Sunday, August 17, 2008

Confessions of a Reject - Sermon

A few years ago on sabbatical, I wrote a book.  A novel to be precise.  When I returned, it was with an agent contract and visions of instant publication and J.K. Rowling-like fame.  Well, the agent disappeared, and what I have from other agents are slips of paper with words like, “Thank you for your query. I regret that I shall not be pursuing this further and wish you all the best in seeking representation for your work.” 

Some start with “Dear Author,” while others actually use my name.  But in the end, they all mean the same thing: I am a reject.  Usually, each time I get one of those I burst into tears and shout, “I knew it!  I can’t write!  It’s all garbage!  I’m no good!” (Incidentally, I had a similar reaction the first time I asked a girl out, and she turned me down).

That’s certainly how it feels, doesn’t it?  You try something, and someone says, “No.”   That’s it -- you have “Reject” stamped on your forehead.   Admittedly, in writing, there are ways around that.  Keep trying, revise the work, take a writing class.  It doesn’t say anything about YOU, just the work or the agent. 

But that’s not how it feels.  It feels like rejection of you as a person.  In fact, we humans tend toward fearing rejection and seeing it at every slight.  On the other hand, we tend toward DOING a lot of rejecting.  It seems we live in a “reject or be rejected” world.

What does Jesus say about that?

You would think, that Jesus would be the star witness against rejecting people, wouldn’t you?  He’s teaching the crowd about how it’s not who we are but how we live that counts -- when all of a sudden this woman -- a Canaanite no less -- bursts onto the scene and begs him to help her daughter.

The disciples want to toss her out because she’s making a scene, and Jesus -- politely -- tells her to get lost.  But she persists, and Jesus comes back at her with one of the cruelest sentences ever to cross his lips:  “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Is that rejection or what?  

But the woman is not put off by this bating, and you almost wonder if Jesus knew it ahead of time.  Instead of hanging her head and slumping off with “Reject” stamped across her head, she stands up to him and says, “OK, I may be a dog, but even  the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

In other words, “It’s not important to me what you think of me.  But you still have what my daughter needs, and I’m not giving up.”

Remember, Jesus had just been teaching the crowd how it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles (Like the foods the Gentiles eat), but what comes out.  And when he hears what comes out of her mouth -- bold faithful wisdom -- he tells everyone that this woman is exactly the model of faith he’s been talking about.

You can see this idea of rejection in Pauls letter to the Romans, too.  Only here, Paul is writing to the Roman church which is already well established.  Even smug.  He has encountered the idea in Rome that God must have rejected the Jews because they have not accepted Jesus -- at least not as an entire people.  As if any entire people ever did.

Paul’s essential argument is something like:  “If God didn’t reject YOU outright when you didn’t believe in Christ, what makes you think he would reject his chosen people?”  And he assures them, “They’ll figure it out in due time.  In the meantime, leave the rejecting -- or refusal to reject -- to God.”

What can we take home from all of this?

Well, it’s very simple.  Over the course of our lives, we run into a lot of situations where we will feel rejected.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in love or work or if it’s our nationality or our race.  You will find plenty of opportunities to feel that giant stamp across your forehead.

It’s just that the one place you will NOT get rejected from is right here -- God’s family.  Neither because you belong to the wrong racial group -- like Canaanite -- nor because your belief system isn’t up to snuff -- like the Jews in the eyes of the Romans.  God’s love for us is so far beyond any of that.  

And OUR love?  Do we reject, too?  What happens when we do?  In Genesis, we see how Joseph’s brothers had rejected him -- only to finally find themselves dependent upon his forgiveness.  Perhaps we may want to be slower to reject? 

After all, J.K. Rowling received 35 of those rejection letters before somebody agreed to take a chance on a little book called Harry Potter.