Rejected but Chosen
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
October 8, 2017
Matthew 21:33-45 (MSG)
33-34 “Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.
35-37 “The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’
38-39 “But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.
40 “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”
41 “He’ll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”
42-44 Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:
The stone the masons threw out
is now the cornerstone.
This is God’s work;
we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!
“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”
45-46 When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.
The parable of Jesus for this morning is a very interesting one. Jesus often likes to ask queries of his followers, often answering questions with follow up questions. To put the scripture in context, Jesus has just come off of overturning the tables of the temple tellers and advocating that wages be paid to workers without regard to their relative productivity and then he gets to our text for today - a story of tenants in a vineyard who kill all those who come to collect their rent, even their landlord’s son.
Just a reminder - Jesus was teaching this in the temple and his audience was made up of the religious and state leaders. Jesus was being sidetracked by a these leaders wanting his credentials - remember they had already gone after him about where he was born when saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?.” I think it sound extremely familiar to our present day...
So Jesus gets to the end of his parable and asks these leaders, “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?” Jesus is asking them to make his point, but also to expose their (and I believe, our) quick judgment and willingness to reject people - even kill people - for our desired outcome. And they didn’t bat an eye saying, “He’ll kill them” called them names and turned to the outcome - profits or money.
Their quick and enthusiastic response was just what Jesus wanted - it was a self-indictment, And as Rev. John Allen in his commentary notes, “Jesus turns quickly to chastise their desire to repress the poor tenants and unleash the justice of an oppressive economic system upon them.”
The church and government leaders were oppressing the poor - but even worse they were willing not only to reject certain groups of people - they were willing to literally remove them from the face of the earth.
Now, this really hit home to me. It trudged up some deep feelings from my religious journey.
I remember 20+ years ago sitting in the dining commons of my undergraduate college trying to defend a woman’s right to be a pastor, while sadly on other days joining in as Christian friends spoke of putting gays on an island and blowing it up to purify our world.
I remember as a child and youth, people of my denomination bad mouthing, slandering, and ridiculing other denominations and religions for what they believed, while thinking my denomination had the “right” answers - never once considering the journey they were on.
I remember Christians affirming that HIV/AIDS was retribution for sin, and yet completely breaking down trying to understand the death of Ryan White in our own state and later the rejection of a man who had AIDS by the pastor I served with on my ministry internship.
I remember on 9/11 listening to good Christians speak of retaliation and revenge and even ridding the world of all Muslims, and wondering why all Christians were not labeled by our extremisms like Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan.
I remember meeting with a pastor’s association in my home town where my colleagues explained to me that they had asked families with “special needs” children to stay home from church events because their people were bothered and could not learn...as our meeting had an over-abundance of “special needs” children and youth that we valued and loved so much.
I remember a woman who was asked to not wear her Nascar Jacket during the worship service or simply stay at home because it promoted a national beer distributer, a man who wore shorts to church and was told he was not appropriately dressed, and a young women who had not been in a church for years told that her skirt was too short and should have wore something else...and this list of rejected people sadly could go on.
I remember a group of people who diligently tried to run their pastor out of town and destroy his family for making them feel uncomfortable, asking tough questions, and welcoming the rejected... that pastor was me.
I believe rejection is a disease in the church and in our world.
Have you ever felt rejected?
The dictionary described being rejected as
● Being turned down
● Being refused acceptance
● Being spit out or vomited
Did you know that research shows that rejection triggers the same brain pathways that are activated when we experience physical pain. Rejection can be and often is a form of abuse.
Yet, when I read the Bible, I notice something very different. God has a theology of the Rejected. And God has been presenting it to us through Christ from the very beginning.
Remember this story...
And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
because he has anointed me
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21
Even his mother realized that he was about the rejected when she proclaimed:
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:50-53)
Then there is the Beatitudes…
Who are blessed?
The Poor in spirit.
The Hungering for righteousness
The Pure of heart
Often these are the rejected in our world.
What if in reality the rejected are actually the “chosen people of God”?
What if the people we use as the scapegoats, the focus of our attacks, the oppressed by society, the demonized and labeled “dead weights” in society, the poor both spiritually and physically...what if these are the people God has chosen to bless? And even more is asking us to bless?
As Quakers you and I are called to seek “That of God in everyone we meet.” And that doesn’t mean just the ones that are easy to see God in - it means even the ones we ourselves have rejected. That is not easy. It has taken me many years to see how my and the church’s rejection of others has caused such hurt and pain. I have to come to the realization that understanding our rejections and reaching out to those we have hurt may not be comfortable all the time, we may get persecuted on occasion, we may be threatened or rejected ourselves by people we thought we trusted, but that is what God has been calling us to all along.
In his book, “The Rebirthing of God” (which I highly recommend) John Philip Newell says,
“To be bearers of the Light -- which is pure gift and not of our own doing -- means that we are made to shine. But when we truly shine, and when we work for the true shining of every child, woman, man, and creature, we find that sometimes we create discomfort in the people around us and in the holders of power in our communities and our world. Not only do they feel uncomfortable; sometimes they feel threatened. This is as true in our personal relationships and workplaces as it is in the great struggles of communities and nations. Those who cling to power for their own sake, or for the sake only of their chosen communities and their special interests groups, do not want everyone to shine. The shadow side of power is a determination that only some should shine, and that only some should be considered worthy.”
So, what is your theology of the rejected?
Just maybe we need to heed the words of Jesus and hear them again as a call to us this morning.
because we have been anointed and set apart,
We are being sent to proclaim freedom to the captives,
sight to the blind, hope to the world,
to provide opportunity and acceptance to those
who are oppressed and rejected,
and to proclaim a year of God’s favor in Indianapolis