at Law School with a little notepad and a pen with a feathery end to take notes in class--and everyone else has a laptop. The next day, she comes into class with an Apple computer in bright pink. She is adapting to law school, but she does so in her own way. Not a boring black or silver laptop for her! The point is, the admission team, her professors, and most of her fellow students didn't really think she had what it takes to go through law school--and she proved then wrong.They snubbed her and laughed at her West Coast glamour girl style; they were judging her based on their first impressions--and so they rejected her.
Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone and not liking them very well, only to have them "grow on you?" My son Ben had a friend like that in kindergarten. He and another boy, Nathan, argued and actually had a fight one day on the bus--and then became close friends and still are friends today, 20-some years later. If we let our first impressions rule what we think of people, we will miss out on friendships and possibly even love and relationships--whether friendships or something more.
So that rejection thing cuts both ways, doesn't it? We are rejected and we reject others. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to expect it when they go out into the world to spread the good news of God's love.
It's a risk we take when we offer people an opportunity for something new, for change. Often the immediate response is "no," without further thought or discussion. Sometimes that "no" comes from a place of fear or anger--"things are just fine as they are, I don't need any changes in my life," "but if I change, I might lose my job, my home, my partner, my family..." It's why some LGBT people have such difficulty coming out. There is a fear of how things will change, even if the changes will be good. I know I was terrified of coming out to my mom and sisters, even though I knew they would not reject me--or I was pretty certain of it. It still meant a change in our relationships, and I had no idea what that would look like.
For Jesus' neighbours to accept what he was preaching meant they had to accept that this person who had grown up in this town was now a crazy teacher, wandering around leading what seemed to be a cult. They would have had to accept that he had, in fact fulfilled biblical prophecy, and to admit that they were wrong. But they knew him when...when he was a kid, a youngster, a brash teenager... I think of the art teacher at one school where I worked in the library. He wore an ascot scarf--almost never a regular tie--and his name was Claudio. He had taught in the system for many years, and one of the other teachers said to me once, "I knew him when he was plain old Claude." So there's a sense of that for Jesus' neighbours--they knew him when...
The townspeople that the disciples met and preached to would have had their belief systems turned upside down, too. And Herod--well, you can guess how happy he would be to upend his life--divorce his wife and be more observant of Jewish religious law.
It's that change thing again.
Because what was Jesus preaching? He was saying that faith, relationships between a person and God, and between individuals, was more important that society's rules and distinctions and prejudices. What does he say are the two greatest commandments? To love God with all your soul, body and mind, the second, to love your neighbour as you love yourself. That is why he kept company with people who were often regarded as riff-raff. It's why he turned down everything he was tempted with--political power, religious power, spiritual power. Jesus was much more interested in meeting people where they were, being in relationship with them there, and caring for them as they were. And his relationship with them led them to face change.
We don't know how often people were able to accept that challenge--the disciples did, Mary and her sister Martha did, others clearly did. But Jesus kept putting it out there, offering a relationship of love and faith that was based on his relationship of love and faith with God. This was a relationship so full and deep that Jesus was willing to die for it--and, in fact, did die for it.
Here in Canada, in 2016, we are rarely called on to demonstrate our faith in ways that might evoke rejection. There have been a few times--such as the struggle over same-sex marriage. But no one was in physical danger--which cannot be said for Christians or LGBT people in many parts of the world.
The other reason for rejection is familiarity. That's what caused the townspeople to reject Jesus--"Yes, we've heard it all before," as well as, "Don't try to tell me how to live my life, I knew you before you could walk;" aka the Claudio effect.
Do we do that sometimes? Ignore that call Jesus is making on our lives, because we've heard it all before? Because we know what Jesus wants, but it requires too much change, more than we want to deal with? "Later, Jesus, after my kids are all in school," "I'll talk about Jesus to some other friends, these would think I am a freak," or I'll work for you Jesus when I retire." And so on.
But the reality is that responding, being in relationship with Jesus, will cause changes, yes--but so does life--and those changes will be for the better--better relationships with others, a greater peace with ourselves, and on and on. I am not a fan of the prosperity gospel--turn everything over to Jesus and life will be perfect, you'll win the lottery and get the partner of your dreams...that seems to their promise--that once you decide to follow Jesus, that decision will make your life perfect.
No, it won't. Look at the apostles. Granted we don't know, really, what happened to most of them, but we do know about a few. And when you think about it, they did not have it easy. Paul talks about it, how he was shipwrecked, received lashes, was kicked out of towns... And many of them were executed by the Roman Empire, because they refused to bow down to the Roman gods. That's not exactly a life of wealth and ease!
But what it does do is reinforce and lift up the power of a relationship with God. Those apostles clearly had a sense of God's, of Jesus', continued presence with them. That is what enabled then, indeed pushed them, to continue their lifestyle of traveling to share the news that God wanted a loving relationship with humans, above all other things.
Relationship with God and others, above all things--above career, above possessions, above fame, above power. Relationships and acceptance, mutual respect.
They can bring about tremendous changes==are we willing to accept and welcome the challenge, to be in relationships of love and mutual support with everyone? In all God's names, amen.