July 4, 2021

Series: July 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Today's Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-7 and Mark 6:1-6

Today's Sermon




Ezekiel 2:1-7

God said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when God spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard God speaking to me. God said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

Mark 6:1-6

Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The practice schedule comes out for a young boy’s Little League team.  His team will be practicing just once a week on Sundays at 10:30am. This child very regularly attends Sunday morning worship services with his family, so this practice schedule presents a bit of a conundrum.  Skip church to go to baseball?  Skip baseball to go to church?  The family decides to go with an every-other-week schedule.  Every other week the boy will go to baseball practice, and every other week the boy will attend church.  The baseball coaches say they understand, but the boy definitely misses out on opportunities with the team.  There are positions he would like to try that he doesn’t get to try and playing time that other boys get before him.  After the season is over, he decides that baseball really is not for him and he never plays on a baseball team again.

You may have guessed that this story is, in fact, about my own family.  You can ask Ben to this day if he plays baseball, and he will tell you – “Nope … too boring” with a bit of a sneer.  There is not much that frustrates me more than youth sports on Sunday mornings.  There are so many other possible times to schedule practices and games!  Why do sports need to take Sunday mornings?  And so, my family has decided that when sports and church conflict, we are going to say something.  We are going to make it known that Sunday morning worship is important and vital for our family.

Mini-rant aside, I don’t share this to make my family look like heroes.  We certainly are not.  There are plenty of times when we could have spoken up about something and we did not. I actually share this as an example of rejection.  Since Ben did not attend all the practices, he, in many ways, was rejected.  God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet – to share God’s word with the people.  God fully realizes that the people are rebellious and will likely reject Ezekiel. And yet, God still tells Ezekiel to prophecy to the people, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear … do not be afraid of their words and do not be dismayed by their looks.”  God knows that not everyone wants to hear God’s word. God knows that the people are stubborn. And God sends Ezekiel anyway.

It’s not just the Israelites who can be stubborn … we certainly found out the hard way that sports coaches can be stubborn, too!  They can refuse to hear.  But I don’t want to pick on sports coaches too much.  We can encounter this stubbornness and this rejection in any number of ways.  I’m guessing that most of you at some point have had the experience of sharing something about your faith with someone, and have faced rejection.  Perhaps it has been as simple as someone looking at you like your head is on backwards when you share about your love for God.  Or, perhaps it has been much more difficult than that, as someone has caused you deep pain because of your faith.  Or, maybe, knowing that we live in a very secular county here in Marin, you have just ceased to talk about your faith at all – knowing that your audience may be less than receptive.

If anyone understands this kind of rejection, its Jesus.  According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown – already having had some pretty amazing moments in his ministry – and he begins to teach in the synagogue.  I can imagine that he was quite excited about this.  He had such good news of God’s unconditional and abundant love to share with his hometown.  What an amazing opportunity!  But rather than welcoming Jesus with open arms, Mark tells us that the people take offense at him.  They don’t want to hear what he has to say.  They reject him in his own hometown. 

I hear both of these scripture passages and I wonder why anyone would ever want to share about their faith.  Why would anyone ever risk talking about the importance of God’s love in their life? What if I share something that is deeply meaningful to me and I’m rejected?  It doesn’t have to be just about faith, either.  What if I put myself out there for anything that is important to me … and I am rejected?  It is never fun to be rejected and sometimes it is deeply painful.  If I can’t control how people will react, perhaps it is easier to just not try at all.

I once heard a story about a pastor who liked to summarize the entire message of the Bible in just seven words.  According to him, God’s message through scripture is, “I am God, and you are not.” I don’t know that I agree about that being the most important message of the entire Bible – I would probably include something about unconditional love – but I do think it is a good summary of this passage from Ezekiel.  Note that God is not calling Ezekiel to be in charge of how people react to him.  God is very aware that many of the people will reject Ezekiel.  Instead, God is calling Ezekiel to simply share the message.  Preach my word to the people, God tells Ezekiel, and I’ll take care of the rest.  Whether they hear or refuse to hear, whether they accept or reject you, that really is not your concern.  Just share my word.  I am God, and you are not.

Camie and I were so mad at that Little League coach for so long.  And we second guessed ourselves plenty.  Should we have handled it a different way?  Should we have just let Ben skip church and go to all the practices? Should we have worked more with the coach to come up with another solution?  Could we have changed his reaction somehow? 

I am God, and you are not. All we could do in that moment was to speak our truth – Sunday morning worship was too important to our family to miss.  We could not control how that message was received.  We are not God.

Jesus, as always, serves as a wonderful example.  What does he do immediately after he is rejected in his hometown?  He goes out among the villages teaching.  He calls his disciples and sends them out to teach and to heal.  He warns them in advance that some places will not welcome them, and tells them to shake off the dust on their feet and keep going.  You cannot control how someone will receive you.  In fact, you will be rejected sometimes.  But we are called to keep healing, keep teaching, keep preaching the good news of God’s love.

So what is it that you want to share with the world?  Might it be a story of something wonderful God has done in your life?  Might it be a new gift or talent that God is calling you to explore?  Might it be a way you want to be in service to another?  Sure, you may encounter rejection.  But don’t let that stop you from following God’s call.  Don’t let that stop you from sharing the Good News.

Ben stopped playing baseball, but he has continued to play soccer.  A couple years ago, the game schedule came out and wouldn’t you know it, many of the games were scheduled for Sunday mornings.  We contacted the coach to explain that Sunday morning worship is important for our family, so Ben would likely miss several of the Sunday morning soccer games.  The coach very much appreciated that we let him know about this, and said that he would see what he could do to change the schedule to have fewer Sunday morning games. He was, in fact, able to switch several of those games to different times.  A couple other families expressed gratitude for the schedule change because they, too, want to be able to worship on Sunday mornings.

Let’s keep our perspective here – this is a story about youth soccer, not world peace.  But the point remains … though we will certainly be rejected plenty of times, we will also know times of love and acceptance and change for the better.  Thanks be to God.