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"Rejection" - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on February 3, 2019 by Kathy Miller

“Rejection”

Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:16-30

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

February 3, 2019

When I graduated from college the internet was still a fairly new thing, which means finding and applying for jobs on the internet was still a fairly new thing.  I was lucky to have theater jobs lined up for the summer and early fall, but wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do after that, so I spent a good amount of time looking at listings online, customizing a resume to fit that job (meaning rearranging bullet points on my few jobs to try and look like experience) and sending emails off into, what came to feel like, a void.  I had gotten all my previous jobs through connections or just walking into a place I knew was hiring, and now I was putting myself out into this big, wide world.  Occasionally, I would get an email acknowledging receipt of my resume, but more often than not, I’d just never hear anything at all.  It was a frustrating, exhausting process that felt like one big rejection.

So, when I took a job working at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago (a job that I had an introduction to through an acquaintance) and a few months later found myself working in the Human Resources department, I was determined to be more personal with any applicants that came our way.  I wanted to communicate well and when rejection was necessary, do it in a kind, personal way.

Fourth is a big church with over 6,000 members, and more importantly to this story, at the time, around 140 staff members, which means we were almost always hiring for something, most often for jobs with a lot of turn over like the janitorial staff or administrative assistants.  So, the time came quickly for me to post my first job listing on the various websites.  And almost immediately I had an inbox overflowing with hundreds of applicants.  I diligently printed them all out and started to look through each one.  Most of them had little to no relevant experience, a fair share had glaring errors and almost none came with any kind of cover letter or communication that would distinguish them more than a generic list of the previous jobs they’d held.   And, did I mention they came by the hundreds?  It wasn’t long before I found myself doing exactly what I had said I wouldn’t – impersonal rejection emails or the silent rejection of no response.

While I believe that there are many, many good things that have come from the internet, I’m not sure humans needed more ways to experience the rejection of others.  Job applications are just the tip of the iceberg – I won’t even attempt to delve into what I understand to be the merciless world of rejection found in dating apps.

But, of course, online job applications and dating apps are still a milder, even if painful, way to experience a kind of anonymous rejection by others.  Online social media and in person rejections based on appearance, race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs or religion, and the countless other ways people find to reject each other, can cause deep wounds.  Rejection can take many different forms: from being ignored or overlooked to thoughtless or cruel words, to violence as we saw in the hateful attack that happened to an actor in Chicago last week which included horrible slurs and physical violence.  And rejection can come from lots of different people. But the kind that often hurts the most, is a rejection from someone close to us. When a parent or sibling, a dear friend or partner, rejects us in some way, it can be profoundly devastating.  These kinds of rejections can create deep and festering wounds, often because they are the ones hardest to forget or ignore.  These very personal rejections can change the course of our entire lives.  Being rejected or fearing rejection can cause us to change or hide things about ourselves or to make choices we’d otherwise likely not have made. In other words, the rejection we receive from others can cause us to begin rejecting ourselves.  It plants doubt and insecurities.  It becomes the voice in our heads that tells us all the ways we aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough, aren’t up to the task, don’t deserve something, won’t succeed, don’t measure up.  And when we pile up rejections of others throughout our lives, consciously and subconsciously, it leads us to having a greater and greater fear of rejection and in turn, a great rejection of our true self.

But this is not new in the 21st century.  Humans have struggled with this for centuries, and our scripture today shows us an example. God called Jeremiah to the work of being God’s prophet to the people and Jeremiah’s response was: “I’m too young.” Jeremiah rejected himself. Jeremiah had doubts, insecurities, concerns about his ability to carry out what God was asking.  He didn’t need anyone else to tell him he couldn’t do it, he’d already made up his mind he was not capable.

I’ll never forget a story from the summer before my senior year of high school when I spent 6 weeks at a music camp at what would later become my college.  You had to audition for the camp though I’m really not sure how competitive it was, but there were youth from all over the country.  And we had classes and lessons with college professors which was wonderful, but could also be a little intimidating.

The orchestra professor had a particularly difficult reputation of losing his temper and laying into youth who weren’t playing the way he wanted.  And in one rehearsal he started to do just that - yell at a student who dissolved into tears and yelled back, “I’m just from Skokie, I’m just from Skokie.”  Skokie was a nearby town and while none of us were really sure why being from Skokie would mean he couldn’t play his part correctly, the message was clear – he didn’t feel like he was good enough to be there.  He had auditioned and got in just like everyone else, but he didn’t think he deserved it or was capable. And I can empathize with that feeling.  There are plenty of times in my life where I have felt that way and so just self-rejected – didn’t even try or hid part of myself which I thought wasn’t good enough.

Fear of rejection can lead us to hide parts of ourselves, to play things safe and not put ourselves in situations where we might be rejected, to keep things close to the vest, and this fear can become paralyzing.  Or another, just as dangerous response to the fear of rejection, is to turn around and reject others – to find power or take revenge by becoming the one who rejects - a cycle easily broken.

So, how do we overcome this fear of rejection?  How do we put aside the ways we’ve been rejected in the past and not let those rejections dictate who we are?

Well, in today’s gospel lesson, we have an example of Jesus experiencing a rejection – and a most painful rejection at that, by the people from his own hometown, arguably, those who knew him best.  These were the people he’d grown up with – kids he’d gone to school with, friends and neighbors, members of his synagogue who had seen him bar mitzvahed.  And he went to preach his first sermon at home since starting his public ministry. And after hearing what he had to say, they utterly, definitively rejected him and his message.  Like, chased him out of town and tried to throw him over a cliff rejection, because they don’t like what he says (we’ll talk about that in a minute). They could not have rejected him more dramatically or thoroughly.

And one might think that that kind of a rejection from people who knew him well, could make Jesus question himself, question his ministry, question if this was a journey he really wanted to be on.  He probably could have come back a few weeks later when tempers had died down a bit and apologized and tried to work his way back into life among them.  He could have decided he should stick to carpentry after all. But, as we all know, he didn’t do that.

Why not?  What kept Jesus on track and kept him from questioning his purpose after such a devastating rejection?  This rejection didn’t change his course because he had confidence in who God had created him to be and what God wanted him to do.  He had the kind of relationship with God that would not allow him to turn the rejection of others into a rejection of self. Because he knew something more about God than the people in his hometown knew.  It is actually what he knew about God that made his hometown friends so mad.

See, Jesus started out reading a familiar and favorite scripture from Isaiah, which everyone liked, and then he concluded with “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” which likely raised some eyebrows, but at that point no one was trying to throw him off a cliff.  What changed the crowd’s reaction was what he did next.  As one scholar put it, “he pushed on and told two odd little stories, … both of them are about outsiders, non-Israelites, non-Jews, outsiders, receiving the grace of God. He had read his old neighbors accurately. If they were sure of anything, it was that they were God’s chosen, God’s elect. They were in, and everyone else was not. So why in the world is he telling stories about a Syrian army officer and a poor pagan woman, if it is not to say a word about the sovereign grace of God, which God extends to all people, not just one people, one race, or religion for that matter, and a critique aimed at them, his old friends and neighbors, for missing the point and becoming too narrow, too rigid, too exclusive?”

Jesus gets in trouble in his hometown, and then in plenty of other places, because he proclaimed a radical message that God does not reject anyone.  That God’s love is for everyone.  That God’s love makes room for every person.  That despite all our insecurities and doubts and worries that we just aren’t good enough, in God’s eyes, we are worthy and beloved.  That God has seen the truth of each of us – who we really are, our gifts and talents, our faults and foibles, and loves us just the same.  That there is nothing we can do to cause God to reject us or in the words of one of my favorite scriptures “there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.”

This is the salvation and freedom of our life, and from the voices, internal and external, which tell us we aren’t good enough or worthy enough.  If we can come to see ourselves even a bit the way God sees us, which we do when we are in relationship with God, then rejection from others or ourselves won’t be able to take hold of us in such damaging ways. Imagine if the person you love the most in the world could see themselves the way you see them, and then imagine God sees you with even greater love than that.  May we learn to see ourselves with those eyes, so that we would no longer allow the person God has created us to be to be hidden out of fear of rejection.  And may we learn to see others with those eyes, that we would be able to accept one another more fully. Amen.

 
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