Today we observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! And some of you may say “so what?”, others may say “what reformation?”, still others may say “that is for Lutheran's to celebrate.” Well, it is the Protestant Reformation. It is dated back to October 31st, 1517. History records that Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses against Indulgences” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. These are the bare bones of what we are “celebrating” today.
Exodus 32: 1-14; Philippians 4: 1-9; Matthew 22: 1-14
October 15, 2017 Ecumen
We are so happy to share worship with you all this morning. We are a small church and it is special for us to share worship with a bigger crowd too. And we are an ecumenical group here, members of many different denominations. I share a story about a particular ecumenical gathering. While the several denominations were gathered, the church secretary suddenly rushed in shouting, “The building is on fire!”
The Methodists gathered and prayed in the corner. The Baptists wondered where to find the water. The Lutherans posted a notice on the door announcing the fire was evil. The Congregationalists shouted, “every man for himself!” The fundamentalists proclaimed, “It's the vengeance of God!” The Episcopalians formed a procession and protested. And the Presbyterians formed a committee to look into the matter and promised a written report. Finally, the church secretary grabbed the fire extinguisher and put the fire out.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
October 8, 2017
Jesus faced lots of rejection in his 33 years on earth. He was rejected by the religious leaders—rejected and murdered in reality. But he was also rejected by his hometown of Nazareth as we learned in our Bible study last week. He was rejected by his family, by Judas, and finally, by the crowd when they called for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.
It got me thinking about ways we might be rejected in this life. And I went right back to my school days. School days can be full of rejection. My most memorable rejection event was in 5th grade. I went to country school, we had three grades together. I was in 5th grade, in the big room we called it. It was about this time of the year, the brother of a sixth grade girl had visited our school. He was home on leave from the army and a bit of an artist and he drew a monster on the chalk board with the words, “Grrr, have a great Halloween.” Kind of a big deal back then. Well, a couple of days later, Mrs McCarthy sent us to the boards to show some of our math work. She said, “Grrr, don't erase the monster.” I heard, “Grrr, erase the monster”. So I started erasing until I was getting yelled at from all around the room. The whole school seemed to be angry! I was rejected for erasing this special drawing...it was of course a much simpler time. I don't recall how long I was on the outside looking in, but it obviously affected me as here I am almost 50 years later and I remember it quite vividly. There was one act of kindness, Kathy Wilson offered to ask her brother to come back and redraw it.
I'm sure you have stories rejection to tell; being picked last for sports teams, not being invited to a party, being the odd man out at the lunch table, being rejected by the opposite sex.
Rejection hurts. Jesus knew what it was to be rejected. The scriptures tell us that we have a high priest in heaven who has suffered as we have. Jesus understands. But more than that, Jesus shows us that we can find blessings even in rejection.
It is a confusing parable we read this morning. The landowner sends servants to a distant vineyard who are mistreated, beaten, even one killed by the tenants. So he sends more and it happens again. The tenants are rejecting the claim the landowner has on his own property. This makes no sense to the landowner so he sends his son, sure they will accept him. In the ultimate act of rejection, they killed the son. And then Jesus quotes from the Old Testament: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” And I wonder if anyone that day caught the full meaning of this quote. The obvious meaning was for the Jewish leaders, rejected because they failed to listen to God's messengers. But the true meaning is that Jesus is the stone rejected; the stone, Jesus, becomes the cornerstone for relationship with God.
In our Wednesday bible study, we note that the writers of the gospels use the Old Testament to support the fact that Jesus the Messiah, that he is the fulfillment of prophecy. This particular quotation comes from the Psalms, chapter 118, verse 22. I want to share a little more of the passage so you get a feel for the psalmist writing to the Lord, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The psalmist is giving thanks for the salvation offered by God; and hints at the story of the Messiah's rejection and triumph. And this particular verse is used other times in the New Testament: notably in Acts after Peter heals a man, he adapts this verse saying, “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
The rejected stone becomes the cornerstone. That sounds wrong, but the gospel is full of such contradictions. The first shall be last, the King who came to serve rather than be served, We live by dying to self, we bless those who curse us, we turn the other cheek. And it just may be that we can embrace these contradictions as well as the rejections, as it seems Paul did. He listed his wonderful qualifications to be a religious leader in Israel. “Circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; ... as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He was fully accepted into the upper echelons of the Jewish religion. We even read that at the stoning of the first Martyr, Stephen, Paul was there giving his approval. According to the law, he was considered blameless. Wow. And yet he is rejected by the Pharisees when he follows Jesus. And that is Okay because Paul rejects all that religions and laws and qualifications. He is interested in one thing. Well, here's what he wrote, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.” He has rejected the honors of this world in order to fully know Christ Jesus his Lord. He makes clear that all his training, his education, his social status, all are of little value unless they are used in service to Jesus Christ.
Can we make that same interpretation of our lives? There probably aren't any “Paul's” here today. He was arguably the most influential theologian in history. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, he spent the entirety of his life sharing the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world. He traveled 10,000 miles mostly on foot to share what he had learned of God's Son and the grace he came to give the world. He was driven, as he writes, “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”
So what do we do? Like I said, we probably aren't going to be a full-time world-wide missionary and author like Paul was. What we do is touch the people in our own corner of the world with the love of Jesus. It starts right here in this room. When we share and receive the peace of Christ; remember that it isn't simply a good morning greeting. It is a prayer for the person whose hand you grasp, a prayer that their life may be touched with the peace Jesus offers. A prayer that the rejection our brothers and sisters may face in the world is overcome by the peace Christ gives. And as Judy is so good at pointing out, it is also receiving those prayers on your behalf, that Christ's peace may be known in our lives as well.
Living out Christ's love is going forth and seeing others in need with the eyes of Jesus; the compassion of Jesus. I began by talking about being rejected. It is an experience most of us have experienced and so we can use that experience to minister to others who may feel rejected. I talked about my rejection at school, a rather minor type of rejection. But rejection in school is way too common. Those of you still in school are called to respond with compassion to those who get rejected by the cool kids. My story of the monster was a big deal for a few weeks, but I failed to learn from it. There were classmates rejected, bullied who I could have befriended but didn't because of the peer pressure. That I regret. And it isn't just in school. Wherever you find yourself... rejection can happen. I remember visiting with my Mom when she lived across the street...their lives together are very high school-like. There are cliques and there is pressure to conform and there are people who feel rejected. It happens at the workplace, it happens in social settings, it happens in churches. It happens in the world in which we are called to go out and be light in the darkness.
I don't know a lot about cyber-bullying, but understand it is a serious new way to reject those who are different than us.
We don't know anything about the shooter in Las Vegas, but it may be that his violence was the ultimate way to handle his rejection or to reject the world in which he lived.
When we are the ones rejected, violence is not the answer. Too many have been driven to suicide by the terrible force of peer rejection. There is always someplace you can go to be accepted; particularly here in our community of faith. We aren't going to judge, we aren't going to reject; we are here to love the lost in the name of Jesus.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Consider that the cornerstone in construction is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the soundness of the entire structure. The builder wants the best stone he can find for that reference stone. He may reject many before he finds the perfect one.
The people of Israel, according to scriptures, rejected many of the prophets of God, rejected many of the commands of God, and ultimately rejected Jesus. But Jesus becomes the cornerstone, the stone that sets the proper construction of any foundation. Jesus Christ is the foundation for each of us in our lives. We are here because we have chosen to follow Jesus. Much of the world has rejected him; and we seek to show them Jesus through our love. That this rejected savior is truly love and peace and joy and acceptance. It has been said that Jesus loves us and accepts us as we are, but then he loves us too much to leave us as we are. We grow in love and grace and obedience as we build on our foundation of faith.
An interesting story I ran across in my research this week tells a bit about the history of the famous David statue carved by Michelangelo. The stone used was a block of marble eighteen feet high. It was actually a stone rejected by the artist Agostino di Diccio. He had selected it with the intention of sculpting an Old Testament prophet. He gave up when he discovered that this block of marble just wasn't going to work...he said “I can do nothing with it” and gave up. But Michelangelo used that same block of marble to create his famous work of art. A stone that had been rejected used to create the statue of David that has thrilled the world for 500 years.
“He was despised and rejected...” That phrase comes from Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah. We know from the gospel accounts, Jesus was rejected by many in many ways. We also know how often people are hurt by the rejection they face in this world. Jesus knows how that feels. We know Jesus. And if you are one suffering rejection or loss of any kind, know that Jesus walks with you. But we are also called for those who go through their days without the presence of Jesus in their life. For them, it is important that we be the Jesus that understands their rejection, that has compassion for them in their pain, and who enters into their pain to walk through the valley with them. And as Michelangelo showed with the rejected stone, the fact that we may have been rejected soesn't mean we are worthless. Each of us had ultimate value; so much that God sent his son to die for you. So when the world gets you down, cling to that savior, the one with nail-scarred hands. They were scarred when he hung on an old rugged cross, that emblem of suffering and shame... and rejection. Jesus overcomes our rejection, our pain, our tears, our losses, or sorrows. Cling to Jesus. Amen.
Hymn: On a Hill Far Away 236 HLC
Exodus 17: 1-7; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew 21: 23-32
October 1, 2017
Whether on TV sports programs or facebook or sports radio or even network news, the big discussion item this week has been NFL players standing, or sitting or kneeling or staying in the locker room for the National anthem. It is definitely an issue I don't want to get into. In fact I had another sermon well underway but a small still voice was whispering in my ear...so I'm going to take some time to consider what we, as Christian citizens might think about it.
My gut reaction every time is anger. It makes me angry that a relatively few players have kind of hijacked this pregame tradition. My gut feeling is that most of us gathered here today feel the same way. But one of the “problems” of being a Christian is that we are called to go beyond our gut reactions, our ingrained attitudes and examine all issues in light of the gospel. So that's what I'm going to try to do today; not to settle the issue but try to bring Jesus into the discussion.