The Great Reveal

Passage: Psalm 118:1-4, 19-29
Date: March 11, 2018
Preacher: Rev. Beth Neel
Guest Preacher:

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Many of you know of the late author Madeline L’Engle, and I hope that many of you have read some of her books. I was first introduced to her writing when in third grade our teacher read her Newberry Award-winning book A Wrinkle in Time. Some of you will also know that a new movie adaption of the book opened this week, and the Neel family is very excited to see it soon.

It’s probably her most well known book, but, as Ms. L’Engle explained, “A Wrinkle in Time was almost never published. You can’t name a major publisher who didn’t reject it. And there were many reasons. One was that it was supposedly too hard for children. …A Wrinkle in Time had a female protagonist in a science fiction book, and that wasn’t done. And it dealt with evil and things that you don’t find, or didn’t at that time, in children’s books. When we’d run through forty-odd publishers, my agent sent it back. We gave up.”
( Happily for generations of readers, that rejection was short-lived.

We’re going to look at rejection today – rejection in our lives and rejection in the life and story of Jesus; at what or whom we reject; and where God is in all of this.

I have experienced rejection – I’ve asked guys out only to have them turn me down. I’ve applied for jobs I didn’t get. I’ve thrown out ideas that no one thought were any good. Gregg and I applied for a sabbatical grant which we didn’t get. I've run for little offices and lost. I'm not sure I’ve reached the level of Rejection Expert, but I know enough that rejection hurts, with wounds that stay with us for a while. Rejection makes us doubt ourselves and our worth. So I am encouraged by Maya Angelou’s take on rejection. She advised this: “Rejection can simply mean redirection.”

Jesus knew that. He faced one rejection after another but he did not give up. The people of his hometown rejected him, remembering him as the son of Mary and Joseph and nothing more. His preaching the prophets led to the congregation trying to drive him off a cliff. The religious authorities, in cahoots with the powers of Rome, rejected his call to repent and follow God, and their rejection took the form of crucifixion. Jesus was the stone that the builders rejected.

Rejection is very real, but it does not get the last word because God is the master of the great reversal, taking what the world despises and casts away and turning it into treasure. We see the great reversal at work throughout the Bible.

Mary sings of the powerful being toppled from their thrones and the lowly being lifted up. Jesus teaches that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Lazarus is raised from the dead. Stumbling, doubting Peter becomes the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church. The apostle Paul writes of the foolish of the world confounding the wise. “God’s great reversal” is one of the primary themes of scripture. In the midst of our own rejections, we forget that sometimes.

But what does this mean for us 21st century North American Christians? When I look around at the world, or at the city, I see much that I reject, and much that I wish were reversed.

The plight of refugees, especially the Syrian and Rohingya, is almost too much to bear. I reject the political turmoil and prejudice of their situation, and I wish it were reversed.

With over six million refugees in the world, there is more fear of the stranger. That fear can be rooted in many things: personal fear of new people, fear of cultural change, fear of identity loss, fear of foreigners’ disloyalty, fear of losing control of the political system. I reject the ignorance that underlies so much fear, and I wish that fear were reversed.

In just one year, overdoses from opioids jumped by about 30 percent, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I reject the hopelessness and pain that is often the starting place of addiction, and I wish that addicts were free and their dependency reversed.

In the U.S., there is a widening gap between rich and poor. CNN reports that “the top mega wealthy—the top 1%—earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It’s more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich ‘only’ made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn’t changed in over three decades.” I reject the economic injustice we have allowed to grow, and I wish the situation were reversed.

After living in Portland for seven years, I often feel that the dilemma of homelessness is unsolvable. Surveys last year indicate that there are 10% more people experiencing homelessness now than there were two years ago. I reject my own sense of bleakness, and I wish the situation of homelessness in our city and throughout the nation were reversed.

What would a great reversal look like in any or all of these situations? If my wishes were granted, then things would look different. People would have a home and a homeland, places of safety and warmth and life. People would enjoy health and have support to deal with their pain and anxiety, and they would have ways to find meaning. People would enjoy life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That’s what a reversal might look like—but how are any of these accomplished? We could take the easy way out and say we can’t do anything, that only God can cause any great reversal, and while the second part of that sentence is true, the first part is not. We people of faith don’t wait around for God to do something; we remember that God invites us to join the divine effort, to partner, to work together so that the world will turn upside down.

So if you and I want to be a part of God’s work of the great reversal, that will mean different things for us. For some people, the work is to see the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It is to acknowledge that something may not be right with someone and to wonder about that, to offer kindness, at the very least. It is to acknowledge that none of us has lived a perfect life, and yet some people carry the burden of their mistakes for a lifetime, while others do not.

For some of us, being part of God’s great reversal will mean advocating for change in policy and law. It should not be a crime to be poor, and yet all around this country people are still put into what amounts to debtors’ prison. We can have better laws, more humane laws, and maybe laws that treat addiction as a health issue and not as a crime.

For some, it will mean having a deeper understanding of the root causes of some of these situations—acknowledging that part of what led us to the crisis of homelessness that we now know goes back to the 1980s when the federal housing budget was slashed and mental health institutions were closed, as well as the direct connection between addiction and homelessness.

I think at its very root the great reversal has to do with the inherent worth and dignity of human beings. Refugees are deserving of a violence-free home. The poor are deserving of opportunity. The homeless are deserving of respect. The addicted are deserving of help. The persons sitting on your left and on your right are deserving of love and grace. You are deserving of love and grace, whoever you are. However cast aside any of us has been, whatever rejection we might have known, God can still use us in this dance of the great reversal.

I think of all the people the world has rejected, tossed aside like some rubble on the road. And then I think of God coming along, and seeing all those stones, and gathering them up, and building them together into something beautiful and eternal.

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.