Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is three-in-one.
My wife Cheryl said that I need to add more humor into my sermons, so here goes.
A man was painting his house. He only bought 5 gallons of paint. He knew he couldn’t finish the job with 5 gallons, so he started to thin it with water. He thinned and thinned and finally the job was done.
Then a big black cloud showed up over the house. It rained and rained and of course washed all the paint off the house.
A voice was heard from the cloud. “Repaint and thin no more.”
I guess God rejected his attempts at cutting corners. I think that’s something we’ve all felt from God a time or two in our lives. We do what we think is best but, for some reason, it doesn’t work out. Some would feel defeated and quit, but God has a different wish for us. He calls us to be courageous as we carry on. Instead of walking away in apparent rejection, He asks us to repaint and thin no more.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” That’s not only true when you get bucked off a horse.
There are many things in life we must overcome even when they scare us. I remember my first time behind the steering wheel of a car and how scared I was to actually push the gas pedal down. I remember walking home late one night alone in a town I didn’t know. I even remember being in front of my first congregation doing my first sermon. Yikes!
Well, I’m no longer scared of these things, but I’m still scared now and then. For the most part I avoid things that scare me. I doubt I’d ever go bungee jumping. I shudder at the idea of walking on a tightrope over a raging waterfall. I would never be caught swimming with sharks unprotected. These are things I have no trouble avoiding.
But, in life, there are many things that we can’t avoid so easily. Things that scare us. Will this tornado hit our house? Will this market crash cost me my retirement? Will this congregation like my sermon?
As I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, I came across something else that scares me much more than it should, the fear of being rejected. We want to be accepted, looked up to, trusted. But when that doesn’t happen, it can be devastating.
Marilyn Monroe seemed to have everything: fame, wealth, beauty. But inside she was always very scared of rejection. In fact, it bothered her so much that she once said that she felt her whole life was one big rejection. This, no doubt, helped to lead her into depression, which, many speculate, caused her to take her own life.
We can all relate to rejection because we have probably all experienced it in one way or another to greater and lesser degrees. I’ve never heard of anyone who enjoyed it unless they didn’t want it in the first place. They may get used to it, but they don’t look forward to it.
I think we can all say that rejection is a hard thing to undergo, and Jesus understands this because He suffered the worst forms of it, the rejection He felt from the people He so dearly loved as he carried His cross, the rejection from His Father as He hung on it. To me, this is the classic definition of what hell must be like, to feel the rejection of the Father.
In our Epistle lesson in Romans chapter 11, Paul is speaking to the people of Israel, who have a long history of rejection, not God’s rejection of them but rather their rejection of God. Over and over again, the great prophets warned of the consequences of rejecting their Heavenly Father yet over and over again they did just that.
So, Paul starts out the chapter by asking a question, after He’s reminded the Israelites of their pattern of rejection, and he says, “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? To which he replies, “By no means!”
Even after all they had done to show their distrust, their outright rejection of the Father, He still has not given up on them. And Paul knows this because he is one of them. Though, through the centuries the Jews have rejected the Father, He is still using Paul.
Though they lacked trust in God to save them, He is still working within them to bring them back to Him just as He continues to work in us today, though we continue the same pattern of the Israelites.
So, where does all this rejection that we feel come from if not from God? For that answer we need to go back to the very beginning of history. The rejection we feel against us actually has become part of us because of that one fateful day when Adam and Eve first rejected God. Just as the Israelites would later do, they rejected the warning of God so that they might find their own way, and that pattern has continued from generation to generation to this very day. They decided to take their own path, apart from God, seeking to be their own Gods making their own decisions. Because of this they truly knew the difference between good and evil. Because God rejects evil, He had to reject their evil ways and ours.
And even when He came to save us, to redeem us, to justify us, we reject Him still in so many ways. Though we hear the warnings every Sunday, we follow our own worldly ways convinced we know better. Though we were given the very textbook to know God’s will, we let it accumulate dust, too busy with our own lives to worry about what God might have to say.
Even so, with all this, as Paul says, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” In fact, not only has he not rejected us, He has chosen us as His very own, going so far as to offer us eternal life in paradise for following His ways and for believing in Him. Still today, God gift’s us with hope for something better than the mess we have gotten ourselves into. Still today he looks through the prism of His perfect Son to see our sins washed clean.
This brings us to our Gospel lesson where it appears that Jesus might be rejecting someone because they are not Jewish. At first glance, it seems harsh. A woman comes to Jesus asking for a miracle saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Even after acknowledging Him as the promised Messiah in the line of King David, He seems unimpressed, not even acknowledging her.
His disciples take the hint and ask if they can send her away. Finally, Jesus speaks in what seems like an explanation to the mother saying that He has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Yet, even after this rejection, the mother doesn’t give up as she cries out once again for His help. Then rejection again as He seems to be equating her presence to that of a pet saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Harsh!! But this still does not stop her. She ignores this apparent rebuff and says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Though dismissed over and over again, she is relentless and, finally, rewarded. Soon we find the real reason for Christ’s apparent rejection of her. Knowing all, he knew this woman’s faith would not allow her to stop her pleas for help. Because of her persistence, her daughter was healed and His disciples were taught the art of rejecting rejection. Something they would have to do often as they spread the Gospel.
We were born sinners, a fate every person has shared since that first rejection of God in the garden. Yet God rejects that rejection by selecting us to be with Him for all eternity. As Paul says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” That’s you and me. We are the remnant of the faithful whom God has chosen to be His forever into eternity. Though we have rejected Him in so many ways by what we say and do, He has chosen us out of a love we could never comprehend. Though we have placed so much of our trust in other things, he still sees us as his dearly beloved.
What saved this woman and her daughter was her faith. She believed that Jesus could do all things. Somewhere in her life she had heard the promises and from that day she treasured them in her heart until the time she would be at the feet of the Savior begging for relief. She understood she probably deserved little, yet she will have nothing of any rejection. She knows she has no right of anything from the master’s table, yet she relies on Christ’s grace and mercy to save her.
Jesus was not showing rejection, he was teaching a lesson on rejecting it. Jesus had already chosen her as one of His own because of her great faith. She was saved because she knew that even the scraps off the Lord’s table were enough to save her. Though an outsider, she proved she was worthy of God’s grace. So, in return for her faith, she is gifted with Christ’s mercy.
And that same faith that saved her and her daughter will also save you. By choosing Christ and rejecting the world which rejects God, we are given the same reward from the master’s table. By staying steadfast in our faith, we receive the same royal inheritance from the Kings of kings. Because of that same faith modeled so humbly by the mother, we have also received our reward. Sounds like pretty good news doesn’t it? Well, I ask you not to reject this good news, this saving message anymore. Claim your inheritance in faith. Be relentless in your worship. Let God speak to you and guide you by His Word and Sacraments. Accept His love, a love that promises never to reject you.
As Jesus carried His cross up the hill to Golgatha, our Savior faced the greatest of rejections so that we might be accepted. By His grace he faced the cross willingly so that we would be rejected no more. In turmoil facing the rejection He received, even from those He so dearly loved, He carried the cross to our ultimate victory over sin and death. That is a God-sized love, a love that says all things are possible.
In the end, God rejects our rejection of Him and gives us reason for hope. Though we follow the pattern that Israel had set, he sees in us something to love. Because of this abounding love, He has given you every scrap you need to be saved through faith and forgiveness. Amen.