Year C Lent 4 Luke 15
Dealing With the Pain of Rejection
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Pastor James Moore tells a story about a girl named Jessica. She was a tall, slender, sixteen-year-old blonde girl, who looked like she might grow up to be a model or president of the P.T.A., or a corporate executive. She was attractive, outgoing, personable, radiant, and happy. She was an only child and her parents were devoted to her and so proud of her. A member of his church she did a youth "speak-out" in an evening worship service. Her words were inspired and thoughtful from the pulpit that night. She was so wholesome, so clean-cut, so full of life.
But, the next morning, an urgent ringing of the telephone. It was Jessica's mother alarmed, concerned, frightened saying that Jessica had been taken to the emergency room during the night and had been admitted into the hospital as a patient. When Moore got there and walked into that hospital room, it was a stark, gloomy situation. The drapes were closed, the room was dark, heavy despair was in the air we breathed. There was Jessica only hours before happy, radiant, full of life but now, laying there in a hospital bed, weak, pale, listless, almost the picture of death. She was emotionally drained, completely wrung out, so much so that she literally did not have the strength to lift her arms, she could not walk, she could hardly hold up her head. They talked for a moment, prayed together and then he left the room. Jessica's mother came out into the hallway. Her mother said, "After we got home from church last night, Jessica had a phone call. Just as she hung up the receiver she fainted and when we revived her, she was physically unable to walk… she was so weak. We called an ambulance and brought her here to the hospital." Moore asked, "Do you know of anything that might have caused this?" The mother blinked as tears flooded into her eyes, she looked away and said, "Well, yes, that telephone call last night was to notify Jessica that she had been "black-balled" by the sorority she wanted to join."
Now, here was a young girl, sixteen years old, an only child, who for all of her life had had almost everything she wanted. At that particular moment what she wanted more than anything was to be accepted into that sorority and somebody had rejected her. One person for some unknown reason had "black-balled" her and the trauma of that blatant rejection was too much for her. She couldn't handle it. She was not faking. The doctors were sure of that. She was just so hurt that it crushed her emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Here we see dramatically the awful pain of feeling rejected. Now I want to leave Jessica in the hospital for just a moment. We are going to get her out later, but right now the point is clear. The pain of feeling rejected can be devastating.
Sometimes we "feel" rejected when we really aren't being rejected. We only think we are. Have you heard about the man who had to quit going to football games because every time the team went into a huddle he thought they were talking about him! Now, he wasn't being rejected, but he thought he was. Let me hurry to say though, that even when imagined the pain is just as real!
That's what happens in Jesus' parable. Remember how the younger brother runs away to the far country, squanders his money in riotous living, but then ashamed and penitent he returns home. The father is so overjoyed. He had feared the worst that his young son might be dead! But here he is alive and well and home, safe and sound. The father is so happy that he calls for a great celebration. But when the elder brother hears of it. He is hurt, jealous, confused, and angry. He feels sorry for himself, but more than that and worse, he feels that the father has rejected him! Of course, we know better! We know that the father has not rejected him at all. In fact, the parable is misnamed. Instead of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it should be called the Parable of the Gracious Father! Because, you see, the theme of the parable is not the revelry of the Prodigal, nor is it the bitterness of the elder brother, no; the theme here is the goodness of the father, the faithfulness of God. The message here is that God cares and that He wants both of His sons (all of His children) to come and be a part of the celebration.
But the elder brother missed it. He mistakenly felt rejected and it deflated and crushed him and left him spiritually bankrupt. The feeling of rejection can do that to us. But the Christian faith has good news for those who feel rejected, the good news of healing and wholeness. So when you feel rejected, here are a few simple guidelines to remember.
- Feelings are temporary, so go and talk to somebody
- The person rejecting you is the one with the problem
- Remember how to laugh and don’t take yourself too seriously
- Remember that God accepts you.
Feel the Burn
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
"Feel the burn."
Ever hear that phrase? Anyone know what it means? . . . [You can make this into a karaoke moment.]
"Feel the burn" is what coaches and trainers tell their athletes. Or for other of us, "feel the burn" is what trainers tell their middle-bulging middle-agers trying to get back in shape. The wisdom behind the wit of "feel the burn" is that it is only when our muscles, our endurance, our bodies are pushed beyond the usual that we start to build new muscles, more endurance, a healthier body. Or as an earlier generation put "feel the burn," "no pain, no gain."
The first day of a new workout regime is always great. Muscles might be tight. Instead of "flexing" you might be "jiggling." But it feels good physically, emotionally, and mentally to know you are on the move. Endorphins, the body's natural anti-depressants, flow freely during exercise. The first day of a work out is wonderful. The next morning reacquaints you with "the agony of defeat." Endorphins are never around at 6 a.m. when you are trying to somehow roll out of bed without screaming at the person who yelled at you "feel the burn."
"Feeling the burn" is the reason so many of us never make it back to the second day of our "new workout plan." We wait a few days, until the soreness subsides a bit, then we try again. That next morning is even worse! The problem with an intermittent exercise regime is that is brings a continual state of soreness. We never completely heal. But we never get into shape enough to "feel the burn" while working out without feeling like we're on fire for the next week.
This is true of every discipline and every art. Whether it is sports, business, physics, chemistry, or marriage - the most daunting, draining, determining time is "zero-to-one." Starting from nothing, from "zero" and moving to the next step, the first step, takes far more energy than any other movement taken from "one" onward. That's why I have made it the #1 rule of spiritual physics: the distance from zero to one is greater than the distance from any other number.
Inertia - standing still - is the biggest hurdle any one can ever face when trying to move forward. That's why "inertia" is a 7 letter word for sin. Ask anyone who has ever tried to start a new business. Ask anyone who has ever gone out on a blind date. Ask anyone who has arrived in a new country, not knowing the language, the customs, or the people.
Zero to one can be a heartbreaker and a body modifier.
On the "zero to one" struggle, Christians get to be great big cheaters. Paul said it in today's Corinthian text, and Luke illustrated in today's gospel text. God has "cooked the books" in our favor. Because of Christ's death on the cross God is "not counting" all our trespasses against us. Christ took all our sins, all our spiritual inertia, our moral malaise, to that cross on Calvary and miraculously moved us from point "zero" to "one." If our lives were a game of "Parcheesi," Christ has moved all of our marbles from "Base" to the entranceway for "Home." All we have to do is move on into "Safety."
What moves us from "zero" to "one" is nothing less than God's grace...