Is Rejection the End of the Story?

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on April 26, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.  The text is Acts 4:5-12.

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

In today’s first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles the word “rejection” is used about Jesus. This is what Peter tells the Jewish leaders:

            This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you the builders;

            it has become the cornerstone.’

 

How often in your life have you felt the sting of rejection?  When I was in college I was bold to go on a television show called “The Dating Game”.  Three of us guys sat on stools behind a divider and answered questions posed by a beautiful girl on the other side of the divider.  After the questions and answers, she selected one of us to go out on an all-expenses paid date.  I wasn’t the one.  I had to go home with a few gift certificates.

 

Here are a few others who experienced rejection in their lives:

 

Ken Taylor wrote  The Living Bible and it was rejected by 63 publishers, and yet it has become one of the biggest bestsellers of all time.  Steven Spielberg applied to the film schools of both UCLA and USC and he was rejected.  I think he’s done all right for himself since that time.  When Fred Astaire had his first screen test at MGM, the casting director wrote this memo: “Can’t act!  Slightly bald!  Can dance a little.”

 

Today we remember again that Jesus was rejected, but that is not the end of the story, thanks be to God.  Let’s back up a little in the Book of Acts to understand why in chapter 4 Peter and John have been arrested.  In chapter 2 the Day of Pentecost has occurred and the Holy Spirit arrives and Peter boldly tells a great crowd about Jesus and the resurrection.  3,000 people were baptized that day and the community of believer is starting to grow.  In chapter 3 Peter and John see a man begging for food near the temple.  This man has been paralyzed from birth, and they heal him in the name of Jesus.  This man leaps up and praises God and tells everyone he was healed in Jesus’ name.  Such an uproar among the crowd occurs that Peter and John are put in jail by the Jewish authorities.  Here in chapter 4 Peter and John are brought before the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin, and asked one question: By what power or by what name did you do this?

 

Their answer carries consequences.  Remember they are here in the same court with the same people who only weeks before had tried and convicted Jesus, and made sure he was put to death.  How would you answer if you were on trial?

 

I remember the poster of a few years ago that posed this question:  If you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

 

Peter had certainly shown his cowardice at the time of Jesus’ arrest.  Peter and John were among the disciples who remained behind locked doors for fear of the Jews arresting them, even after the resurrection.  Here they are now, before people who want blood and especially want to shut them up.  These leaders have the power to do so. 

 

Luke, the writer of this book, tells us something very important.  Just before Peter gives his witness, Luke records these words: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. The Holy Spirit!  So who really has the power in that courtroom?  Peter declares, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel,  that 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.”

 

Now if Peter had stopped there it would be a tremendous witness and the two of them might even have been slightly applauded for their part in this miracle.  But then Peter continues, and this part is really bold and even offensive to the Jewish High Court:

            This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

            it has become the cornerstone.’

            There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among

            mortals by which we must be saved.”

 

I wonder if some of us might also be offended by such claims about Jesus.  It sure sounds disrespectful of other religious traditions and seems to be very exclusive.  What do we do with our faith in Jesus Christ when we find ourselves in a very pluralistic society?  We live in a world and in a nation and in this community of people with differing religious beliefs.  Some just say that it doesn’t matter as long as you have faith in something.  Others point their fingers at people of different religions and say they are wrong and not going to heaven.  I like what the writer of the April devotions in Christ in Our Home writes.  He is James Bouzard who leads an ELCA Campus Ministry at Texas State University in San Marcos.  He writes:

            And we certainly would not want to say that God can’t save through some other means;

            we need to be careful about saying “God can’t.”  Yet, even as the Holy Spirit filled Peter,

            so the Spirit leads us to proclaim Jesus as Savior without reservations or conditions. 

            We do that best when our intent is not to reject or exclude others or tear down

            their faith.  Let our words be those of friends telling friends amazing good news.  Let

            our intent be like that of a  once-lame beggar joyfully telling other beggars where to

            find healing.

 

This day, dear follower of Jesus Christ, take your inspiration from Jesus Christ.  Rejection is part of life.  It doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  It certainly wasn’t true in the eternal sense of salvation in Jesus, and it certainly isn’t true when we face the mini-rejections in life.  Some of the plain sense advice of our parents and grandparents  really are rooted in biblical wisdom.  When you get thrown from your horse, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get right back on that horse.  A few years ago I took a Dale Carnegie Course and the best advice I got was a quote from Carnegie himself:  If life presents you with lemons, go ahead and make lemonade.  Try it.  It works.  Rejection does not have to be the end of the story!  Amen.