- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

The following are excerpts from a sermon yesterday by the Rev. Edward G. Taylor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in the District.
It's a painful experience common to everyone. What am I talking about? Rejection. Its message is, "You don't measure up." Maybe you felt it asking for a date, or sending in a college application or trying to get that job. It's certainly been part of the African-American experience in this country.
When I counsel people, I can find myself saying: "Don't take it so hard. Put your rejection in perspective." But try to tell this to a teenager. We have to admit that rejection hurts. We don't want to say so, but all of us have rejected somebody else. This fact of life goes with the human territory. But what about God and rejection? I don't mean that God rejects you. I'm talking about people rejecting God.
In recent sermons, we've covered some of the hard-to-explain parts of Christianity. In an age of religious pluralism, it is important to engage the hard issues of our faith. Our reading from Mark [8:27-38] this morning presents the idea that Jesus might be rejected. Jesus and His disciples are walking and teaching, and He asks them, "What are they saying about me on the street?" The disciples say, "Well, some saying you are Elijah. Others say a prophet." Jesus presses: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter speaks first, and as usual from the gut. "You're the Messiah," he said.
That was Jesus' cue to introduce a shocking new topic. He told the disciples He would be rejected and killed, and beyond that would rise again in three days. Mark's Gospel says this did not sit well with Peter. He snapped at Jesus, and in return Jesus rebuked him, calling him Satan. What was Peter so worked up about?
In ways, the idea of a rejected God is very modern. The philosopher Nietzsche said that declining belief in God amounted to the "death of God." After the Holocaust, some Jews said God did not save them, so God was irrelevant.
Was some philosophical view about God bothering Peter? No. When Jesus foretold His own rejection, it went against everything Peter believed about the Messiah. Let's face it, it is not our idea of Messiah either. For Peter, the Messiah would restore Israel to glory. Re-establish the throne of David and bring liberty from the Romans. So now we understand why Peter was upset by Jesus.
Like Peter, we all try to put God into our own particular box. We use God for our own particular need. So it is today that we see God used to support the United States in war, and the other side, and Iraq, evoke God on their side. We want God backing our argument, and the other side wants the same thing.
We also want an exalted God, high on a throne. How do we handle a God who would be tortured and executed? In a town like Washington, position and trappings are very important. To have a limousine. To have a motorcade, an entourage. So what do we do with a God who gives up all those things. A God who walks among the poor and is executed in poverty. No wonder Peter was mad at Jesus for saying what He said.
In these Lenten weeks before Easter, the real Lenten difficulty is not to accept the idea that human beings will reject God. To the contrary, we can't imagine God in a position to be rejected at all. The hardest thing for us Christians to get through our heads is that God gave up all the trappings of Godhood and took on the trappings of a man, which included rejection. We want a God and Messiah who fit our ideas.
The story of Lent, the story of the New Testament and Jesus, is that God is not high up and far away. God is down here. And then Jesus makes it even worse. He ends by saying, "Take up your cross and follow Me. For whoever will lose his life will gain it." God is with us in our rejection. For that we say, "Thanks be to God."
Next week: a sermon by Rabbi Brett Isserow at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria.

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