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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 07/08/2012

A lot of pastors probably wouldn’t confess to watching My Name is Earl reruns but I confess.  It’s on FoxUP between 5 and 6, Monday through Friday and even though I’ve seen all of them several times I usually watch part of it while waiting for my 5:30 feeding time.  It can be a bit on the crude and raunchy side but if that doesn’t bother you it is pretty funny, the characters are all pretty likable and it actually does have theological overtones  It’s bad theology sometimes, but theology nonetheless as Earl tries to make up for all the bad things he’s done in his life.

Anyway there’s one where Earl and Randy have to fly somewhere but Earl is afraid of flying, so when they board the plane and the stewardess goes through the familiar spiel that no one ever pays attention to about emergency exits and oxygen masks and using your seat cushion as a floatation device, Earl says, “That’s it!  I’m outa’ here,” and as he leaves he stops to tell the stewardess “Maybe it would be better if you talked about what happens if the plane doesn’t crash.”

In the sometimes weird way that my mind works, today’s gospel reminded me of that.  Jesus commissions the disciples to go out two by two to represent him and carry forward the mission but rather than talk about the good things that might happen the basic message is travel light and be ready for rejection, and when you’re rejected, wipe the dust from your feet and move on.  There had to be an Earl among them thinking, “I’m outa’ here.  This doesn’t sound very promising.”  A few chapters later it gets even worse with warnings about being brought before counsels, being beaten in synagogues and brought to trial.

Having been written thirty some years after the fact it may be that this is more of a reflection of rejection that was going on at that time, the time it was written, than it is about exactly what Jesus said, but either way it is certainly plausible, even likely that Jesus would have spoken words of caution when he sent the disciples out.  In his own ministry he had met with rejection and skepticism, that’s what the first part of today’s gospel is about, so why should it be any different for the disciples?

And so it has gone.  The biblical accounts in Acts and in Paul’s letters do report great successes, but they also tell about places and times when things didn’t go so well.  The rejection Jesus cautioned the disciples about has always been part of things, sometimes to a greater degree, sometimes lesser.

For those of us involved in church work, for those who care about the church, it does seem that we are currently in a rather long period of rejection.  It seems like no matter what we try, there’s an increasingly large group of people for whom God and the church just aren’t a very high priority.  They’re not necessarily hostile to the church, although some are, most are just indifferent.   In an article I read not too long ago a pastor was complaining that she sometimes feels like she’s a salesman selling a product that nobody wants and she’s mad at them for not wanting it.  I can relate to how she feels and I think many of you probably can too.  It’s frustrating because we feel like what we have to offer, what we are selling, is pretty important, something that people need. 

The response to this rejection by the pastor quoted in the article was kind of a “wipe the dust from your feet” response.  She wasn’t going to move on to some place she thought the grass was greener, but she and her church decided that they were going to stop doing things that weren’t working, for example, stop having Bible Study if just a few people show up.  Don’t keep doing the same thing expecting a different result.

That’s tempting; it might be an interesting exercise for the council or each of the boards to go through everything they do and decide whether or not it’s working.  If we were to do that though, I’m quite sure what would happen is we’d get bogged down trying to figure out what we mean by working or not working, successful or not successful.  If it’s just about the numbers, it’s simple; but it’s not.  It’s not just about the numbers.  The numbers are a factor and we’re all affected by them; I feel a lot better when a lot of people show up for something rather than just a few but if the quest for success means that we just do whatever it takes to get fannies in the seats I’m not going there because I don’t think that’s what Jesus sent those disciples out to do.

Jesus experienced rejection and finally crucifixion, and his disciples experienced rejection and persecution because theirs was not a message designed to put fannies in the seats.  What we have to remember is that Jesus’ words challenged people.  He imagined a world that was different.  That meant that there would be people who would not accept the challenge because they couldn’t imagine anything different or didn’t want to.  He didn’t offer an easy way, but one that might prove rather difficult and one which upset the accepted foundations and order of society.  The prophets before him had issued the same kind of challenges to the people of their time, especially the religious and political leaders and it hadn’t been received well then either, but it had been awhile and things had become pretty settled again. 

The post-Resurrection claims about Jesus, claims that made him equal to the Father, in fact one with the Father, the same as God, just upped the ante, made the message even more difficult, more open to rejection; this apparently failed prophet who had identified with the outcasts of society and then was killed in disgrace, the same as God?    Who could believe it, and if they did, who would want to adopt the sacrificial way of life that defined Jesus?    

Some did; those who paid attention to what was said about Jesus, those who sensed his presence in their lives noticed a difference; something was going on.  They noticed that things changed, they became aware of the possibilities and the truth of Jesus and his message and even with the challenge of it, their lives were wonderfully different.  But some of them suffered too, rejection was still part of the mix; we shouldn’t be surprised by it.

At council meetings I’ve brought up the fact that the church, this church is getting smaller, call it rejection, call it what you want, but according to the numbers, we are getting smaller.  That’s the reality and it’s the reality pretty much across the board for churches these days.  Is that a bad thing?  It can be discouraging as I said, but is that because we’re locked into a business model of the church where success is only defined by the numbers?  I confess that I fight that discouragement (that’s my second confession of this sermon) but what I have to keep coming back to, what I have to keep asking myself is, “Are we doing the right things here?”  According to the numbers I guess we aren’t.  But are we being faithful?  Are we doing what we are called to do, following in the footsteps of the disciples Jesus sent out? 

At our best I think we are.  By that I mean that in words and actions we proclaim Christ and the alternative kingdom that he announced and embodied.  We don’t sugar coat Jesus and make him a magic pill that if swallowed will solve all your problems; we preach a relationship with the living God who may not fix everything, but who is involved in your life and in the life of the world, a God who is with you especially through the tough times, the rejections of life, the crosses of life.  We proclaim a God who does bring new life and hope out of brokenness.    

As a church, with the human and financial resources we have at our disposal, we are loving and serving the world as Jesus did.  We are not “selling” anything; we love and care for each other but always with an eye on the wider community and the needs that are out there, serving others whether or not any of them ever become members.  It’s nice if they do, but that’s not the reason for what we do.  In words and actions we proclaim Jesus Christ because that’s what he sends us out to do. 

Can we do more, can we do better?  Absolutely.  We should always be looking for ways to serve, new ways to serve and a good example of that is the Homework Club that Tonya Perry and her faithful core of volunteers started last year.  I want to mention it because I think it’s still flying a little bit under the radar around here and you should know about it, more of you should get involved in it. 

With school budget cuts and larger classes there was an opportunity to provide a service that would give kids academic help that they wouldn’t be getting otherwise so through Tonya, we made the offer.  What those involved with the Homework Club do would not appear to be overtly “Christian” except for the fact that it happens in the church and that it is doing exactly what Jesus sent the disciples out to do, to serve those in need and we’re not going to wipe the dust from our feet just because none of those kids or their families have become members of the church.  We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

Rejection’s a possibility; it always has been.  But even having Jesus’ permission, we’re not going to wipe the dust from our feet.  Our numbers may be smaller but our faithful response can be larger.  We’re not going to wipe the dust from our feet, except maybe to clean up after another day of doing what we’ve been called to do.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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