“Dealing With Rejection” – sermon on October 12, 2014

Exodus 32: 1-14         When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” The next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then God said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” God said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then God relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Matthew 22: 1-10                   Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’

But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“Dealing With Rejection”                       by Rev. Doreen Oughton

Is there anyone here who has NOT had the experience of being rejected? Anyone? No, I didn’t think there would be. You might have suffered a recent rejection – turned down for a job or promotion, passed over for someone else. Perhaps you still carry the sting of a romantic rejection – broken up with, cheated on; or there was a relationship that never turned romantic because the other person just didn’t have those feelings for you. Maybe you were rejected by the school you thought would provide you with the best education or opportunity. Maybe you never made the team, no matter how hard you practiced or worked out. Maybe you were adopted and still wonder how your birth parents could have let you go. Some rejections cut very deeply.

How does it feel to be rejected? And let’s stick with feelings, which are an emotional state, not a cognitive state. You can usually identify something as a feeling if it falls into one or more of the 4 major feeling categories of glad, mad, sad or scared. So what feelings go along with rejection? (hurt, angry, disappointed, hopeless, etc.) And feelings like that often trigger evaluative thoughts about ourselves or the others involved. We are worthless, they are stupid, we are stupid, she is shallow or vain, they are blind or selfish or evil or “being politically correct.” How have you thought of yourself or others in the face of rejection?

So we’ve talked about feelings and thoughts that often follow rejection, now what about actions? What do people do in the face of rejection? I know someone who was let go from a job and it took several months before she could start looking. After romantic rejection someone might take a long break from dating. Or someone else might dive right in. People might get very active in lots of ways, figuring a busy schedule will protect them from having time to feel the pain. Some people lash out in the face of rejection, harming, even killing, the person who rejected them, or the person who was chosen over them, or both. Or they harm or kill themselves. What else might people do in dealing with rejection? What have you done?

Our scripture readings this morning seem to me to be all about rejection. In the reading from Exodus, Moses has been up on the mountain with God for some time, receiving God’s law. The people start looking for a new leader and a new god. We are not told how they feel – what do you think – Impatient, worried, frustrated? Could they believe they have been abandoned? Rejected by Moses or by God? So let’s assume they feel scared, maybe angry, and they believe Moses has forgotten them, that God no longer cares. And so they seek out Aaron and ask him to make for them new gods, gods who will pick up where Moses and his God left off – will lead them to the promised land. I’m not sure what Aaron was thinking or feeling when he asked them to bring their gold. Maybe he was flattered that they came to him. Maybe he thought they finally saw in him the leadership potential he knew was there all along. Or maybe not. One commentator suggested that Aaron went along with their request for new gods so that the people would see for themselves how ridiculous it was to think that something made by a human, out of human materials, a “god” that was inanimate, could lead them the way the God of Israel led them – with great power and a mighty hand. But denial can be a powerful force, and it seems that Aaron was caught up in it rather than helping others break through it.

So now God notices that the people have rejected him as their God, and rejected Moses as their leader. God is angry, furious, we are told. God assesses the people as corrupt and stiff-necked and commands Moses to go down and deal with them. God says, “Leave me alone in my anger. Let me destroy them.”

The Gospel reading is also a story of God being rejected by the people. Jesus is still speaking to the chief priests and Pharisees, who have challenged his authority, and who are chomping at the bit to arrest him, but don’t feel safe to do so. Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son. Now the king represents God. The king has already sent the invitations, and sends his servants out to get the RSVP. But the invited guests wouldn’t come. They reject the king’s invitation. Jesus offers no explanation of their rejection, other than that “they made light of it.” How does the king feel? Jesus says he was enraged, murderously angry. Now granted the invitees did not just refuse to come, they also beat and killed the messengers. The rejection of the invitation was violent – a bigger deal than “making light” of an invitation; and the response to the rejection was violent – destroying the people and burning the city.

I gotta tell you, I’m not a fan of God as described in these stories, and I don’t believe they are true depictions of the God who created, sustains and redeems us. I don’t think these stories are meant to tell us something about God, but are meant to tell us something about people, about ourselves. I agree with those who say God does not need us to worship or fear or cater to or even believe in God. God, I believe, is not hurt or angry when rejected by people. God is not insecure, has no sense of being unworthy of love. God IS love. And love is relational. So though we may not recognize our relationship to God, God knows it is the ground of our being. WE benefit by recognizing this, and I believe, because God is love, that God wants good for us no matter how we feel about or think about God.

And so the writer of Exodus tells us about a group of people who have tried to minimize their relationship with the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They try to transfer their trust and devotion to an object. Do we see that happening today? People worshiping things, people looking to stuff to save them? Of course we do. But it is not God in this story who find the way out of this foolhardiness. It is Moses. Moses stands in the breach and reminds first God, and then the people, of who they are, about the foundational relationship between them. He reminds God that these are God’s people, that God has chosen them, and saved them, all to God’s own glory. And later in the story he calls to the people to come back to the one true God, to repent – to turn from their nonsense and live again in covenant, firmly in the relationship that is the very ground of their being.

And the king in Jesus’ parable, after his destructive tantrum, remembers that there is still a wedding party to be had. He sends his servants out again, and this time to invite everybody and anybody. His table becomes more open than it had been before. It includes those who might make the “too busy” guests glad they didn’t go to THAT party, thank you very much! They still don’t get it. Their lives have been burned up not by an angry and powerful king, but by their own decision to set themselves apart from God, refusing to join the banquet, turning away from the bounty and from the relationship. The party still goes on.

I hope we can find something here to help us when we face rejection, because we have and we will. There will be doors that do not open for us. There will be people who won’t love us the way we want them to. There will be a class that won’t find your writing samples worthy of admittance. There will be a team or a band that you don’t play well enough to join. Some people won’t come to your party, or to the worship services you offer. They may go to a different church. They may prefer their mother’s cooking over yours. And you may ask yourself what it says about you. You may, in addition to feeling hurt or angry, begin to evaluate yourself, to wonder if you are not loving enough, or talented enough or smart enough or good enough to be worthy of love, worthy of joy, of sharing, of affection, of opportunities. I say to you want Moses said – you are God’s people. Your foundational relationship is with the One who is love. Remember who you are, remember whose you are, and let yourself bask in that knowledge. Let your thoughts turn to the pure, the pleasing, the commendable, the excellent truth of God’s love. Your feelings will turn from despair to joy. Your actions will be those that reflect God’s love. You will share with someone who cares and sees you in the light of God. You will forgive, you will accept, and you will move on. So do not turn from that divine relationship. Do not make light of the invitation to God’s divine banquet – a feast of love that surpasses all understanding. May it be so.