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A Welcoming Church

In today’s OT lesson (Ezekiel 2:1-5), we hear from the prophet Ezekiel.  God’s people are in Babylonian captivity in what is now Iraq, in about 600 BC. The people are disoriented and confused and lost. They are suffering.

The Lord God gives Ezekiel a message for his people. That is, people, your trouble is because you have rebelled against your God, you and your ancestors; you are “impudent and stubborn”. Your suffering is all on you.

God says to Ezekiel that he can tell the people it’s coming from him, God. “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” Then God adds the significant point for this morning. He tells Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

In other words, God tells Ezekiel, expect to be rejected. That goes with the job. At least you will make them know they have heard my truth.

This morning’s gospel is in two parts. In part one, Jesus and his disciples have been all around Galilee and have returned to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus begins to teach in the synagogue. People who heard him were astounded, and question his authority: Where does he come off with all this; who does he think he is? We know about his whole background.

Mark says the people “took offense at him”. Jesus gave the well-known reply, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.” Which is similar to other proverbs and sayings like, “familiarity breeds contempt”, That is, it is possible to know so much about someone that it gets in the way of recognizing the full person he or she has become.

In any case, Jesus was rejected. He was amazed at the people’s unbelief, and because of their unbelief he could do very little else in Nazareth, so he moved on to other villages.

In part two of today’s gospel, Jesus calls his disciples together. He gives them his authority, and sends them out in pairs to advance his work of teaching and healing. After they received their commission, the twelve were no longer just disciples, that is, students or followers – Jesus had many of those – now they are apostles, which means messengers on a mission.

Jesus gives them instructions. Don’t take a lot of stuff with you – no money or bag with extra clothes or sandals or extra tunic, not even any bread – just your staff (in Luke’s version, not even a staff). Pick a house that will receive you, eat and drink what is provided, and stay; don’t move around.

Then Jesus says an even more remarkable thing. He tells his disciples that, as unassuming and non-threatening as they certainly will be, they will sometimes be unwelcome. “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” That would be a harsh rebuke.

Jesus warned them that they might go into towns where they would be rejected. Jesus foresaw this; he expected it. He said he was sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves; for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues (Matt 10:16,17).”

For me, rejection is the theme and common thread of this morning’s readings. Jesus expected rejection, for himself and his disciples. Luke (10:16) says, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

In our OT lesson, the Lord God knew there would be those impudent and stubborn people who refused to hear the word of the prophet Ezekiel. In the gospel, Our Lord experienced rejection in his own hometown of Nazareth. And Jesus knew his disciples would also face rejection.

What is the takeaway? First, there is something about God’s truth of love that is hard for us to accept. It hurts our pride, or challenges us, or threatens to take us someplace where we don’t want to go. There is just something about God’s truth of love that we resist.

Second, prophets can be missed if we do not look carefully. It is easy not to see a prophet. I recall a Catholic scholar from Watkins, MN, named Eugene McCarthy, who studied for the priesthood. Instead, he became an educator and writer (he liked to quote Augustine), and then a US Senator.

In 1968, he challenged Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination for President. He was the most articulate and outspoken prophet about the war in Vietnam, and he attracted visible support, getting 40% of the vote in the NH primary. And he was, we know, right about Vietnam. But the Democratic machine was strong, and at the Chicago convention he was rejected.

If McCarthy had been nominated, he might still have lost to Nixon. Or maybe history would have been changed. It’s hard to say.

So, we should watch for those prophets who are there among us. But finally, if the Christian faith is done right, it means facing opposition and risking rejection and then doing it anyway. That is advanced placement faith. It is our highest Christian calling.

Not all of us will rise to that, and, by the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t have to. But that is what Ezekiel and all the saints did. The Lord God said to Ezekiel, “Whether they (the people) hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.