St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 31, 2016
Year C: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Rejection is one of the hardest things we face in life.
At one time or another we’ve all been rejected, right?
The other day at the nursing home I amused the crowd by telling the story of the first time I worked up the courage to ask a girl out on a date.
We had gone through all of school together so we knew each other pretty well and by 7th grade I had worked up the courage to ask her out. I practiced what I was going to say and imagined what the date would be like.
The day came and I said the words and waited nervously and expectantly.
She looked at me with a look that said, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard” or “You’ve got to be kidding me” or “Uh, no, not ever.”
It was painful and so embarrassing. For years after I avoided her, looking the other way whenever I saw her coming.
At one time or another we’ve all been rejected – rejected by someone we like, someone we love, rejected by someone we try to befriend, rejected by a potential employer.
Of course, we’re in good company.
I was really bummed out that last week’s celebration of our patronal feast, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, was almost snowed out by last week’s blizzard.
Almost snowed out, because nineteen of us still managed to get ourselves to church – church where it was freezing cold because on top of everything else the furnace was out – church where we still managed with chattering teeth and visible breath to worship God and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
I’m not eager to repeat that icy experience anytime soon but, you know, there was something appropriate to celebrating St. Paul in conditions like that.
If you know anything about Paul you know that he faced many obstacles in his mission of sharing the Good News to the Gentiles, the non-Jews.
The other apostles didn’t always trust him, remembering only too well that earlier in his life Paul, or Saul as he was then known, had persecuted the early Church.
Over the course of his ministry, as he traveled around the Mediterranean world, he endured arrests and beatings and shipwrecks, and, ultimately, according to tradition, execution in Rome.
All of that was bad enough, but probably the hardest thing faced by Paul was rejection.
Maybe because he suffered from some kind of physical ailment – maybe a speech impediment or an eye disorder, maybe because he was not particularly good-looking or the most eloquent, maybe because his message was just too hard for people to understand or accept, for any number of reasons, over and over Paul was rejected.
And even when he wasn’t rejected, even when he managed to get a little Christian community started, no sooner would he leave than he’d get word that they were doing exactly what he had told them not to do.
The church in Corinth gave him particular trouble because they seem to have been led astray by others and fallen in love with what they perceived as their many special spiritual gifts, things like prophesying and speaking in tongues.
And so Paul’s beautiful hymn to love that we heard in our second reading is actually part of a rebuke. Paul is criticizing the Corinthians because they had rejected his teaching and forgotten the most important thing: love.
Love that is patient and kind. Love that is not envious, boastful, or rude.
Love that endures all things.
Love that never ends.
Paul faced rejection through his life and, yet, despite his anger, hurt, and disappointment, managed in the end to remember the most important thing: love.
Of course, like us, the rejected Paul was in good company.
Jesus himself knew all about rejection.
Today’s gospel lesson is the second half of the story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue.
Actually, things got off to a good start.
Some of his fellow Nazarenes were aware of works of power that Jesus had performed in Capernaum and maybe other places before coming back home.
Jesus took his place in the synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After that he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, sat down, and said, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So far, so good. The people are impressed by his eloquence but then we realize things are going off track when they ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Of course, we know that they’re wrong about that, but there’s also a hint of doubt and maybe even hostility.
How could a local boy, son of a craftsman, speak so well?
And, how on earth could this local boy possibly be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s long ago prophecy?
Jesus seems to anticipate the rejection of his hometown, the rejection of the people he had known his whole life – a most painful rejection.
Jesus seems to anticipate the rejection of the people who looked like him and talked like him when he reminded the crowd of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who had both ministered beyond their communities, to non-Jews, to Gentiles.
This enrages the hometown crowd, cements their rejection, and, we’re told, they want to throw Jesus off a cliff!
Now that’s rejection.
Jesus knew all about rejection.
And, of course, that day in Nazareth won’t be the last time Jesus faced rejection.
At the end – or what seemed to be the end - we know that Jesus was rejected by just about everybody, left to die on the cross, abandoned by all or nearly all of his friends.
And yet, how did Jesus respond to this terrible rejection?
Despite the pain and disappointment and even horror, despite this most terrible rejection, Jesus offers nothing but love and forgiveness.
So, what does all of this mean for us?
First, when we’re rejected, we’re called to offer nothing but love and forgiveness. Very hard, I know. Only possible with God’s help.
Second, we all, at one time or another, probably lots of times, reject Jesus – reject Jesus when we fail to love one another and forgive one another, yet we know that even when we reject Jesus, no matter how many times we reject Jesus, Jesus will always respond with love and forgiveness.
Jesus will never reject us.
And that, my fellow rejects, is very good news, indeed.