Rejection Stones

Sermon by Pastor Doug Stratton

Psalm 118 (15-29) — March 8, 2020

Shouts of joy and victory

    resound in the tents of the righteous:

“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!

The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;

    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”

I will not die but live,

    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

The Lord has chastened me severely,

    but he has not given me over to death.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;

    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord

    through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;

    you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone;

   the Lord has done this,

    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

The Lord has done it this very day;

    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Lord, save us!

    Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

    From the house of the Lord we bless you.[b]

The Lord is God,

    and he has made his light shine on us.

With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession

    Up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will praise you;

    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

    his love endures forever.

CCI: The pain of rejection sets the stage for the sin of rejection, it is time to lay our rejection at the foot of the One who accepts us.

Intro: Story of rejection – I have to begin by telling you that this sermon has been very difficult to prepare. I don’t like thinking about rejection because I don’t like being rejected, in fact, I hate being rejected, in fact, I am afraid of being rejected, in fact, many of my behaviors and interactions are ways of coping with my fear of rejection. There, you have it. Even while writing this paragraph, my stomach tied in knots and my eyes began twitching.

Where does it come from? My therapist is helping me answer that question, but whatever its source, I can tell you I don’t like rejection!

But I have discovered something. I am not alone!

A Mrs. J. C. Hill writes to “Dear Abby.” She says, “I am a widow. After 46 years of marriage, I lost my precious husband. If that wasn’t enough, now I experience the loss of our friends. I wish people would still include me, come to see me. I have never known such loneliness. If only somebody would call.”

Dr. Ralph Byron, a cancer specialist, says that the single greatest fear he sees in his patients is that friends or family will abandon them precisely when cancer strikes. That’s more of a problem, he says, than the disease of cancer itself.

Peter was 39 when he learned the news: “The thing I remember most about the day I found out that my mother didn’t give birth to me, was this feeling of standing with my back to the edge of a cliff because everything behind me – everything I’d known to be true – felt as if it was a lie and I literally didn’t know who I was. It even made me question the right to have my father’s war medals. As the eldest of five children, I’d been in possession of them. I took them out of the drawer by my bed that night and felt it was wrong for me to have them, because he wasn’t my real dad.”

Rejection, every one of us experience it and every one of us wrestle with the fear of rejection. Rejection avoidance is built into our DNA and the pain of rejection actually is physical pain. When you have been rejected, your brain processes the pain of rejection the same way it processes the pain of a broken leg. It is something we all deal with and the ways we have learned to cope with rejection significantly impact our lives for good or ill.

Once again you have received a stone as you entered. It is hard and heavy and seems to have little purpose. It is the stone of rejection.

We have experienced rejection, sometimes we pretend it does not hurt, sometimes we ignore it, and sometimes our feet are knocked out from under us. But always it becomes a weight in our lives. It is hard, it has sharp edges that poke us when we least expect it. It sits in our stomach and aches. This is the pain of rejection.

So we build walls in our lives, we keep people at a distance, we isolate ourselves and the stone of rejection makes itself at home in our lives reminding us of its lies: You are worthless; No one loves you; You are a failure; You should just go away. We relive past rejections and forget the many times our fears were not realized.

And then, we naturally fall into one of the the universal responses to rejection – we reject others. We reject those who don’t fit into our categories or race, or ethnicity, or financial status, or age, or neighborhood, or sexual identity, or religion. And in fact, we do it so the “other” cannot reject us first.

We know that none of this makes sense or is healthy or will bring a good result, but we do it anyway. So the question we must ask is “How can we be freed from this trap?”

I believe the first thing to remember is that we are not alone, people all around us share the same fears.

In Isaiah 53, we read these words from the prophet:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

These words describe one known as the Suffering Servant, they direct the Christian to see the person of Jesus in this image, but they also speak to our universal suffering.  Just as we experience rejection, this tells us that Jesus experienced the same. Despised, rejected, familiar with grief, Jesus knows what we are experiencing. And so he can be present in our pain.

Jesus’ disciple betrayed him, Jesus’ disciples denied him, Jesus’ brothers accused him of losing his mind, Jesus’ followers abandoned him, Jesus’ heavenly father forsook him. Jesus understands our experiences of rejection, and yet he did not respond by rejecting others. Knowing Judas would betray, Jesus gave him the privileged piece of Matzah at Passover. Knowing Peter had denied him, Jesus restored him in love. As the soldiers inflicted pain and mocked him with their words, Jesus prayed for them with compassion.

Jesus had found his security in his identity as a beloved child of God. No matter what he faced, he was secure in that identity.

  In the same way, God accepts us welcomes us, restores us calls out to us in love. All who come to him will not be pushed aside. In fact, the scripture we read this morning tells us that God has tremendous plans for the rejected.

The stone the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone;

    the Lord has done this,

    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This passage was perhaps written for the dedication of the second temple. When Solomon’s temple was built, all the stones were finished at the quarry and there was not a hammer or chisel heard on the temple grounds. The same was probably true with the Second Temple. So the stones were cut in the quarry and then transported to the temple for assembly. There is a legend that says, the builders and the chief stone cutter found a stone that seemed to have been cut, but was not properly shaped. The builders, the experts, discarded that stone. But when they set to construct the temple, they could not find the stone that would provide the level and square standard. They were missing the cornerstone. Finally, it was found, and the cornerstone that would set the stage for the building was the stone the builders, the experts had rejected.

And so we can know that God can take what others reject, and create the very best from it. No matter what friends or experts or observers think, God longs to welcome you and to embrace you.

And that embrace is experienced through the Body of Christ. That phrase Body of Christ was one of Paul’s favorite descriptions for the church. Paul envisioned the church as a loving family of believers. He saw people who forgave one another and supported one another. Paul believed that the church would weep with those who wept and rejoice with those who rejoiced. He saw a fellowship where there was no jealousy or competition. His prayer was “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Paul envisioned a church that was single minded with a single purpose: to exist for the glory and praise of God.

But something has happened. Instead of a loving family, we frequently shoot our own wounded. Instead of abounding love, we often exhibit fearful protection. Instead of forgiveness, the church is often known for bitterness. How is this possible? I think it because we think we have continue to protect ourselves from rejection. We hold onto the stones of memories that build those walls to protect us from one another. While we are called to be the body of Christ, we end up being a mob of bodies, each going our own way, bumping into one another on Sundays, and then forgetting who we are until the next time.

We are a group of individuals with individual thoughts and individual ideas. Charles V, when he ruled the Holy Roman Empire, he was overseeing the collapse of that empire. He once said, “It is impossible for my 6 clocks to chime together. How is it even more impossible for the 6 nations of the Holy Roman Empire to live in harmony? It is imposible, even if they call themselves Christians.”

Imagine Charles V’s surprise if he were to come to life today and see people carrying clocks that all chime together. How is that possible? They are all set to the same standard, Greenwich Mean Time, they all function with the same power, a source of electricity and they all are guided by the same brain through their interconnectedness. Your FitBit and your phone are not competing to see who will chime first, because they have the same standard, have the same power source and are connected.

For the Body of Christ to function as Jesus intended, we must have one standard, the Standard of Christ, one power source, the Holy Spirit and be interconnected as God intended.

For that to happen, we must lay aside the stones of rejection because when they are placed in God’s hand, the stone the experts reject, will become the chief cornerstone.

Are you tired of living with the fear of rejection?

If so, I want to invite you, before you leave today, perhaps as we sing together, to bring the pain of rejection, the fear of rejection and walls you have built to avoid rejection to the cross and let God transform that stone into something beautiful.

In Christ,

Pastor Doug